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Ah, the joys of Plaka! That most beautiful of Athens neighborhoods, full of sights for visitors to behold: Neoclassical buildings, views of the Acropolis and the Parthenon, tourist trap restaurants full of plastic, overpriced food. Joking aside, by all means go to Plaka, walk around, laugh at the kitschy copies of Ancient Greek statues depicting men with priapic erections. Then walk back to Syntagma and eat at Paradosiako.

Paradosiako (meaning “traditional”) is actually located between Plaka and Syntagma opposite an open-air car park. The place is split into two tiny adjacent rooms – each has a glass door with a red carnation painted on it. (The flower is Paradosiako’s trademark and there are red carnations everywhere: on their menus, business cards and sometimes on the tables, too.) The first room, which has but two tables, is connected to the kitchen, which is hidden behind an enormous industrial-size steel fridge. One can usually see the fish in the fridge: red mullet, cuttlefish and swordfish lie there fresh and uncooked, peeping out of identical, old-fashioned pans.

The décor at Paradosiako is idiosyncratic – there are vases with tulips on them, an enormous Greek flag and some dried flower wreaths on the wall – but somehow this bizarre arrangement works and gives the place a special charm. In the summer most diners sit outside at tables on the sidewalk: there is a mix of locals and visitors, though the ratio changes depending on the time of year. The service is extremely friendly and professional; it’s easy to tell that they’ve been doing this for years.

The menu at Paradosiako features traditional Greek dishes, of which there are some specials we particularly recommend. The fava (fava bean dip) is served warm with olive oil and topped with large pieces of fresh onion; combined with the hearty and slightly rustic sour bread they serve here, this is a match made in heaven. The restaurant also does a nice feta psiti (baked feta). While this is a fairly common dish, Paradosiako’s version stands out because the feta is baked along with olive oil, tomato and parsley inside a ceramic dish, producing an unexpectedly delicious result. Feta, tomato and olive oil are a good combination already and are even more succulent when they are all baked together. Finally, the moussaka – that most traditional of Greek, or rather, Balkan, dishes – is done the “proper” Greek way: a layer of sliced boiled potatoes on the bottom and layers of eggplant and ground beef in the middle, all topped with a hearty béchamel sauce. The hearty, heavy dish is made with plenty of olive oil.

What are commonly known as soutzoukakia are called “meatballs from Smyrna” at Paradosiako, in reference to the fact that refugees from Asia Minor brought this dish with them to Greece in the early 1920s. Soutzoukakia are spicy meatballs made with beef mince and bread crumbs and covered in red sauce. Unlike biftekia (beef patties) or keftedakia (meatballs), which are generally round-shaped, soutzoukakia are usually oblong-shaped and the taste is that of a cross between a meatball and a sausage. The secret is in the seasoning: garlic and cumin, combined with a mild red sauce and rice, make for a wonderfully spicy dish.

The restaurant could be slightly cheaper for what it is; a meal here will set you back about €15-20. Like most restaurants of its kind, Paradosiako does not serve dessert. Instead, they do things the traditional way, offering diners watermelon free of charge at the end of the meal. This is a place that lives up to its name, after all.

Note: Unlike at many restaurants in Greece, smoking is not permitted at Paradosiako.

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Published on September 18, 2012

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