The literal translation for Therapeftiriο is “sanatorium,” which in this case refers not to what this restaurant might have once been but rather to the ancient Greek belief that having a good time by eating good food and drinking good wine can cure your troubles. It’s an old-fashioned name in an old-fashioned neighborhood that is fast becoming a hipster area.
Petralona, a buffer zone between Athens and its old industrial zone that stretched all the way to Pireus, used to be a working-class district, home to two of Athens’ biggest factories: Pavlidis, one of Greece’s biggest chocolate producers, famous for its bitter chocolate (it now belongs to Kraft), and the Palco underwear factory. The neighborhood, especially the area where Therapeftirio is located, has kept a classic ’60s feel to it, with low-rise buildings and courtyards that give it an authentic Athenian atmosphere, something that has made the area increasingly popular, with bars and restaurants opening left, right and center.
Located on a quiet cul-de-sac with a string of big, colored lamps, Therapeftirio is a traditional, old-fashioned Greek taverna. The décor is a bit drab, despite the odd nautical touches, so the place is best visited in summer. The restaurant has been here for years and has a loyal but mixed clientele of middle-class professionals, hipsters and families – basically everyone looking for good food at reasonable prices. A meal here will set you back about €15-20, depending on whether you opt for wine or not.
The nautical touches in the décor are not by accident. Therapeftirio’s strength is its dependably fresh fish. Mullet, red mullet and spelt, fried whole (with the head and tail) and eaten hot off the pan, are especially delicious. The fried baby prawn is also extremely succulent – a rich, heavy flavor that leaves an oily but pleasant taste in the mouth.
The menu comes on a gray cardboard piece of paper where all of the day’s specials are written with a felt-tip pen. Therapeftirio also serves some excellent homey dishes like spanakorizo, a traditional Greek dish in which spinach is boiled with rice and sometimes with a bit of tomato or pelte (tomato paste) and is then doused in lemon juice. The result has an almost pureed texture to it, making it an ideal version of Greek soul food.
In wintertime, lahanodolmades are also big favorites. Dolma is the Turkish word for a number of stuffed vegetable dishes and lahanodolmades are cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and meat and served with avgolemono, or egg-lemon sauce. The recipe for the dish traveled along with the refugees who came from Asia Minor in 1922. There are very few places that are equally good in both fish dishes and traditional homey Greek cooking. Therapeftirio, on the other hand, manages its split personality quite nicely.
Editor’s note: This review was originally published on July 27, 2012.