One of the most popular kinds of restaurants in Greece is the mezedopoleio, which, as the name indicates, specializes in traditional local meze dishes (washed down with generous amounts of ouzo or other alcoholic drinks).
Back in the day, mezedopoleia were the neighborhood’s meeting points. Men gathered there most of the day to drink, have a bite, talk politics and play backgammon, chess or cards. Today, the mezedopoleio remains a simple and very affordable place to eat, sometimes operating as a kafeneio (cafeteria), and often offering traditional live music to add to the experience.
Among Greek cities Thessaloniki is particularly famous for its numerous and excellent mezedopoleia, which makes it very difficult to choose just a few. The locals whose opinion we sought for the best eateries in town all replied with pride, “There’s no bad food in this city.” Our research seems to indicate that that might very well be true.
For seafood lovers, our top choice is Mourga – a relatively new arrival in town, run by the chef/owner of some the most successful eateries around. Located on a quiet street in the center of the city, this small, simple eatery looks like just another neighborhood kafeneio and could easily go unnoticed. The menu here changes often and according to season. We recommend the fresh shrimp sautéed in truffle butter, smoked octopus carpaccio, fried squid with lemon and thyme, orzo with fresh mussels and, for dessert, simple yet perfect aged anthotyro cheese from the island of Naxos with blueberry preserves.
Sebriko is a beautifully designed mezedopoleio located down a quiet alley near Ladadika, a former market area near the port, where tables in the summer months are set up with a view of the Byzantine walls. We like the sardines wrapped in grape leaves, smoked eggplant salad with tahini, yogurt and mint, kaltsounia pies with wild greens, smoked mackerel with red lentils, grilled octopus with taramosalata (fish roe dip), pancetta served with prickly pear jam and the ribeye with truffle butter and homemade mustard with grape must. There is excellent house wine, organic tsipouro and a great selection of domestic microbrews.
In the city center is the cute, modern and simple Massalia, which has an open kitchen and a very creative menu. The meat and seafood dishes here are equally good, but we particularly like their pancetta with honey and eggplant purée, grilled sausage with oregano served with hummus, grilled octopus with lentils and the seasonal salads. Massalia is great for either lunch or dinner.
Nea Folia is another off-the-beaten-path gem with a charming, welcoming environment and an inspired menu. We were impressed by the cuttlefish with spinach, orange and fennel seeds, marinated anchovies, steamed mussels, pickled eggplant, mackerel with olives, capers and ouzo and spicy baked feta. The organic house wine is €4 for a half liter.
Atmospheric Ano Poli (Upper Town) sits north of the city center in the old town district, which was saved from the Great Fire of 1917 and in the 1980s declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most traditional part of the city, it still features small stone-paved alleys and old Greek and Ottoman architecture. Tsinari, named after the neighborhood where it is located, is one of the oldest mezedopoleia in town; it’s been in the same beautiful little building since 1885. Here, you can enjoy ouzo and simple mezes – most notably, the sutzukakia, minced beef patties with red wine, garlic and cumin in tomato sauce.