Sign up with email


Already a member? Log in.

Trouble logging in?

Not a member? Sign up!

When you think about where to send a visitor who is only in Athens for a week – or worse, only a night – it’s difficult to pick the perfect place. It should have wide-ranging hours, not only to keep the options open, but to ensure that those who dine early will be able to make it. It should be centrally located, but not too central, bringing the visitor to an area of the city they might not go to otherwise, but one that doesn’t require a car or an inconvenient bus transfer. The space should be pleasant, with inside and outside tables, and preferably stuffed with locals.

Then there’s the food. It has to be classic, but it’s ideal if the menu also features a few twists, illustrating the dynamic range the Greek kitchen can achieve. Locally sourced products? Of course. Solid drinks to accompany it? Definitely. And you better believe it has to be delicious every single time.

There is one place in Athens that fits all these specifications perfectly, and has for 10 years now: Aster, which sits towards the end of a row of restaurants that line Troon Street in the Petralona neighborhood of Athens. It’s just a quick walk away from Philopappos Hill, making it an ideal place to stop no matter what neighborhood you’re coming from, or what tourist attraction you’ve been visiting.

On weekends, snagging a table at Aster is like a competitive sport. There are no reservations, but there is a waiting list, and if you get there during a lull (or if you are exceptionally lucky), you might even make it without needing to hang out on the street, watching the diners at the tables lined along the outside of the restaurant. Even in the winter, these tables are lively, filled with people chatting, laughing, and drinking, and the smell of homey cooking wafts through the open door.

While it’s often most desirable to sit outside, there’s no problem if you have to go in. Aster sits in the bottom floor of an old house, and the eclectic decor and mismatched plates make you feel a bit like you’re at your eccentric aunt’s house. Even the bathroom is unique in the world of Athenian restaurants – the water from the sink has a tap above the mirror, so when you wash your hands, water splashes down your reflection. In the dining room, floors are decked out in a maroon and deep blue tile motif, with stone walls and an open kitchen – but not in the cool, contemporary sense. In this case, it’s really just that the kitchen is where it would be in a house, and it’s not closed off to the rest of the house – or the visitors.

Started up in 2011 by actors Michalis Moulakakis and Giorgis Tsampourakis, Aster was born of “their need for survival during the difficult years of the economical crisis in Greece,” the founders explain. Aster is named for a family of plants that blossom during the fall on the island of Crete, the island Michalis and Giorgis both called home growing up. There are more than 600 varieties of aster, and according to the restaurant’s founders, the plants “represent love, wisdom, and loyalty.”

Crete also factors heavily into the menu. Michalis and Giorgis explained that they wanted to share the best of their island through the food: “What has always distinguished us, as a restaurant, are the products we use. We have always used local fresh products coming from Crete.” Crete is widely accepted throughout Greece to have some of the country’s best food – and most interesting ingredients, something that the founders seemed to be keenly aware of. “Back when we visited Crete, we used to say that a cheese like this cannot be tasted anywhere else in Athens, so let’s bring it, and create a place where people can taste it,” they said.

Now, the menu features a great mix of classic Cretan dishes and modern, interesting plates. If you ask the owners, the most famous dishes are “skioufixta, a kind of pasta made with apaki [traditional Cretan cured pork] and a fried egg on top.” Then there are the mini pies, a Cretan specialty typically made by women in the island’s Krousonas village, and which are stuffed with a homemade sour cheese, a homemade sweet cheese, or a bevy of local mountain greens. Aster’s potatoes with xigalo, a creamy, bright white Cretan cheese, and the traditional dakos salad, made with a base of rusk bread and topped with juicy chopped tomato and cheese, are also favorites for visitors (and very classically Crete).

But there is also a list of specials that are not always 100 percent traditional Greek. For instance, when we arrive one afternoon, the specials include a spicy pulled lamb topped with chopped jalapeño, cilantro, and a hearty lime wedge, sliced figs topped with creamy cheese, and a slab of pork belly cooked in Coca Cola (a method used in parts of the United States), accompanied by hunks of fried potatoes. They are all just as good as the menu mainstays, imbued with a creativity that you don’t always find in this type of eating establishment.

On the September day when we arrived, the space was unusually festive, with balloons hanging on the wall for the restaurant’s 10th birthday. It was a special moment for Michalis and Giorgis, who described the excitement and gratefulness they had in seeing what they called a “low-budget project becoming such a good restaurant.” And while much of their regular clientele has stayed the same through all these years, the team has evolved, growing from three people to now twenty.

The neighborhood, they explain, has also evolved. “The neighborhood 10 years ago for sure was not as touristic as today,” they told me. “Tourism flourished with the coming of Airbnb – back then, most of the people visiting Petralona were locals from near areas.”

But there’s something special about a place where people keep coming back every month – sometimes every week – for the past 10 years, in an industry, a neighborhood, a city where things evolve nonstop, at a pace that can give even the most seasoned city-dweller whiplash. No matter what else changes, it seems likely that Aster will continue to be a steady presence, and a favorite choice for visitors and locals alike.

  • RaetiJune 27, 2019 Raeti (0)
    Agapi Stavrakaki was born in Anogia, a mountain village on the island of Crete famous […] Posted in Athens
  • CB on the RoadJuly 26, 2017 CB on the Road (0)
    There’s something special about Crete, Greece’s biggest island. The country’s most […] Posted in Athens
  • CB on the RoadSeptember 6, 2016 CB on the Road (0)
    Each morning, 82-year-old Giorgos Chatziparaschos’s bicycle pedals clank and echo down […] Posted in Athens
Katherine WhittakerKatherine Whittaker

Published on November 09, 2022

Related stories

Raeti, photo by Manteau Stam
June 27, 2019

Raeti: Cretan Crowd Pleaser

Athens | By Carolina Doriti
AthensAgapi Stavrakaki was born in Anogia, a mountain village on the island of Crete famous for producing fine produce and excellent musicians. Decades before she would open Raeti, a delightful restaurant in Athens’ Ambelokoipi neighborhood which pays homage to her island home, a 10-year-old Agapi worked by her grandmother’s side at her family’s vineyard in…
July 26, 2017

CB on the Road: Taverna Mariou in Crete

Athens | By Carolina Doriti
AthensThere’s something special about Crete, Greece’s biggest island. The country’s most fertile region, it has a long history of food and wine production that stretches back to the Bronze Age, making Crete one of the most interesting culinary destinations in Europe. Bordered by the Aegean Sea to the north and the Libyan Sea to the…
September 6, 2016

CB on the Road: The Kataifi Master of Crete

Athens | By Marissa Tejada
AthensEach morning, 82-year-old Giorgos Chatziparaschos’s bicycle pedals clank and echo down the cobblestone streets of the Venetian-era port city Rethymnon, on the island of Crete. For almost 60 years, he’s parked his bike in front of a 17th-century building where a simple hand-painted sign reveals his family name and his family business. By eight o’clock…
Select your currency
USD United States (US) dollar
EUR Euro