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The food scene in Greece is constantly being enriched. More and more local chefs are opening their own restaurants, many of which have a creative focus on the local cuisine and produce. Seasonality, sustainability, tradition and high-quality ingredients are in the spotlight and traditional cuisine gets to shine with the sophisticated touch of a talented younger generation of Greek chefs. The restaurant scene – especially in Athens – is also complemented by diverse cuisines of other cultures, brought into Greece by immigrants who have made their homes here. Authentic dishes from all over the world can now be found in different corners of the city, bringing flavor to quieter, less-central neighborhoods where rent is still affordable as prices rise across Athens. – Carolina Doriti

Pharaoh

Pharaoh opened almost a year ago on one of the edgiest streets of Exarchia. Despite its location, it very soon became the talk of the town – so much so that for a while it was almost impossible to book a table. I always prefer to allow a few months for a new restaurant to start rolling before I visit, and so I decided to book a table in late August when Athens is still quite empty.

I loved the space, and particularly the bar – everything is simple and yet thoughtful and very well designed. Beautiful lighting, great music and cozy, too. The drinks are perfectly prepared and the wine selection is fantastic (and huge!) with a focus on Greek natural wines and small producers. The seasonal menu changes often but the cuisine is traditional Greek with a slightly more sophisticated take and presentation – but not over-the-top. The ingredients are sourced from excellent producers all around Greece, and they really stand out in every dish. Expect lots of wood-fired cooking here – the oysters baked in the wood-burning oven were wonderful; although oysters are not a typical Greek seafood, they were perfectly cooked and pleasantly smokey! The salad was probably the best I have eaten at a restaurant this year: a string bean (cowpea pods which are very popular in Greece during summer) salad with cucumber, plums, avocado and smoked volaki cheese (a creamy white cow’s milk cheese traditionally prepared on Andros and Tinos Islands). As a main I selected the hogget – a juvenile lamb, essentially – cooked with rice, Pharoah’s take on a traditional recipe from Crete called gamopilafo (“wedding pilaf,” typically served at weddings). This is not an easy dish as it requires hours of preparation and it very much depends on the success of the hogget stock, but the result here was a success. For dessert I enjoyed a beautiful, light rice pudding with figs and lime, a great ending to a wonderful meal. – Carolina Doriti

Akra

Akra opened in late May in the hip Pagrati neighborhood. The owners are two chefs,  including Yiannis Loukakis (of Mourga, which I wrote about several years ago in this piece on Thessaloniki). I am a huge fan of his style of cooking, which has always been simple and focused on high-quality ingredients. His partner is acclaimed pastry chef Spyros Pediaditakis, who had previously been working for years at Spondi, a classic two-Michelin starred restaurant in Athens. I visited Akra, their new venture, on a hot evening in early August. The space is very simple with a large open kitchen where everything is cooked and prepared right in front of you. Their homemade sourdough bread is simply amazing, and they even sell it for takeaway on a daily basis. It was served along with a bowl of beautiful Greek extra virgin olive oil to dip it in.

Next came boiled amaranth greens (a classic summer salad all over Greece) dressed in olive oil and served with a baked potato skordalia (garlic and olive oil dip) and black lentils – simple and very, very flavorful. I also tried a fresh and summery dish of small raw shrimp with sea urchin, early-harvest olive oil and lemon juice. As a main we tasted the goat cooked with lazanaki, a Greek-style goat-milk-and-egg pasta that was both tasty and comforting.

The desserts were probably the highlight of the entire evening. We had a homemade organic-milk gelato topped with cherries that had been cooked with cinnamon sticks in a cast-iron skillet. We also had an amazing sourdough-bread gelato with hazelnuts and milk, which was one of the most interesting things I have tasted recently. Akra’s Greek wine list is excellent. as well. The restaurant is open all day for food and baked goods, and they serve a separate brunch menu which I haven’t tasted yet but am planning to, soon! – Carolina Doriti

Ouzbekistan

Even though I do enjoy fine dining once in a while, my favorite places to go eat are the underground joints I discover on my walking expeditions around the different Athenian neighborhoods. The tinier and more hidden they are, the better! This one was a favorite: Ouzbekistan is a Greek-English take on Uzbekistan and as the name of the venue suggests, it serves food from the small Central Asian nation. This little eatery has an Armenian owner, an Uzbek chef, and the rest of the staff are Pontic Greeks. The latter is a minority group of Greeks who were historically settled in northeast Anatolia near the Black Sea – the Pontic Greek cuisine has a lot of Russian, Armenian and Georgian influence. Ouzbekistan is simple and far from fancy, but the food is absolutely divine (and quite affordable). The portions are massive, so it’s best to go with a big group to order as many different things as possible to share.

We started with grilled spicy green peppers which went perfectly with the vodka they served us along or a chilled glass of beer! The pickled beet salad is great, and the lepyoshky is a must-try – traditional Uzbek fluffy bread buns. We also tried the Armenian-style pork shashlik (skewered, grilled pieces of pork, very similar to Greek style pork souvlaki), which were juicy and delicious, served on a plate over homemade lavash (very thin, unleavened Armenian flatbread). Of the assortment of traditional dumpling-style dishes, my favorites were the pelmeni, stuffed with pork and beef and served steaming hot with a side of sour cream, and the colorful manti with chopped beef, the dough of which is tinted with beets, spinach or carrot. The staff was really friendly and excited to explain the menu in as much detail as possible. My advice is to go really hungry! – Carolina Doriti

H Kriti

This summer, I spent a lot of time in Chania, Crete. This island is known for its food – it’s nearly impossible to have a bad meal there, especially if you’re bopping between villages outside of the touristy harbor areas – so when I come back to Athens, I often find myself craving a taste of Crete. One of my all-time favorite spots is H Kriti. They have all the greatest hits that you’d expect to find at a Cretan taverna, like apaki (smoked Cretan pork) and xoxlioi (snails in garlic), and the raki definitely flows here. But if you’re lucky, the plates of the day could be even more traditional. Think slow-roasted goat or the brothy gamopilafo, a dish usually reserved for weddings. – Katherine Whittaker

Seychelles

Seychelles celebrated its 10th birthday back in October, and it’s been wonderfully consistent through all these years. I’ve started spending more time in this neighborhood, and consequentially, more time dining at Seychelles. I absolutely love the beef ragu pasta, and will order it every time along with whatever dishes of the day there might be – it’s never boring, no matter how many times you go.

Materia Prima in Koukaki

Wine bars are definitely having a moment in Athens, but the one I’ve loved the most this year is Materia Prima, especially in its Koukaki location. The sommeliers there are excellent, and the wine selection is impressive, with a lot of Greek options. You can even do a little tasting of local varieties. But most of all, I love the bar setup. It makes it easy to enjoy a glass by yourself, or with a group if you’re all able to grab stools! – Katherine Whittaker

Williwaw

Kypseli has gotten very cool very fast, which means that there are always new coffee shops and bars popping up. But I’ve been going to Williwaw almost every morning, and not just because the coffee is some of the best in the neighborhood. The staff here is great, and they have delicious baked goods and sandwiches to go along with your coffee. It gets crowded on weekends, so here’s a pro tip: Take a coffee to-go, and bring it with you to the nearby Pedion Tou Areos park, where you can spend an afternoon people-watching and wandering through the park’s many paths. – Katherine Whittaker

Mitos

Going to Mitos means you’re about to have a Greek food experience that is usually only accessible outside the city. Intestines that are fried up like french fries, lamb testicles, brains…there are all kinds of organs on the menu, and if you’re an adventurous eater, there will be a lot to try. It’s another great place for raki, and there’s often live music during the weekends. Mitos sits right in the middle of a residential block, so you might even forget where you are for a moment. It’s a worthwhile escape. – Katherine Whittaker

Guerilla Burger

I love souvlaki as much as the next person, but sometimes, I just really crave a burger. Athens has made great strides in the burger arena in the past few years, and one of my favorite places to go is Guerilla Burger in Exarchia. There are no tables, just plastic crates and makeshift tables, and the menu only has double and single cheeseburgers, but its charm is its simplicity, and they do it perfectly. – Katherine Whittaker

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and Carolina Doriti and Katherine Whittaker

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