The Best Way To Order Food In Athens, Greece, According To Rick Steves

When touring Athens, trekking up and down hills to see ancient sites like the Acropolis will definitely stoke your appetite. But what if, when you finally sit down to dinner at a local taverna, you're overwhelmed by all the options? How do you choose one dish when everything sounds so amazing? We suggest you take Rick Steves' approach, which he describes in his article, A Feast of Greek Pleasures: Select a bunch of "mezedes" (or small plates) and share them, family style. 

Steves says that he never tires of his tried-and-true mezedes, which include things like garlic dip, fava bean dip, and tzatziki — a refreshing mix of yogurt, cucumber, and mint. With warm pita bread, these satisfying dips can qualify as a meal all by themselves. But why stop there? Other mouth-watering mezedes you'll find lurking in Athens eateries are saganaki (grilled or fried cheese with lemon), loukaniko (sausages), and fried balls of a wide assortment of veggies, from chickpeas to tomatoes. In addition, mezedes can include little treasures from the sea, such as calamari, octopus, or small grilled or fried fish, like sardines or anchovies. To experience this finger-licking goodness for yourself, consider an Athens food tour for adventurous eaters.

What to drink with those Greek appetizers

Of course, you'll need something to quench your thirst after all those savory morsels. That's when Steves turns to retsina, a traditional white or pink Greek wine to which pine resin is added, imparting a distinct aroma that will give your sinuses one heck of a wake up call. Retsina is usually drunk cold and pairs perfectly with mezedes on a hot summer day. Steves mentions in his article History Comes Alive in Modern Athens that drinking retsina makes him want to "sling a patch over one eye and say, 'Arghh.'" An acquired taste perhaps? But don't drink more than a few glasses, says Steves, or you might wake up reeking of it the next morning. 

Around Athens, other beverages that serve as popular accompaniments to mezedes are raki, tsipouro, and anise-flavored ouzo. It's probably more that the liquors need the mezedes than the other way around, since Greek food fills the tummy and allows drinkers to enjoy more of the strong beverages (responsibly, of course) without descending into a stupor. One of Steves' favorite spots to sip ouzo and nibble on mezedes is in the central market at the Ouzeri Karayiannis. This place is also easy on the wallet, for those visiting Greece on a budget.

After dinner in Athens

Now that you've finished your feast, is it time to head to bed? Of course not! Make like Steves and treat yourself to a leisurely jaunt through the city center. "With a belly full of mezedes and just enough retsina," says Steves in History Comes Alive, "I walk off dinner on the pedestrian street that runs along the base of the Acropolis." While meandering, you can marvel at the ancient sites, bask in the charm of the historic city center, and appreciate the company of fellow walkers, similar to what one would do on an evening "passeggiata" in Italy.

Like Rome and other large Mediterranean cities, Athens is loaded with walkable areas, from Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, which passes between the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum, to the lively Monastiraki and Syntagma Squares. Wandering through the historic neighborhood of Plaka, parts of which are pedestrian only, you'll discover colorful alleys dotted with old churches, shops, and chic eateries. But don't be surprised if you feel a few shivers up your spine as you explore Athens after dusk, as the ancient city comes alive in the moonlight.