Neo-tavernas have become a huge hit among both visitors and locals over the last decade because they provide authentic-style cuisine in a fresh, modern setting. Yet there’s an undeniable charm to the real, old, non-renovated Greek taverna that should be experienced at least once.
Many of the Greek tavernas listed here opened in the ‘20’s – the ‘50s, and it is much more than nostalgia that has kept them going, especially during a merciless financial crisis. Their charm, infused in the décor reflective of a bygone era, the owners, who have created dishes inspired by their culture for so many decades for so many hungry customers, are important factors. And then there’s the food itself, which may not be playful and innovative, culinarily-fluid or instantly Instgrammable, but it tastes pretty much the same as it did when it was first served up.
History & Style: Opened in 1932, this is the only place in this guide that is a little bit closer to a restaurant than a classic taverna, although its menu is comprised of classic traditional dishes. Bang in the heart of central Athens, it has been a favourite of famous Greek painters, politicians, and poets for its homey and unpretentious yet chic style.
Dishes To Try: The large variety of meze dishes and platters eaten with a glass of ouzo. Giant beans baked in tomato sauce (gigantes), bite-sized minty, fried meatballs (keftedakia), pan-melted cheese with pastrami (saganaki me pastourma and tart, salty) and marinated smoked mackerel (tsirosalata).
Location: Themistokleous 2 & Panepistimiou Sts
To Koutouki Tou Andoni
History & Style: The cosy ambiance in this taverna, with a covered, tiled courtyard with a large fig tree, wine barrels, wooden tables with lion’s claws, and a vintage mosaic and stone walls hasn’t changed since it opened in 1958.
Dishes to Try: Fresh, fried small fish, calamari and cod, fava bean puree, wild greens, charcoal-grilled sausage, and meat patties (bifteki), as well as meze dishes with your house (hima) wine.
Location: Argyrokastrou 26, Palia Kokkinia, Metamorfosi
Taverna Tou Axoti
History & Style: Still standing proud after 60 years of operation, this family-run taverna makes you feel right at home. If you’re lucky you may be treated to a spontaneous live song performance by the owner’s grandsons.
Dishes to Try: Lamb chops, fried cod with garlic sauce (bakaliaros skordalia), fluffy meat patties, and hand-cut, freshly-fried potatoes.
Location: Paparseni 15, Polygono
Bakaliarakia Tou Damigou
History & Style: Considered one of Athen’s most antique tavernas, Damigos is said to have opened in 1864, when it specialised in cod. Today run by the fourth generation of proprietors, who have over time extended the menu. Numerous actors, writers, poets, and painters have traversed Damigos’ threshold over the century.
Dishes to Try: Definitely the cod, spicy anchovies (gavros), garlic sauce, and taramosalata.
Location: Kydathinaion 41, Plaka
History & Style: More of a traditional meze-restaurant-kafeneion than taverna, this is a favourite for many (since 1975) because of its scenic view of the Ancient Agora in Plaka.
Dishes to Try: Take a break from touring to eat a Greek salad and a grilled meat platter accompanied by a cold beer.
Location: Dioskouron 13, Plaka
History & Style: By now somewhat famous for being so old, authentic, and traditional, Diporto is just a few minutes walk from the Central Athens Varvakeios Fish and Meat Markets. It is charming especially because it’s a basement that you enter by walking downstairs, as well as for its remaining, heavily traditional working class of the ‘50s décor; and the food is delicious too.
Dishes to Try: The house retsina wine, oil-cooked pulses (ladera), traditional slow-cooked stews (mageirefta) and small fried fish.
Location: Sokratous 9 St & Theatrou Square, Psyrri
History & Style: This only remaining – since 1920, when it started off as a food store, as its décor reveals – old style-deli tavernas in Piraeus is located behind the tobacco factories at the central port. It was a favourite hangout of Greek Rembetika musicians Kazantzidis, Tsitsanis, and Papaioannou.
Dishes to Try: Sausage, the taverna’s well-known corned-beef omelette, fava, keftedes, sardines, and a side of juicy tomatoes, olives and good quality Greek gruyere cheese.
Location: Psarron 38 & Salaminos, Piraeus
Koutouki Tis Harikleas
History & Style: Located in an old refugee building, this place looks more like an antique store than a taverna. Old radios, sewing machines, cooking utensils, photographs, and wine barrels make up the surprising décor.
Dishes to Try: Lamb chops, fried pork, melted cheese, and great salads.
Location: Artis 29, Metamorfosi
History & Style: In the leafy northern suburb of Kifissia, this early 19th Century taverna has hardly changed its menu since it opened in 1893, making it a beloved old classic. In summer enjoy sitting out in the garden.
Dishes to Try: This place is for meat-lovers and is known for its steaks, as well as some home-cooked stews and oil-based (ladera) dishes.
Location: Kifissias Avenue 311, Kifissia
History & Style: This legendary taverna in Proskopos Square opened in 1920 and has a devout local as well as a tourist fan base. Its large wooden wine barrels and cosy ambiance are its most noteworthy characteristic feature.
Dishes to Try: Their famous meat patties, either plain or stuffed with cheese, crispy lamb chops, and traditional side dishes.
Location: Arktinou & Pafsaniou 4, Pangrati
History & Style: Originally a kafeneion next to the temple of St John, since 1927 this wine tavern offers customers both a real sense of old Athens and tasty dishes.
Dishes to Try: Lamb with potatoes slow-cooked with garlic in a ceramic pot, onion pie, melted cheese, tomato-stewed rooster with mashed potatoes, and good house wine.
Location: Theatrou Square 2, Psyrri
History & Style: Since the 1970s this basement-level family-run taverna with an old mosaic-tile floor has lured many a diner, especially with its wine and meze dishes. All even better when accompanied by rembetika music.
Dishes to Try: Oven-baked beans (gigantes), sausage, lamb chops, wine meze dishes, and steaks.
Location: Ymittou 253 & Vinkelman 3, Mets
History & Style: Over half a century old, this wine tavern has retained the vibe of Athens’ bygone era when friends gathered to feast on simple yet authentic and delicious food.
Dishes to Try: Meat stew with orzo (yiouvetsi), shrimp pasta, and chicken cooked in tomato sauce.
Location: Pythodorou 10, Metaxourgeio
History & Style: Nea Filadelfia’s most well-known taverna opened in 1932 and is now managed by the third generation of proprietors.
Dishes to Try: If it’s your kind of thing, try the famous Loukideli’s testicles” (ameletita) meze. Also try the cheese pie, fried cod, fava puree, and snails.
Location: Georgiou apandreou 79, Nea Filadelfia
History & Style: Old mirrors from 1919, wall paintings, antiques, and old photographs create a nostalgic and singular ambiance here.
Dishes to Try: Roasted mastelo cheese from Chios, coal-fire smoked aubergine dip (melitzanosalata), pork cooked with mastic, fluffy croquettes with wild greens and herbs and pork with hand-cut fresh fried potatoes.
Location: Mavromichali 152, Exarcheia
History & Style: Since 1930 when it opened, this taverna has changed its appearance several times, but the food has remained deeply gratifying.
Dishes to Try: Well-grilled, good-quality meats like lamb chops, steak, liver, and meat patties with fresh, hand-cut fries, as well as home-cooked stews. In winter warm-up with the meat soup.
Location: Konstandinoupoleos 34 & Proussis, Vyronas, Nea Smyrni
History & Style: An authentic, traditional taverna that opened in 1922, signs of which you can see around the tavern- an old set of scales, wooden plate rack, and ceramic bowls. Through the glass floor, you can see the old wine barrels in the basement. Some days you can enjoy live Greek music performances.
Dishes to Try: Fried meatballs, goat, fried cod, and fava puree.
Location Kaisarias 9, Ymittou Square
History & Style: With a large, lovely garden, this 1974 taverna has a warm, family feeling both because of its friendly service and cosy ambiance.
Dishes to Try: Grilled bread with olive oil and oregano right from the start. Cabbage-wrapped meat dolmades, lamb chops, a big choice of tasty home-cooked stews and ladera dishes, fava puree, melitzanosalata and fried courgettes.
Location: Kyrou 7, Kifissia
History & Style: A taverna that used to be the home of Yiayia (granny) Triandafyllia and has kept elements of her life, who was from Smyrna.
Dishes to Try: Unsurprisingly, the cuisine here is also influenced by Asia Minor and includes dishes like tabbouleh, pastrami pie, egg and cheese terrine, homemade liqueur and kazan dipi dessert.
Location: Vas. Alexandrou 10 & Ymittou
Main image: Karavitis