In August, my girlfriend and I spent several weeks touring around Greece and Istanbul. Prior to the trip, I scoured Chowhound and several other websites looking for recommendations for restaurants and pubs with food that would be unique or simply impressive. Ultimately, we went to many of the recommended restaurants and found several more that were notable. I decided to leave this post for people with future plans to help summarize briefly a few new places and make a few notes about others that have been previously mentioned. I want to let you know ahead of time that my girlfriend is not a seafood fan so many of the most highly recommended places went untasted, unfortunately. I pre-apologize for the length of this post, but we were there for quite a while. Nevertheless, here we go…
In general, Plaka gets poor recommendations with good reason. Overall, the food is plain, tasteless, and caters to tourists. We were only in Athens for a brief time, but here are just a couple of notes.
O Platanos Taverna – This was one of the handful of tavernas in Plaka we tried. Reviews had overall been better than others, but still not greatly remarkable. Overall, the food was solid; nothing spectacular, but solid. Both of us enjoyed our meal and the location is one of the more relaxing in Plaka. Good for people watching without being forced in the middle of the crowded streets.
Brettos Bar – I know this is not a foodie place, but I had read a recommendation on Chowhound prior to going. From the outside, it looks like a cool bar and is always busy. I found the service so bad that I had to write about it. The bartenders were extremely rude to both of us. It went so far that when we asked for another drink (our second) about 3 minutes after last call we were denied, but a couple next to us ordered drinks from the same server 10 minutes later and were served!
Vlassis – One of the most recommended restaurants in Athens and extraordinarily hard to find. As I learned, also closed during the entire month of August! I would still try to go again based on the things I heard.
Cibus – Before we left Athens, we wanted to try something different. The night was rainy and we wanted something within close walking distance of our hotel. The concierge recommended this so we made reservations and then I went upstairs and read about it. Reviews were generally good but not astounding. The location is very away from the crowd inside of a park and far from tourists. No one spoke English, but we got by fairly well. The food was very good and the atmosphere was unlike anything else near the tourist areas in Athens. Flavors mixed nicely and menu was unique, a modern Italian with hints of Greece and Asia. If you are looking for something non-Greek in Athens, this is not a bad option.
We stayed in the Old Town, and I think I would have been happy to have never left. Take care to avoid the touristy areas again because the food is just that, overpriced and touristy. Also, make sure the seafood you order is fresh; much of the seafood in the Old Town is frozen and flown in.
Ta Kioupia – Truly out in the middle of nowhere, but every cab on the island knows where it is. It is worth every penny for the ride and the meal. It was probably the best meal we had in Greece. Come hungry; there is no way to eat all of the food you will get. Everything is cooked to perfection. I do not like eggplant and even the eggplant was great. I don’t think I could recommend this restaurant enough, if you go to Rhodes and don’t try to eat here you might as well just stay home.
Hatzikelis – One of the guys at our hotel recommended this to us as an alternative to the tourist hotspots which are much more expensive. It is located behind the ruins of the Church of Our Lady of the Burgh in the Square of the Jewish Martyrs. It is a very unassuming little place that can be easily missed. The food is quite good and the seafood was fresh. It is more of a local place than for tourists. Most of the people knew the wait staff, but, even though we were outsiders, we were treated very well.
Mama Sofia – Located in a very touristy area, we just happened upon this one night looking for a quick meal close to our hotel. Our waiter was also the owner. We struck up a conversation and the next thing you know he was sitting beside us drinking Ouzo. I was able to choose my own fresh fish with his assistance and had a great meal. My girlfriend was able to find a great meal, too, and the baked feta was quite tasty.
We stayed in Hersonissos Beach which is a wasteland as best as I could tell for good food. I couldn’t find any recommendations online or from anyone there for that matter, but that didn’t stop us from looking.
Veggera – We walked a couple of kilometers up into the hills south of the beach to a village called Piscopiano. This is far from the tourist areas and noise, but worth every bit of the walk. This very small place is easy to miss, but it was crowded with locals waiting. No other restaurants around could say that. Native Cretan food cooked by natives. The best dolmades we had on the trip and great snails. There was nothing bad on the menu.
We stayed in Oia, so there is a slant toward places local to our hotel. I know there are about a thousand recommendations for Santorini, but I just wanted to put my two cents in on a few.
Skala – When we first arrived we grabbed a quick late lunch here. It had overall fairly good reviews and was convenient. As with everything in Santorini, it is expensive, but the food is good and on a hot day, the salad was cool and crisp. Like everything in Oia, you can’t beat the view. It makes a very nice break from the heat with a tasty meal and friendly service.
1800 – This is not a place to go on the cheap and the view is limited, but this is the best food in Oia. We were able to get a table on a very busy night with a little schmoozing and it was absolutely worth the wait. Both meals had amazing flavor, excellent presentation, and the service was exceptional. The atmosphere is quite romantic, too, if you are in to that sort of thing. With all the choices on Santorini, this is one place that I would go out of the way to try.
Skiza – This is a sister restaurant to Skala and it is best known for its desserts. We grabbed a tasty, quick lunch with a view that was light and fast. The food was fine, but the desserts are really what you should try. Early in the day, with a great view, and a good cup of coffee, you just can’t beat it.
Naoussa – A couple of jaunts into Thira had already left me a little disappointed, but not after this meal. Tucked away on a second floor a couple of blocks from the main drag near the entrance to the cable-car is a real gem. Ignore the line, it moves fast and the food is worth it. There’s free wine in the line anyway. The meals are large and home cooked, not frozen like a lot of the tavernas on Santorini. Everything is very fresh, flavorful, and comes with a smile. Probably the best deal we found on Santorini.
Katina’s Fish Taverna – My girlfriend was kind enough to indulge my love of fish on several occasions, but this was the best. You can’t beat the atmosphere watching the fishing boats coming in to Ammoudi Bay and the food lives up to the many recommendations. The fish is whatever came in that day on the boats and cooked to order. We had an interesting expedition since the power to all of Ammoudi Bay went out right after we arrived. Fresh fish by candlelight looking up at Oia really sums up everything you can expect about Greece.
Not exactly a foodie paradise, but a really fun, relaxing, and cheap break after Santorini. I had
not seen anything about Ios except a single recommendation that actually had the name spelled wrong but ultimately led us to a great restaurant.
Katogi – This tiny little place is always packed. Expats from all over seem to just love it and I completely understand why. The waitress (there was only one) would just come around, hang out, randomly bring extra drinks, and give great recommendations. The food took some time, but I am pretty sure it was all made to order by one older lady in the back. The pasta purses were maybe one of the best things I have ever tasted. This place was so good that we ate there twice in two nights. It is difficult to find, though, and even some of the locals weren’t exactly sure where it was. I recommend the shops in the main tourist strip for directions; it is only a few blocks from there tucked away near souvenir shops and a couple of bars.
Not quite as expensive as Santorini, but not far off. Mykonos has any number of restaurants to try, but opinions seem to vary remarkably about the food. I was surprised how difficult it was to find consistent recommendations.
Galleraki – We did not eat here, and the drinks are expensive, but I just wanted to make sure to mention the view. Built basically right on the water with waves splashing up on some of the seats, this place offers a great view at sunset and tasty drinks to boot. Just don’t sit in the seats closest to the water, you will get wet!
Sea Satin Market – Caprice – Don’t get me wrong, the food is very good. Unfortunately, the wait staff and everyone else we met there seem to know that people will come for the food no matter what. I found the service to be very rude. There was a moderate size party near us and we felt ignored and rushed at the same time. We couldn’t even get assistance when we asked. The food was very tasty and the fish was the best on Mykonos, but I wouldn’t go back. I know this is different than most reviews, so it is possible that we just had an unusually poor experience.
Chez Maria – This fine dining establishment is back away from the main shopping areas and somewhat hard to find, but well worth the search. The garden dining is off the street in what appears to have been an old house. Our service was excellent and the food lived up to the price. I would recommend this restaurant as hands down the best food we had on
Nikos Taverna – This place is one of many on Plati Gialos Beach. The food was nothing exceptional and we mainly went to grab a quick salad, but what I will say is that the waiters were prompt and very friendly. The owner even came by to make sure that our meals were okay. Sometimes gestures like that are enough to make me come back or recommend a restaurant.
I would have loved to have had more time in Istanbul, but hindsight in planning a trip is always 20/20. We ate at several places, but I did not keep very good records so I lacked the names. I would like to point out that one important thing to do is call ahead. Almost no restaurant keeps hours that either guidebooks or websites say and we missed or nearly missed several restaurant closing times because we relied on other sources.
Karakoy Gulluglu – Not a restaurant per se, but well worth noting. This is the best baklava in Istanbul, maybe the best I have ever had.
Hacı Bekir Confectioners – Again, not a restaurant, but worth noting for foodies. There are multiple stores located around Istanbul, but the original and museum are in Eminonu. The Turkish delight is a great gift to bring home for other people, but then keep for yourself and devour.
H.I.B. Café – This place is nothing special and this is not a recommendation for the restaurant but more for what it serves, although the waiter we had was actually quite entertaining. The specialty is Kumpir which is basically a baked potato stuffed with anything. It is very unusual and I really only saw it in Ortakoy. Strangely, it is quite good and I was amazed at what you can stuff into a potato. Ortakoy is out of the way, but the view of the bridge to Asia at night is worth the trip. We actually went to the area for a different restaurant, but it was closed that night.
Hamdi et Lokantasi – Multiple recommendations and reviews discuss this restaurant. The view is great, the food is great, and everything that has been said is correct. I will once again point out a service downfall. We were there during a downtime in the early evening. There was a moderate size party from Spain sitting beside us. No fewer than 3 waiters were taking care of them. We, on the other hand, barely had one person come to the table and, even after asking, still never received one of our appetizers. What we did eat was excellent and other reviews felt that there was adequate service, so maybe our experience was isolated. I’d still go back.
Ciya Sofrasi – First of all, it is worth the trip to Asia just to go. Ciya Sofrasi is the icing on the cake. We arrived just before closing so we were a bit hurried. Not many people can actually direct you to the restaurant and even fewer speak English, so go with that in mind. The menu is basically whatever they have that day, but the one waiter who speaks English can be a great deal of assistance. Nothing is bad. Even if you don’t like the ingredients, try it. We ordered far more food than we could eat, but I was glad, in the long run, to try as much as possible. Over-ordering doesn’t hurt too badly, either, since the food is much less expensive than in the tourist areas in Europe. Highly recommended.