Athens today possesses many of the attributes of the global city—great ethnic and cultural diversity and a thriving, eclectic restaurant scene with a plethora of cuisine and fusion options. This is definitely a different Athens from the one we lived in from 2006 to 2008, or even Athens of a decade ago. The quantity and diversity of tourists also plays a role in this expanded offering.
However, for those of us Diaspora Greeks yearning for a bit of the authentic, “down-home” taste of home, the real destination in Athens is not the center, but rather any number of its suburbs. Granted, most tourists or Greek Americans/Australians lack the local family or personal contacts with Athens to know the suburbs (hence the popularity of The Grande Bretagne in Greek-American summer selfies) but do allow me, dear reader, to recommend one.
Not ninety minutes after arriving at my dear friend Spyro’s home, in Neo Psychiko, my jetlagged being yearned for local eats. When we lived in Athens, part of the time was in Neo Psychiko or nearby Nea Philothei, and the small taverns and cafés of Plateia Eleutherias (Freedom Square) were a go-to for us. Spyro suggested a restaurant called O Foititis (The Student), nestled on a corner of the square on the ground floor of an Athenian polykatoikia (apartment building).
He of course knew what he was doing. The restaurant painted in light yellow, island-ish hues, with the standard taverna furniture of simple square tables and a wraparound veranda which could be shaded or covered against the elements, as needed. The interior was open plan, like so many restaurants, where the cooking was done in plain sight, a “transparency” about tavernas that I always loved.
Spyro, a regular, knew all the waiters, and we sat down, the place still reasonably crowded on a weekday mesimeri (early afternoon). My cousins, who also live nearby, would later tell me also raved about the place and said that for evenings you need to reserve well in advance. A cursory glance at the menu and Spyro started firing off meze selections, to my active assent. The tsipouro options alone constituted their own list, but here too Spyro took charge, and a well iced mini bottle and glasses were produced.
I could talk about the octopus, the calamari, the barbounia (on a subsequent dinner, accompanied by Spyro’s better half Louiza), all of which were top shelf, yet if I had to focus on two items alone, it would be the horta (boiled greens in olive oil) and the tirokafteri (spicy feta dip). With these, washed down by an elegant tsipouro, I would have had a memorable (not to say healthy, green, and sustainable) meal by themselves. When added to the rest of the fare, this simple, neighborhood restaurant, with efficient, friendly, and wryly humorous staff, had to top my Athenian go-to list.
As far as prices, well, the first day, Spyro had “fixed” the game with the accomplice waiter, but when I was able to take him and his fiancé out, the bill came to eighty euros for three people, far less than the center of Athens, to say nothing of American establishments, for food that was out of this world good in a pleasant environment.
In your Greek travels, including in Athens, seek out your local establishment with authentic food filled with local people. If you are staying in the center of Athens, Neo Psychiko can be reached easily by cab or via blue line Metro to Ethniki Amina station. Then head to Plateia Eleftherias. You will not regret it.