How Athens Became One of the Most Exciting Dining Destinations in Europe

From cerebral fine-dining spots to hyperlocal neo-tavernas, chefs in Athens are ushering in a new era of Hellenic cuisine.

The groundbreaking restaurant Delta is perched atop the Stavros Niarchos Foun- dation Cultural Center, which houses Greece’s National Library and National Opera
The groundbreaking restaurant Delta is perched atop the Stavros Niarchos Foun- dation Cultural Center, which houses Greece’s National Library and National Opera. Photo:

Courtesy of Delta

As part of the 12-course tasting menu at Delta in Athens, diners are presented with a magical sunflower trompe l’oeil. The flower might have a center of preserved mustard seeds with a fermented blackberry glaze over grilled sweetbreads, surrounded by “petals” of pickled and crisped saffron-stained leeks. Or it might feature aged beef tartare or sole poached in seawater with a haunting hint of mastic, the latter hidden beneath a heart of Greek caviar. The dish has been a signature of Delta’s co-chefs George Papazacharias and Thanos Feskos since they opened their thrillingly inventive restaurant inside the landmark Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in 2021.

A lyrical ode to the Greek landscape, the edible flower was conceived by Papazacharias late in 2020 during the pandemic, as he drove from Oslo to Athens to open Delta, a journey through quarantine border checks that took almost three days. Finally reaching Greece, he spied a sunflower field and thought, “A sunflower must be on the menu!”

Before his return, Papazacharias worked at such celebrated restaurants as the edgy three-Michelin-starred Maaemo in Oslo, while Feskos served as assistant head chef at Copenhagen’s three-starred Geranium. The pair were lured home by the invitation from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation to open what has quickly become Greece’s most exciting restaurant, housed inside a dramatic glass cube designed by Renzo Piano, above the National Opera House. In just over a year, Delta snagged two Michelin stars for its theatrical tasting menus melding New Nordic techniques with intensely researched Aegean ingredients.

Before the decade-long financial crisis gripped Greece in 2010, fine dining in Athens mostly meant staid continental menus, while tavernas hewed to familiar classics like moussaka. But these days, Athenian chefs are turning the capital into one of the most exciting gastronomic destinations in Europe. This restaurant revolution is part of Athens’ overall march into the future, with dazzling new cultural venues, a boutique hotel boomlet, and a flourishing arts scene.

“During the crises years, things were so hard, nothing worked,” recalls chef Tasos Mantis of Soil, another local fine-dining sensation. “But even back then, and especially during the pandemic, people started to grow stuff themselves. Small suppliers with incredible products would knock on restaurants’ doors. And now we have a new generation of chefs who are so passionate about local ingredients.”

Mantis, too, spent years working abroad — mainly at Belgium’s three-starred Hof van Cleve — and opened Soil two years ago in a beautiful neoclassical house in the Pangrati district. His tasting menus celebrate Greek terroir. “Our miso? Made from local chickpeas or lentils. Our yuzu sauce? From kumquats in our garden.” Depending on what produce is on offer, he might create a beautiful still life of sweet Kilados shrimp in an orange, marigold, and mussel emulsion, or marinate local goat in koji until it’s meltingly tender, to be grilled and served with heirloom aspromitiko beans (white beans grown only on Lemnos).

Acropolis views from Retiré Bar on the rooftop of the Ergon House hotel
Acropolis views from Retiré Bar on the rooftop of the Ergon House hotel.

Courtesy of Ergon House

But perhaps the most interesting culinary phenomenon in Athens right now is the rise of the Greek gastro-bistro, says local food journalist and restaurateur Fotis Vallatos. “Well, OK, call it the gastro-taverna,” he adds with a grin.

The movement started in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, during the financial crisis, then sparked in Athens with scruffy-chic hyper-locavore spots like Seychelles and Fabrica tou Efrosinou — both still going strong. Today, says Vallatos, it’s hard to keep up with the openings. Late in 2022, he launched red-hot Pharaoh in the diverse Exarcheia neighborhood with partners that include a celebrity Thessaloniki chef, Manolis Papoutsakis. Part natural-wine bar, part restaurant, part coffeehouse, this genre-busting spot captures a back-to-the-roots trend that defines the Athenian zeitgeist. The kitchen uses only grills and wood-fired stoves, turning out comforting food like rabbit stew with lemons and olive oil, crawfish in a pool of stakovoutiro (a Cretan sheep’s-milk clarified butter), and charred wild greens with a cloud of xynomyzithra (a soft whey cheese).

On my most recent visit to Athens, I had a pitch-perfect lunch at Linou Soumpasis k sia, a taverna opened in 2021 in the arty district of Psyri by two restaurateurs and a chef, all passionate about the island of Lemnos. The short, hyper-seasonal menu delivered gems of sophisticated simplicity. My companion here was Ari Vezené, one of Greece’s most beloved chefs, who pioneered locavore cooking here at his namesake restaurant and has a trio of new concepts in the center of town. “This place should represent to the world what a 21st-century Greek taverna should be!” he enthused as we devoured kakavia, a kind of fisherman’s soup, then swiped housemade sourdough pita into ethereal taramosalata and polished off sun-kissed peppers filled with soft artisanal feta.

To show me more of the new Athenian food spirit, Vezené spun me around the old center of town, where new boutique hotels, third-wave coffee joints, and craft cocktail bars were popping up on formerly ramshackle streets. We stopped at the street-food sensation Feyrouz for Levantine wrap sandwiches reinvented with exalted local ingredients and admired the green-striped pistachio croissants at Overoll, a chic new bakery concept.

Finally, we ordered some skewers of heritage Cretan chicken at Vezené’s impossibly hip new yakitori place, Birdman, his love letter to Japanese dining counters. Nearby, he also recently opened Ikigai, a boutique Japanese market stocked with some 200 unique products like vinegar infused with cherry blossoms, rare Japanese whiskeys, and handmade ceramics. Inside the market sat a dining counter concept called Ekiben Kitchen, inspired by the bento dining culture of Japanese railway stations.

“What’s exciting about the Athens of now,” said Vezené as we slurped ramen with smoked tomatoes in rooster broth, “are people pursuing their passions, taking chances on different concepts — and others following them.”

It’s the motto of a new Athens.

Where to eat and drink

A selection of sake and wines at Ikigai, a boutique Japanese market owned by one of Greece’s most beloved chefs, Ari Vezené
A selection of sake and wines at Ikigai, a boutique Japanese market owned by one of Greece’s most beloved chefs, Ari Vezené.

Courtesy of Ikigai Market


George Papazacharias and Thanos Feskos apply avant-garde New Nordic techniques to local ingredients at their boldly designed two-Michelin-star spot. Book early to snag one of the 12 tables, and prepare for gastronomic performance art.


The ever-changing nightly tasting menus of a dozen-plus pretty dishes from chef Tasos Mantis also fuse a minimalist Scandinavian ethos with a Hellenic farm-to-table approach. The entire menu is a love letter to Greek farmers and fishermen.


Thessaloniki-based Yiannis Loukakis recently brought his brand to Athens, teaming up with star pastry chef Spyros Pediaditakis. Their casual taverna is an all-day affair: tempting baked goods for breakfast, lunches of meze, and soulful dinners.


In the Exarcheia district, here’s another new Athenian hit helmed by a Thessaloniki chef. Guests crowd the concrete-walled, big-windowed space for the warm vinyl sounds, natural wines, and wood-fired cooking.

Linou Soumpasis k sia

The industrial-chic decor sets the scene for this taverna’s neo-traditional fare. Its kakavia (fish soup) is already a legend in town, but even a simple tomato salad is unforgettable. In that Athenian DIY spirit, the place doubles as candle shop.

Bean salad with wild mushrooms at Linou Soumpasis k sia
Bean salad with wild mushrooms at Linou Soumpasis k sia.

Courtesy of Linou Soumpasis k sia

Annie Fine Cooking

This wildly popular bistro in Neos Kosmos (a residential neighborhood not far from the city center) has a welcoming vibe and inspired modern cooking by chef Stefanos Michalis. Try the mussels with pickled onion, wild garlic, and chamomile.


This corner shop specializes in Turkish and Levantine street food like lahmatzun (minced meat–topped flatbreads) and pide reinvented with creative local fillings. Many are inspired by recipes from the family matriarch born in Turkey.


In this souvlaki-centric city, it’s hard to stand out, but this new, cheery spot on the edge of Varvakeios Market delivers exemplary pork skewers grilled over charcoal made from special kermes wood from Mount Athos. Don’t miss the meatballs.

Birdman, Ikigai, Ekiben Kitchen

Ari Vezené brings cosmopolitan cool to downtown with his trio of Japanese-inspired concepts. Birdman serves yakitori; Ikigai sells a curated selection of Japanese edibles, and Ekiben Kitchen serves food informed by bento railway culture.

In Love Again

From the owners of popular cocktail bar Baba Au Rumthis chic spot serves designer caffeine and tiki cocktail–inspired desserts. It’s a plant shop as well, and it sells beautiful handmade ceramics.

One of the stunning signature suites at Xenodocheio Milos
One of the stunning signature suites at Xenodocheio Milos.

Courtesy of Xenodocheio Milos

Where to stay

Xenodocheio Milos

This chic 43-room hideaway is co-owned by chef Costas Spiliadis, the force behind the Estiatorio Milos global restaurant empire. The luxurious, understated rooms are well appointed and include The Naxos Apothecary toiletries in the bathrooms. At the dazzling seafood-centric restaurant, fresh fish from all over Greece glistens on ice. Rooms from $400

Zillers Boutique Hotel

In the happening Plaka district, this intimate property is named for Ernst Ziller, the German architect who designed many late-19th-century Athenian landmarks, as well as the hotel’s townhouse. Its 10 high-ceilinged guest quarters mix modern and vintage; book way ahead for rooms with Acropolis views. Don’t miss its Michelin-starred restaurant. Rooms from $200

Ergon House

This boutique hotel in downtown Athens is owned by Ergon Foods, Greece’s answer to Eataly, with rooms located above their Athenian marketplace. All rooms have curated minibars stocked with Ergon goodies and premixed cocktails by Clumsies, the city’s hottest bar. Sign up for a cooking class, or lounge at the rooftop bar, Retiré. Rooms from $315

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles