Tapping into the local markets offering artisanal products from around Greece, exotic spices and seasonal ingredients, a number of the city’s restaurateurs and chefs have succeeded in creating a new Thessalonian cuisine. Characteristic examples include the hylopites (handmade pasta) with pancetta, the crispy octopus patties, and the many creative dishes made with local cheeses that you’ll find at the small but light-filled Nea Folia taverna on the outskirts of Ano Poli.
At the new Fata Morgana, in the city center, you’ll find smoked mackerel with yellow and black split peas; a salad of zucchini, apaki (smoked pork), sea fennel and xinotyri cheese; as well as a lovely dish with fried kalathaki cheese (named for the small basket in which it takes form) from Limnos.
Radikal, a cooperative project in the Kastra area, prides itself on its oxtail with fried gnocchi and trachanas (fermented cracked wheat) cream, and on its wine list, which features interesting and well-priced selections, including natural wines.
Sebriko, near the courthouse, gets its ingredients at source and puts tons of imagination into its dishes – think rooster stuffed with mushrooms glazed with soumada (almond orgeat).
Nama, a gastro-kafeneio near the Church of Aghii Theodoroi, serves hearty, value-for-money fare like handmade pasta, and dishes enlivened with plenty of spices and fresh herbs.
In the up-and-coming Ano Ladadika neighborhood, Maitr&Margarita has a similar philosophy, with top-quality cold cuts and meats, and a focus on products from all over northern Greece.
Charoupi, in Ladadika proper, pays tribute to Cretan cuisine, bringing products straight from the island, so expect rare cheeses, handmade pasta and excellent olive oil.
Unlikely combinations executed with technical skill – like the crab with spicy chorizo and soft mastichotyri cheese from Andros – define Extravaganza, a laid-back bistro with great comfort food.
A new arrival, Evora Eatery in Kato Toumba is aimed at meat lovers, with specialties like the flat iron steak, served with baby potatoes. Don’t hesitate to order the boar, slow-cooked with apples and oranges, if it’s on the menu.
MeZen, an authentic meze joint from Volos, the birthplace of the genre, recently opened shop in Thessaloniki and presents best-sellers like its tuna gyros, its squid “kokoretsi” and other inspired sharing dishes that play with traditional concepts. As in every proper meze place, studying the menu is not as important as taking time over your ouzo or tsipouro as you sit back and watch all the good stuff come to your table. Here, there are more than 80 labels of Greek distillates to choose from – ranging from anise-flavored to aged and single-variety offerings.
Another option for meze is Anantam Papantam, which started out as a kafeneio in 1963 but has changed both address and philosophy. Now very much a gastropub, it presents classic as well as modern meze, like the eggs with kavourmas (spiced, cured meat), the salted fish (mackerel, bonito) and a few fresh seafood dishes, as well as some meat choices.
Mourga is Thessaloniki’s coolest place right now, a kafeneio that serves fish and other seafood prepared in dozens of unusual ways and unlikely combinations. Strict about using fresh seasonal organic ingredients, the chef changes the menu depending on their availability.
At the elegant and classic Mavri Thalassa in Kalamaria you can enjoy whole grilled fish, or shellfish pasta, though the famed fish soup is a must (and has to be ordered in advance).
Marea Sea Spirit, near the White Tower, is modern both in its decorative aesthetic and its food, while if you’re in the mood for a drive, head to the restaurant Marina for fish by the sea in Nea Potidea, an hour from Thessaloniki in the direction of Nea Moudiana.
Opsopoion Maganeiai is a small restaurant with a big reputation near the White Tower, where you can enjoy a rich and concentrated version of Mediterranean cuisine, with beautifully executed classics like pastas and risottos, and perfectly cooked special cuts of meat – that’s if you do manage to find a table (by booking by phone days in advance).
At Thria on the Nea Paralia, in a dining room featuring Scandinavian décor and overlooking the sea, the chef and owner shows a flair for experimentation in both seafood and meat dishes. The linguine with shrimp and a coconut-milk sauce is a balancing act between Asia and the Mediterranean.
Clochard remains a steady favorite, with a shiny new look and a menu that includes tagliata and ingredients like truffles and foie gras, among other delicacies.
Diagonios, near the White Tower, is the kind of restaurant every city would like to boast, with an old-school air, servers who are always alert to your needs and still help you with your coat or jacket, and sensible, flavorful and well-executed food. Try the liver or the soutzoukakia (oblong meatballs), both cooked on the charcoal grill.
Chalaro, in operation since 1992, has two locations and a great fondness for chicken in all its forms. Dozens of recipes and 20 years later, the eatery has added many Mediterranean dishes to the menu, as well as American meat cuts and aged meats that are ideal for the grill, sending a positive signal that its future will be as bright as its past.