Kaminia is a working class district, at once ugly and beautiful, with simple houses and apartment complexes lining its streets like in any other city neighborhood. In the late 19th century, large industrial warehouses, workshops and forges were built here to serve the needs of the port. Nearby, several tavernas popped up catering to the workers, and over time a rich tradition developed of simple, breathtakingly fresh food at cheap prices.
Not prominently featured in many tourist guides, the neighborhood of Kaminia in Piraeus is nevertheless home to several delightful, cheap and truly authentic eateries. Sticking closely to its working class origins, Kaminia’s tavernas offer a no-frills experience that is delicious and keeps patrons coming back for more, including many who don’t live in the area. Forget the tourist traps and menus translated into 17 languages, this is the real deal.
Another interesting feature is how many islanders live here, which is reflected in the street names: Chios, Samos, the Dodecanese, Kythira, Paxos, Mykonos. Even before “local cuisine” become the new marketing tool for Athenian restaurants, here you could eat authentic louza ham from the Cyclades, tomatokeftedes (fried tomato balls) from Santorini and trovolia (a type of fresh cheese) from Mykonos.
Below is our guide to 6 of Kaminia’s best restaurants:
1. Zoodochos Pigi Oinomageiron
A sweet old taverna which started off as a wine shop owned by Kostas and Grigoris Lambrou before the Second World War. It was bombed, rebuilt and dedicated to the local Zoodochos Pigi church, built in honor of the Virgin Mary. Back then, they sold their own wine with meze, mostly cheese, salami and bread, and some cooked food made by Maria, Kostas’s wife.
Their grandchildren Alexandros and Kostas now run the place and, both being artists, they’ve lent a creative flair to the restaurant. Definitely try the potatoes cooked in meat juices, the juicy liver with orange sauce, the kebabs, the fava and the special stew.
Tel. (+30) 210.481.4438. Open daily except Sunday from 20.30. Cost: about €15 per person.
The Mykonian roots of Philippos Tsampouras (his mother hails from there) are behind the island touches on the menu of this good meze taverna. Salads with seasonal greens and louza ham, pies with cheese, onion and dill, Mykonian sausages with yogurt sauce, and mostra with kopanisti (rusks with a sharp cheese) are just some examples of the Cycladic influence. One of their strongest points is the modern seafood: the brilliant dolmades stuffed with smoked and marinated fish, potato salad with mackerel, tuna salad with quinoa and sautéed squid with basil pesto.
Tel. (+30) 210.481.8171. Tuesday to Saturday from 1 pm onwards. Only open for lunch on Sundays. Closed on Monday. Cost: €15 per person (with raki).
3. To Kapeleiou tou Zahou
Unpretentious, old-fashioned, with barrels and cramped tables, folk music playing from a CD player and the general hubbub of a taverna. It’s often packed in the evenings since people come from other areas to eat well and cheaply. Fresh fish of the day is on offer together with simple food prepared just right. Nice fish soup, fried cod which melts in the mouth and fluffy fried salted cod. Boiled vegetables and wild greens, beans, and hand cut potatoes. The meat is also well-prepared. The portions are huge so you’re bound to take some home with you.
Tel. (+30) 210.481.3325. Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. On Sundays they open only for lunch. €15 per person (with house wine from the barrel).
4. “Psiti Gourounopoula”
Another pleasant surprise in the area, this little shop is almost like a snack bar, a little kitsch but with delicious spit-roasted pork prepared in a special oven in their flagship store in Nikaia. The pork is sold by the kilo. They’ll pack it into a carton for you with mustard, salt and pepper. The meat is juicy and the skin is crispy and caramelized without a trace of the heavy pork smell. Alternatively you can ask them to wrap it in pita-bread with potatoes. They also deliver locally.
Agiou Eleftheriou 52
Tel. (+30) 210.482.8818. Open daily from morning onwards.
In Lefka, the old working-class neighborhood between Kaminia and Piraeus, between car repair workshops and dilapidated warehouses is the traditional fish taverna of Kapetanios, serving extremely fresh, dirt-cheap fish. The atmosphere is casual, the service haphazard and the wine comes from the barrel. But the staff are polite and the food is simple and delicious. Order the fish soup in advance to avoid disappointment. Try the fried squid, octopus and shrimp on the grill (ask them not to overcook them). They’ve been in the same spot for 40 years, working with the same fishermen who bring them the fresh catch of the day every day.
Tenedou 4, Tel. (+30) 210.420.6539.
Open daily from 19.00 onwards. Also open for lunch on Sundays. Cost: about 15-20 € / person (with house wine).
6. Alli Skala
Intellectual types from all over Athens and Piraeus can be seen in this taverna created by Stavros Sigalas and Christos Markozanis from Santorini, who also have a taverna on their home island in Oia. For a few years now, Christos’s niece Lia has been in charge of Alli Skala. One of the reasons for its popularity is the live folk and rebetika music, and many celebrations are held here. The other equally important draw is the food: Santorini tomatokeftedes, louza ham, fava beans and perfectly roasted meats. A few good bottled wines complete the experience. In the summer the action moves to their beautiful courtyard.
Tel. (+30) 210.482.7722. Open Thursday-Saturday evenings and Sunday lunchtime. Cost: about €15 per person.
This article was first published by Kathimerini newspaper