Thessaloniki is a city known for its vibrant food scene. There are so many restaurants in fact, that it can get a little overwhelming. New places are popping up all the time, making it almost impossible to keep up and very easy to forget about the neighbourhood classics.
Whether you’re looking for a quick snack in the form of the city’s famous bougatsa pastry, a classy place to go for dinner or something trendy and fun, the choices are countless. To make things a little easier, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite places to eat when we’re in town. All are well worth a visit.
One of the five-star Hyatt Hotel’s restaurants, Ambrosia specializes in Greek-inspired cuisine, served in a warm and discreetly luxurious setting of marble floors and leather sofas. The open kitchen is a nice touch that enlivens the seating area. Headed by chef Apostolos Altanis, the team makes the best of fresh Greek products in well-executed dishes.
Highlights on the winter menu include the red porgy filet with a purée of seasonal vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes and a lemon-grass sauce, as well as the orzo casserole with shrimp, smoky Metsovone cheese, spicy peppers and prosciutto from Evrytania.
AMBROSIA 13th kilometer Thessaloniki-Perea • Tel. (+30) 2310.401.295
A ball of dough is not the kind of thing one generally looks at with tenderness, but there are exceptions; Philippos Bantis certainly does just that at the bougatsa pastry shop he inherited from his father. The small establishment he now runs with his wife has been at the same location since 1969, producing recipes handed down from his grandfather, who came to Thessaloniki as a refugee from Cappadocia.
Here, Bantis shows us how he rolls that dough ball until it’s almost transparently thin in order to produce the 24 sheets needed for each bougatsa pie. Every morning at seven, he puts out dozens of pies stuffed with pastry cream, chopped meat or cheese. Every Sunday after the morning mass at the local church, hungry parishioners line up here in a custom that dates from his father’s time.
In recent years, Philippos has been experimenting with old recipes as well, such as a bougatsa pie with no filling. This recipe hails from Byzantine times and consists of butter-smeared layers of filo folded into a pocket and baked so that it’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Each pie (stuffed or not) costs around €1.70.
Brizola is fast gaining a reputation as a high-end steak house. It is located in the Sfageia meat-packing district and looks it from the outside. On the inside, however, you can see the deft hand of a designer at work; the interior honors the building’s industrial character while adding an appropriate degree of elegance, with paintings, plush seating and atmospheric lighting against distressed walls.
The menu is equally well balanced, if a bit simpler: salads, appetizers, burgers and two or three meat choices. Psichoula, or Bread Crumbs, is a great dish, composed of a poached egg, smoked ham, fresh herbs and a potato crumble. The steaks, meanwhile, are served on large wooden boards with lots of sides and salad. Firmly believing that you can’t have a good meal without good wine, the owner promotes the half-bottle concept so that everyone at the table can drink what goes best with their own meal.
BANTIS 33 Panaghias Faneromenis • Tel. (+30) 2310.510.355
BRIZOLA 18 Nikolaou Mantzarou & Kotta Roulia • Tel. (+30) 2310.532.800
Charoupi, which opened just a few months ago, serves Cretan cuisine, which is under-represented in Thessaloniki. Chef Manolis Papoutsakis imports amazing products from his native island and prepares them simply and beautifully. The space is modern, with a blend of wood and metal, and the hospitality traditional. You get a glass of raki, and a few rusks and olives when you sit down.
The cheeses are aged and of a quality that is hard to find outside of Crete. You must try the cave-aged anthotyro (a soft white cheese) and the stamnagathi (spiny chicory) with chickpeas and a soft-boiled egg, as well as the fried rosemary rabbit with a sauce of grape-must and a purée of roasted eggplant.
For dessert, you will be served xerotigana, a sheet of fried filo made with flour from carob beans (after which the restaurant is named), slathered in honey and sprinkled with walnuts. This is possibly the only place in Thessaloniki where you can taste such a selection of Cretan wines, and the overall value for money is great.
CHAROUPI 4 Doxis, Ladadika • Tel. (+30) 2310. 526.262
This restaurant has been a symbol of urban dining for more than three decades and was once where the city’s businessmen would take their lunch breaks or gather for dinner in a setting of velvet seats, thick drapes and linen tablecloths. The décor has now changed – a ceiling piece gives the impression of eating under a star-studded sky – and the restaurant serves an evolved Mediterranean cuisine that has helped keep it at the top of residents’ and visitors’ preference lists.
Bestsellers include the red porgy carpaccio with bottarga and avocado; the foie gras with smoked eel and honey; and the pie of wild legumes. We also recommend the rooster with mushroom risotto and smoked Metsovone cheese, to be enjoyed with one of the 60-odd reds from local and international winemakers. The wine bar’s privileged position within the dining space illustrates the importance that the owners place on the grape.
Relaunched as a restaurant four years ago after a radical makeover, Diavasi began life in 1977 as a simple grill house run by the Handaki family. Today, they continue to prepare hundreds of their famous spicy soutzoukakia (meat patties), which arrive on large platters at nearly every table.
The pork gyro is made entirely in-house and is beautifully grilled; the fried potatoes are fresh and hand-cut; the liver is a good, if somewhat unusual menu item; and the Russian salad, from an old family recipe, accompanies most of the dishes. Only bottled Greek wine is available. The restaurant also delivers.
CLOCHARD 4 Proxenou Koromila • Tel. (+30) 2310.239.805
DIAVASI 13 Pavlou Mela • Tel. (+30) 2310.220.596
DUCK PRIVATE CHEFFING
You will need a reservation to get a table and a GPS to find the place, which resembles a country home and stands somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The restaurant serves a range of delicacies, from fresh French cheeses like camembert with marmalade, to rustic rooster with hylopites (traditional pasta), fish stew, and baked oysters.
The baked veal’s head with potatoes is a Sunday treat. The wine list is quite extensive and consists mostly of Greek labels, with a few foreign wines that don’t seem to have much reason for being there.
With a history of successful culinary ideas and a loyal clientele, Grada Nuevo has become a classic choice for luxury dining. Every year since 1996, a new seasonal dish has been added to the regular menu, including gems such as carpaccio of Greek bonito, roasted oysters, and fish tartare with caviar.
The wine list is also very interesting. Compiled by the owner, Apostolos Rigas, it consists of more than 80 wines grouped in character categories such as “refreshing and light,” “elegant with a medium body,” or “rich and complex.”
DUCK PRIVATE CHEFFING 3 Chalkis, Patriarchika Pileas • Tel. (+30) 2315.519.333
GRADA NUEVO 14 Kalapothaki • Tel. (+30) 2310.271.074
MAITR & MARGARITA
This restaurant is located on revitalized Verias Street and boasts stylish touches that you won’t find in any other Greek cuisine bistro. The owners are friends from Komotini; they share their time between the kitchen and the dining room. Sharing is also the food philosophy here, and the dishes that are passed around are primarily Mediterranean, with good quality ingredients treated with proper cooking techniques and flavored with delicious sauces.
There is a welcome hint of madness as well, with a number of the recipes displaying unique whimsical notes. The wine list has been carefully curated and, if you ask for help, you’ll get a good recommendation. If you’re interested, they’ll be glad to give you some background information on the wineries as well. There’s also a selection of beers from Greek microbreweries.
MAITR & MARGARITA Verias & Irodou Attikou • Tel. (+30) 2314.007.586
Take a drive to the harbor of Potidea, less than an hour from Thessaloniki, for a meal by the sea. As its name suggests, Marina is located in a small bay with a view of the port. It serves Mediterranean dishes of fresh fish and other seafood, including shellfish, in a modern setting and offers great service. For the quintessential meze experience, start with kakavia (fish stew) followed by a little cured fish, accompanying your food with a glass of tsipouro or ouzo.
The pastas and risottos, including the mussel risotto and the seafood giouvetsi (“roast”) are all delicious; they’re consistent bestsellers among the regular clientele. The garlic-butter shrimp and stuffed calamari are also popular choices. The wine list is large, with an emphasis on whites that pair well with the menu.
The cuisine here is Mediterranean, with an emphasis on local culinary traditions. Mavri Hina serves dishes such as pies stuffed with cheeses or meats; homemade kavourmas (cured ham) with fried eggs; pastas; and a swordfish and potato, celery and sea-fennel fry-up.
All in all, it’s a nice addition to the city’s food scene. So, if you’re in or near Pylaia, remember that this is just the place for regional specialties accompanied by good wines and impressive desserts.
MARINA Potidea Marina, Nea Potidea • Tel. (+30) 2373.041.570
MAVRI HINA 49 Profitis Ilias, Pilea • Tel. (+30) 2310.324.303
Regarded as one of the best seafood restaurants in the city, Mavri Thalassa is located in the suburb of Kalamaria. It is perfect for business dinners or special family meals, with standouts that include all the shellfish dishes, the grilled fish and the taramosalata (roe spread). Also try the red mullet filet (fried or grilled) or the fricasseed cod. The wine list is quite extensive, with great wineries and vintages to please connoisseurs and novices alike.
Far away from the waterfront and its strip of seafood restaurants, this small urban kafeneio serves some of the best fish and seafood in town. An unassuming establishment, it implements a first-come first-served system that involves having only one menu, which is passed from diner to diner. This can be somewhat off-putting to newcomers but has been accepted by the many regulars who come here for the great food.
If you don’t mind waiting your turn, you’re in for a surprise, as the menu changes every day, depending on what the owner-chef finds at the fish market. The vegetables are seasonal and largely organic. There isn’t any standard dish to recommend, but we do guarantee that anything you order will be good, flavorful and made with care.
MAVRI THALASSA 3 Nikolaou Plastira • Tel. (+30) 2310.932.542
MOURGA 12 Christopoulou • Tel. (+30) 2310.268.826
Nama, which opened just a few months ago at the start of Olimpou Street in the Aghion Apostolon neighborhood, has a view of the local church, a simple interior and a friendly ambience. The food is based on local ingredients (from small-scale farmers and producers) that are given imaginative makeovers.
We tried the grilled smoked mackerel served with an unusual hummus with cilantro; the dough fritters with pastourma (air-dried cured beef) and tomato marmalade; and a salad of zucchini marinated in carob oil and pesto. The bread, served in a wooden box, is sprinkled with fresh herbs and paprika.
Our favorite dish of all was the beef cheeks cooked with orzo and served with a sprinkling of grated myzithra, a soft white fresh cheese. The taverna has an exclusive partnership with a local winery, so the wine list is limited but very well priced.
NAMA 1 Olimpou • Tel. (+30) 2313.088.241
This place started out as one of the city’s hidden tavernas, serving blue-collar workers simple, hearty fare and lots of wine after work. Today, it is a restaurant with a passion for the local cuisine that has helped to make Thessaloniki’s food scene so special. Nea Folia’s friendly owners cook with heart, delivering traditional dishes with tons of flavor.
The stews are amazing, the meats all come with sauces that feature fruits and wine, and the cooks rely on culinary techniques brought to the city from Asia Minor nearly a century ago. Overall the food is complex, if somewhat rich. If you enjoy cheese, you’ll find a very nice selection here, including products from the Cycladic islands, Crete and mainland Greece.
In the five short years since it opened, Poselli Pizza has made Thessalonians see pizza in a whole new light. Run by five young entrepreneurs – who also own La Doze, one of the city’s best cocktail-bar/dance clubs, right next door – Poselli’s is an excellent example of an establishment that serves high-quality street food, with amazing value for money.
Thin and crispy, the pizzas come with all sorts of imaginative toppings and cost €2-€3 a slice (€8-€12 for a whole pie). Around 16 different kinds are produced every day, the most popular of which is either the truffles, buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and basil pizza, or the Greca, made with tomato confit, zucchini, feta cheese, herbs and yogurt. The place stays open very late at night, making it a perfect pit-stop on the road to staving off a hangover.
NEA FOLIA 4 Aristomenous • Tel. (+30) 2310.960.383
POSELLI PIZZA 2 Vilara & Andrea Syngrou • Tel. (+30) 2314.019.687