Some serve fish and seafood, others meatballs and special omelets, while others goat stew. What these tavernas have in common, however, is that they all opened in the 1950s, at a time when the city’s skyline was radically changing and the pace of life was becoming faster. In other words, these tavernas have been around for the past 70 years.
Since they opened their doors, a lot of things have changed, in both the city and in people’s habits, but despite these changes, some things have stayed the same: amity, sharing, camaraderie. Even the old wine barrels, which stand in the same place as they did when the tavernas first opened, or certain nostalgic posters, like the classic photo of Aliki Vougiouklaki (1934-1996) – Greece’s “National Star” – advertising a Fix beer, or the advertisement of the first Papastratos filtered cigarettes, make visiting these places feel like stepping back in time.
Ta Kanaria, in Moschato: since 1950
The courtyard at Ta Kanaria, a small taverna in the area of Tzitzifies in the suburb of Kallithea, has a warm, intimate aura. Painted flowerpots made from old containers of feta cheese are still used to add to the taverna’s atmosphere. In the center of the taverna stands a fig tree that provides shade and cool respite during the hot summer months.
Everything is well-kept and in the right place: the classic old Greek refrigerator of 1964, the scale of 1959 that is still used to weigh fish, the old petrol stove, the wooden exterior door that the family’s grandfather found in 1938 in a demolished house in Piraeus. Everything has been preserved like works of art in a museum. Even the wine barrels, most of which are 50-60 years old, are still in use. Every September when the cooper comes, the barrels are taken down, washed and maintained so that they can be refilled with must from the regions of Mesogeia (with the Savatiano grape variety) and Nemea (the Roditis and Agiorgitiko varieties). The taverna works with a winemaker and produces its own white and rosé wines. When the must is added, and for about one week, the taverna makes must jelly, which it serves to its customers.
We’re told that the fig tree in the courtyard was planted by Spyros Argyropoulos when he was just 5 years old. This was his family home – both a house and a coffee shop. At the time, the area was covered with fields, except for two small industries whose workers would come for a cup of coffee and some meze that his mother used to prepare. His father worked as a waiter at the two big coffee shops on Omonoia Square, but when he opened his own coffee shop, some of his “customer-friends” followed him. He also had two friends who were fishermen, one of whom would fish in the Ilisos River, at a spot not far from the taverna. Whatever fish he caught, he would bring back to the taverna and sell to customers to take home. Sometimes, customers would ask his father to cook the fish for them.
In 1962, Ta Kanaria stopped serving coffees and the other meze items and turned it into what it is today: a taverna that exclusively serves shrimp and fresh fish – mainly red porgy, common dentex, striped red mullets, white seabream – salads, olives, and feta cheese. True to form, they don’t serve French fries.
Their specialty, shrimp, are either fried, boiled or grilled. They source their shrimp and camarote prawns from the town of Platamona, in the south of Pieria, Macedonia, which are considered the best in Greece. In July and August, the months when shrimp reproduce, the taverna is closed because they don’t want to compromise on quality or negatively impact on the supply. Big and sweet to the palate, the shrimp are floured and fried in a “secret” mix of olive and other oils – a family secret that is jealously guarded. The fish come from the island of Koufonisia in the Cyclades.
119 Kanari, Moschato
Tel. (+30) 210.942.2119
Open Fri-Sat 19:00-24:00, Sun 12:00-17:00
Price: €30-45 per person not including drinks.
Pezoulas in Kallithea, since 1950
In Kallithea, close to the sea, in the area of Tzitzifies behind the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center where the old horse racetrack once stood from 1925 to 2003, Panaghotis Pezoulas and his wife Panaghiota opened a small taverna on the ground floor of their home. In the afternoon, they would serve the jockeys and punters who visited the racetrack, while at night they would serve “kakavia” (a traditional fish soup) to revelers, as many of the nightclubs at the time were located in the area. The stars of the golden age of Greek folk music would go there to eat when they finished their performances.
In 1970, the family’s second generation, Lymperis Pezoulas, took over and served only fish and seafood. In 1996, Lymperis Pezoulas passed the taverna on to his son Panagiotis who, together with his wife Katerina, has been running the taverna since 2021. Many things have changed since 1951 when the historic fish taverna opened its doors. The small courtyard that has an island feel is still the same, but some modern, tasteful changes have been made to the taverna’s interior. Apart from the paintings, the interior has been redesigned with marble and brick by craftsmen from the island of Tinos.
Pezoulas has kept the simplicity and the feel of a traditional Greek taverna that takes its patrons on a journey to a time when it served Greece’s popular folklore singers. Even though new dishes have been added to the menu, fish soup is still the constant favorite and is the reason why many people come here. Highlights include the fried crayfish, the pea puree with smoked eel, the octopus with spiny chicory, and the fried striped red mullet.
New dishes that are a bit more modern have been added to the menu, such as the sea bass carpaccio and the gilt-head bream ceviche, that deviate from the atmosphere of a traditional fish taverna but in no way undermine it. The fish are always fresh (from Halkida, the Varvakios market, and the Renti fish market) and, if you like, you can visit the kitchen and select the fish you want. The wine list includes 14 bottled Greek wines.
11 Pesistratou, Kallithea
Tel. (+30) 210.942.2684
Open Tue-Sat 13:30-23:15. Sun 13:00-17:00. The taverna is closed on Mon
Price: €25-€30 per person not including drinks.
Ramnous in Marathonas, since 1950
Located literally in the middle of nowhere, Vasilo Lepoura would serve her specialty – pasta with rooster cooked in a red sauce – to passing hunters in a small taverna that was an extension of her house. Today, the dish, which hasn’t changed and remains equally delicious, is prepared by her son Fotis and his daughter Vasiliki, together with other savory dishes in the same location surrounded by nature in the southeast of Attica. Almost all of the ingredients are homegrown. The family’s garden boasts a bounty of fresh vegetables throughout the year, and they also rear their own farm animals.
Set your GPS and drive out to Ramnounta to try a variety of delicious dishes: ewe cooked slowly in the oven overnight and served on parchment paper, savory fried pastourma and cheese pies, eggs with feta cheese and French fries (all produced by the family), handmade pies, lamb cooked in an earthen vessel with rosemary, pork shank, spareribs cooked in the oven with potatoes. If you’re lucky, maybe Fotis has prepared a game bird stew with pilaf – the taverna continues to be a popular haunt for hunters.
At the end of Ramnountos avenue, at the archaeological site, Marathonas
Tel. (+30) 22940.636.70
Open only at weekends and only by reservation
Price: €18-€20 per person, not including drinks.
Tsompanakos in Kaisiariani, since 1954
The medley of antiques and memorabilia that adorn Tsompanakos radiates warmth. Among the many objects, the panoramic photo of Smyrna is what catches the eye. When Theofilos Kanonieris was uprooted from Asia Minor at the age of 16, he took it with him as his only memento. When he reached Athens, his first job was tending sheep, which is how he got his nickname “Tsompanakos” (“Little Shepherd”). A few years later, he opened a small taverna with only eight tables in a side street of Kaisariani, which is still there today. Theofilos passed the taverna on to his son, Kyriakos, who in turn passed it on to his son, Theofilos, who runs the taverna today.
The jukebox in the corner still works. From time to time, customers will get up and select a song. In the kitchen, Theofilos prepares a mix of Anatolian and Greek dishes using the recipes that were passed down to him by his father and his Constantinopolitan mother: lahanodolmades (stuffed cabbage leaves), mushrooms with bulgur, snails with shallots cooked in a red sauce, dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves), pasta with ewe in a red sauce, pies baked in a proofing cabinet, Constantinopolitan salads with hot peppers and kebab. The signature dish, however, is lambchops – “fruit of the forest” as the waiters call them – that are finely chopped and very tender.
Over the years, the taverna has served athletes (as the various football and basketball memorabilia attest) and renowned musicians and artists, such as Lefteris Papdopoulos and, before him, Vasilis Tsitsanis and Sotiria Bellou. The latter not only had their own table, but they also had their own key so that they could let themselves in in the early hours of the morning when they finished their performances at “Charama” – a local nightclub – and enjoy the various dishes of the day.
2 Anakreontos, Kaisariani
Tel. (+30) 210.724.8441
Tue-Sat 19:30-01:00. Sun 13:00-19:00. The taverna is closed on Mon
Price: €15 per person, not including drinks.
Kitsaronas in Menidi, since 1955
The oldest taverna in Acharnes was opened in 1955 by Christos Tsamis. Christos Tsamis was a distinguished cook and his taverna was known for its grilled dishes, particularly its rib-eye steak and “Kitsarona steak,” as well as for its legendary traditional dishes that he prepared with family recipes that were passed down from generation to generation to which he added his own personal touch.
In 1991, Christos Tsamis passed the taverna over to his son Tasos, who added new dishes to the menu such as ewe, stuffed burger and grilled teg, which loyal patrons from all over Athens swear by.
In 2016, the taverna moved a few meters down the street to its present location, where it serves traditional dishes such as soutzoukakia (spicy oblong meatballs served in tomato sauce), tas kebab, pastitsio (a pasta dish with ground meat and béchamel sauce), rooster cooked with a red wine sauce, meatballs and special omelets. The sheep are reared by local herders in Menidi, while other meat products come from Serres, Lesvos, and the Peloponnese. During the summer months, the taverna sets tables out on the square, while the sub-basement is styled after a classic Greek taverna that houses unique museum objects and a photo gallery of Menidi.
8 Pavlou Mela, main square of Acharnes, Menidi
Tel. (+30) 210.246.5141
Open Fri-Sat 18:00-01:00, Sun 12:00-01:00
Price: about €20 per person.
Axotis in Polygono, since 1956
Axotis has all the elements of a typical taverna, but others that make it unique. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s very clean or that the lines of wine barrels reach all the way to the ceiling. Regardless, you can feel its 67 years of history in the air. If you look closely, in one of the picture frames you will see a group of construction workers posing for a photo before returning to setting the foundations where Axotis stands today. This is where the history of the taverna began: the family’s grandfather Nikos – a native of the town of Danako, Naxos, a construction worker himself – and his wife Irini, who began making wine in the basement of their home. In the afternoons, they would start a fire in the yard and the diggers of the area would gather there to enjoy goat that the couple would boil in a tin of olive oil.
Nikos and Irini eventually decided to open Axotis and the same construction workers who once gathered in their yard to try their delicious goat dish helped them excavate the land and build the taverna where a hill once stood. Apart from the atmosphere, there are other reasons to try this taverna on the sloping streets of Polygono.
Nikos Vasilas (the grandson of the taverna’s first owner) and his wife Evi grill their meats to perfection – we recommend the rosy lamb chops, as well as the succulent pork chop or the chicken fillet. The horta (wild leafy greens) arrive at the table fresh and full of flavor, while the handmade tzatziki and homemade tirokafteri (spicy cheese spread) make for a perfect duet with a side order of delicious French fries – thin, crispy and almost caramelized, they remind you of French fries that you would typically find in a French bistro. For dessert, we recommend the halva with cinnamon and freshly squeezed lemon.
15 Paparseni, Polygono
Tel. (+30) 210.645.9130
Mon-Sat 19:30-0:00, Sun 13:00-17:30
Price: €15.00 per person not including drinks.
To Koutouki tou Antoni in Palaia Kokkinia, since 1958
On a narrow street with barrels that were also used as tables, the taverna was so narrow that there was no room to move; this is how I remember Irini’s taverna. She would stand over a gas burner, in front of a pan frying potatoes. Irini’s mother, Eftychia from Corfu, opened the greengrocery–taverna in the spring of 1958 in the suburb of Kokkinia. She would put must in the barrels and serve anything that was on hand in the greengrocery as a meze: eggs, cheese on parchment paper, cured sardines, small meatballs. As the years went by, the taverna moved twice, changing its menu slightly: patsa giahni (slowly cooked tripe soup) was Eftychia’s specialty at the taverna’s new location, just a few meters down on Roumelis Street. Irini took over the taverna when her mother passed away and today, after having moved yet again, this time to Argyrokastro Street, next to the legendary basement of Xidis, a small taverna where the Greek singer Markos Vamvakaris used to sing, she runs the taverna with her daughter, the younger Eftychia.
Antonis is the husband, a remarkable collector of small objects who all the antique shop owners in Avissynias Square in Monastiraki know. Today, the family’s third generation does everything: they do the shopping, they buy the supplies, they wait on tables, Irini does the frying, Eftychia makes the salads and grills the meat. Antonis, now a retiree, helps whenever/wherever he is needed. They serve lamb chops from spring lamb from Lesvos, as well as fried skate fish, cod with a garlic spread that is served all year round and kokoresti (spit-roasted delights) which they make themselves. The tables, furniture and memorabilia are from the family’s grandmother’s dowry, together with everything else the neighborhood gave them in 1994 as a housewarming gift to welcome them to the neighborhood, as well as whatever Antonis finds at flea markets – from worry beads to porcelain statuettes of King Otto and Queen Amalia (Greece’s first king and his wife).
26 Argyrokastro, Palaia Kokkinia
Tel. (+30) 210.492.4338
Price: €15.00 per person not including drinks.
Agroktima Regoukou in Stamata, since 1958
In 1950, Petros Regoukos – a resident of Kifisia with origins from Evia – with his wife Aggeliki bought a plot in the remote area of Stamata where they set up a livestock facility, after that a farm and a few years later a taverna with fresh ingredients that they grew themselves and wine that they made in their basement. The taverna and farm were passed on to their children, nephews and grandchildren who today welcome loyal patrons from all over Athens who swear by the honey-glazed goat roasted with origano and served with potatoes, the lachanodolmades (stuffed cabbage rolls), the succulent, aromatic meatballs that are still made with their grandmother’s original recipe, the homemade tzatziki, the mageiritsa (soup made from lamb offal), the lamb fricassee, the handmade spinach pie (everything, of course, made with vegetables grown on the farm), the sheftalia with caul fat, the stifado (beef stew with onions), the sweet fried zucchinis and, of course, the lambchops that are prepared by the family’s grandson Petros. On weekdays, they also serve Evian cheese pies.
The meat is fresh and reared locally in the town of Maggina, while the family’s farm supplies everything else. Among the taverna’s plusses are the warm greeting customers receive from the family’s granddaughter Asimina, the quietness that is perfectly apposite, the natural beauty of the surrounding area and the shade that is provided by the arbor during the summer months.
At the end of Ektoros street (5th stop of the 507 Marathonas bus line), Stamata (Amygdaleza)
Tel: (+30) 210.621.7898
Open daily from 19:00, Sat from the afternoon, Sun night closed (only by reservation)
Price: €20.00 per person not including drinks.
Skilodimos (To Bakaliko tou Filippa) in Piraeus, since 1959
The customers here are not just regulars, they’re family. Mr Antonis comes with his own bread that he buys from a local bakery and, before he even sits down, he grabs a broom to sweep up the dry leaves that have blown in from the backyard. Filippos, the owner, will bring him kasseri cheese on parchment paper, together with some wine. At the next table, Mr Mathios never loses the opportunity to talk about his beloved Ethnikos Piraeus, a local football club. The teasing goes back and forth, as do discussions about current events or fishing.
In the past, tavernas like Skilodimos were commonplace. Today, the greengrocery–taverna in Piraeus is among a handful (if not the only of its kind) where life goes on as if the world hasn’t changed. The crates with the vegetables in the center of the room are not decorative. Neighbors come in to buy cabbage, onions, lentils or cleaning products, instant coffee, canned foods and paper products. Filippos fills their shopping bags, gives them their change, takes their orders and goes to the back to the small kitchen to continue making French fries (sweet potatoes from Tripoli or from Kozani if he can’t find any from Tripoli), meatballs (exemplary) and omelets (we recommended the spicy omelet with kavurma) and then back again to the refrigerator to get cheese and pastourma and to take care of his customers.
His father, Nikolas Skilodimos, left his village in Farsala at a young age to go to Piraeus. “As the firstborn, he had to leave the village when he finished elementary school to work and save up for his sisters’ dowries,” Filippos tells us. He worked from the age of 12 as a delivery boy at the greengrocery of the Aggelopoulos brothers on Sotiros Street. “In the morning he would load the carriage and pull it up Karaoli and Dimitriou Street to the top of the hill to sell his products. At night, he slept in the shop, on bricks.” In 1959, after completing his military service, he bought the shop with the money he had managed to save and continued to run it as a greengrocery–taverna until, decades later, it was taken over by Filippos. “This is how I received it, this is how I have kept it,” he says, and he means it.
This article was previously published in Greek at gastronomos.gr.
16 Deligiorgi and 23 Skilitsi, Piraeus
Tel. (+30) 211.408.0630
Mon and Wed 09:00-17:30, Tue-Thu-Fri-Sat 09:00-0:00, Sun: closed
Price: €10.00 per person not including drinks.