As you seek out the newest much-awaited restaurant, or maybe something delicious that’s quick and easy and can be eaten on the go, you’ll catch glimpses here and there of Roman arches, Byzantine churches, Ottoman baths, indoor markets and other traces of the many different peoples who once inhabited Thessaloniki.
A metropolis during both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, a city-refuge for the thousands of Sephardic Jews persecuted during the Spanish Inquisition, the home of 20th-century refugees from Asia Minor and the Black Sea area, an urban center with French, Slavic and Armenian influences: the rich history of Thessaloniki may be half-hidden in its streets, but it’s clearly evident in its kitchens and on its dining tables. There’s good reason that the residents of Thessaloniki are widely known as foodies, and with so many gastronomic destinations to discover, visitors will be, too.
Beginning your tour along the coast is an obvious choice, as there’s a great seaside promenade running from the port to the White Tower and the Concert Hall, with stunning views over the sea toward Mt Olympus in the distance. However, after that initial taste of the sea, we recommend you leave the busy streets and head to Bantis for a breakfast treat that’s a city trademark. From seven in the morning, fresh bougatsas (crispy fyllo pastries filled with cheese or vanilla semolina cream) are pulled from the oven, cut into pieces and weighed on an old-fashioned scale before being sold to customers.
The shop has been operating in the same location since 1969, and Filippos Bantis is still making the pastry by hand, just as his father did, in the way taught to them by Filippos’ grandfather, who came to Greece as a refugee from Kayseri, formerly Caesarea, in Cappadocia. If you get here early enough, you can even try their special bougatsa, made with no filling but plenty of fresh butter.
Bantis: 33 Panagias Faneromenis, Tel. (+30) 2310.510.355
From here, you can stroll through the charming Ano Poli, or “Upper Town,” and then, on your way back to the city center, stop at Iliopetra, the new restaurant making a name for itself with the locals. The setting and the atmosphere make it feel more as if you’ve been invited for dinner at a friend’s house. The menu, which relies on seasonal products and changes every day, is hand-written by the partner of chef Giorgos Zannakis and showcases ingredients sourced from small local producers whom the chef knows by name. Traditional recipes are effortlessly combined with modern cooking techniques, even featuring elements of Asian cuisine, which Zannakis simply adores.
On the day we visited they were serving, among other dishes: classic lahanodolmades (cabbage leaf rolls stuffed with ground beef and herbs); warm salad made with Swiss chard, black beans and silira, a strong creamy cheese from Epirus; rabbit stew with vegetables; tarama with smoked pancetta and confit cherry tomatoes; and fresh grilled seabass served on sushi rice, with steamed long beans topped with freshly grated tomato and a sprig of oregano.
Iliopetra: 5 Aischylou, Tel. (+30) 2314.055.553
In one of the restaurants that’s helped define Thessaloniki’s new gastronomic scene, the dishes continue to be innovative and delicious. Mourga can be described as a “gastro-kafeneion” – the first part of the term indicating the solid creativity and attention to techniques and ingredients and the latter denoting a lack of pretentiousness and honesty reflected everywhere, from the décor to the pricing.
There’s no meat to be found here, just dishes with vegetables and seasonal seafood, prepared in ways that stir Greek culinary memories. As the menu changes every day, you probably won’t find all the same dishes listed here, but if possible you should try the mackerel tartare with cappuccino leaves and desiccated lotus fruit; the Kavala prawns with garlic and butter (served unpeeled); or the milokopi (shi drum) with lettuce fricassée.
The chef behind Mourga, Giannis Loukakis, is creating a new culinary experience with his newest eatery, Sintrofi, featuring organic ingredients, more experimentation, more refined techniques and meat dishes added to the menu. There’s no indoor space here, as the interior is taken up completely by the open kitchen. In a corner stands the icon of Aghios Euphrosynos, patron saint of cooks. Take a seat at the outdoor bar or at one of the sidewalk tables. The slow-cooked black pork with prawns and trahana, the tagliatelle with mussels, goat and Armenian sujuk; and other surf and turf creations often steal the show. Note, though, that the menu changes daily, and sometimes even during the day. You’ll also find a large selection of natural and biodynamic wines.
Mourga: 12 Christopoulou, Tel. (+30) 2310.268.826
Sintrofi: 7 Doxis, Tel. (+30) 2310.540.260
Don’t leave the city without having soutzoukakia (small oblong meatballs) for lunch. Just next to the White Tower is Diagonios, a restaurant-institution, frequented by locals and tourists alike, that makes some of the best you’ll find – beautifully crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside and served with a heap of bukovo (crushed red pepper) on the side, as tradition warrants. They also prepare and cook their own gyro meat (a rare thing these days) and cut the potatoes they fry by hand. Ordering isn’t complicated; most patrons choose either of the two selections mentioned above. The only real variation is in the side dishes, which range from tzatziki and homemade Russian salad to eggplant purée and politiki salad (a mixture of cabbage, carrot, celery and some spicy pepper).
Diagonios: 13 Stratigou Kallari, Tel. (+30) 2310.260.958
By now, you might feel like a short nap is in order, but an alternative is a stop at Valenio for a specialty coffee. Accredited by the Speciality Coffee Association, Valantis Labriniadis (or Valenio as nicknamed by his Italian colleague) is a coach and judge in coffee competitions who has dedicated the last twenty years of his life to his favorite beverage. Recently, he decided to set up this elegant café, aligned with the latest developments in the industry. Special attention has been given to Greek coffee, ground to order in a stone mill and prepared in a briki (a small long-handled pot with a pouring lip).
About five minutes away, on less commercial Alexandrou Svolou Street, is the quaint Dekaepta – a small space that combines great design, exceptional coffee by Samba Cafè Coffee Roasters, small meals and some lovely cocktails. They usually offer three choices for filter coffee (try the Uganda Bariguna with “rum” flavors) and six choices for espresso. The small loft has a surplus of outlets for those who want to charge phones and laptops or send a quick email, and also hosts a variety of pop-up art events.
Perhaps the best spot for distance working, however, is Ypsilon. Housed in a building dating from 1870 that was for years the headquarters of the paper manufacturer Hatzopoulos, it features the ideal balance of cool industrial aesthetics and warm details. In the mornings, most regulars enjoy their coffee (Qualità Unica from Greece) quietly, as they work on their laptops. It’s a great place for a breakfast or brunch featuring wonderful Greek ingredients, and for drinks and cocktails in the evening as well.
Valenio: 6 Iktinou, Tel. (+30) 2311.291.518
DekaePta: 24 Alexandrou Svolou,, Tel. (+30) 2310.270.063
Ypsilon: 5 Edessis,, Tel. (+30) 2310.530.480
Greek meze, small dishes to be shared, that play with the idea of traditional cuisine are served by Manolis Papoutsakis at Deka Trapezia (“Ten Tables”). Even though the name is not exactly literal, this is a small value-for-money restaurant just off the waterfront. We enjoyed tsipouro (a strong spirit) and one of the new Greek wines on the menu as we sampled the seasonal delicacies, dishes that blend many influences while always maintaining a sense of balance. How about bruschetta with parsley cream, smoked mussels and lountza (dried smoked pork tenderloin), or croustade with sour cream, crab, soy and trout caviar, or grilled pumpkin with goat yoghurt, or “hot dog” with musky octopus and sausage? You needn’t choose – just order them all to share.
And if you think there’s no point in trying Cretan cuisine in Thessaloniki, think again. Chef Papoutsakis (from Deka Trapezia) lets his home island do the talking at Haroupi, offering traditional and more modern aspects of Cretan gastronomy. The cheeses he brings from Crete are in a category of their own, and the gamopilafo (a meat and rice dish) is a must, as are the egg yolks with staka (a roux made from goat milk cream), apaki (smoked pork) chips and roasted almonds. He’s also chosen to serve sautéed lamb in the style of a DIY taco – with handmade pitas, staka, cherry tomatoes and spring onion – for a total melt-in-the-mouth experience.
Deka Trapezia: 4 Stratigou Kallari, Tel. (+30) 2310.251.010
Haroupi: 4 Doxis, Tel. (+30) 698.852.6262
Opposite Kapani, in the traditional Athonos Market, Psaras has been operating for the past decade, offering customers the opportunity not only to purchase their selection of fresh fish but also to have it prepared and cooked there to take away. With two fishing boats and a network of connections, they are able to source seafood for the store that recently opened on a nearby street, which features a few tables and serves the catch of the day served raw, smoked or grilled for immediate enjoyment. This is where you can taste carpaccio and tartare from a variety of fish: parrotfish, bonitos, mackerel, European barracuda, flying cod, dentex, seabream, steenbras, and much more. The smoking process happens in-house. They also sun-dry their octopus and prepare their own bottarga, or fish roe.
The eatery L’Albero, on the other hand, focuses on meat. In addition to a range of premium cuts, the menu includes dishes inspired by the wider Mediterranean world: handcrafted gnocchi with sage cream and beef cheeks; mushroom fricassée with grilled talagani cheese; and steamed cod with seasonal greens and beetroot skordalia (a garlic and potato spread).
Psaras: 7 Metropoliti Gennadiou, Tel. (+30) 2310.232.228
L’Albero: 17 Filippou, Tel. (+30) 2316.018.040
Blé Vin is a brand new wine shop/wine bar that’s open from midday onwards and features a wine list curated by Alexandros Bouzikas, 2017 winner of the Best Sommelier award from the Panhellenic Association of Winemakers. Customers can choose from 60 different wines, served in 60ml sample sizes or in a full-sized glass and brought to them at the impressive natural walnut tables. The appealing accompanying snacks come in three categories – raw, marinated and smoked.
For cocktails, premium drinks and an extensive collection of rums and whiskeys, Casablanca Social Club has much to boast about. The impressive white neoclassical building with a large garden is extremely charming, and the drinks are wonderful, with the talented Alexandros Sourbatis and his team working to create one of the best bars in town.
Blé Vin: 14 Georgiou Stavrou & 19 Aghias Sofias, Tel. (+30) 2310.231.201
Casablanca Social Club: 18 Vasilissis Olgas, Tel. (+30) 2311.243.609
For those who’d rather grab something to go, Salento has puccia salentina, round buns made from pizza dough in a wood-fired oven; these buns are filled with a variety of ingredients, such as sausage ragout and anthotyro (traditional fresh cheese), or tomato sauce with gorgonzola and spicy salami. The buns are literally steaming, as they are baked fresh all day long.
Otherwise, make a stop at the highly Instagrammable Surfer Maya, which offers unique sandwiches made with slow maturation bread and filled with cuts or beef or tuna pastrami (both produced in-house), as well as tacos with plenty of twists. The most subversive items might be the tacros, with tortillas made from croissant pastry and topped with crispy prawns, chicken and avocado, or handmade gyros with fried sweet potato. They’ve also adapted the traditional galatopita (milk custard pie) to include croissant pastry, as inspired by award-wining pastry chef Giorgos Avgeros.
Other desserts we’d recommend in Thessaloniki include those from Merry Berry, which does things very differently and specializes in raw desserts without sugar. Delicious vegan cakes and profiteroles, made without any animal products, line the shop’s display cases. Recipes were created by Maria Karabini, a blogger who began experimenting with these desserts when she started looking for healthy snacks for her kids and realized that the easiest way was actually to make them herself.
Salento: 76 Eleftheriou Venizelou, Tel. (+30) 2310.230.861
Surfer Maya: 8 Skra, Tel. (+30) 2310.235.033
Merry Berry: 5 Dimitriou Gounari, Tel. (+30) 2310.284.860
For dinner, swing by Maitr & Margarita, in the now trendy Ano Ladadika district. A self-proclaimed wine restaurant, it backs up this claim with dozens of wines offered by the glass. If you need some guidance, they’ll gladly oblige. Try the petoura pasta with kavourmas (mutton braised in its own fat), the lahmatzoun (flat bread topped with spicy ground meat), the arancini, the goat’s cheese wrapped in vine leaves and seved on a handmade pitta, or the zigouri (hogget) with pasta – Mediterranean cuisine with idiosyncrasies and exceptional ingredients.
If you’re tempted by a modified pastitsada (traditional pasta and meat dish) from Corfu, with cannelloni, rooster and graviera cheese sauce, then you must go to Nama. In this simple and unadorned setting, the chefs create inventive dishes rooted in Greek cuisine. We tried the most delicious deconstructed gemista (Greek stuffed vegetables), with a green and red pepper coulis, roast tomato, feta cream and a toasted koulouri Thessalonikis (sesame seed bun), as well as intense dolma (stuffed leaves) with mussels, bulgur, mustard seeds, lemon confit and avgolemono (egg and lemon) sauce.
Maitr & Margarita: 2 Verias, Tel. (+30) 2314.007.586
Nama: 1 Olympou, Tel. (+30) 2313.088.241
When asked, most chefs in Thessaloniki will tell you that they go to Palia Athina when they eat out. This is also true of the city’s gourmets and A-listers, as well as to anyone else who appreciates artfully executed meat dishes. Something between a taverna and a trattoria, Palia Athina is and isn’t what it appears to be. Reservations for a table in this basement in the Toumba district need to be made several days, if not weeks, in advance.
This is where you’ll find the more traditional soutzoukakia, as well as a fine bistecca fiorentina. The hundreds of bottles of wine (empty and full) scattered across the space add to the atmosphere. The father of owner Manolis Georgakakis was a producer of retsina who fell in love with wine and created an almost mythical wine list – which is still growing to this day. In fact, the list with the rarest and most special wines isn’t written anywhere; instead, it’s in Manolis’ head. After a few key questions, he’ll recommend the wine he feels you’d like. The family atmosphere is also noteworthy here, as customers get up once in a while to toast their own bread by the stove. At the end of the meal, the house serves halva that’s been wrapped in aluminum foil and grilled, together with apple slices, until it melts.
Palia Athina: 24 Imvrou, Tel. (+30) 2310.912.292