The first coffeeshops and drinking dens were created as places for social gatherings and daily negotiations. It was also so in Thessaloniki. At first around the big food markets in the center, Kapani and Modiano, but also around Athonos Square, which housed a variety of workshops, there appeared informal shops serving meze washed down with ouzo, tsipouro and retsina from the barrel. It was here, at the beginning of the 20th century that refugees from the east gathered in search of a meeting place.
The culture of meeting over meze, which usually involved salted fish, pulses and the odd piece of cheese, became part of Thessaloniki’s DNA and spread throughout the city. Today, from the east of the city and the seafront all the way to the western suburbs, there are similar shops specializing in seafood, which attract groups looking to relax over a few drinks and a bite to eat. These are just seven of Thessaloniki’s ouzeri which continue the meze tradition.
Iordanis Arapoglou’s daily commute in the late 1970s took him from the port to the fish market to Polichni. He worked at the port as a laborer, then visited the fish market to peruse the latest catch and sample his beloved fresh shrimp, before ending up at his home in western Thessaloniki, which was mainly inhabited by Pontic Greeks, like himself, Vlachs, Armenians and other ethnic Greeks from abroad. His wife was an ace seafood cook, so in 1979 they decided to open the ouzeri which bears his name, serving simple but tasty meze. Forty-two years later, his son Kyriakos and his family keep the flag flying over the shop, which is a local hangout but is also frequently visited by local celebrities.
Hidden between residential blocks, the ouzeri has a few tables, some of which are in the street. The menu is overseen by Kyriakos’s son, Iordanis, who doesn’t stint on quality ingredients. On offer are shrimp saganaki baked in white cheese sauce, grilled fish, mussels in their shell with oil and lemon, while their spaghetti alle vongole is famous. They also serve fresh fish, including different varieties of bream, seasonal salads, superb pickled cabbage and handmade spreads, which make ideal accompaniments for fried seafood, such as whitebait, calamari and fried mussels. The drinks list contains a selection of ouzo and tsipouro.
6 Stadiou, Polichni, Tel. (+30) 2310.654.956
Open Tue-Sun 12:00-24:00
On 14 February 2014, Dimitris Pantzaridis opened a small ouzeri-café at Kapani (Vlali Market), the oldest market in Thessaloniki, home to a variety of food shops, from butchers to greengrocers and olive shops. At the time, he had just come out of rehab, where he had learned to cook, and dreamed of setting up his own kitchen, preparing simple dishes with ingredients from across Greece.
Wooden café chairs, cake-tins hanging around the bar and fairy lights evoke scenes from old Greek cinema. Soon enough the ouzeri became a favorite hangout for locals and a gastronomic destination for visitors. Thanks to Mitsos and his new hangout, chatter and laugher fill the market even at night, after the shops have lowered their blinds. Dinner here has all the goodies, from his best-selling hand-rolled dolmades, salted and seasoned fish pastourmas-style, shrimp with hilopites (small square pasta) and mussels, to grilled eggplant, aged goat graviera cheese from the island of Ios, steamed anchovies and olives from Patras, produced by his family.
All of his suppliers are virtually a few steps from his door. During lockdown the shop expanded after Mitsos leased the space next door, which had housed the first electric-powered bakery in city since 1830. This is where he now produces his homestyle food, such as capon in tomato sauce.
11 Vlali, central Thessaloniki, Tel. (+30) 2315.515.504
Open Mon-Sat 7:00-24:00
Kostas Vogiatzis opened Kosmas in the center of Thessaloniki in 1978, and it soon became famous for its soutzoukakia (spiced meatballs) with Russian salad. In 1997 the owner of the space sold up and he was forced to find another location. The change in venue brought a turn in the style of cooking, from meat to seafood. He was not a stranger to the sea and its products. Originally from the northern port city of Kavala, many of his childhood memories centered on seafood dinners, while several years working on fishing boats taught him to recognize good ingredients and to handle them.
Today, at the age of 66, he remains larger than life and full of zest, and even as most of his contemporaries are contemplating retirement he insists on working in the kitchen alongside his wife, Sofia, and overseeing their children Anestis and Yiannis, who serve the tables. Fresh fish is his golden rule, and he insists on never serving farmed fish. He shops at the fish market in Michaniona, where he works with selected fishermen, while he spends a lot of time sourcing products that meet his requirements. He makes his own smoked mackerel, anchovies, and taramosalata from white roe, while all the spreads and dips are also made in-house. Here you will enjoy delicious cuttlefish in wine, shrimp pilaf and grilled fish. Wash it down with organic tsipouro.
15 Platonos, central Thessaloniki, (+30) Tel. 2310.232.082
Open Tue-Fri 13:00-24:00, Sat-Sun 13:00-19:00
Panagiotis Koundis, aged 64 with roots in Asia Minor, has dedicated the past 37 years to serving superb seafood meze. Originally, working with his business partner, they limited themselves to serving small bites as an accompaniment to ouzo or coffee. In 2013 they added more tables and chairs, and today, almost four decades since first opening their doors, with his partner’s son, are continuing to enrich the menu with new flavors, they insist on serving the same values: quality and good price.
Panos visits the Michaniona fish market to select his fish, sticking as much as possible to seasonal varieties. You will not always find anchovy or mussels, as he prefers not to use imported seafood. Everything is cooked very simply, but Panos knows that the salt fish saganaki is the star of the menu. He makes his own salted mackerel, and finely slices octopus for his octopus salad, while he prefers fish that have not suffered during the fishing process as is often the case with fish from trawlers. Small print for most, but cast-iron rules for Panos.
5 Alkameous & 9 Eteokleous, (+30) Tel. 2310.321.638
Open Tue–Sun 12:30-24:00
Opposite the Kamara, in the small side street of Agapinou, right next to Ypapanti church, is an ouzeri with a Cycladic feel. It has white sails draped from the ceiling, white window frames, and pistachio green tables and chairs. The famous Lola was known as Yiannis up until 2007.
Yiannis Ginis, originally from Kavala, started the business 33 years ago. It soon became a favorite with doctors and professors at the nearby university, who used to sneak out at lunch time for ouzo and meze. At night the tables were packed with theatrical types, letting off steam after their performances. Today, Yiannis’ children Lola and Antonis carry on their father’s business.
You will receive a warm welcome from the owners themselves. The two siblings have enriched the original menu considerably with seafood and other dishes. Sun-dried octopus from Kavala is their signature dish, but the title is closely contested by the Antonio pie baked with Pontic-style pastry, vegetables and cheese. They also serve a variety of salted treats, including mackerel from Komotini and smoked cod, fresh crab salad, and cooked dishes such as homemade gnocchi with shrimp or seafood paella. It is also worth trying monkfish tails prepared steamed or fried, grilled sardines and smoked tope. To accompany your meal, you can pick from a drinks list containing 25 distillates, including aged tsipouro.
10 Agapinou, central Thessaloniki, (+30) Tel: 2310.276.201
Open Mon-Sat 12:00-24:00, Sun 12:00-18:00
Yousef Saad, originally from Syria, came to Thessaloniki in 1989 to play badminton, when the sport was only just becoming known in Greece. He quickly realized that he did not have much of a future in the sport, so he started work as a busboy at Harka, the fish restaurant in Kalamaria, “the greatest university,” as he describes it. He completed his army service as a cook in the Officers’ Club, specializing in fish, and in 1997 he opened the first Karavokyris on Harilaou street, where he stayed for 16 years.
At its current location with a small courtyard, Yousef has constructed a menu that focuses on simple ingredients, well-prepared. He serves salt cod with skordalia (garlic mash), fried whitebait, shrimp saganaki, mussels in the shell, marinated fish and anchovies. The twist to the menu is provided by the alternative meze dishes served with ouzo, including baba ghanoush, falafel and tabouleh, with which Yousef honors of the gastronomic traditions of his homeland.
12 Katsimidi 12, Thessaloniki, (+30) Tel: 2310.934.030
Open Mon–Sun 12:30-24:00
Cod spiced soutzoukakia “meatballs” served with onion and tomato, parsley, white roe and pita. Alongside them, other gastronomic extravagances: tuna gyros, squid kokoretsi, shrimp dumplings and grilled smoked mackerel with beetroot and cream. The cuisine at Mezen is a hymn to seafood creativity, with dishes overseen by R&D chef Grigoris Chelmis. Since 2018, when owners Marina and Simos decided to replicate their successful Volos establishment in Thessaloniki, the two-story restaurant has filled with patrons who come to enjoy the distillates and special meze.
The drinks list includes 118 different labels, among them 19 varieties of aged tsipouro. The impressive list, arranged by region, also allows you to pick based on grape variety – for example, tsipouro made from Agiorgitiko grapes. You can learn a lot about Greek distillers and local varieties just from perusing the catalogue. The food options change almost daily, depending on what is available at the Michaniona fish market. Try carob rusks with cherry tomatoes and kopanisti cheese from Volos, and samphire with smoked eel and kumquat.
3 Rogoti, central Thessaloniki, (+30) Tel. 2310.232.749
Open Mon–Sun 12:00-24:00