The souvlatzidiko, or “souvlaki joint,” is a Greek institution, and we certainly wouldn’t blame you if you made a beeline for the nearest souvlaki provider straight after dropping off your luggage in your hotel room. The mouthwatering aroma of grilled meat is just too enticing, and a souvlaki or two is a quick, tasty and satisfying meal. That said, there are certain stand-out spots when it comes to enjoying our favorite street food. Making really good souvlaki is an art, despite its apparent simplicity – or perhaps precisely because of it.
Central Athens has no shortage of old masters and new talents who were trained correctly and know how to transform a humble but satisfying item into a gastronomic experience. The list below will help you steer clear of those using frozen meat, heavy packaged sauces or thick, tasteless pitas. What makes the difference at these establishments is the skillful cooking and the care that goes into selecting the ingredients – from the best ground beef and handpacked towers of pork or other meat skewered on vertical rotisseries to handpicked tomatoes and onions and the freshest spices and herbs. And don’t fret if you’re not presented with an overstuffed gyro hand-rocket; experts will tell you that a proper souvlaki gyro needs no garlicky tzatziki drowning out the other flavors or fried potatoes that make it stodgy and dry.
Kostas – SYNTAGMA
You’re bound to run into lines here, but don’t let that put you off. The kinds of flavors described by old-timers from back in the day when tomatoes and meat simply tasted “different” (i.e., better) are present here in Kostas’ souvlaki. Established in 1950, this eatery is now run by the original owner’s grandson, who was taught that: “First you need to learn how to use the tongs and then how to make souvlaki.” He did, and now, in his spotless hole-in-the wall in downtown Athens, he serves an absolutely delicious souvlaki wrapped in pita: choice meat (lean skewered pork or a lovely, no-frills bifteki ground beef patty), tomato, onion, cayenne pepper, parsley for freshness, yogurt for coolness and a crispy, unoiled pita bread. Don’t even bother asking for tzatziki.
Mitropoleos & 5 Pentelis, Syntagma, Τel. (+30) 210.322.8502.
Mon-Sat 10:00-16:00. Has delivery.
Kostas – AGHIA IRINI SQUARE
The other Kostas in downtown Athens is equally famous. All cooking is done on a charcoal grill that’s lit early each morning. The choice here is between souvlaki kalamaki (skewered pork cubes) – made by hand and not ordered in bulk from a factory as so many others – or souvlaki bifteki (beef patties), made fresh every day or to order. Our favorite – in a freshly baked, hearty pita – is the juicy bifteki, topped with tomato that is cut on the spot (not in advance so it loses its juices and flavors), sweet onions and fresh parsley – topped with a dollop of an original red sauce in a spicy or mild version to bring it all joyfully together.
2 Aghia Irini Square, Monastiraki, Τel. (+30) 210.323.2971.
Mon-Fri 09:00-18:00, Sat-Sun closed.
Lefteris O Politis – OMONIA
Small but packed with flavor, Lefteris’ pita-wrapped souvlakis are paradigms of this food item. The two choices, unchanged from when it first opened in 1951 (it’s now managed by the third generation of the same family) are either juicy bifteki or spicy soutzouki beef sausage, both served in a very lightly oiled pita. The necessities are all there in their freshest, tastiest versions: bright red tomatoes, thin slices of onion, finely chopped parsley and a sprinkling of fiery red pepper. If you’re like me and enjoy heat, ask for more than a sprinkling.
20 Satovriandou, Omonia, Τel. (+30) 210.522.5676.
Weekdays 11:00-19:00, Sat 11:00-17:30, Sun closed
Hoocut – AGHIA IRINI SQUARE
The team behind some of Athens’ most popular restaurants (Cookoovaya, Base Grill, Travolta and Gastone) has turned its hand to souvlaki and opened Hoocut in Aghia Irini Square. High-quality meat and handmade pita flatbreads sets it apart. We recommend the tasty mutton wrap with garlicky tzatziki and a spicy sauce. If you’re more than peckish, treat yourself to a “skepasti” or “covered,” a hearty cross between a souvlaki and a club sandwich, made with beef, coriander and a choice of four sauces: yoghurt, BBQ, spicy or seriously hot.
9 Aghia Irini Square, Monastiraki, Τel. (+30) 210.324.0026.
Tue-Sun 12:30-23:30 (Sat & Sun until 00:00), Mon closed.
Achilleas – NEOS KOSMOS
Achilleas is renowned for its delicious, juicy and spicy pork gyro, made fresh every day in-house. It is served as a main dish with tomato and onion or wrapped in a fresh, unoiled pita with onion, parsley, tomato and homemade tzatziki. The gyro runs out by 21:00 at the latest every evening, so make sure you get there early. The eatery also makes classic souvlaki kalamaki using well-grilled pork skewers and pita.
18 Spintharou, Neos Kosmos, Τel. (+30) 210.902.1391. Weekdays 16:30-00:00, Sat-Sun closed.
Mimis – PANGRATI
Mimis, one of the newest additions to Athens’ souvlaki scene, was an instant success. You won’t find the classics here; instead there’s something new, delightful and original. Just as at any good restaurant, everything you order is made fresh: from the brisket and the lamb kebab to the pitas and the sauces (including eggplant cream and tzatziki). When it’s all ready, chef Elvi Dimitris Zyba piles the ingredients onto the pita bread with so much attention to detail, you’d think he was plating up an entrée at a gourmet restaurant. A list of carefully selected Greek wines is another plus.
10 Evfranoros, Pangrati, Τel. (+30) 210.756.5789.
Tomas Kebab – NEOS KOSMOS
The story behind this eatery starts in owner Tomas’ native Armenia, meanders through Syria and Lebanon, where he grew up and learned the local cuisines, and ends in Athens, where he opened his famous souvlaki shop in the 1980s. As the name suggests, kebabs are the specialty; there’s beef, lamb or chicken (a recent addition), with lovely falafels as an added bonus. Tomas has turned kebab-making into something of a science, and it’s definitely worth trying a wrap made by him or his son, Marios, who has been working with his father for the past few years.
49 Mitrou Sarkoudinou, Neos Kosmos, Τel. (+30) 210.901.5981.
Mon-Sat 11:00-00:00, Sun closed.
I Rosides – KALLITHEA
There’s not much to see in the suburb of Kallithea, but it does boast the souvlaki of Anna Stefanidou, an ethnic Pontic Greek from Kazakhstan who took over the restaurant in 1990 from two Uzbek ladies. She’s there every day, serving scrumptious and comforting souvlaki, in just two variations: beef bifteki and pork skewers. The bifteki are a must. They’re small (order two, just to be on the safe side) and herb-laden, packed in pairs in a pita wrap, along with tomato and onion, with a dollop of sauce on top to keep them extra juicy. You’ll also find amazing pirozhki made with potato, ground beef or sweet mizithra cheese.
16 Anagnostara, Kallithea.
Τel. (+30) 211.119.2145. Open daily except Sun, 19:00-00:00. Has delivery.
Volvi – OMONIA
Located in the meat section of the Varvakeios Central Market, Volvi is a traditional place serving honest, no-frills souvlaki. It comes in a pita wrap, without french fries – we stress this because their absence is usually an indicator of quality. There are two options, pork or spicy ground beef patties, both beautifully grilled over charcoal. They’re jazzed up with tomato, onion, mustard and chili flakes. Full of flavor and nothing else, every bite makes you feel warm inside.
24-26 Evripidou, Omonia, Τel. (+30) 211.118.0587.
Open daily except Sun, 12:00-18:00.
Pringipas – EXARCHIA
You’ll be tempted to try new things, like souvlaki made with trout or eel and served with fava split-pea puree and capers, but what you’ll keep coming back for is their classic version, with meat sourced from small Greek farms. Bite-sized Florina kebab, grilled black pig chunks and even a humble chicken version are all consistently well cooked and juicy. Don’t pass up a dollop of ajvar, available in sweet and fiery versions. The yummy roasted red pepper and eggplant sauce improves any meat dish.
23 Harilaou Trikoupi, Exarchia, Τel. (+30) 210.405.0070.
Open daily 12:00-01:00.
I Gynaikes – KOUKAKI
The coals are lit late in the afternoon and the ladies who run the place (the name means “The Women”) start wrapping their first souvlaki at around 18.30. We’ve often cursed the saints that they don’t open earlier, but it’s worth having patience because their souvlaki is good enough to bring you to Koukaki from all the way across town. What’s in it? Pork or chicken (either as gyro meat or in skewered form), juicy tomatoes, crispy sweet onions and refreshing yoghurt. The last bite often evokes a few more curses.
16 Drakou, Koukaki, Τel. (+30) 210.922.5.648.
Open daily except Sun, 18:30-02:00.
Kalyvas – KOUKAKI
Located on one of Koukaki’s liveliest pedestrianized strips, Kalyvas evolved from humble roots, going from a neighborhood souvlaki-to-go joint to a serious grill house favoured for family outings. Crispy, slightly smoky and light on the stomach, the gyro is the undisputed star of the show. Apart from the customary pita wraps, the establishment also does some cool things in the rotisserie department, such as grilled kidneys and livers, as well as kokoretsi (offal) and pork kontosouvli – and you can get those wrapped in pita bread, too!
12 Georgiou Olympiou, Koukaki, Τel. (+30) 210.923.1257.
Open daily 13:00-01:00. Has delivery.
Jimmy’s Tavern – VYRONAS
Jimmy’s is our go-to place for great souvlaki of every type as it has everything from bifteki and the yummy offal wrap known as kokoresti to chicken kontosouvli (marinated and spit-grilled), cooked to perfection by a traditional grill master. The side dishes, like the tyrosalata (cheese spread) and the delicious fried potatoes, are also a must, and it’s located on a happy little square where beautiful cats beg at the tables for treats.
2 Konstantilieri, Aghiou Lazarou Square, Vyronas, Τel. (+30) 210.765.8965.
Open daily 13:00-01:00. Has delivery.
Cookoomela – GYZI
What passes for vegetarian/vegan/Lenten souvlaki at most places is usually little more than a pita stuffed with indifferently prepared vegetables doused in some sauce or another. This is definitely not the case at Cookoomela, which opened a few years ago and quickly chased away the vegetable-lovers’ blues. Even carnivores keep coming back for the mushroom gyro, the delicious sauces and the country-style fries. We recommend their Red Pita Wrap, featuring avocado, homemade tomato sauce, and vegan mayo.
6 Petrou Kalliga, Gyzi, Τel. (+30) 210.645.0700.
Open Mon-Thu 13:00-23:00, Fri-Sat 13:00-00:00, Sun closed.
Giorgos – PIRAEUS
It’s not really in Athens but a trip down to the port is worth it for a souvlaki bifteki made at Giorgos. Each pita contains two finger-licking patties made on the spot with beef from northern Greece and accompanied by just a few, but select ingredients: sweet red cayenne, tomato, finely-sliced onion, parsley and the perfect amount of sweet and spicy red sauce. They go down like a dream, in just four or five delightful bites.
17 Gounari & Nikita, Piraeus, Τel. (+30) 211.403.3388, open weekdays 11:00-19:00, Sat until 18:00, Sun closed.