Certainly, Greek streetfood classics will never go out of style – from succulent souvlaki (O Kostas on 5 Pentelis off Mitropoleos St) has never stopped being #1 in the last 50 years) and koulouri bought from street, to pies stuffed with cheese, spinach, chicken, mince or courgette at Ariston on 10 Voulis, or fried dough balls drizzled in honey or hot chocoloate sauce at Lukumades on 21 Aiolou, among numerous other locally-inspired choices, are extremely popular.
However, over the decades the Greek palate has become increasingly adventurous and international cuisine has come to stay, in all neighbourhoods and for all budgets. One of the outcomes of having a tight budget plus large appetite for varied flavours is that over the last two years an exciting multi-ethnic street food scene has blossomed in the heart of town, with menus that can be sampled at lunchtime as a quick, yummy break between appointments or at night before heading to a trendy bar.
The international food scene in Athens is constantly improving and growing; decent to decadent Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai and Mexican food are now easily accessible throughout Attica. The Greek palate has developed a more globally sophisticated disposition, while global foodie culture has prompted a more adventurous and playful culinary spirit. All great news, and it gets even better, as beyond classic restaurant set ups, Athenians are enjoying the arrival of more and more authentic, high quality ethnic street food haunts, the best of which are near buzzy Syntagma Square. Their menus are generally small yet tantalising, the flavours are memorable only in a positive way and the prices are similar to what one would pay at a souvlaki joint. Demand for souvlaki will never die down in Athens, but variety is essential for a happy and balanced existence!
Here are the top choices
Margaritas and tacos at Taqueria Maya
From burritos and taco platters to hand-made maize flour tortillas and fantastic salads with tacos, cactus and black beans, as well as one-more-please pitchers of margaritas, Taqueria Maya celebrates the yummiest of south American nosh. On the increasingly lively little Petraki St (10) where you’re near all the shopping action but also in a zone away from it all, this self-service Tex-Mex place uses fresh ingredients and makes everything from scratch. A: 10 Petraki St, T: (+30) 211 2167081
Guacamole on everything at Grexico
Succulent salads with cabbage, sweet corn and cheese, fiery tacos, a guacamole that already has a fan-base and burritos for both vegetarians and carnivores makes this a great hangout for Mexican food lovers who enjoy a Greek twist. A: 4 Fokionos St, T: (+30) 210 3315540
Arepas at Los Loros
As well as cigars, mocktails and peanut butter smoothies, this Colombian-Venezuelan joint just has a common bench outside that seats six, in true street style. It makes its own Arepas – crispy disk-like buns made with corn or maize flour that are astuffed with your preferred filling (from crunchy pork belly, avocado, tomato and onion to seafood) as well as a variety of empanadas. A: 14 Xenofondos & Nikis, T: (+30) 210 324 3232
Indian souvlaki at Babaji
For less than 5euro you can get your teeth into a giant Indian souvlaki, made with Chapati (Indian pita bread) that’s stuffed with tandoori chicken or falafel and delicious sauces to go. The restaurant also serves classic Indian dishes. A: 11 Nikis, T: (+30) 210 3254841
Middle Eastern flavours at Sumsum
Traditional Arab dishes draw in the crowds here, with mouthwatering take-out options from vegetarian soups, kibbeh (bulgur wheat with ground meat, minced onion and spices) and lahmajoun (arabic pitta topped by spiced mince sauce) to taouk (chicken with herbs and yogurt), fattoush salads (with crispy Levantine bread) and other Arab specialties.
A: 86 Solonos & Asklipiou, T: (+30) 210 3642804
Build your Asian dish at Streetwok
Streetfood in 3 steps – choose your base ingredient (noodles with fresh veggies and egg, white or wholewheat rice, or mixed vegetablesthen), your topping of choice (meats, veggies, pineapple, mushrooms, cashews, baby corn, seafood and more) and finally a sauce (teriyaki, curry, sweet chilli, fiery szechouan). Stir-fried in minutes, the food is then served in a box for you to take away. A: 21 Aiolou St
World tastes at Etnico
Craving falafels as well as samosas, and a side of spicy Korean salad? Then head to Etnico, Altamira’s street food restaurant on Kolokotroni St (22), where the menu includes favourite street food dishes from India, the Middle East, the Americas and Asia. The desserts – such as Jamaica (black bitter chocolate with rum) and the Panacotta Coconut are very good, and at 16 euros for a litre of margaritas this is definitely a place you can hang out in for a while for a cheap and cheerful outing. A: 22 Kolokotroni & Havriou, T: (+30) 211 4113880.
Chinese feast at Pink Flamingo Dim Sum
You’ll spot this narrow two-storey restaurant from the neon pink flamingo over its service window on Skoufou (2-4) St. Serving four kinds of Dim Sum (steamed Chinese dumplings) with a choice of sauces and steamed, fluffy Bao Buns with the day’s filling, this is charismatic gastronomy writer (of the ‘Athens’ and ‘Athens Special’ series of food books) and celebrity chef Vassilis Kallidis’ quirky hotspot for mouthwatering Chinese street food. There are a handful of tiny tables outside if you’d rather avoid walking around with sweet chilli sauce dribbling down your chin (I learned the hard way). A: Skoufou 2-4, Athina 105 57, T: (+30) 21 0331 6177
Creative bowls at Poke Hawaiian Sushi
Athens newest arrival in the ethnic street food scene, Poke (Hawaiian sushi) is a clever alternative to Athenian’s fervent passion for sushi. Chef Yiannis Kandylidis opened the place with two partners in May and it already has a loyal clientele that includes glamorous personalities – probably because the mix of healthy, low-fat plus exotic and delicious is too hard to resist. One can choose from a small set menu or create their own bowl, and the fish is always fresh and local. A: Petraki 7, Athina 105 63, T: +30 21 0322 6653
South American tastes of Los Loros
Avocado, fresh coriander, green chilli sauce and other ingredients like crunchy pork belly, chicken, fish or other veggies stuffed into crisp corn arepa buns, empanadas with a huge choice of stuffings, salads and desserts all inspired by Venezuelan and Colombian street stands. Since it opened on (14) Xenofondos St Los Loros gained instant popularity among residents and visitors alike, looking for something completely different, yet at the same time basic, homey, affordable and fast. A: Xenofontos 14, Athina 105 57, T: (+30) 21 0324 3232