If you love Greek food but only know moussaka, tzatziki, and feta cheese, don’t be ashamed. Outside Greece, it is often hard to find places that offer more than the most typical dishes. And unfortunately, the same applies to many restaurants in Greece itself that target tourists. So what should you do if you come to Greece hoping to find a more diverse array of authentically Greek cuisine?
Through the eyes of a foodie, tourism in Greece is a double-edged sword. Since the typical sunburned (often drunk) tourist doesn’t usually concern themselves with the subtleties of finer flavors, many restaurants care more about speed than quality. On the other hand, an influx of hungry people also brings more curious and inquisitive travelers and creates an incentive for local gastronomists to target more sophisticated customers. This means there is hope for those who seek a different culinary path, away from the masses—you just need to know where to look for it.
In the heart of the Cycladic islands, Paros is a tourist hotspot attracting Greeks as well as foreigners: A fertile ground for chefs to explore and experiment, without sacrificing the traditional Greek flavors that most holidaymakers are looking for. To help you navigate the growing number of temptations the island dishes up, I will reveal some of my favorites.
Less than two minutes’ walk from the port in Paros’ main town of Parikia, you will find the Aegean Deli. One can be tempted to call the food “alternative Greek,” but it is also traditional in the very best way. The menu is a collection of different recipes from all over the Cyclades: Try parsley salad from Syros; or a dish called the monk, from Naxos, which combines aubergines, goat cheese, gruyere, beef, and tomato; or a plate of baked mushrooms with sage, both grown locally in Paros. The love of details is displayed in the ceramic tableware, most of which is from a local ceramic company owned by the family of restaurant owner Iason Gkikas. Visit on a lazy Sunday afternoon and you might get to hear some live, traditional island music, with Gkikas leading the gig.
Does that sound like a cliché? Just wait—there’s more.
Greece and the sea are like inseparable lovers, and the Greek passion for seafood reflects that. Next stop is To Balkoni, or The Balcony—not only one of the best fish taverns in Paros but also right by the sea next to a small, sandy beach in the fishing village of Aliki. If you’re looking for swordfish, octopus, squid, mussels or any other delicious seafood you might think of, you can find it here. This spot is known for classic flavors combined with a wonderful atmosphere and a very friendly staff. It is the ideal picturesque seaside taverna we all dream of; the kind of place that can only be found in Greece.
Location: Sea Front, Aliki
Contact: (+30) 2284 091512
Not far away, on the outskirts of the village, you will find the classy restaurant Thalassa Mou or My Sea (which is located, unsurprisingly, right by the sea as well). Playing on traditional tastes but putting a gourmet spin on the dishes, this place takes a more contemporary approach in their preparation of the food. Tuna tartare with beetroot? Lamb with honey and thyme? Innovative salads? No wonder owner and chef, Marios Salmatanis, spends wintertime—when the restaurant is closed—abroad, seeking inspiration and improving on his craft. As a fourth-generation chef, cooking is more than just a job, it’s a way of life.
Location: Aliki Beach
Contact: (+30) 2284 091461
In the central square of the labyrinthine mountain village of Lefkes, Marigo’s Kafeneion serves homemade lemonades and sweets, and typical meze, the Greek tapas, with ouzo and an absolutely relaxed atmosphere. On the square you will also find the village church. There’s a cute little cemetery behind it well worth a visit due to a special custom: Relatives sometimes leave a pack of cigarettes and a small bottle of liquor on the graves—a funerary rite going back to antiquity which, judging by the half empty bottles, probably benefits the visitor more than the deceased (Warning: Don’t serve yourself if you want to walk out alive! The local stuff—souma, a digestif made from grapes—is strong.)
Location: Lefkes 844 00
And if the village life in Lefkes is not relaxed enough for you, then the ultimate laid-back place is waiting: The Kafeneion, meaning simply “café”—it doesn’t even have a proper name—in the central square of Kostos. The old ladies running the place are as warm-hearted as they are easy-going. Ask them for the dish of the day, and if you are lucky you will get the Parian revithada (a chickpea stew with a lot of lemon juice). If you come in springtime, it might be snails gathered by the ladies themselves, served in tomato sauce. Whatever you get, make sure you flush it down with a glass or three of souma, an indispensable part of the Cycladic kitchen.
Location: Central square, Kostos
Last but not least, a personal favorite of mine. Roussos Grill in Parikia. Hidden behind the port in an ordinary looking street, away from the craze of the tourist areas, it’s definitely the best place for kalamakia (meat on sticks). Okay, meat on a stick is not the most original food, but these guys definitely know how to grill it. The family-run restaurant is actually an extension of their butcher shop right next door and staffed by the younger members of the clan. Order some chicken and pork kalamakia, Greek salad, and several cans of beer, and enjoy a simple but tasty meal with your friends. Because in the end, it doesn’t matter if it’s traditional, modern, classic, or gourmet—as long as the food is as good as your company. Unusual or not, that is the original Greek way.