Top Restaurants in the Greek Islands
Maybe the Greeks break plates because they can’t think of a more exuberant way to honor their native cuisine—a vivid amalgam of the freshest foods and the most brilliant wines. Whether dining at a simple taverna or elegant boîte, you won’t soon forget these tastes.
Slow food is taken to new heights at this family-run taverna in the White Mountains of western Crete. Stelios Trilyrakis is a one-man band—farmer, shepherd, butcher, beekeeper, vintner, chef, and waiter. Guests are welcomed into the kitchen to see what’s cooking in the clay pots and blackened pans that simmer over an open fire. There’s nothing as mundane as a menu: Daily dishes depend on what’s growing in the backyard. If you’re lucky, you’ll find slow-roasted goat, stuffed cabbage leaves, and bitter greens folded into phyllo pastry. Go at lunch to enjoy the winding journey through a gorge along a narrow road occasionally blocked by sheep.
Marmara beach, Sfakia, Greece
Perched on the rocks above the limpid Libyan Sea, this seasonal seaside taverna isn’t easy to get to, but the journey is half the fun. It’s a four-hour hike along the E4 coastal path from Sfakia, or a 15- or 30-minute boat ride from Loutro or Sfakia to the pebbly bay of Marmara on Crete’s wild southwest coast. Chrysostomos Orfanoudakis has created the ultimate locavore’s dream. The bread is homemade; the vegetables family grown; and the lamb and goat, which roast in a wood-fired oven until the meat melts off the bone, were reared by the owner’s brother in the White Mountains. For dessert, order Sfakiani pitta, crispy phyllo turnovers filled with cream cheese and drizzled in honey. (+30 28257 72299)
Amorgos is one of the few Cycladic islands where kafenio culture continues to thrive. Every village has at least one kafenio, the traditional café-cum-grocery-cum–community center, where old-timers play cards or argue about politics over ouzo mezes. O Prekas, on the waterfront of the port of Katapola, even serves as a travel agent. The decor has barely changed since it was founded in 1950, with its patterned floor tiles, neat rows of tin retsina jugs, black-and-white photographs, and a collection of vintage radios. It’s the perfect spot to share heaped plates of crunchy whitebait and grilled octopus as you watch the fishermen and ferry boats come and go.
Patmos 855 00, Greece
The entire historic center of Patmos is a UNESCO-protected settlement, so very few restaurants and bars are granted a license. In a beautiful stone house built in 1673, Astivi is the oldest bar in town, and Patmos aficionados wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else. Every night, they congregate on the flagstone terrace draped in bougainvillea to gossip over watermelon daiquiris. The Mediterranean-Asian cuisine (veal carpaccio with pickled artichokes and Parmesan custard; lobster orzo with tomato, ginger, and marjoram) is good, too. Unlike most bars in Greece, Astivi operates with strict hours: It closes at 2 a.m., when the monks from the neighboring monastery of St. John wake for morning prayers.
Greece, Mikonos 846 00, Greece
This boho beach bar on Ftelia Beach is the quintessence of the Mykonos scene: buff windsurfers, trippy beats, wafting caftans, and eensy-weensy bikinis. The hippie-chic design—dried pumpkin-shell lampshades, giant cacti in whitewashed urns, a thatched roof—is as good-looking as the crowd. And that military tent in the sand? It’s a shop selling designer sarongs and sunglasses. Long (and very expensive) lunches of sea urchin bruschetta and lobster spaghetti easily morph into a succession of killer margaritas as the sun sets over the sandy beach. Regulars know everyone by name, including the resident goat, Maggie. This is hedonism in its most chilled incarnation.
Epar.Od. Mandrakiou-Molou, Idra 180 40, Greece
Most people come here for the soft-focus sunsets, but you could easily spend the whole day at this café-bar carved into the craggy coastline just beyond Hydra’s harbor. Stepped terraces squeezed between stone walls are lined with little tables shaded with straw umbrellas. Start the day with that brilliant Greek invention, the freddo cappuccino—a long, frothy iced coffee—before tripping down the steps to bake and swim off the tiny concrete jetty. Lazy afternoons drift by as you sip peach daiquiris and watch the steady stream of fishing boats, superyachts, and teenagers dive-bombing off the surrounding rocks. The whole island shows up for the bar’s full-moon parties.
Astipalea 859 00, Greece
Spectacular hilltop villages are a dime a dozen on the Greek islands, but Astypalea, a distant speck in the Dodecanese, has the quintessential sugar-cube capital cascading over a rocky outcrop to a sheltered harbor. The oldest houses are huddled along the cliffs circling the Venetian Querini Castle. Castro Bar is built right into the 15th-century castle walls (which look even more dramatic when illuminated by moonlight). A series of small terraces on different levels, painted in white, burgundy, and blue, all offer stupendous views across the island and what feels like the whole Aegean. The vibe is mellow, and the drinks are strong. Stay until the sun rises out of the sea, a trippy experience you won’t forget.
Baxes, Oia, Santorini 847 02, Greece
While most visitors to Santorini squeeze along the cliffs of Oia to watch the sunset, those in the know kick back on the vine-shaded terrace of the Sigalas winery with a bottle of crisp assyrtiko and a platter of Cycladic cheeses and cherry tomato chutney. Winery tours include the opportunity to try 10 of Sigalas’s superb wines alongside an array of excellent mezes. For a special treat, book ahead for the six-course tasting menu paired with Sigalas’s finest vintages. Delicate but intensely flavored dishes—cucumber gazpacho, white eggplant layered with goat cheese and pine nuts, sea bass carpaccio with beet jus and citrus mousse—taste even better as dusk bathes the plain of Baxedes in a golden glow.
Ano Symi 856 00, Greece
This family-run taverna is poised on the very edge of Symi’s postcard-pretty harbor. With a view this enchanting, the food could be an afterthought. But everything here is simply delicious, from the “monk’s salad” of lentils, bulgur wheat, caramelized onions, and briny olives to the delicate fish soup, deep-fried baby shrimp (a local specialty), and barbecued octopus doused in rosemary- and garlic-infused olive oil. Dessert—usually ice cream drizzled in tahini and honey—is on the house. O Tholos is just as lovely for a late lunch after a dip at Nos or Nimborio, just around the headland, as for an intimate dinner beneath the fairy-light garlands strung along the waterfront.
Ormos Isternion 842 01, Greece
It’s hard to imagine a more quintessentially Greek setting for a taverna: colorful tables scattered on a jetty flanked by fishing boats and a sandy bay. But the food at Antonia Zarpa and Aris Tatsis’s unpretentious restaurant on Isternia Bay is anything but traditional: baked onions with lemon marmalade, sweet and sticky octopus baked in grape molasses, a “rose” of gray taramosalata dyed with squid ink, a hillock of goat cheese studded with hazelnuts and bee pollen. Every dish is artfully presented, and most ingredients are sourced straight from the restaurant’s organic garden or from local farmers and fishermen. Expensive, but well worth it.
Platis Gialos 840 03, Greece
Sifnos has enjoyed a reputation as an island of gourmands ever since local chef Nicholas Tselementes wrote the first Greek cookbook in 1910. This tiny “fish bar” on the island’s liveliest beach, Platis Gialos, doesn’t look like much at first glance—just a handful of stools squeezed along driftwood counters and a succinct menu that fits onto a sheet of notebook paper. But molecular biologist–turned-chef Giorgos Samoilis’s sharing dishes are sensational: avgotaraho (Greek bottarga) with wild pear and fig syrup; sea bream ceviche with wild fennel and fava beans; and seasonal salad scattered with house-cured samphire, purslane, caper leaves, and olives. Most ingredients are foraged, grown, caught, or bought locally; even the stoneware dishes are made by Sifnian potters.
Wooden boats ply the 650-foot strait between the drowsy harbor of Pano Koufonisi and the deserted jetty on Kato Koufonisi. This rocky islet, whose only inhabitants are sheep and goats, has some of the bluest, clearest water in Greece. During the summer, the Venetsanos family runs this fantastically ramshackle taverna, where you are welcome to peer into the pots to see what’s cooking. Everything from the garlicky beets to the fish soup and slow-roasted goat is grown, caught, or reared by the owners. Their home-baked pies, filled with tomato, onion, zucchini, or foraged greens, are deservedly famous, but the Greek salad topped with fresh goat cheese and caper leaves, with warm brown bread for dunking in the olive oil, is worth the trip alone.
The only building on sheltered Apantima Bay, this funky beach bar with rooms is one of the reasons the tiny island of Antiparos has suddenly become fashionable. Hanging with the skimpily clad in crowd doesn’t come cheap: If you’re not staying in one of the nine quietly chic suites, you’ll have to fork out handsomely for a sun bed. The payoff is chilling under juniper trees with a detox smoothie, idly watching athletic beach babes paddleboard into the sunset. There’s an alfresco massage and yoga pavilion; a stylish boutique where you can pick up caftans, scents, and sandals; and a 26-foot bar for sundowners and tuna burgers with wasabi mayo.
Mikonos 846 00, Greece
This local institution has (miraculously) survived Mykonos’s transformation from 1970s boho-gay hideaway to glitzy playground of oligarchs and supermodels. There’s no website, no phone, not even a sign outside the tiny shack above Agios Sostis Beach, but the secret is out. Go early as the lunch queue starts forming long before the place opens around 12:30 p.m. Savor a free glass of rosé and conversations with strangers while you wait for a table, the aroma of pork chops sizzling on the grill stoking your hunger. (Mykonos cognoscenti get their teenagers or nannies to wait in line while they go for a swim.) Octopus, prawns, chicken, and chops are chargrilled to perfection, accompanied with zingy salads and baked feta, eggplant, and potatoes. Kiki’s closes when the food runs out, between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Eparchiaki Odos Frikon - Stavrou
You have to know about this deliciously offbeat restaurant to find it. On a quiet junction high in the green hills of Ithaca, it’s beautifully designed and run by two Londoners: Mark, a former set designer, and Andy, a choreographer-turned-chef. Decked in vintage lampshades and dressers, the cozy dining room feels like someone’s living room; tables outside are in high demand during summer, especially for Sunday brunch (order scrambled eggs with chorizo and warm muffins). The short, ever-changing dinner menu is a welcome break from Greek taverna fare: stir-fried chicken with lime and coconut; build-your-own pizza; calamari tempura served with lettuce, avocado, and mango. Desserts are divine, especially Andy’s lemon tart served with a dollop of Greek yogurt.
Artemonas 840 03, Greece
With its baby blue cabinets lined with icons and embroidery, the Theodorou family’s confectionery looks more like an old-fashioned parlor. Regulars gossip as their nougat wafers and Turkish delight are weighed on antique scales. Founded in 1933, it was the first sweet shop in Artemonas, the loveliest village on Sifnos. Vasilodimos Theodorou still runs the family business with his nonagenarian parents, Nikos and Katina. There are neatly stacked boxes of amygdalota (ground almond sweets), tubs of ypovrichio (sugar paste perfumed with mastic, bergamot, or rosewater), and pastelli (sticky honey and sesame bars, traditionally handed out at weddings, baptisms, and church festivals). Everything is cooked over a wood fire in gleaming copper pans in the kitchen behind the shop counter.
Several restaurants are squeezed between the colorful fishing boats and flashy yachts in the ever-so-cute Palio Limani (Old Harbor) of Spetses. At Tarsanas, wooden tables are lined up along the pier. The yachties know that the Kaloskami brothers have their own caïque, so the catch of the day comes straight from their boat to their grill. In addition to simple grilled fish, these guys have a thousand ways with seafood, including red mullet ceviche, sea bass sashimi, creamy fish soup, and whole bream baked in a sea salt crust.