A Modern Guide to Ancient Athens
I'm always astonished to see the old and the new, side by side
Not long ago, I stood at the top of the Acropolis in Athens. Just steps away from the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to the city’s patron, Athena, I looked out over this fascinating city and was humbled by the centuries of history, art, culture, and philosophy that have shaped this place and the world we see. Isn’t it amazing to know that the stones you’re standing on have been there for thousands of years, and to think about the other feet that have stood there, the lives lived, the stories told? It’s easy to get lost in the history, the wonder of a place like that…
But also…don’t get distracted, José—you’re in one of the most exciting eating cities in the world right now! In the streets below the Acropolis, I was discovering so much, stopping into restaurants, bars, and cafes to see what new life was being breathed into the ancient city. I’m telling you, Athens is so alive and filled with new ideas!
I was there to do research for my restaurant Zaytinya and our new cookbook (coming in March 2024!), so every meal, every coffee, every cocktail was like opening a window into the story of modern Athens. I have been coming to this city for more than 20 years now, first with my wife Patricia as we prepared to open Zaytinya, and then over the decades to visit with my dear friend and culinary mentor, the renowned Greek cookbook author Aglaia Kremezi, who runs a cooking school on the beautiful island of Kea. My chefs, my wine team, my cocktail directors have all come to explore and learn in order to bring back new ideas to our restaurants and strengthen our connection to Greece.
A decade ago, Greece faced a severe financial crisis, with very strict economic conditions leading to an unemployment rate of 30% and deep pain for many, many Greeks. In the years since then, as the country, and especially Athens, has come back from the edge, there’s been an explosion of creativity in the arts scene, for musicians and writers and artists…and of course, in the restaurants. I am astonished how Athens’ culinary dreamers have built a new food culture that looks to the future, with a continued respect for the ingredients and traditions that have always made Greece one of the best places to eat in the world. And beyond that, the new Athens welcomes flavors from around the world—below, you’ll see recommendations for one of the most traditional taverns in Athens, a hyper-modern Japanese pub and grill, and beyond.
So my friends…I’m happy to share with you my favorite restaurants in Athens, a city where the old and the new live side by side, where innovation and modernity sit, figuratively and literally, on top of generations of tradition.