All Articles The 10 dishes you must try in Greece

The 10 dishes you must try in Greece

Gyros, grilled octopus, moussaka, and more—these are the foods you don’t want to miss out on.

Sara Hamdan
By Sara Hamdan29 Mar 2024 8 minutes read
A golden-brown casserole style wedge of moussaka.
Traditional moussaka.
Image: Getty Images

I grew up in Greece, where olive oil is touted as a panacea for everything from bronchitis to a broken heart. So it’s no wonder it’s used in so many local recipes. In Greece, food is more than a daily ritual; it’s a celebration of customs that have been around for hundreds of years. From just-caught fish to layered, creamy dishes like moussaka, the hardest part will be resisting all the warm bread served at the start of each meal.

Enjoy my take on the top 10 dishes in Greece—and the best places to eat them, from Athens to Thessaloniki to the islands.

1. Greek salad

A close up of Greek salad in a bowl from above.
The Greek salad at Manolis Taverna.
Image: Tripadvisor

Greek food may seem basic on the surface, but there are so many regional twists on traditional dishes, with such a wide variety of meats and herbs, that it will be hard for you to have the exact same meal twice. But something you’ll find in nearly every restaurant is the classic Greek salad—a refreshing and vibrant combination of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and olives, with a fat block of feta cheese on top and an olive oil and oregano dressing. Simple, yet satisfying, it’s a staple of Greek cuisine.

Where to get it: I’ve eaten salads at countless Greek restaurants throughout my life, and one spot that stands out is Manolis Taverna in Rhodes. Located near the popular Faliraki Beach, this old-school taverna has tables set among olive trees and uses ingredients sourced around the island—including spearmint and caper leaves—ensuring the salad is bursting with flavor.

Tip: Dining with a group? Appetizers in Greece are usually served family style, so order two salads for the table. That way, everyone can share.

Travelers say: “The atmosphere is tranquil and with real Greek vibes. Staff is not only friendly but very knowledgeable, explaining wines, food, and dessert in great detail. Almost a Michelin experience but at reasonable price for what you get (and portions!). Our dinner was 60€ per person comprising excellent wine and three courses of great quality and sizes. Definitely a place to try at least once while in Rhodes if you fancy a higher quality experience.”—@C2635ETfrancescom

2. Gyros

Two gyros wrapped in white paper.
The gyros at O Kostas.
Image: Tripadvisor

Greece’s answer to the kebab, gyros (pronounced yee-ros) feature marinated meat (usually chicken, pork, or lamb) cooked on a vertical rotisserie and shaved onto warm pita bread. Toppings like onions, tomatoes, tzatziki sauce, and French fries are piled high. It’s a delicious and satisfying meal on the go.

Where to get it: Athens is known for its street food, and gyros vendors are plentiful. Try O Kostas near Syntagma Square—a local favorite. There will likely be a queue, but at an affordable average of $7 dollars, it’s worth the wait. This spot has been serving up its famous gyros for over 50 years using a secret family marinade that keeps the crowds coming back for more.

Tip: Be sure to ask for “me pita” (with pita bread) when ordering your gyros. If you’re feeling adventurous, try it “alla souvla” (on a skewer), which is how the locals like this street-food mainstay.

Travelers say: “Popular small hole-in-the-wall that has a long line of locals and tourists. Go early because often runs out of beef (which is better than their pork option. No, they do not have chicken). The current chef is the grandson of the original. Also sells drinks (beer, ouzo, soft drinks). No seating. Best cheap eats in Athens!”—@krawner

3. Souvlaki

A table outside set with a plate of Souvlaki.
Souvlaki at To Steki tou Nikou at
Image: Tripadvisor

Similar to gyros, but with a slightly different cooking method, souvlaki consists of bite-sized pieces of marinated meat skewered and grilled over charcoal or an open flame. It’s a classic, served on wooden skewers or wrapped in pita with toppings, including tzatziki and fries.

Where to get it: Santorini’s To Steki tou Nikou is a hidden gem known for its flame-grilled souvlaki. Set in the idyllic village of Oia, this family-run taverna has a warm and welcoming atmosphere with breathtaking views of the caldera—especially at sunset. Their souvlaki is marinated and charred over charcoal, resulting in the juiciest meat.

Tip: Souvlaki can be eaten on its own with a squeeze of lemon or drizzled with olive oil. It’s also commonly served with pita bread, fries, and a side salad (the perfect combo for a happy belly). Get there early to avoid the crowds lining up at sunset.

Travelers say: “Amazing food, really tasty and very reasonably priced. Also in a beautiful spot overlooking the ocean, not volcano side but still beautiful. Really friendly team. We stopped here for dinner on our walk back from Oia, there is a steep path down from the main track if walking but definitely worth a visit.”—@eatravel1

4. Grilled fish

A load loaded with grilled fish and sides.
The grilled fish at Gia mas Taverna.
Image: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g189494-d4059842-Reviews-Gia_mas_Taverna-Poros_Saronic_Gulf_Islands_Attica.html

Island life means that seafood is plentiful, so you can’t go wrong with the catch of the day at a seaside taverna. It’s usually prepared as a whole fish and sold by weight (heads up—check on the price before you order). Then it’s grilled with olive oil, lemon and rosemary. (You can also get it filleted and fried.) It’s often served with a side salad or a plate of chunky, triple-cooked fries.

Where to get it: Head to Gia Mas Taverna in Poros for a journey through the island’s flavors—think, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. The seafood here is always the catch of the day, so opt for grilled fish drizzled with lemon, olive oil, and oregano. If you’re really hungry, the taverna also serves fabulous seafood pasta.

Tip: For a colorful—and tasty—experience, order the taverna’s popular “blue wine.” Yes, this aromatic Retsina wine (which tastes like a light white or rose) can look slightly blue depending on the grape harvest that season.

Travelers say: “The food rates amongst the best we have had in Greece this far. The service was exceptional, the waiters were attentive and friendly and yet we never felt rushed. The husband / wife team generate the warmth we have come to expect in restaurants in Greece. We will definitely go back for another memorable meal. It is also good value for money.”—@Resort25812315089

5. Grilled octopus

A plate with octopus and a wedge of lemon.
The grilled octopus at Filoxenia.
Image: Tripadvisor

There’s nothing like sitting at a Greek taverna facing the sea with just-caught octopus hanging on a clothesline. (This is proof of freshness.) Order it as an appetizer or a main course with just a squeeze of lemon, then close your eyes for that first bite to immerse yourself in the taste of the Mediterranean Sea.

Where to get it: Filoxenia in Zakynthos has several popular dishes, including seafood carbonara and oven-grilled feta cheese, but the simplicity of the tender grilled octopus is a winner.

Tip: Go for dinner to see Sirtaki dancing and plate-smashing that goes late into the night—and no, this isn’t just for tourists. It’s a time-honored way to ward off the “evil eye” and welcome good luck.

Travelers say: “Amazing restaurant with lovely staff, great atmosphere and the most important food to die for. Ate there 4 out of 11 evenings.”—@Sian G

6. Spanakopita

A pastry case full of pastries and sandwiches.
The pastry case at Albeta Bakery with Spanakopita.
Image: Tripadvisor

This savory pie has layers of flaky phyllo dough filled with a mixture of spinach, feta cheese, onions, and herbs. It’s good for an appetizer, snack, or light lunch.

Where to get it: Albeta Bakery in Thessaloniki is a local institution, renowned for its flaky pastries and traditional Greek breads. The spanakopita is a must, with a golden-brown crust filled with a blend of spinach, feta, and herbs.

Tip: Spanakopita is best eaten warm, but it’s also fabulous at room temperature. If you’re grabbing a piece on the go, ask the bakery if they can reheat it for you for an extra burst of flavor. Wash it down with a Nescafe Frappe iced coffee.

Travelers say: “Snacking is serious in Albeta! Tasty food for every mood :-) The people working there are very kind and always with a smile.”—@Ιωάννα Τ

7. Moussaka

A golden and layered moussaka paired with sliced tomatoes.
Traditional moussaka.
Image: Getty Images/Markellos Plakitsis

This hearty casserole layers ground lamb or beef with eggplant, potatoes, and a rich tomato sauce, all topped with a creamy béchamel. Moussaka’s origins can be traced to the Middle East, where variations of similar dishes were prepared with written recipes recorded as far back as the 13th century. However, it was in Greece where moussaka truly flourished into the iconic dish that we know today.

Where to get it: Head to Apanemi Restaurant in Mykonos for an upscale, modern take on traditional moussaka. Located at the Mykonos Theoxenia Hotel facing the rugged waterfront, this taverna has beautiful views of the Aegean Sea and dishes created by two award-winning chefs. Their moussaka is prepared with local ingredients and baked to perfection, giving a true taste of Greek comfort food since 1960.

Tip: Moussaka is a shareable dish, ideal for a light lunch or dinner with friends. For a complete experience, pair it with a full-bodied Myconian red wine like Paraportiano Mykonos Vioma.

Travelers say: “We ate breakfast and dinner here, with beautiful views of the water. The food was very good. The location is ideal because it is at the edge of old town, near the windmills, and only a few minute walk to downtown. Will definitely return sometime.”—@lakesuccess

8. Pastitsio

A casserole dish with noodles baked golden brown.
A typical Pastitsio dish.
Image: Getty Images/Lefteris_

This comforting baked dish is like a Greek lasagna, combining layers of macaroni or other tubular pasta with a rich, cinnamon-tinged meat sauce, béchamel, and grated kefalograviera cheese. Pastitsio is typically a main course, but it can also be enjoyed as a side dish.

Where to get it: O Vasilis on the island of Naxos is a family-run restaurant known for its decadent take on Greek classics. Their pastitsio is made with a generous amount of local cheese.

Tip: The restaurant is an uphill drive on a mountainous road, so it’s safest to visit for lunch—plus, you’ll get to see the sweeping island views.

Travelers say: “Don't miss this when you go to Naxos. It's a real authentic experience and in a part of the island that's away from the crowds and is the real Greece. The food is absolutely delicious, menu different from so many other restaurants, very reasonably priced, warm and friendly service and the view is exceptional. As another reviewer said, it's about 20 minutes out of the city but well worth the trip.”—@kareneM3414UU

9. Gemista

A pot full of different roasting vegetables.
Gemista cooking.
Image: Getty Images/imageBROKER/Ralf Adler

These stuffed vegetables are a cornerstone of Greek cooking, typically made with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant and filled with a mixture of rice, herbs, and—sometimes—ground meat. The process of preparing gemista is a labor of love, as each vegetable is carefully hollowed out and filled with the fragrant mixture. The stuffed vegetables are then baked to perfection.

Where to get it: Mistrali Restaurant in Chania, Crete, is an upscale taverna serving homemade dishes. Their gemista is made with seasonal vegetables and rice stuffing and not to be missed.

Tip: Gemista is popular with vegetarians (just tell the restaurant to skip the meat). Pair it with a Cretian draft beer and the sea breeze.

Travelers say: “Great food and prices, lots of [different] food. Excellent staff. Best restaurant just in front the beach. You can stay all day and spend the day in the sun-beds for free if you have lunch here. Try it out, we did every day and have come back every year for a long time. We love it.”—@Karina Glad P

10. Loukoumades

A cluster of fried dough balled with chocolate sauce.
The Loukoumades at Loukoumades Balatsoura.
Image: Tripadvisor

These golden fried dough balls are soaked in syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon and sometimes nuts. They’re a sweet treat throughout Greece, often served as dessert or a snack.

Where to get it: Loukoumades Balatsoura in the center of Athens is a popular spot for sampling these treats. The family-run business has a variety of fillings and toppings, like bitter chocolate and praline, allowing you to customize your loukoumades experience.

Tip: Loukoumades are best tried warm—right out of the frying pan—with a hot cup of coffee.

Travelers say: “First of all, I love that it is a family business. Staff was hilarious and friendly, the loukoumades were phenomenal, especially for the low price, and the service was excellent. I loved hearing about the history of the owner's grandma creating the recipe decades ago. So heartwarming. I definitely recommend paying a visit if you're in the area!”—@Lara B

Sara Hamdan
Sara Hamdan is the global managing editor of Protocol Labs, an American tech venture capital firm. She is a former Merrill Lynch banker, New York Times journalist and editor at Google. After winning a Netflix short story award, Sara's debut novel went on to win a landmark two book deal with US publishing giant Holt, home of elite authors including Toni Morrison, Hilary Mantel and Liane Moriarty. Her novel will be published worldwide in early 2025.