What is koutouki? It is a small, traditional tavern, usually underground or not visible from the road. Why Greeks love koutoukia? Because they are places with heart and charm that you don’t easily find in modern restaurants, wine bars, and lounges. Time stops in a koutouki back in the days when people relied on each other’s company, friendly advice, and goodwill.
Koutoukia popped up massively in the early 1900s and remained vital entertainment and common spots for the Greek working class until the mid-1900s. The ambience is simple — a few wooden chairs and tables, barrels filled with house wine, and a small kitchen at the back. There’s always urban Greek music (rebetiko), with lyrics that talk about the suffering of the human soul. Koutoukia, resist modernity, offer personalised service, and value the quality of traditional dishes.
Impressively, koutoukia manage to express not only the generations that brought them to life but Greece’s youth too, nostalgic about a glorious past they have only heard about. Here are my favorite koutoukia in the broader area of Athens. From the welcoming owner to the homemade dishes, make sure you don’t miss out on this original dining experience.
To Koutouki tou Kallinikou
Kesariani is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Athens. The area isn’t central, but it’s easily accessible by public transport and taxi, or even on foot. Kesariani is deeply linked to Greece’s modern history. The area was established about 100 years ago to accommodate the Greek refugees from Smyrni (Izmir). To Koutouki tou Kallinikou has taken its name from its amiable owner, who is more than happy to help you with your order. The dish I go back for again and again is the pan-fried feta cheese appetizer, wrapped in phyllo pastry, and served with homemade fig marmalade. The pictures on the wall are from classic Greek movies of the 1960s, representative of an entire era in the history of Greek popular culture.
Where: Iroon Polytechniou 109-111, Kesariani
To Koutouki is in the northern suburbs of Athens, in Chalandri. Chalandri is a popular shopping and bar-hopping destination, and home to one of my top koutouki preferences in town. This place stands out from other similar spots in the area for its lovely garden, ideal for the summer months. To Koutouki is outside of the bustling zone of Chalandri, and you may need some help to find it. However, this is part of the experience. Here you won’t find gourmet dishes, but traditional recipes served with love. Every Sunday, from 2 PM to 6 PM To Koutouki has live music.
Where: Ipsilantou 5, Chalandri
To Koutouki tis Lydias
Going back to Kesariani, To Koutouki tis Lydias is a beautiful, tiny place serving simple yet delicious food. I recommend the mustard pork with halloumicheese and wine. Vegetarians won’t regret the fava dip made of beans and the tomato balls. The place has a very atmospheric ambiance, which sticks to traditions. When you are ready to order, the owner arrives with a notebook and asks you to write your order down. Does it get more personal than this?
Where: Lydias 35, Kesariani
To Idikon is the only authentic bakalotaverna (grocery store and tavern) left in the port area of Piraeus. Behind the tobacco factories, To Idikon was the favorite hangout spot of iconic Greek musicians of the 20th century such as Kazantzidis and Tsitsanis. To Idikon first opened in 1920 as a grocery store, and in 1980 was converted into a small tavern. Ever since, it has been a reference point for the famous and anonymous alike, who appreciate simple homemade flavors.
Where: Psarron 38 & Salaminos, Piraeus
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Diporto is one of the oldest and most authentic koutoukia in the heart of the city, just off the Varvakios Central Market. Hidden in the basement of a 150-year-old neoclassical building, Diporto is first and foremost diverse — here you will find hipsters, retirees, and tourists enjoying the local delicacies, which differ from one day to the other. Watch your step when coming down the stairs, and don’t hesitate to share a table with other clients, as there are no more than ten tables in total.
Where: Sokratous 9, Athens
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I love to create, reinvent, and experiment with new things. I studied engineering, and I was one of only three women in Greece in my specialty. But my real passion is connecting with people, engaging in deep conversations, and exchanging ideas.