When it comes to Greek food, nothing beats the classic Greek taverna! Here is everything you need to know about tavernas in Greece.
The famous Greek taverna
For most Greeks, food is an integral part of life and Greek culture. Everyone has fond memories of time spent with family or friends around a restaurant table.
Greece has several types of eating establishments, of which the best known is the traditional taverna. Wherever you go in the country, you are bound to find dozens of these modest, no-frills eateries.
Generally speaking, you will recognize a Greek taverna by the basic decoration, tables covered with paper tablecloths and relaxed atmosphere.
You will also typically see the word ΤΑΒΕΡΝΑ / Ταβέρνα, which is how we spell “taverna” in Greek. Here is a quick Greek class, including the alphabet and a few useful words.
Sitting to eat at a traditional Greek taverna
Once you get to the taverna, a waiter will come and ask how many people you are. Bear in mind that service might be slower than you are used to.
If there is a free table, they will guide you there. Typically, they will bring a paper tablecloth, plates, knives and forks, a bottle of water and a basket of bread. If you don’t want the water or bread, you can just tell them.
Most tavernas will have a menu in both Greek and English, and often in more languages. If you are lucky to find a taverna with no English menu, don’t panic. You will get a chance to experience Greece the proper way 🙂
Ambiance at a Greek taverna
So what should you expect in terms of ambiance? There are no rules – but it often depends on the time of the day you go. As a rule, Greeks eat late in the day, especially when it comes to dinner.
In any case, you will often see large groups of Greek people sitting in a taverna to eat and socialize. People tend to spend a long time in the taverna, especially on weekends or public holidays. I’ve had meals lasting for several hours, as people were coming and going.
As a rule, the more people you see, the better are the chances that the taverna is good. Occasionally, you might come across some live music, and even dancing. As for the infamous plate breaking, well, I haven’t seen it in years 🙂
As a rule, tavernas are exceptionally family-friendly, and they will go out of their way to cater for small children. In most cases, you will see plenty of Greek cats all around!
What to eat at a Greek taverna
Taverna menus can vary a lot, depending on season, area and region of the country. Tavernas on the Greek islands have different menus than tavernas on the mountains of mainland Greece.
Generally speaking, all tavernas offer several salad options. Apart from those, there will be a few appetizers, and a selection of main dishes, that might be different every day.
There will also be a selection of grilled food, most commonly grilled meats. Some fresh fish are usually available in most Greek tavernas, though there is normally more variety in fish tavernas.
In some tavernas, you can actually go inside and have a look at all dishes of the day. You may not recognize all of them, but you will get a general idea.
Drinks normally include beer, local wine, ouzo and tsipouro or raki. Water and soft drinks are always available.
Greek salad and other salads
By far the most famous salad in Greece is the so-called Greek salad. We call it horiatiki, which literally translating into “peasant’s salad” or “village salad”.
It consists of roughly cut tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and onions, topped with a lump of feta cheese, olives and extra virgin olive oil.
A Greek salad with some bread can be a meal in itself. People often combine it with a portion of fries or a main course.
Another popular salads is dakos, a barley rusk topped with chopped tomatoes and feta cheese. You can also find horta, Greek boiled greens, in most tavernas.
That said, you will find several regional salad variations all around the country.
Tzatziki and more starters
Salads aside, the Greek cuisine has dozens of different small dishes and dips. Those would be best described as starters or appetizers, but can be very filling.
One of our most popular starters is tzatziki, a thick dip made out of yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and olive oil. If you like garlic, you should also try the melitzanosalata, a dip made out of mashed grilled aubergines flavoured with garlic.
Dolmadakia, stuffed vine leaves, are also very common. I love them and am too lazy to make them at home, so I often order them as a main course!
The fava dish, a dip made out of yellow fava beans, is also popular. An island famous for its local fava is Santorini, but you must also try it if you find yourself in Schinoussa or Amorgos.
Other starters include deep fried vegetables, deep fried vegetable balls, and all sorts of cheeses. In addition, pies like cheese pie or spinach pie feature on pretty much every taverna menu.
Note that some of those starters contain seasonal vegetables, so they might not be available year-round.
Meat dishes in Greece
Most people thinking of Greek food will come up with one thing: meat. It’s true – the Greek cuisine features dozens of meat dishes.
We use most types of meat in our cooking. You will find recipes including beef, pork, lamb, goat, minced meat, entrails, kidneys, liver, you name it.
Some of our most popular meat dishes include kleftiko, a slow-cooked dish containing lamb or pork, keftedes, meatballs, and stifado, an onion stew with rabbit or beef.
You will also find numerous grilled meats. This includes the popular souvlaki skewers and sausages.
Local dishes with minced meat
Most places will also serve two iconic dishes which contain minced meat – moussaka and pastitsio.
Moussaka contains layers of fried potatoes, aubergines and minced meat. Pastitsio contains a mix of pasta, cheese and minced meat.
Both dishes are topped up with a thick béchamel sauce and cooked in the oven. Béchamel sauce contains
These are two of our most popular dishes, especially for first-time visitors. As they are rather heavy dishes, one portion easily serves two people!
Fish and seafood
Go to any Greek island or coastal town, and you will immediately discover tavernas specializing in fresh fish and seafood. These are called psarotavernas, which translates to “fish tavernas”.
Examples of dishes you can find at fish tavernas include sardines, anchovies, red mullet, seabream, shrimps, mussels and octopus. Occasionally, you can find swordfish or fried cod.
Tip – Fish is where the translation of the Greek menu often fails miserably 🙂 If you want to be certain of what type of fish you are eating, your best bet is to actually go into the kitchen and ask for any fish you like.
Visitors don’t always realize that food in Greece isn’t limited to meats and fish. We have a ton of recipes that are vegetarian or vegan.
This explains why there are rather few dedicated vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Greece. Every single tavern will offer at least one vegan and vegetarian dish in its daily menu.
Popular main courses include gemista, stuffed tomatoes and peppers, revythia, chickpeas in the oven, and briam, vegetables cooked in the oven. But you may find many more, depending on the season and area. Just ask your waiter.
Famous Greek drinks
No meal is complete without drinking! If you visit in summer, chances are that you will want something refreshing to accompany your lunch or dinner.
Many people would go for a beer, served extra cold. There are many brands of local beer available, such as Alpha, Mythos, Fix, Heineken, Amstel or Kaiser. Some tavernas might have one or two specialty beers, so ask your waiter.
Wine is readily available in every single taverna around the country. You can just order a jug of a local wine, or opt for a bottle. Apart from the well-known retsina, there are dozens of different local varieties.
Those looking for something stronger should try some ouzo or raki – just make sure you don’t have to drive afterwards 🙂
Here is some more information on Ouzo, and some more of our local drinks in Greece.
Desserts in a traditional taverna
Greece has many traditional desserts. You will usually be able to find some of them, like baklava, halva, fresh fruit, yoghurt with honey, or spoon sweets, at the local tavernas.
In fact, many tavernas offer a complimentary dessert at the end of your meal! For many visitors, this is one of the most surprising and heart-warming things during their vacation in Greece.
If you want a larger selection of desserts, you can always go to one of the numerous coffee shops, patisseries or ice-cream shops in Greece. One of the best dessert places in Athens is to Serbetospito, in Psiri area.
Paying and tipping at a tavern
People often wonder about paying and tipping at a taverna. You can usually pay on a card, though most tavernas prefer cash.
When it comes to tipping, here’s my advice: unless you were unhappy with the service or food, just tip liberally. Restaurants and all tourist establishments have been tremendously affected in the past couple of years.
There is no set percentage for tipping in Greece. A 5 or 10 percent is totally fine. Do as you feel, but remember that a moderate tip will bring a smile to your waiter’s face!
Here’s my full guide on tipping in Greece.
Frequently asked questions about Greek tavernas
Here are some questions that travellers often ask when it comes to tavernas in Greece and the Greek islands:
What are tavernas in Greece?
Tavernas are local, laid-back restaurants. They are the most common type of place where you can eat Greek food.
How do you ask for a table in Greek?
You will normally find that waiters speak enough English. If you are looking for the Greek word for table, you can use the word trapézee.
How do you order a drink in Greece?
We use the word bééra for beer, and kraséé for wine. Other drinks include ouzo, tsipouro and raki.
How do you pay for food in Greece?
You can normally pay by card or cash. Sometimes, you might have to go inside the taverna if you want to pay by card.
What time is dinner in Greece?
As a rule, Greeks have their dinner late, maybe at 21.00-21.30. However, most tavernas will serve evening meals after 18.00.
What food do they eat in Greece?
Greek food is very varied. The main ingredients used in Greek dishes are vegetables, olive oil, pulses, meat, fish and cheese. Bread and fries are two regular staples when you go to a taverna.
More guides about food in Greece
I hope this guide on Greek tavernas has been useful. Here are a few more guides that will help you understand better this part of the Greek culture, and enjoy it when you visit with your friends or family.
- The ultimate Greek food guide with 50 dishes
- How to order food in Greece
- Greek food culture
- Coffee and coffee culture in Greece
- Useful Greek words and phrases
- The Varvakios food market in Athens
- Hottest Greek islands in October
Still, if all this sounds overwhelming, why not take one of the highly-rated food tours in Athens! Try to take it on your first or second day in Greece, so that you can ask all the questions you want.
Hi! I am Vanessa from Athens. Food is one of my interests, and while I love international cuisine, I rate the food of Greece very, very highly. Join my FB page and FB group for more tips about Greece.