As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of Greek cuisine, I am on a perpetual quest to unearth the most delicious Greek food at home and on my travels. My culture has instilled in me a preoccupation with food, and, in true Greek-fashion, it is not uncommon for me to plan my next meal before I have even finished my current meal.
While most Greek restaurants are hard-pressed to compete with my family’s homemade Greek delicacies, the following list contains my selections for some of the best Greek restaurants around the United States, from casual eateries to upscale establishments. Kαλή όρεξη (pronounced ka-LEE OR-ex-ee), or Bon appétit, Grecophiles!
[I would certainly be remiss to not include my Chicago favorites Mythos Greek Taverna, Taxim, Avli Estiatorio, and Athenian Room in this list. To discover these must-try Chicago Greek restaurants, click here!]
NEW YORK: It comes as no surprise that the melting pot of New York City has the largest population of Greeks in America and is a hub of Greek society and food. No other American neighborhood is more synonymous with Greek culture as the bustling Greek enclave of Astoria, Queens. From Astoria to Manhattan, NYC boasts multiple leading Greek establishments. Here are some of my favorites:
**M.P. Taverna, Astoria, Queens: Greek-American restaurateur Michael Psilakis (of beloved Kefi and Fishtag and formerly of Michelin-starred, now shuttered Anthos) is rightfully credited with reinventing Greek cuisine in America. MP Taverna, worth the ride on the N or Q trains, or a detour on the way to La Guardia airport, places a contemporary twist on a traditional Greek taverna. This standout on Ditmars Boulevard offers delectable meze (small plates or appetizers), satisfying entrees, grilled seafood, and sumptious desserts. Weekend brunch is a crowd-pleaser while a diverse selection of artisan drafts and bottles will delight beer-aficionados.
**Taverna Kyclades, Astoria, Queens: Taverna Kyclades is a long-standing Astoria darling corroborated by the lines of eager patrons. Kyclades assembles traditional Greek favorites so skillfully well that it is worth the wait. The atmosphere is evocative of a taverna in Greece, the prices are reasonable, the service on point. The fare, from crisp salads and vegetables to the heavenly seafood, is remarkably fresh. A complimentary dessert of galaktoboureko (pictured below)- creamy custard with layers of flaky phyllo dough drizzled with honey and sprinkled cinnamon- concludes this culinary experience on a sweet note. Note: Taverna Kyclades recently opened an East Village outpost for those reluctant to venture from Manhattan.
**Estiatorio Milos, Midtown West, Manhattan: Estiatorio Milos is the ultimate in elevated Greek dining. Milos has an airy, chic interior and a menu emphasizing exceedingly fresh seafood, flown in daily from the motherland, and attractively displayed on an ice bar. The impressive wine list highlights often overlooked ambrosial Greek wine. Avoid a hefty price tag by checking out Milos’ prix fixe lunch special. FYI: Milos’ empire also extends from its flagship Montreal location to Athens, South Beach, Las Vegas, and London.
**Souvlaki GR, Lower East Side, Manhattan: On my ongoing crusade to uncover authentic souvlaki in the U.S. that measures up to that in Greece, I stumbled upon Souvlaki GR. Also a food truck, Souvlaki GR delivers by serving up Greece’s ubiquitous street food the way it should be, right down to the spot-on tzatziki and french fries. The incredibly charming interior is modeled after a Greek village, and with a souvlaki pita and traditional frappe coffee in hand, you are truly whisked away to the Mediterranean, if only for a moment.
**Kokkari Estiatorio, Financial District, San Francisco: San Francisco, America’s veritable foodie capital, is not particularly well-known for its Greek cuisine. Kokkari, however, is a game-changer. Kokkari’s rustic interior, complete with a stone fireplace roasting chickens and handcrafted pottery, is charming and cozy. The impeccable Greek fare is flawlessly presented and mouthwatering from the gigandes with tomato sauce and herbed feta (pictured below) and roasted chicken to the tsipoura, served whole, and luscious baklava. Kokkari truly serves food fit for the Gods and showcases the best in Greek cooking and hospitality.
WASHINGTON, D.C.: Our nation’s capital has a hot, burgeoning Greek and Mediterranean food scene that has exploded in the past several years. Below are a few leading examples.
**Zaytinya, Penn Quarter/Chinatown, Washington, DC: Zaytinya was my go-to spot when I lived in DC and undoubtedly a top-notch choice for Mediterranean cuisine. Helmed by one of my favorite chefs José Andrés, Zaytinya meticulously merges the finest Greek, Lebanese and Turkish delicacies into inventive small plates. Zaytinya’s interior is contemporary and trendy, and its glamorous patio is a buzzy scene in warmer months. The menu is expansive and features stunners such as roasted eggplant stuffed with onions, tomatoes and walnuts; seared halloumi cheese; octopus santorini; and heavenly hummus. The cocktails are creative, and the notable Greek- and Turkish-focused wine list is extensive.
**Taverna Cretekou, Old Town Alexandria, Virginia: Nestled amongst the cobblestone streets of historic Old Town Alexandria, Taverna Cretekou is a long-time favorite. The inviting interior and enchanting patio serve as a beacon of time-honored Greek filoxenia (hospitality). The portions are generous, the service is friendly, and the atmosphere is festive, with traditional Greek bouzouki music and dancing weekly. The classic Greek fare includes mezedes, salads, meats, and seafood and is consistently satisfying and flavorful.
**Cava Mezze, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC: Cava Mezze, located on historic Capitol Hill, is an enjoyable, scrumptious addition to the Greek small plate (hence: mezze) scene. The tapas style dining is reminiscent of a traditional Greek taverna, and the well-priced assorted dips, sliders and salads fail to disappoint. Standouts include spicy lamb sliders; halloumi sliders; and the “crazy feta,” whipped aged barrel feta with jalapeno. Cava Mezze also offers trendy craft libations and serves up a fun brunch. Cava has additional locations in Rockville, MD and the Clarendon area of Arlington, VA.
**Greek Deli & Catering, DuPont Circle, Washington, DC: A bona fide DC lunch institution, Greek Deli serves up daily specials to hungry masses that line up outside its tiny, 19th Street storefront. Kostas, the delightful, warm proprietor, serves carry-out-only, homemade Greek deliciousness that rivals your [insert: mother’s/ father’s/yiayia’s/aunt’s] home cooking. The gyro platter, avgolemono (egg lemon) soup, spanakopita, and souvlaki have garnered a cult-following. And don’t let the line deter you, it moves quickly.
FLORIDA: Florida is home to a thriving Greek population, with the largest per capita Greek populace in America located in the quaint fishing town of Tarpon Springs (also dubbed “the sponge capital of the world”). Unsurprisingly, Florida is prime territory for Greek dining establishments.
**Hellas Restaurant & Bakery, Tarpon Springs, FL: Tarpon Springs’ waterfront is replete with Greek restaurant options, and on the main street of Dodecanese Boulevard, in the heart of it all, you will find Hellas Restaurant & Bakery. Hellas is a favored Greek mainstay that is bustling with activity, particularly in the high season. The blue and white interior is splashy with painted murals of Greece, Greek pillars and statues, and Greek key lined walls. The quintessential Greek fare is reliably delicious, and the menu features Greek combination platters, fresh seafood, and the traditional Greek horiatiki salad served upon a bed of potato salad. Be sure to save room for an after-dinner trip to the adjacent Hellas Bakery for Greek coffee and the most authentic Greek dessert around. Sample the delicately crafted Greek favorites (recommended: melamakarona and kourabiedes cookies, diples, galaktoboureko) and savor the sinful baklava cheesecake.
**Poseidon Greek Restaurant & Outdoor Lounge, Miami Beach, FL: Poseidon brings the Mediterranean to South Beach and has garnered rave reviews since its debut in early 2013. Poseidon is a welcome departure from the overpriced, and underwhelming, tourist traps that crowd South Beach and expertly serves phenomenal Greek cuisine with natural, fresh ingredients. The interior is sleek and modern with Greek touches, but the outdoor patio is really the place to be and offers the perfect vantage point for people-watching on Washington Ave. The meal begins with complimentary crusty bread served with an addicting tomato, feta, olive oil dip. Poseidon’s extensive menu offers noteworthy saganaki dishes (e.g. scallop, calamari, mussels or shrimp saganaki), mouthwatering octopus roasted in lemon and oil, seafood pasta, and delectable grilled, whole fish. A dessert of Greek yogurt or baklava, and an aperitif of ouzo on the rocks, is a perfect finale to the Poseidon experience.