In Athens, all that famous rubble makes for some pricey tourist traps. But the city's love of fresh ingredients means that at least you can eat well on the cheap. The best way to navigate the Greek capital's range of dining options is to diversify, so here's a cross-section of the gastronomical layers worth discovering.
Perched on a hillside, Dionysos Zonar's restaurant (www.dionysoszonars.gr) has an expansive patio facing the Acropolis the view alone is worth the price of a drink. But it pays to stay for dinner and choose from a menu of subtly updated traditional Greek cuisine. The sampling of appetizers I ordered included a smoky roasted eggplant salad and whipped tarama with a peppery tanginess. The baby lamb chops with a touch of thyme and oregano were divine. And the local desserts of ekmek (bread-and-butter pudding) and kaimaki ice cream (flavored with mastic) made for a refreshing end to the meal. Cost per person (without wine): $75.
For a more modern and modest outing, head to the Plaka district and Event (www.eventrestaurant.gr), which has contemporary art for sale on the walls and a variety of seafood dishes on the menu. The octopus appetizer boiled for 90 minutes in vinegar and sautéed in red wine was the tastiest I've ever had, while the locally caught tsipoura (sea bream) was grilled to perfection. After a dessert of four types of baklava of varying shapes, sweetness and fillings, I was stuffed. And smiling. Cost per person (without wine): $45.
If you want to eat like a Greek, however, you can't beat the skewered cubes of souvlaki that can be found just about everywhere. A local took me to the Butcher's Souvlaki, a hole in the wall on Apollonos Street where the pieces of pork are extra tender, dashed with salt, pepper and oregano, and brushed with olive oil and lemon. Cost per person (without Coke): $6.