Chef Maria Loi’s life mission is straightforward. She subscribes to a simple motto — tasty, healthy and easy.
Over the course of her decades-long, critically-acclaimed career, Chef Loi has strived to “change the world — one healthy, Greek bite at a time.”
The owner of her eponymous Manhattan-based restaurant Loi Estiatorio, Chef Loi has become an international media darling whom various media outlets turn to for tips about healthy Greek cuisine and where to eat in Greece.
She’s been featured in widely-read media outlets including The New York Times, New York Post, Huffington Post and The Epoch Times, among various others.
She has made numerous prominent television appearances, including her recent appearance on “Live With Kelly and Ryan” — which has millions of daily viewers.
Chef Loi has also authored more than 36 cookbooks and 150 magazine editions.
Her latest book, The Greek Diet (2014), is grounded in the Greek Mediterranean lifestyle and includes 100 healthy, authentic Greek recipes using natural ingredients. The book has been translated in Portuguese and Greek — with more editions on the way.
In a recent article, Forbes Magazine consulted Chef Loi in order to find the best eating spots in Athens — a city which she visits regularly to explore its wide-ranging cuisine.
The following article is written by Forbes Magazine contributor Melissa Kravitz and has been re-published in its entirety with permission on The Pappas Post.
If you want to eat well in Athens, look no further than chef and restaurateur Maria Loi’s list of favorite eateries in her home country. Loi, who hails from the port city of Nafpaktos, a few hours from Athens, currently runs Loi Estiatorio in Manhattan, and splits her time between New York and her native Greece, where she traveled this summer to spend time with family, and of course, eat Greek. Below, a few of her top recommendations for dining in Athens, from traditional pies to late night, super fresh seafood.
For super fresh seafood: Ark
“Can you imagine, in Athens on the Greek Riviera, there’s this jewel of a restaurant, Ark! Such a beautiful restaurant with the best views! The two chefs, Giannis Baxevanis and Filipos Dimopoulos, are both so talented! What I love about Ark is how fresh everything is, and how thoughtful all the dishes are – whether it’s a classic Greek plate, like Octopus with Fava Puree, or something more modern, everything on the plate has a purpose….and it’s all delicious! They also have curated a fantastic wine list, which makes it a fun dining experience for everyone. My favorite thing to eat when I’m there is whatever the chefs recommend. They usually suggest the fresh fish caught earlier in the day. Sardines are my favorite, cooked in a wood-burning oven right in front of you.”
Address: 2 Labraki Grigoriou, Glyfada 166 74
For a classic taverna: Taverna Zorbas
“Not your quintessential tourist taverna in Plaka, Taverna Zorbas is the real deal! Chrysoula, the owner and talented cook inherited the Taverna from her father, continuing the family tradition of making great food and sharing their version of Greek hospitality at its finest! Ask Chrysoula how she makes the best cheese pies (tyropites) you’ll ever have. The dough is perfectly light and flaky, made with olive oil, just the way I do it, and the filling is perfectly proportionate to the dough. Though technically a savory dish, I like to drizzle mine with some honey from Crete, which pairs perfectly with a glass of crisp, dry white wine from Drama in Northern Greece”
Address: 15 Lissiou, Erehtheos, Plaka, Athens 105 56
For savory and sweet Greek pies: Pites Tis Sofias
“One of the most famous Greek pies throughout the world is Spanakopita, but, what people don’t know is how many different kinds of pies we the Greeks make! Not just spinach and/or cheese, but any possible sweet or savory pie you could imagine! At Pites Tis Sofias, I love how creative they are with their menu offerings, especially the assortment of seasonal vegetable savory and sweet pies. My favorite is their zucchini pie, which is very light, aromatic, and herbaceous. Besides their incredible pie selection, nothing beats their early morning breakfast. A ‘sketo’ (plain) Greek coffee served with homemade peasant bread drizzled in olive oil and topped with a perfectly cooked sunny side up egg, so incredibly fresh, you can see how orange the yolk is, like the sun!”
Address: 30 Agiou Alexandrou srt., Paleo Faliro 175 61
For Greek booze: Brettos
“The oldest distillery in Greece, Brettos, is a trip through time – trying the different kinds of Ouzo, Tsipouro (Greek Grappa), Rakomelo (Honey infused grape must liqueur), and brandy they offer can overwhelm the senses in the best way. A feast for the eyes, this iconic bar has an incredibly diverse and expansive wine list from all over Greece, featuring familiar and ancient, unknown grape varietals. Set in a prime location in Plaka, this is the favorite after-work aperitif spot for my sister’s office. When I join them here, they usually enjoy the Ouzo selections, while I always have a Tsipouro!”
Address: Kidathineon 41, Athina 105 58
For incredible views: Garbi
“Garbi has been cornering the market on unreal sunset views since 1924. Occupying a prime space on the Athenian Riviera in Vougliameni, this third generation female-owned restaurant serves wonderfully crafted dishes from the bounty of the sea prepared by the young talented chef, Michalis Pittas. Don’t miss the stuffed calamari, grilled octopus carpaccio, marinated sardines, or fresh gavros (European anchovies), while enjoying a glass of perfectly balanced rosé and watching the sun set over the crystal blue sea.”
Address: 21 Iliou, Kavouri, Vouliagmeni 166 71
For the best fish in town: Panorama Restaurant
“My first stop upon arriving in Athens is almost always Panorama Restaurant – dining here feels like dining on a boat because it’s right on the water, full of friends and family, and delectable food! Everything you order is so delicious, it’s almost impossible to get a picture because it’s gone by the time you get your camera ready! The owner and proprietor, Dimitris, goes to the fish market at Keratsini every night, and the result is the absolute best fish in town! We were lucky enough to have the langoustines and Fagri (Pink snapper), which were served with perfectly cooked carrots, potatoes, and zucchini – very traditional accompaniments in Greece.”
Address: 4 Iliou, Vouliagmeni 16671
For late night seafood: Keratsini Seafood Market
“When hunger strikes in the middle of the night, and you can’t find anything open, go to the Port of Piraeus, and follow the signs to Keratsini Seafood Market. Tell the guard you’re going to see Aglaia at the small taverna just after the entrance on the right. Ask her to make you the octopus she just got, with caramelized onions over fava puree. Or any other fish! She’ll go straight to the fishmonger and cook it for you on the spot. And, if by some magical twist of fate Aglaia can get you into the actual market? Let her! It will be the most unforgettable experience of your life!”