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While Girl Meets Food was on break, this girl jetted off to Europe for a much-needed vacation.  Athens was my first stop, a place with a certain erudite charm lacked by some European cities. Even their strained yogurt is smarter, which is why a heaping plate of tzatziki is served with every meal.

Despite the current economic upheaval, this metropolis’ ingrained resiliency is represented by its well-rounded culture and daredevil drivers.  Thankfully, my aggressive DC pedestrian etiquette came in handy as I ate my way through the city.Steps away from the metro in the artsy neighborhood of Metaxourgeio is Taverna Alexander the Great, where a traditional Greek meal hit the spot after hours of traveling and inexplicable airplane food. The moussaka (€8), baked layers of potatoes, eggplant, and minced lamb Bolognese topped with a light Bechamel sauce, had a beautifully earthy flavor and texture to match. Its aromatic hint of nutmeg fielded off the secondhand smoke coming from tables of entitled locals passing the time.For a break from sightseeing, I took a stroll through the National Gardens, napped in the Panathenaic Stadium (which hosted the very first Olympics) and refueled for a night out in the Gazi district. This bustling redeveloped area is home to trendy nightlife and restaurants, including the adorable eatery Mamacas.

Photo courtesy of Mamacas.

Decorated in all white and candlelight, they serve a variety of contemporary Greek meze. My favorites were the juicy lamb meatballs (€7.80) and the spinach salad (€7.20) with tomatoes and the freshest goat cheese to ever exist.

If you don’t have the time or money to dine fancy, there is no shame in eating as much souvlaki as possible (which is exactly what I did during my last 24 hours in Athens). While plenty of shops near Monastiraki Square claim to serve magic in a pita, O Thanasis is the true Orpheus when it comes to this Greek staple. It’s one of the most popular kebab and souvlaki places here.

Souvlaki at O Thanasis. Photo via passionforhospitality.net

Once you fight off hungry locals for a table, order the beef and lamb kebab in a pita (€2.30) or on a platter (€9). Both come with roasted tomatoes and onions, and it is highly recommended to get a side of fries (€2.60) to stuff inside your pita– it’s how the Greeks do it–and tzatziki (€3.20) for slathering.

I found Athens to be endearing with its incredible 3,000-year history, delicious food, and unassuming demeanor. I even went dancing at a club called WS, which stands for Why Sleep since most party-goers don’t arrive until 3 am. If you’re traveling there soon, make sure to study up on the Greek alphabet to avoid being an illiterate tourist.  Oh, and remember to stop and look up at the cityscape every once in a while: you might get a breathtaking glimpse of the Acropolis.

Address Book

Taverna Alexander the Great, Megalou Alexandrou 3-7, Athens, Greece.
Mamacas, Persefonis 41, Athens, Greece.
O Thanasis, Mitropoleos 69, Athens, Greece.