In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Greek immigrants left their hometowns and made the trek across the ocean to New York City. After passing through Ellis Island, many of them settled in Astoria, Queens, bringing with them generations of family members and a strong sense of cultural identity.
Today, Astoria is still home to a large percentage of New York’s Greek community, and luckily for the rest of us, they continue to maintain that sense of homeland pride in the form of grocery stores and restaurants – many of which have stood guard over Astoria’s family-centric streets for centuries.
Ask any New Yorker where to get a proper pita or a shot of tsipouro and they’ll direct your attention to this outer borough, which surprisingly is just a quick ride on the N train.
For Greek seafood, there’s no place quite like Taverna Kyclades, a mainstay at the end of the line where old yiayias hold court over plates of salmon steak and stuffed clams.
But what if you’re unwilling to hike to the outer boroughs to get your fill of grape leaves and moussaka? Fear not. The Greek influence has also made its way to Manhattan, where for slightly more cash you can satiate your cravings at joints like Pylos (pronounced Pee-‘los), a Zagat-rated superstar for 8 years running.
Below, we peruse the magic of the Hellenic motherland with our list of the ten best Greek restaurants in New York.
George and Costas Souvlaki King of Astoria
Though not technically a restaurant, no list on Greek cuisine would be complete without takeaway standby, George and Costas Souvlaki King. This street cart in Astoria has been a secret of locals for decades, but now thanks to the power of the Internet, New Yorkers the city over have caught on to its fame. Fare here is simple: grilled lamb souvlaki or chicken on a stick, on a platter or in a pita, each option served with a heaping portion of fries. Top it all off with cucumber, tomato, onion and tzatziki, and you've got yourself a well-rounded meal that could go toe-to-toe with any takeaway in town. (917-416-1189)
Located just on the edge of Astoria Park, Agnanti opened up shop in 2002 to the delight of Greek purists, who lauded them for their take on traditional mezes and well-sized mains. Fast forward years later and Agnanti still doesn't disappoint. You'll find all the favorites like tzatziki and lamb chops, in addition to slightly more authentic options like the biftekia, seasoned and grilled ground meat burgers. Prices are affordable in a way that you'll only find outside of Manhattan - snag a salad for $7, while mains hover around the $14 mark and dessert will cost you less than five bucks. (718-545-4554)
Quite possibly the most well known restaurant on the list, Milos boasts locations in Montreal, Athens, Vegas, Miami and London, as well as New York. Don't let that dissuade you. While the wide spread exposure might be off-putting, the food is most certainly not. Beware that the menu - and the prices - are much more high-brow, and inspiration's drawn from locations closer to Manhattan than Athens. (Maryland crab cakes, anyone?) Because of its proximity to the Theater District, it also conveniently offers a special 4-course dinner both pre- and post-show, with choices ranging from fresh calamari to tomato salad, and grilled salmon served with crown broccoli. (212-245-7400)
With the most extensive list of Greek wines in the United States, Molyvos certainly deserves a spot on our list. But it's not only their grape juice you should go for. Molyvos bills itself as a multi-sensory journey to the Aegean, and features lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. After renovations in 2012, the restaurant reopened with a new island-y look, reminiscent of a restaurant perched on the coast. The menu follows suit with a large selection of market fish, charcoal grilled and topped with a lemon and olive oil emulsion. While we're not sure you'll forget you're in New York, if you allow yourself to get carried away, you may get a glimpse at what makes Greece so great. (212-582-7500)
Walking into the wide, spacious dining room at Kefi is like taking a breath of fresh ocean air. This Greek taverna, located on Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side, is the work of Donatella Arpaia and Executive Chef Michael Psilakis, Bon Appetit's Chef of the Year in 2008, and the recipient of a long list of accolades from The New York Times to James Beard. Kefi means the bliss that accompanies drunken revelry, and the menu sings with signature dishes including the grilled octopus and tsoutsoukaki, otherwise known as the best meatballs in NYC by NY Mag in 2007. (212-873-0200, 212-873-0205)
Before you give us a hard time that we're featuring two restaurants by the same chef, you'll have to give MP Taverna a try. Helmed by Chef Michael Psilakis, MP in Astoria is the chef's modern take on a Greek taverna. Unlike Kefi, the space has a more industrial feel to it, spreading 150-seats over two bi-level floors. And unlike all other restaurants featured on our list, MP is one of the only to offer a wide selection of beers - over twenty artisanal beers on tap, and nearly 70 local and international bottles. While the food is definitely Greek, the restaurant's vibe brings a little of Manhattan to Queens. (718-777-2187)
If you're looking to impress, Pylos is the spot to do it. Long, velvet curtains open to reveal a long, narrow restaurant, flanked with terra cotta pots and the colors you'd expect to find in Greece: blue and white. Upon inspection of the menu, you'll find what Pylos calls a collection of "rustic Greek home cooking," with dishes like yiayias fried potatoes or pastitsio, a terrine of baked pasta layered with aromatic meat sauce and béchamel. As if there were any doubt that you're in a fancy establishment, Pylos' wine list packs a similar hometown punch with whites and reds from places like Macedonia, Santorini and Peloponese. (212-473-0220)
Taverna Kyclades now has an outpost in the East Village on 1st Avenue. In a pinch, it'll do, but if you're itching for the true experience, get thee to Queens. When you get off the train at Ditmars, hang a right - you'll know you're in the right place when you spot the horde of hungry patrons waiting outside. Once seated, order anything off the seafood menu. No, seriously - it's all that good. If you're having a hard time choosing, allow us to recommend a few house favorites: the stuffed clams, grilled octopus and the branzino. Plus, a bonus? For your hard work and dedication to eating well, free dessert in the form of custard will be presented at the end of your meal. (718-545-8666)
Elias Corner for Fish is another Astoria staple, though their menu is significantly smaller than both Agnanti and Taverna. In fact, it's so small that there's no menu at all. In lieu of a menu, diners choose their fish from the deli case up front, which is stocked with the day's freshest catches, hand chosen by the owner each morning. Sides and extras are all a la carte, so while you'll save over Manhattan prices, it's still possible to ring up a sizeable tab. If you're lucky enough to go on a day when they're serving up octopus, regulars say it's a must. Simple? Yes. Homey? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely. (718-932-1510)
After the lamb has been devoured and the fish stripped from the bone, you'll probably be in the mood for something sweet. In the world of Greek bakeries, Artopolis Bakery on 31st Street in Queens is where you should go. The picture perfect café-bakery has mastered the art of Greek desserts, including spiced biscuits, and of course, honeyed baklava. If you're lucky, you might grab one of the small tables outside, but even if they're taken, just have the ladies behind the counter wrap you up a box to go. While the strip mall scenery leaves much to be desired, you'll forget all about it once you take your first bite. (718-728-8484)
About Andrea Wien
Andrea Wien was bitten by the travel bug from an early age, and has lived in New York, Seattle, Cleveland and Sydney, Australia since 2007.
When she's not traveling or planning a trip, you'll likely find her eating tacos while throwing darts and watching the Cleveland Browns.
Read more about Andrea Wien here.
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