Agios Nikolaos (aka 'Agios' or 'Agnik') and Elounda in Crete are famous for a few things which makes them a unique travel experience; one of them is that the area has a few of the best hotels in Crete, if not in Greece; another is the mysterious Spinalonga island, -among other interesting local attractions- which makes it at the top of most visited Greek historical sites, after the Acropolis. Still, one thing most people don't know is the mind-blowing food you can find in this part of Crete.
While most visitors enjoy their hotel's menu, long buffets, room service and Michelin starred restaurants (which are top notch-truth be told), the area has a few gastronomic gems hidden in secluded villages that you would never find out, unless a local told you. If only Michelin inspectors knew....!
If you've had too much of grilled chicken and choriatiki and are curious to try authentic paidakia, hochlious, mizithropita, meat in wooden ovens and raki, we are about to share a few of the best kept secrets in Crete (lucky you!). So, without further ado, here are a few of our favourite tavernas in villages close to Agios and Elounda which should make it to the top of your list of unique things to do in Crete (in random order, as we couldn't decide which one's the best!).
#1 'O Platanos' - Fourni village
Fourni is one of the cutest and well preserved villages we've visited in Crete. It's located about 20 minutes drive, on the mountains, from Plaka near Elounda. After lots of turns (and no lights to make this easier) you will reach magnificent Fourni situated amidst an olive grove, in a plateau. If you can make it during sunset the ride and arrival will be more rewarding. Head to 'O Platanos' taverna which is in the central 'piazza' of the village just under a huge sycamore tree (which also makes it one of the most fun things to do with kids in the area).
What to eat: Paidakia (aka lamb chops), eggs with staka and ask for the casseroles of the day (usually rabbit and hen). The kataifi dessert is a great ending to this delicious feast.
Where to call: +30 2841090776
#2 'Miliaras' - Latsida village
About 15 minutes from Agios Nikolaos and on the way to the airport (after the exit for Neapoli) you'll find a tiny, almost invisible AND in Greek(!), sign that directs you to Latsida on your right hand side. Once you make a right and follow the road, you'll soon reach Latsida village and your hot-spot 'Miliaras' is the first taverna on your left; you'll probably spot it because it's usually packed with locals (and we're not surprised, as it's one of the best places to eat in this area!)
What to try: Souvlaki pork skewers (the best in Greece!), cheese-balls (gigantic fried cheese balls to-die-for), hochlious boubouristous (aka snails with vinegar and rosemary on the pan) , anthous (which are vine lives OR zuccini flowers stuffed with rice) paired with xygalo (soft cheese from sheep and goat's milk) or old-school tzatziki. For those who can't have pork, the taverna also serves heavenly paidakia lamb chops.
Where to call: +30 2841 034050
#3 'Stavrakakis' - Exo Lakonia village
Enter the destination 'Exo Lakonia' in your Google Maps and you will reach a taverna beneath a magnificent fouchsia bougainvillea. The taverna does not have an official name, but is known by the surname of the owner (that is Mr Stavrakakis!). There you will find the usual traditional Cretan meze menu, all prepared with fresh and local ingredients. Interesting fact: Just across the street, where you least expect it, you will find one of the area's most unusual local attractions; the Museum of Classical Vehicles!
What to try: Hortopitakia (liitle pies with herbs and wild greens), mizithropitakia (pies with soft white cheese), anthous, but also a variety of grilled meat (such as sausages and paidakia) and often casseroles.
Where to call: +30 2841022478
#4 'To Rakadiko Tou Kamari' (aka 'The Hope') - Mavrikiano village
Only a short drive from Elounda and Plaka you will reach the village of Mavrikiano and the taverna 'To Rakadiko Tou Kamari' aka 'The Hope'! The taverna serves local delicacies with beautiful views to the bay of Mirabello; so what else can you ask for your holiday in Crete, really?!
What to eat: Go for the grilled meat!
Where to call: +30 697 229 5150
#5 & #6 'Christinis' and 'Ta Kato Kafeneia' - Limnes village
We still remember a mouthwatering slow cooked meat with potatoes that we tried in Limnes, at 'Christinis' taverna a few years ago and that's how this place made it to our list of what to do in Crete this summer. Another time, we drunk lots of raki over a 'light' souvlaki, omelette and traditional Cretan tapas dinner at 'Ta Kato Kafeneia', whose old spot used to be in the heart of this charming little mountain village, but who have now moved on the main road, almost next to 'Christinis'. Either way you go, be prepared to nibble great meat with your raki.
What to eat: Slow cooked, wood oven meat (when available) or yummy biftekia burgers at 'Christinis', souvlaki and omelette at 'Ta Kato Kafeneia'.
Where to call: 'Christinis': +30 2841 032269 | 'Ta Kato Kafeneia': +302841033323
#7 'O Platanos tis Kyra Lenis' - Vrachasi, Neapoli village
Approaching the 46th kilometre of the national road from Heraklion to Agios Nikolaos, the mountain village of Vrachasi hides 'Platanos' taverna where Kyra Leni (Mrs Eleni) serves her old time classics for the ones in the know and those who seek an authentic travel experience. Make sure to carry a jacket with you as it gets chilly up there...
What to eat: Sofregada which is a casserole of wild mixed greens and snails (aka hochlious) and other casseroles of the day.
Where to call: +30 28410 31488
#8 'Vilaeti' - Agios Konstantinos village
'Vilaeti' is a small traditional guesthouse in the village of Agios Konstantinos in Lasithi plateau, which is a long drive from Agios Nikolaos and Elounda. However, Vilaeti is known well to locals because of its delicious meat delicacies that make the drive to Agios Konstantinos worth it for a mouthwatering meal!
What to eat: Meat roasted in a traditional wood oven and Greek style 'asado' lamb called Antikristo, not to be missed!
Where to call: +30 6977248456
#9 'Bogazi' - Mochlos village
If you have had enough of meat and mountains and want a seafront, fish-y alternative, then you need to visit the village of Mochlos, which -according to locals- has the best fish you can find in the area of Lasithi and is one of the best things to do in the area in the summer. As with a few other villages we've brought up (above), this fish village is a long ride from Agios Nikolaos and Elounda. However, if you are into adventurous tours and seek for a unique experience you can join one of our day trips in the gulf of Mirabello and reach the spot by sea with a catamaran! In this way you will admire some local attractions from the sea, you will swim in turquoise crystal waters and will seal this day with a delicious fish lunch or sunset dinner. Out of all seafront tavernas, we would pick the Bogazi.
What to eat: Fresh fish. Full stop.
Where to call: +30 284 3094200
General tips: You don't necessarily need a reservation for these places (unless it's high season); most of them won't even accept one. However, it may be useful to call in advance to make sure they are open and that there's a casserole of the day (unless you don't mind having an omelette or souvlaki for dinner, which is still worth the ride). On a different note, if you wish to explore the area's culinary scene in more depth we recommend you join a food tour or a cooking class; and if you stay in touch, we will soon introduce you to the most extraordinary hosts in town!
PS: As always, all opinions expressed above are 100% personal, unbiased, and non-promotional.