Eating in Crete: our guide to the best restaurants on the Greek island

Refined venues with stunning views or traditional family-run taverns? Still enjoy the food in one of Greece's top travel destinations!

Wonderful Crete: the port of Elounda in a shot by

Wonderful Crete: the port of Elounda in a shot by Robert Linsdell

Summer is made for happy “beaching” and isle-hoppers who crave for discovering and slurping up local delicacies like Marco Polo of taste. We’ve formed a brief selection of restaurants in Crete, including from refined spots to rustic classic or modern conceptual ones.


When you embark to Crete, Greece’s largest island and a seductive culinary mixture of interesting restaurant venues, Matzénta kuzina del sol in Chania is intriguing option. What makes it special? Chef-owner Dimitris Malandrenis, created a gastro-tavern where he builds a culinary bridge connecting traditional Mexican and Cretan cuisine. In brief translation, this means that the experience basically resembles a tropical gastronomic trip to Mexico through Crete combining the culinary tradition of Mino’s island with Mexican barbacoa. The ingredients come from producers on the island and the particularity of the cuisine lies in the way Dimitris incorporates them into traditional and modern Mexican recipes. «In Matzenta, we consider every dish as a journey from the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean to Cretan and Libyan Sea, from the Oaxaca Mountains to Sfakia and Psiloritis», he notes.


Speaking of tradition, when the compass points out to Rethymno, after having a true sense of the island’s roots by strolling around the medieval town’s alleyways, Avli, a timeless venture housed for about 37 years in a 1600's Venetian mansion, is ideal for an elegant meal. Chef Vassilis Leonidou translates Cretan flavours in a modern way focusing on seasonal ingredients - they work with local foreagers - and pairing each dish with a selected Greek extra virgin olive oil and Greek wines. The tasting menus include classic dishes such as Goat with feta cheese and green beans and also a handful of vegan dishes such as Giouvarlakia with xinohondro, made with mushrooms. When getting here, the wine aficionados will have some sips of the 300 Greek wine selection at Enoteca, Avli’s wine and cocktail bar, and drop by their pantopolio for some traditional Cretan goodies to take home. The 1600 Raki BaRaki, right across the same street, is the family’s personal version of the classic Cretan cafe (kafenion) and local meze bar (rakadiko). The dishes, simple and traditional, are cooked with pure seasonal produce, and lovely paired with tsikoudia or ouzo. Say geia mas ("cheers") and enjoy by the sounds of lyra.


In Crete, the simplest dishes are a delight, so you’ll enjoy the same vibes at Hasika, (Agias Varvaras 15, Rethymno, +30 2831 021014) also located at the old town of Rethymno, where chef-owner Michalis Hasikos serves cuisine with Cretan and Asia Minor touches in a variety of dishes, grilled meats and home-made cured meat and fish. Their bar H17, just by the restaurant, is a stop for premium Greek spirits and some serious signature drinks acompanied bar food made at Hasika.


A visit at historic and fully renovated Kapsaliana Village Hotel, member of the Historic Hotels of Europe due to its contemporary living history, is worth for the exquisite experience and also its dining ventures, Kapsaliana, a Cretan taverna, and Elaia, a contemporary Cretan bistro, where, surrounded by the legendary mountains Psiloreitis and Lefka Ori and overlooking the Cretan Sea, chef Nikos Thomas serves indulgent modern recipes based on the produce of small, regional farms and their very own vegetable and botanical gardens.


Peskesi in Iraklio is embematic for the vision of its owner, Panagiotis Manganas who set a small organic farm in the area of Haraso Hersonissos, full of rare plants and herbs, wild greens, beehives and an olive grove that has as its trademark a 1,000-year-old olive tree. He follows the rules of organic and biodynamic farming with a deep respect for nature and the Cretan cuisine. At a restored historical mansion they serve recipes that have come up from extended research in a revival of traditional cooking techniques using forgotten ingredients and promote the principles of sustainable gastronomy. «Gastronomy for us is a cultural expression based on the tradition and the natural wealth of our land», notes Panagiotis.


The restaurant Yacht Club Elounda at Elounda Mare in Elounda, the only hotel in Crete part of Relais & Châteuax association, is divided into two levels, overlooking the picturesque Mirabello Bay. It maintains its modern Greek accent, with chef Stavros Kokkinakis reinventing classic Cretan recipes with fresh seasonal ingredients as a guide. Taste the fine Marinated sea bass with sea urchin and aromatic salad from Dafnes, the Xinohondtro with crayfish, which warmly embraces the palate, the Grilled grouper with Cretan fakoryzo and the tender Lamb fillets with giant beans in the casserole, crunchy potatoes and tzatziki. At the same hotel, the timeless Old Mill, which is built, as its name suggests, on an old mill, completes this year its third decade of operation. At its tables, spread out in elegant surroundings in the hotel's gardens, with the dominant shades of blue in the summer frame, you will get a taste of hearty modern Greek cuisine. Dolmades with vine leaves, rice and aromatic herbs, Cuttlefish and goat yogurt and the classic Lamb duet, sautéed and grilled, traditionally cooked, are some of the menu’s dishes, created by Kokkinakis.

Dal Mondo

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Eleftheria Vasiliadi

Born in Athens, Greece, in 1981, freelance food journalist and photojournalist with professional experience as a cook for almost a decade. She's a contributor at several magazines, and, when she doesn't travel, she works on culinary video concepts and digs in anything that has to do with food science. LinkedIn: @eleftheria-vasiliadi. Instagram: @eleftheria_vasiladi

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