Heraklion, Crete’s biggest city and Greece’s fifth largest, holds many fascinating touristic treasures including some of the finest restaurants anywhere. Here, Crete’s legendary gastronomy reaches a level of refinement that demands attention. Whether in its purest form at a quaint village taverna on the outskirts or in a fusion of international culinary blaze directly in the city’s beating heart, the food culture of Crete shines in this seaside gem.
The Cretan diet is one of the best-known and healthiest culinary traditions in the world. This form of the Mediterranean diet exudes the unique way of life and Terroir that can only be found on Greece’s biggest island. Cretans take immeasurable pride in producing this cuisine with solely Cretan products taken from the island’s unique geography. The strength of the diet lies in use of fresh ingredients: seasonal fruits and vegetables, wild herbs and excellent olive oil, grown within this special environment.
Heraklion Hospitality Infused Stars
Terroir, which can be defined as the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype, is a crucial term for understanding what makes the Cretan gastronomy tradition so irreplaceable. In Heraklion, Karatarakis Hotels and Restaurants is one hospitality endeavor dedicated to International, Greek and Cretan gastronomical experiences.
The Karatarakis group presents a trio of fabulous dining experiences in the center of Crete’s busiest city. At the popular Olive Green Hotel, the 626 All Day Lounge & City Garden presents recipes with an international flair made from the very best Cretan agricultural products. A highlight here is the unique location set within a hidden city park just off the pedestrian zone. And for visitors seeking Mediterranean cuisine with a spectacular view, the famous Herbs’ Garden rooftop restaurant at Lato Boutique Hotel honors Crete’s nature with impeccable food garnished by the fragrances of the herbs that dominate the island. Finally,
Karatarakis Hotels & Restaurants’ new Legacy Gastro Suites plates fabulous Greek fair from a genuine five-star luxury edifice overlooking the Cretan Sea and the city’s vibrant heart. This retro-elegant 1950s-style hotel is a perfectly indulgent spot for savoring traditional Greek gourmet gastronomy. For Greek meze style, Alla Ki Alla still sets the standard, and Parasties still lives up to its name meaning “traditional Cretan cooking style,” as well as being one of our favorites overlooking the ethereal Cretan Sea.
7 Impeccable Foodie Hangouts
Food Pro Group does not sound like a company that operates six amazing gastronomical experiences. But they do. This Heraklion culinary endeavor must be dedicated to the experiential journey, I know it from repeated exposure. Whether you search for that “James Bond 007” cinematic fantasy by the sea, or even if you want to order gourmet level delivery in the late night, these six classy eateries are dedicated to the purpose.
The day we were invited to Almyra Seaside Food & Cocktails in Agia Pelagia was the day Michalis Modinakis (above via Instagram) and the team at this classy on-the-beach star branded their names into us. This is a place on the planet where gourmet everything melts into casual, carefree Cretan lifestyles. Short version, there’s no better place on the island to spend a moment or a lifetime. Let me be honest, Almyra is not only our favorite spot, but it’s also the favorite of everyone we ever carried or recommended it to. Need I say more?
Downtown, there’s Via Pastarella, an Italian restaurant that delivers a genuine Italian dining experience. Also in the city center, Kokkino Stivani delivers Greek and Mediterranean cuisine and wonderful traditional recipes from all over Greece. Yankees Grill & Burger at Talos Plaza Mall is a place I’ve never set foot in. But I take delivery at my office anytime I want a burger or a hotdog to remember America by. They have the BEST burgers in Heraklion – end of the story. Also in Talos Mall, Pastarella pays further tribute to Heraklion’s appreciation of Italian cuisine, while Yasouvlaki gives Talos Mall goers that familiar taste of souvlaki and grill favorites. Finally, LOKAΛ (Local) is a classy cafe/restaurant/bar affair you will only find by staying at Hotel Ibis or walking the pedestrian streets of the city, or if you follow my directions here. Lokal features expert baristas, bar wonders, and perfect traditional and creative dished for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Still Shining Bright in the Center
Within a stone’s throw of Heraklion’s iconic Venetian Fortress, a collection of wonderful dining experiences dot the landscape. From iconic Peskesi, which serves the finest traditional Cretan gastronomy, to the amazing sidewalk cafe Fillosofies at the Lion’s Fountain, the city will pamper you with culinary and atmospheric perfection. In between stellar Cretan cuisine and the city’s best bougatsa and coffees, there’s amazing seafood by the Cretan Sea at Murmura, local bliss at Merastri or Erganos, and Avli in the classy hotel of the same name with its impeccable wine cellar. Amalia’s Kitchen (Instagram below) is another shimmering fine dining experience, as is Paristies, which lives up to its name’s meaning of “the traditional way of cooking in Crete.”
Other Bright & Emerging Stars
A newcomer to the scene in the center of Heraklion, Black Bean Cafe & Breakfast is causing a bit of a coffee stir, as is the new Peskesi neighbor, the classy traditional Cretan restaurant Hairi, which we reviewed here recently. Also near the Lion Fountain, Enetiko Cafe is a favorite breakfast spot for their amazing omelets (below). Finally, small plate restaurants like Meze Meze near St. Minas Church provide the real Cretan spirit without so much as a hint of pretentiousness. Oh, and I would be negligent if I did not mention the seafood restaurant Paralia, which has the best fish soup on Earth.
Of course, there are many other wonderful places to dine in amazing Heraklion. Truth be told, we’ve only found one negative dining experience on the whole island of Crete, one we attributed to the cosmic tumblers being out of position. Food culture on this island once ruled by the Minoans is just that strict, just so perfect, and as healthy and tasty as you’ve heard. Please let us know about your discoveries while visiting Crete. We’re always looking for that next wonderful surprise.