Note: Our own Erin Zimmer just returned from ten days eating and drinking her way around Greece. This is the first of her snapshots from that trip. —Ed.
I had two priorities during my quick day in Athens: see the Parthenon and digest something from the souvlaki-kebab-gyro family. Luckily there's only one ancient temple devoted to Athena, but there are plenty of kebab-rotating, meat spit-shaving men that look they could be the best. Though my Rough Guide to Athens recommended O Thanasis just off the northeast corner of Monastiraki Square, I needed a second opinion. "The best, the totally best," said the guy who sold me an international converter at a teeny electronics stall along the Eolou Street bazaar. That was good enough for me.
Squeezed behind the counter, at least ten men flip lamb skewers and rip open trash bag-sized sacs of fresh pita. Yelling in Greek, they have that "kebab is my middle name" look, which is always a good sign. While it's easy to get lost in the meaty clouds of happiness, you need to focus here. Securing a table is part of the experience. Inside or outside, it's packed (or you can get it rolled up in wax paper to-go).
The menu is simple: pita kebab for one (€2.20), or a bigger portion on a plate with four kebabs of lamb, chicken, or pork, topped with roasted tomatoes and onions (€8.80 to 9).
Alone, the kebab more than satisfies, everything is better with a plate of cold tzatziki goop. I think each serving (€2.70) is made for multiple people to share, but you can easily dunk each bite in the garlicky, cucumber hunked-out yogurt and take care of business alone.
A Greek native once told me that according to souvlaki tradition, you should throw a few French fries inside, so, in the name of authenticity, you better get a plate of fries too (€2.10). And it wouldn't be a Greek establishment without the house salad (€4.50). Feta blocks on tomato, cucumber, and onion slices, topped with olives and a lake of that really good greenish-gold olive oil.
The Rough Guide and the electrical accessory shop employee didn't mention how the men could stack five plates on each arm, how lamby the lamb tasted, and how a little shake of paprika (paprika shakers sit next to the salt ones on every table) adds a little kick, but I guess that's what they meant by the best. This is the sustenance you need before hiking up to the Acropolis.
69 Mitropoleos, Athens Greece (map) Just off the northeast corner of Monastiraki Square Open daily from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m.