Ok so “koutouki” doesn’t mean smokehouse, it means more like “joint” as in “Joe’s Place”. But given the sign outside defiently proclaims “We smoke here” and the signs adorning the walls of the interior of this cozy, hidden away taverna on a narrow back street in Kaisargianni (a replica of an Athens street sign proclaims “Smoker’s Street”), the term “smokehouse” could be applied to the dining room if you happen to show up after 9:30 or 10:00 pm when the place is packed with locals.
Given my warnings, you may be tempted to move on to another restaurant … but if you are looking for budget bests, don’t move on, just go early, they’re open everyday from 7:30 pm (Sundays and holidays they’re open for lunch, call to find out what time they start, but I’m guessing around 1 pm), so there is no reason that the savvy traveler can’t get in and out before the smokers pack the place. Why, you might ask, would we want to patronize a place like this when there are so many other, less smoky, choices?
It’s a budget best: plates packed with piles of tasty food, prices that are friendly enough to the students at the nearby university that groups of them squeeze into the long tables that line the tiny dining room, reminding me of the traditional one room schoolhouse. The economics of it are simple: when you can’t decide what to eat, Koutouki on Lydias is affordable enough that you can order 7 or 8 items to split between 4 people, share and taste them all, and still end up with a bill at the end that’s tastier and significantly less than anyplace you’ll find in touristy Plaka or trendy Psirri. (On our last visit, even the 6 teenaged boys adjacent to us could not finish everything they ordered, and anyone who has raised a male teen can tell you that it is rate for them to be unable to finish all of the food within their reach!)
Once you’ve found this koutouki, located a couple of streets off the main square in Kaisargianni (see my map and directions), you’ll probably be greeted by owner Elias, who’ll seat you and bring you a checkbook and pencil along with the menus. This do it yourself style ordering is fine if you’re bilingual and can read and write Greek, but if you are reading this the chances are pretty good that you don’t speak, read and write Greek – so we’ve offered a translation of the menu here, which you can bring along and hand to Elias to let him know just what you’d like from his extensive menu.
On our most recent visit, we ordered way too much for 4 of us to finish:
Fava, kolokythokeftedes (zuchini fritters), beets with garlic sauce, stuffed spicy peppers, keftedes (meatballs), tas kebab (a house specialty, a meaty, near eastern spiced stew in tomato sauce) which we washed down with several carafes of wine and some tsipouro.
Our bill? Under 45 euro, and enough food for a 5th person to have joined us.
Koutouki tis Lydias is located at 35 Lydias, Kaisargianni (Kessariani), Athens. It’s a bit hard to find, being that it is tucked away off of the big square, on a narrow pedestrian only street, but for budget eating it’s worth finding. Call ahead to ensure they are open, particularly in August/September: . +30 210 7230586 Mobile. +30 6939 687 494