If by some appalling bad luck you’re on a tight time budget and you want to sample classic Cretan cooking at its purest and best understood, this is your table. It's in downtown Heraklion in a mansion that’s been given the cool, modern-country Kinfolk look; ingredients here come exclusively from a six-acre farm in Harasso and, heck, are they tasty. It’s hard to go wrong here, but the must-order is foukaki (lemony, free-range fried pork served with pita). Vegans can expect open arms.
Kapetan Charalambi 6-8, Heraklion
Kritamon conjures incredible throwback dishes from local produce
A delightful restaurant on the main square of small-town Archanes that pays dutiful homage to the farm-to-table playbook, with consistently delicious results. All the ingredients come from its own herb garden or local farms, and there’s serious pedigree in the kitchen: chef-owner Dimitris Mavrakis worked under Alain Ducasse, and it shows in his colourful, beautifully presented takes on bygone Cretan recipes. The wine list is fabulous, too, with a commendable selection of lesser-found, locally produced bottles.
Kondilaki 38, Archanes
Another good spot for vegans: few disagree that this is the best taverna in Matala. It's run by Greek-German couple Manolis and Yvonne, who serve lightly riffed-on Cretan cuisine centring on brilliantly sourced ingredients. The salads show great care, as do the well-crafted mezedhes (small plates), while the good-sized meat and fish mains are similarly hard to fault at prices that feel like a win every time. Book at weekends.
Slow-cooked goat with artichokes always wows here / Image: Effie Paroutsa
Set in a 350-year-old Venetian villa in Rethymno, this boutique restaurant-with-rooms does an upscale take on Cretan cooking. That doesn’t mean that style and substance are off-keel: dishes like slow-cooked goat with honey and grape molasses or squid with goat's cheese and pepper marmalade are pleasingly filling, not finicky, and the farm-to-table ethos is hard to miss. The bougainvillea-covered courtyard makes a chic, sun-dappled spot to slow down in the summer months.
Xanthoudidou 22, Rethymno
Wow, what a view: set in the low-key village of Drakonas in the shadow of Lefka Ori ('white mountains'), chef-owner and slow-food standard-setter Stelios Trilirakis returned to his home in 2004 to set up this impossibly lovely taverna to produce uncomplicated, country-style dishes like great-grandma used to make. Literally: no electricity is used to run the kitchen. Everything comes from a wood fire, and all veg and herbs are harvested from the nearby countryside. No menu but don’t worry: nothing slouches here.
Drakonas Village, Droukanas
This technicolour taverna is housed in a restored neoclassical mansion
Crete’s best seafood restaurant? It’s definitely up there. The best tables at this colourful Agios Nikolaos taverna are in its vine-covered, outdoor courtyard, but even if they’re booked up the seats in the beautiful, neoclassical mansion are no hardship. Either way, service is peppy and the food is delicious. Come for fresh-as-it-gets fish, creative salads and a carefree, on-holiday vibe.
Stratigou Koraka 11, Agios Nikolaos
Probably Chania town’s most coveted table, Chrisostomos specialises in soulful Sfakia-style mountain cooking where everything is slow-cooked in a wood-fire oven. Start with rosemary-fried snails in vinegar before umami-bombing with roasted sardines and bitter greens, or try the traditional boureki (pumpkin-cheese pie). And, yes, you will have dessert: any excuse to try that heavenly Cretan honey over cheese-stuffed pies.
Deykalion and Ikarus, Chania
Taverna Mermaid Island
This over-water taverna really shivers our timbers / Image: Alamy
It’s a bit of a mission to get there, especially if you’re hiking (though water taxis are available from Loutro), but Glyka Nera Beach (aka Sweetwater Beach) is by far one of the south’s coast’s prettiest bays, and this over-water taverna is definitely part of the pay-off. Don’t expect Michelin cooking, but for a beer and a bite and some seriously chill, boho-beach vibes, this off-grid, Cretan rarity is well worth the schlep. Bring a snorkel – the sea is stunning.
Glyka Nera Beach, Loutro
What, on the face of it, looks like a fairly so-so local lunch spot actually turns into a surprisingly creative and doubly satisfying plunder into neo-Cretan comfort food. Kouzina is a small, family-run taverna in Chania’s Old Town that offers a daily-changing blackboard menu of hearty specialties like revithia soupa (chickpea soup) or vegan-friendly kastana stifado (chestnut stew). Locals love it, and repeat visits from tourists are not unheard of.
Daskalogianni 25, Chania