There’s a quiet little village in Santorini called Megalochori that is just the right number of miles away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, Fira, and the island’s busy beaches. My husband and I had spent the day on scooters with our young sons exploring, and by the time we stumbled upon this hilltop town we were hot, dirty and hungry. All we wanted was to find a taverna with homemade local food. We didn’t need fancy. All we wanted was something close and good.
We’d checked out the town square but found nothing that appealed. Finally, walking down an alleyway, we spotted a wall of fuchsia bougainvillea and a tiny restaurant called Raki (the name of a fiery distilled drink that is a symbol of hospitality in Greece, a kind of equivalent to Italian grappa). We walked onto a cobblestone patio and were immediately fussed over by a gregarious waiter who soon had us seated and sipping some raki while we listened to the animated chatter of the locals who filled the place.
That was 15 years ago, and our time at that tiny hole-in-the-wall spot still ranks as one of the most wonderful dining experiences of my life. The chef had walked out of his tiny kitchen and told us what to order – grilled souvlaki, sesame-and-honey-coated feta, pasticcio and hand-cut fries for the kids. The food was delicious and the people inimitable.
Raki is one of those hidden gems that – if you’re lucky – you’ll stumble upon while travelling. A place that stays with you because it was an unexpected find that effortlessly hit all the right notes: nice people, great rooms, wonderful ambience and yummy food at reasonable prices. Here’s a few other “found” favourites in locales scattered around the globe – restaurants that have that have that little something extra that makes them impossible to forget.
10 Greek Street
This shabby chic restaurant is a regular haunt for actors and film industry types who live and work nearby. It’s a no-nonsense, all-about-the-food place that oozes charm. The menu is seasonal and always revolving, but favourite dishes are the burrata with truffle and any fish course. Ask for the “little black book” a handwritten list of their more rare (but reasonable) wine picks. 10 Greek St.; 10greekstreet.com
Have Google maps handy. This one’s tough to find (even taxis have a difficult time locating it) but the hassle is well worth it. Sacha is the spot where Madrid’s most respected chefs go to eat. The menu changes with the seasons, but Finisterre soup is always available on Fridays and you can find the steak tartar year-round. The chef, son of the original owners, is known for his lasagne of sea urchin and pickled oyster. The lazy potato tortilla is good too. Calle Juan Ramon Jimenez, 37; facebook.com/pages/Restaurante-Sacha/170537399653252
A must-visit in Budapest for traditional Hungarian food. There are only five tables so you have a direct view of the chef making your meal. Specialties include deer tartare, wild boar ribs and strudel with marmalade. Locals love it so go early to try to grab one of the few coveted seats. Hold utca 13; facebook.com/Kispiac
Nestled in the Alpine enclave of Gryon, this ski-in (or hike-in) restaurant offers mountain food like you’ve never tasted before. It has spectacular views of the snow-capped peaks (or lush green valleys depending on the time of year), as well as animals that hang out at the farm next door. They’re the perfect distraction for the kids while you enjoy a cassolette de champignons or mushroom vol au vents. This time of the year the fondue vigneronne is perfect after a skiing a few runs. Route de Sodoleuvre 6; etable-gryon.ch
Tacos Baja Ensenada
It’s certainly nothing to look at. Painted lime green and located in a nondescript area in East Los Angeles, Taco Baja is a typical casual joint. But it’s worth driving to because its fish and shrimp tacos are divine. If you’re hungry, order two (one of each), but be warned you won’t be washing them down with beer. It’s not licensed. 5385 Whittier Blvd.; tacosbaja.com
San Matteo Pizza and Espresso Bar
It’s a charming hole in the wall that seats about 20 people. The owner is Italian, his customers are mostly Italian and calling this establishment a pizzeria does not do it justice. Yes, they offer an extensive menu of superb Neapolitan pizzas – 15 in all – but the menu also includes antipasto, panuozzo (a type of panino with freshly baked bread), and ever-changing weekly entrées depending on what is fresh and seasonal. 1739 2nd Ave.; sanmatteopanuozzo.com
A simple, family-run trattoria with bare bricks and beam. The waiters have been there forever (and aren’t afraid to razz the men and lavishly compliment the ladies). They tell you want you want to eat and you’d be wise to listen up. It’s simple, home-cooked Roman cuisine. Via Luca della Robbia, 84; dabucatino.it
This cafeteria-style café is located on the top floor of Ssense, a Canadian player in the luxury e-commerce field in picturesque Old Montreal. The space is minimalist and industrial with a lot of raw cement. The look might not be everyone’s cup of tea but the effect is striking. The menu is a nod to some Montreal classics but with a twist (bagel topped with Arctic char or a croquet-monsieur with wild mushrooms). If you just need a pick-me-up, partake of a strong coffee and freshly baked croissant and soak up some throwback Brutalist architecture. 418 St. Sulpice St.; ssense.com/en-ca/locations/montreal
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