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Some people come to Thessaloniki to see its Byzantine monuments, some to enjoy its art galleries and night life, but just about everyone agrees that you can eat better in Thessaloniki than anywhere else in Greece. If you have skirts or slacks with elastic waistbands, be sure to pack them when you come here!

You can combine culture with cuisine if you have a snack at the excellent restaurant at the Byzantine Museum or the Teloglion Foundation. Most restaurants and tavernas offer cuisine of a distinctly Thessalonian character, including game, while ouzeries specialize almost exclusively in mezedes (appetizers). The mezedes are so good and so varied that you may be tempted to make a meal of these alone, although many ouzeries offer more substantial main courses.

Sadly, the increased pollution in the bay has reached a point that makes me avoid most fish here; mussels are popular at many restaurants and almost always brought in from outside the area. If you insist on fish, here are some suggestions. As you might guess from its trendy name, Entryfish, 5 Pavlou Mela (tel. 2310/230-031), caters to the smart set that knows its fish (and eel and mussels), and expects the best.

If you want to get out of town for a meal, head to the suburb of Nea Krini, a 20-minute taxi ride from the center of town. Noted food writer and critic Diana Farr Louis has recommended Archipelasos (tel. 2310/435-800) and Hermodrakas (tel. 2310/447-947); others praise Miami (tel. 2310/447-996) and Porto Marina (tel. 2310/451-333), both serving fresh fish that is not from the bay. With even the humblest fish usually selling for more than 40€ a kilo in the market, all these restaurants are expensive -- and the price of fish continues to go up.

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Even in the most expensive establishments, the dress code in Thessaloniki is studiedly casual for men; ties and jackets are rare, but designer shoes are de rigueur, as are designer name jackets and sweaters. Twentyish women are partial to low-cut designer jeans and tops with lots of cleavage and sequins, whereas most older women are resolutely chic, in little black dresses or more conservative trouser suits, but always with freshly styled hair, elegant handbags, and high-heeled shoes or boots that add inches to their height. Most restaurants don't take reservations, but you'll almost always get a table if you arrive for lunch before 1pm and for dinner no later than 9pm.

Warning: Most Thessaloniki restaurants -- even the fanciest -- do not accept credit cards.

The Food of Thessaloniki

It's a vexing question: To what extent has Thessaloniki's cuisine been influenced by Turkish cuisine? Certainly, the use of spices, the delicate hand with fish, the wide variety of vegetable dishes, and the extravagantly rich pastries so popular in Thessaloniki are not unknown in Turkey. As any Greek will tell you, this is because the Turks, during their long occupation of Greece, absorbed -- stole, actually -- the secrets of Greek cuisine. Some might argue that when the Turks withdrew from Greece, they took many of those secrets with them. Others would simply say that in some parts of Greece -- such as Thessaloniki -- a love of cuisine and a devotion to spices lives on.

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In fact, it's the spices that set Thessaloniki's cuisine apart from the rest of Greece. Take the peppers: the most famous Macedonian peppers are the red florines, originally grown in the town of Florina, but now raised throughout Macedonia. These can be sweet or so hot that they lift off the top of your head. I Iike both varieties, but I'd be a lot more relaxed when taking that first bite if I knew for sure whether any individual florina were going to be sweet or pyrotechnic.

In addition to the florines, there are some really hot peppers traditionally grown in the Macedonian town of Piperia (the Greek word for "pepper"). These peppers are dried, then flaked, and the result, called boukovo, is sprinkled liberally into just about everything. Tip: In some Thessaloniki restaurants, in addition to the salt and black pepper on your table, you'll find another shaker of red pepper. Treat it with respect.

Ouzeries

Ouzeries specialize in ouzo and the mezedes that go with them -- and make it possible to consume more than a sip or two of the high-voltage ouzo! Still, you need not drink ouzo, or any kind of alcoholic beverage, to enjoy the marvelous variety of foods ouzeries offer: octopus, meatballs, shrimp, squid, taramosalata (fish roe puréed with oil and bread), tzatziki (cucumber, yogurt, and garlic), melitzanosalata (eggplant purée), cheeses, and salads of potatoes, beets, or beans. If you're uncertain about what to chose, ask if you can go with your waiter to look at the offerings and point to what you want. The prices below is for an ouzo and a selection of two or more mezedes; you can eat very cheaply at these places or run up an impressive tab, depending on how many snacks and ouzos you want to try. Ouzeries, like so many places in Greece, are great places to take things siga, siga (slowly, slowly.)

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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.