Every summer the tourist hordes descend on Mykonos, Santorini and Crete to bask in the beauty of the whitewashed houses, vivid blue waters, and deep orange sunsets. The Greek Islands are among the hottest holiday destinations in the world at the moment, particularly during peak season (late June to early September). But as the son of Greek immigrants who originated from here, to me the pull of these islands is elemental.
My mother first took me back when I was 12 and I developed a deep love for the place, drawing much of my passion for food from my regular visits there ever since.
Mykonos, Santorini and Crete capture the essence of all things Greek. This is my insider's guide to my favourite islands.
Mykonos can be very touristy during the peak season. A lot of the restaurants in town are average and overcrowded and may not be great value. The best restaurants are out of town, along some of the beautiful beaches. My key advice when ordering is to stick to the Greek classics: grilled octopus, Greek salad, calamari, moussaka, souvlaki (which is always pork, not lamb, on the islands), dips and bean dishes. There is also nothing better than the way Greeks barbecue whole fish, which is expensive but well worth it.
Scorpios Mykonos at Paraga Beach
On the edge of Paraga Beach, this is the new hot spot in Mykonos: it's a beach club and restaurant that sits proudly on its beachhead (there is a cool beach below it with cabanas you can book ahead). It's sophisticated and beautifully decorated, and has excellent food. Greek and somewhat Middle Eastern, the dishes are fresh and the service is slick. Enjoy lunch and dance in the bar into the early hours. This is the buzziest place on the island at the moment and one of the hippest places in the world.
Spilia Taverna at Agia Anna Beach
This is one of my favourites. Agia Anna beach is probably the most beautiful beach of all the great beaches in Mykonos. The restaurant is on the cliff face and and runs down to the water. The decor is simple but the food is fresh and sublime. The whole fish grilled on the wood pit is the best on the island. They make a fantastic lobster pasta, too – their signature dish.
Lefteris Grill House BBQ on Ornos Beach
The best value meal on the island. This casual taverna serves the locals the best chicken and pork souvlaki in Mykonos. Eat in or take away, it is always heaps of fun.
Solymar at Kalo Livadi Beach
It's the beach restaurant that made this stretch of coastline such a popular place. It's one of the best on the island. Order the giant pork souvlaki with potatoes. It's a great place for lunch and dinner and is only about 30 minutes out of the old town.
Hippie Fish at Agios Ioannis Beach
This restaurant was made famous as the site where the Shirley Valentine movie was shot. It's right on the beach and has a fantastic view of the sunset. The food is very fresh and is much like any other taverna on Mykonos. But if you need a change from the classics it also has a sushi bar. Usually a DJ sets the scene and the dress code is beachwear.
Kiki's Taverna at Agios Sostis Beach
A small, delightful, unspoiled taverna with no sign, telephone number, or electricity, Kiki's is open only until sundown, which means lunch only. Above the secluded Agios Sostis beach, this place serves island food the way it should taste. Meat and fish are grilled on a charcoal barbecue and served in the restaurant's shady courtyard. Be sure to try the tasty salads, too. The experience is truly memorable.
An old volcano that collapsed into the ocean millions of years ago has formed an island with the most romantic and beautiful sunsets in the world. If you want a quiet and romantic holiday, stay in Oia. If you have teenagers and want to party, stay in Fira. My recommendation is to stay in Oia – it's a tiny, picturesque town and only a short cab ride from the nightclubs and shops of Fira. Santorini has many beautiful restaurants, and even though it also has many tourists, this island is much more casual and authentic than Mykonos and the locals are very friendly and kind.
Kastro in Oia
This tiny restaurant perched on a cliff has some of the best views in town. Book a table on the terrace for the sunset (usually around 8pm) and watch the sun slowly drop into the ocean. Stick to the basic dips, Greek salads, meatballs, order the chilled rosé the colour of the setting sun and take it all in.
Poseidon in Oia
If you are in the market for great seafood, right at the bottom of the town of Oia is a small port. It has three restaurants but Poseidon is the best of them. It's narrow and the tables are tiny, with the water almost splashing your feet. The specialty here is Greek pasta with lobster in a rich tomato sauce. The whole fish is fresh and delicious, and is grilled right in front of you on an open barbecue.
Argo Seafood Taverna in Fira
This is a beautiful little tavern serving fresh seafood. It sits in the middle of the town and has great views across the whole of Santorini. Order the fresh grilled octopus and Greek salad along with some great lobster pasta and amazing grilled snapper.
This is the largest island in Greece and one the most historic and beautiful. Crete is one the few islands that is self-sustaining in terms of food. It's not overcrowded with tourists and has some the best hotels and resorts of all the Greek Islands.
If you want to experience real Greek culture, great food and beautiful scenery, Crete is your island. Visit little towns like Krista and Plaka as well as the beautiful nearby Ierapetra, with its great swimming and snorkelling, and the island of Spinalonga, officially known as Kalydon.
Pelagos, an old-fashioned tavern near the harbour in the town of Agios Nikolaos is a favourite, and fresh seafood is its speciality. Also try Ofou To Lo, a family-run tavern by the water. Gold taverna serves great octopus. Neon also has excellent food and wide-angle views of the town. But for some of Crete's finest seafood, it's hard to go past Okeanos, whose grilled octopus is the best in town.
Chris Lucas is the owner of Chin Chin Melbourne and the soon-to-open Chin Chin Sydney, Kisume, Hawker Hall, Baby and Kong in Melbourne.