Taverna Zisis (in Greek “Ταβέρνα Ζήσης”) is an all time classic eatery in Rethymno where one can enjoy all facets of Cretan cuisine. The taverna is the biggest in size and also one of the oldest eateries in Rethymno. It offers a great multitude of Cretan dishes including traditional vegan Cretan cuisine, snails, pies, meat, Cretan barbecue and seafood. These can be ordered as mains or meze dishes to share (as most Cretans do). If you wish to quickly gain an understanding of Cretan food, this should be your fist stop! The taverna has a fixed a la carte menu and a large range of daily specials. Customers have the option to choose what to eat from the purpose-made food showcase of the taverna. As the taverna offers a great range of dishes, you need to visit it at least a few times to get a good impression of its cuisine. As regulars of the place, we usually start our meal with seasonal bitter greens which are nicely boiled and accompany well most Cretan dishes. As starters, we usually order some of the classic highlights of Taverna Zisis. We choose the juicy and soft stuffed vine leaves (“dolmadakia“), which are tender vine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs, accompanied with Cretan yoghurt. We also order the signature dish of pan fried and oven baked aubergine in tomato sauce (“melitzanes imam“), topped with grated cheese; easily one of the best executions of this really balanced dish. As mains various meat cuts and Cretan hamburgers on the barbecue are highly recommended. Same applies to meat or vegetable stews and casseroles. As dessert, the taverna brings delicious (although usually cold) doughnuts (“loukoumades“) topped with sesame and honey.
Taverna Zisis is located about 3.5 km to the east of Rethymno on the old road to Heraklion (Misiria area). As you have to go by car, unless you stay in a nearby hotel, the location score is 1 out of 3 (🗺️🗺️). The taverna has a designated parking with ample space, justifying a parking score of 3 out of 3 (🅿️🅿️🅿️). Beware that in the peak of summer season the parking can get crowded, however there is almost always available parking space.
Ambience, comfort, decor
Taverna Zisis is a very big and organized establishment. It has a large indoor seating area, a protected and shadowy terrace and an large outdoor area. All the seating areas are comfortable. In terms of ambience and decor the indoor area is nothing special,
justifying an ambience/comfort score of 2 out of 3 (💺💺) . The terrace and outdoor areas are nice in the evening of summer months, especially the tables under the characteristic mulberry trees. The outdoor score is 2 out of 3 (⛱️⛱️). The taverna is great for children and features a special playground, resulting in an easy 3 out of 3
kids score (👦👦👦).
The entrance of Taverna Zisis at night
Food, quality, quantity
Taverna Zisis is the ideal eatery for immersing yourself into the authentic Cretan cuisine. The taverna offers a great spectrum of dishes ranging from Cretan vegan cuisine, including a lot of cooked vegetables and legumes, to meat based casseroles and stews. It also includes some seafood and of course a great Cretan meat based barbecue. The taverna has a fixed a la carte menu and a large range of daily specials. Customers have the option to choose what to eat from the purpose-made food showcase of the taverna. Taverna Zisis earns an easy 3 out of 3 vegetarian score(🌱🌱🌱), as it offers a great selection of Cretan vegan dishes. Food portions are very big and of great quality, justifying a quantity score of 3 out of 3 (🥣🥣🥣) and an equal quality score (✅✅✅). The house wine is of good quality but nothing special, justifying an 1 out of 3 housewine score (🍷).
A great multitude of Cretan traditional foods in the purpose-made food showcase of Taverna Zisis. Customers can also choose visually what to eat!
Taverna Zisis, apart from being one of the oldest eateries of Rethymno, it is also the largest eatery capable of accommodating hundreds of customers. As it offers a great range of dishes, you need to visit it a few times to get a grasp of the cuisine on offer. As regulars of the place, we usually start our meal with seasonal bitter greens which are nicely boiled and accompany well all Cretan dishes. As starters, we usually order some of the classic highlights of Taverna Zisis. We choose the juicy and soft stuffed vine leaves (“dolmadakia“), which are tender vine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs, accompanied with Cretan yoghurt. In summer time, not to be missed are the traditional stuffed courgette flowers (“anthi“) that can be ordered either individually or mixed with stuffed vine leaves. We also order the signature dish of pan fried and oven baked aubergine in tomato sauce (“melitzanes imam“), topped with grated cheese; easily one of the best executions of this really balanced dish.
Seasonal bitter greens; a great and healthy salad and accompaniment to Cretan food
Pan fried and oven cooked aubergines “imam” (“melitzanes imam”), one of the signature dishes of Taverna Zisis
We also tried mashed broad beans (“koukofava“), which is a classic of Rethymno region. In Greece and the rest of Crete this dish is prepared with yellow split peas (“fava“). In Rethymno people make it with broad beans (“koukia“), which results in more intense flavours and it accompanies well other dishes. It is served topped with olive oil, chopped onion and sometimes also olives.
Rethymnian mashed broad beans (“koukofava”) greatly prepared
As main we chose a Greek winter classic; stuffed cabbage leaves with rice and minced beef in oil and lemon sauce (“lachanodolmades avgolemono“). This was a perfectly balanced dish, where the sweetness of the cabbage and the stuffing was compensated by the tanginess of the lemon. Last but not least, we sampled a great cut of beef on the barbecue accompanied with homemade Cretan fries. The beef was really succulent and delicious.
A very balanced dish: stuffed cabbage leaves with rice and minced beef in oil and lemon sauce (“lachanodolmades avgolemono“)
Really succulent beef steak on the barbecue served with homemade Cretan fries
Service at Taverna Zisis is always fast and attentive, even when the taverna is really crowded. One of the downsides of service is that they tend to bring you all the dishes at the same time, starters and mains alike. This is partially justified by the Cretan habit of sharing everything and not distinguishing starters from mains. If you do not want all the dishes at your table simultaneously you could let the staff know. The service is really efficient even during high pressure periods and deserves a 3 out of 3 service score (💁💁💁).
Treats at no extra charge
The offered dessert depends on the season. Almost always the taverna brings some delicious (although usually cold) doughnuts (“loukoumades“) topped with sesame and honey. They are of small size and are enjoyable even cold, which is not usually the case with this type of sweet. In summer time seasonal fruits such as watermelon, melon and grapes could be offered as well. The usual raki that accompanies the dessert is of good quality.
Reservation is usually not necessary as the taverna has a vast capacity. However, reservation is recommended at peak times, such as public holidays and in peak summer periods, and also in cases you are a big company of people.
Price and overall score
The price for a full meal is between € 10,00 and € 15,00 per person (price level: €) including drinks (housewine option), representing a fantastic value for money. In addition to the exceptional quantity, quality and spectrum choice, Taverna Zisis is the ideal place to sample traditional Cretan cuisine. Taverna Zisis is a culinary landmark for Crete and deserves the exceptional overall score of 3 out of 3 (⭐⭐⭐).
Review last edited: 29/03/2019
© Review and photos by Agisilaos Papadogiannis