Classic Greek dishes at Taverna Cretekou in Old Town Alexandria

Three decades of Greek journeys

Hidden behind Old Town's bustling King Street, Taverna Cretekou's serene patio is a summer oasis.

For more than 35 years, this warm restaurant has elevated classic Greek cuisine without bending to culinary trends. The staff of gregarious Greek natives keeps a relaxed but welcoming Mediterranean approach.

Begin dinner with kasseri cheese ($8), which servers flame tableside with ouzo. The hard sheep's-milk cheese is salty and dense, a perfect match to Peloponnesian rosé. The staff can help decipher the diverse list of wines, which come from throughout the Greek islands and are a far cry from Retsina.

Ancient Greeks dug holes in the ground for roasting lamb, but the kitchen skillfully recreates that robust flavor by slow-cooking the meats with ample olive oil. With only oregano and lemon to augment its flavor, the roasted leg ($17) is a juicy, sublime argument for the simplicity of Mediterranean cuisine.

Whole red snapper ($24)–lightly spritzed with olive oil, given a quick turn on the grill, and served with grilled vegetables–tastes like it was fished to order from the Adriatic.

Desserts include warm apple fritters ($5) and honey-topped house-made yogurt ($6), but the potent ouzo-spiked coffee is the house specialty. It should become another tradition.

Taverna Cretekou, 818 King St., Alexandria, VA; 703-548-8688 or tavernacretekou.com