The food on Crete is as good as anywhere in the world, but unless you know where to look you risk getting average food at above average prices. It’s not easy to realise you’re getting something average though as even average food in Crete is much better than you’re likely to find at home.
The key is to mostly avoid the brightly-lit touristy restaurants with the long menus and head for a place where the local are. However, this isn’t as easy as it sounds — many locals go out to drink, chat, nibble and play games, but going out for a meal is mainly a weekend activity — just like it probably is for you at home! In addition to this — the typical time for eating out for locals is much later than many of us eat back home — setting off out at 10pm is common. So if you’re heading out at 7pm the places popular with locals may have very few people in.
If you have transport, and have someone willing to forgo the alcohol so that they can drive you safely home after, the best places to find excellent food are villages. Mountain villages have tavernas and your chances of good food in these is generally high because most village tavernas need local custom to survive, so anything that isn’t good enough doesn’t last long.
Villages near the coast also have lots of good options, including the local equivalent of the pub, known as a “cafe neo”. Many cafe’s of this type don’t actually have a menu at all, or may only have one on request, which is likely to be in Greek only. But you don’t need a menu! Just order a round of drinks and wait for the range of nibbles (called Mezze) that come with the drinks. If, like us, you typically stay for 3–4 rounds over the course of an evening you will get more than enough food to fill you up. Many an evening a group of 4–5 of us have ended up stuffed and tipsy for less than €30 (total, not each!)
Tavernas in town
If you do want to go to a Taverna in a more touristy area try to get an idea of where is popular with locals by scouting out places in advance. A good way to do this is on your way home at the end of a previous night have a look to see where the locals are congregating and then try that place on a subsequent night.
Another way to avoid anything disappointing is to check on Trip Advisor, which doesn’t guarantee excellent, but is very helpful for helping you avoid anything bad. This is mostly relevant to restaurants in touristy areas. As with all online review sites beware of misleading reviews. There are a number of places in Crete that I have gone back to year after year, many 10’s of times, that have always been excellent, and yet I find unbelievable negative reviews of them on Trip Advisor. Often these reviews some from an account with only 1 review, or an account that only seems to leave negative reviews. The best reviews will give a balance of positive and negative, or at least an idea of who it is best suited to, and are from people with a good number of reviews that look reasonable.