Kati and I love to eat. We love to try new dishes and have old favorites. One of the countries we love to dine is in Italy. At home, we make our own pasta, sauce and meatballs, but being in Italy is something special. From a fancy restaurant to a small family owned spot, Italy has it all. And it is all good if you know where to go. Italians both in Italy and across the diaspora are incredibly proud of their food. Italian-American food and Italian food is similar but distinctly different things and if there is anything that people associate with Italians it is the food. Italy brings in hundreds of thousands of tourists every year to see the sights, experience the culture, and of course, eat the food. The quintessential pasta and pizza are not only favorites in Italy but quite literally all over the world. Almost every small town anywhere has at least one pizza restaurant, so suffice it to say that Italian food has practically permeated every culture around the globe.
But what about those who want the real thing? Italian tourism brings in billions of Euros each year and again, many of those tourists are looking where to find the best real Italian food they can find. But where do you find the best Italian food when there are restaurants on every corner? How do you know which ones are good and which ones will serve you an overpriced plate of spaghetti and sauce from a can? We have had some bad experiences in the over-tourists spots like Positano, but have been pleasantly surprised in the village of Grossetto as we found a Michelin Starred restaurant in a medieval cave. Something totally unexpected.(by the way, we actually eat in very few Michelin starred restaurants – we are more into the small family-owned places).
Well wonder no more, here are some of the best restaurants in Italy that span from the expensive to budget-friendly, and the Michelin-starred.
Located in the capital, Osteria Chiana is not your average Italian-bistro that caters to tourists. Forgoing the kitschy aesthetic of the checkered- white and red tablecloths, and a candle in a bottle, Osteria Chiana instead brings guests a modern take on a classic Italian bistro. The food is contemporary and the style of the restaurant leans more on modern design.
Enjoy modern dishes like the Roman favorite cacio é pepe or breaded lamb cutlet served alongside fried artichokes. If you’re here in the summer be sure to grab a tiramisu on the garden patio.
Leaning on the more expensive side of dining in Italy, Enoteca Pinchiorri is quite an institution in the city of Florence. The restaurant has been around since the 1970s and was started by local chef Giorgio Pinchiorri and his wife Annie Féolde. You’ll find some amazing dishes here that are not only classically Italian but also offering a blend of French as well. The wine list here is vast, in fact, Pinchiorri is a sommelier by trade so the man knows his stuff.
Enoteca Pinchiorri has been so successful that two sister restaurants opened in Japan, one in Tokyo and one in Nagoya, and Fédole was the first female chef to be awarded three Michelin stars in Italy.
Also located in the beautiful city of Florence is Trattoria Sabatino. If you’re not looking to break the bank but are still looking for something that will satisfy your cravings for pasta in an old-school restaurant, then you’ve come to the right place. Trattoria Sabatino is a family-run restaurant that has spanned generations with the restaurant opening in 1956 and continuing to be run by the same family to this day. Not only is the same family in charge but for the most part, not much else has changed since they’ve opened either. Their humble pasta dishes start at a mere 4.50€ while an entrée comes in at only 5.50€. If you’re looking to eat well on a budget in Florence, Trattoria Sabatino will surely satisfy.
Forget what you might know about traditional Italian food because while the food served here is in fact very traditional, it’s not what you might expect. St. Hubertus is located in San Cassiano near the city of Bolzano. For those who might need to brush up on their Italian geography, Bolzano is in the mountainous Dolomites region of the Italian Alps. The St. Hubertus restaurant is in the Hotel Rosa Alpina and has three Michelin-Stars.
Everything served here is made and presented in a more northern alpine tradition so expect dishes with a lot of cream and dairy as well as farm-fresh cheese and flavor profiles like pine and juniper flower. Local flavors like spices and herbs are meticulously selected to make unique but traditional dishes and the view of the mountains while you dine here is one you won’t forget.
Lanificio is a favorite Roman hangout that completely takes a 180 on dining experiences in Rome. Lanificio is a bar, restaurant, and creative workspace all rolled up into one modern and fun time. The restaurant almost leans more on a café that you’d find in North America with creatives working on laptops and having a drink but twists it in an Italian way. Enjoy a cocktail, relax with some friends, and indulge in some dishes you think might not work, but end up being totally delicious.
Dishes like salmon served with buffalo mozzarella or cacio e pepe served with vermicelli and lime bring a Roman favorite with a little Asian twist.
Located about an hour outside of Venice, simply getting there is an experience in itself. This restaurant is really off the beaten path and visitors here have to drive up a winding mountain road to get to the top where Spinechile Resort is located. While the property also hosts a bed and breakfast (hence, the “resort” part of the name) most people come to indulge in chef Corrado Fosalto’s inventive and delicious dishes. The restaurant has three Michelin stars and if you’re looking for the full adventure consider staying the night.
Rome is one of the most visited cities in the country. Probably the world. And there is no doubt why. The city is basically a living museum with history and culture at literally every corner you turn to. If you’re a backpacker or a traveler on a budget, or even if you’re just looking for something delicious to grab before you head out, Gusto is the restaurant for you.
Gusto is where you’ll want to go to get your favorite carb-loaded Italian classics. Pizza and pasta are the name of the game here and they have more than affordable options. Indulge in Italian-style pizzas which are generally lighter and wood-oven baked starting at 7€ or their salads starting at 10€.
The Locanda Cipriani
Feel like you’ve taken a step back in time to when Venice was a mighty kingdom. The Locanda Cipriani is one of the city’s most exclusive restaurants. What was once an old merchant’s house on the little lagoon island of Torcello is now a dining experience that serves old-fashioned Venetian food in an old-fashioned way that rivals something you’d find at a five-star hotel.
Upon approaching the building you’ll notice the ivory tinted façade, large blooming traditional garden, and country-inn style doors. Take in the spectacular setting and ambiance that has hosted people like Ernest Hemingway, countless British Royals, and A-list celebrities.
The Locanda de’ Medici
This was the restaurant that Kai and I found in Grosseto. We got into the city in the evening and did not have any reservations anywhere. Our hotel that we stayed in was not the nicest and so we decided to go for a walk. We came across the Locanda de’ Medici and immediately fell in love with it. It was a bit more expensive than we wanted to pay, but the meal was outstanding. All the ingredients were found locally and were fresh. The ambiance inside was outstanding and the meal took us on a journey.
So maybe you don’t want to break the bank while you’re in Venice, that’s fine because there are plenty of other more affordable options like All’Arco. While not so much a restaurant in the classical sense, All’Arco is a favorite spot for locals and tourists alike. The place is essentially a hole-in-the-wall that serves some amazing snacks and sandwiches. All’Arco is a quintessential Venetian bacaro (wine bar) so you can get a drink and sandwich along with other Venetian snackables like anchovies and onions or crostini with vegetables. Just be prepared to know what you want ahead of time because the ordering process is fast and there’s no time to linger.
For the vegetarians out there or simply those who are tired of fish, head to La Zucca if you’re in Venice and looking for a little something different. La Zucca prides itself on being a simple place for everyone and a local favorite hang out spot where the dishes are delicious but not too overbearing or expensive. Venetian food is typically a little heavy on the fish but at La Zucca, you can expect vegetarian-friendly dishes that are filling and won’t leave you poor afterward. Try the tagliatelle with artichokes and pecorino cheese with their pumpkin flan for dessert.
Hostaria San Pietro
Take a little trip down south to the picturesque and stunning island of Sicily. The area is known for its food and because of its position in the Mediterranean, the food culture here is some of the most unique around. If you’re looking for a truly authentic taste of Sicily, head to Hostaria San Pietro. Located outside the town of Tripani the restaurant is relatively popular so make sure to book or plan ahead.
So what makes it so popular? The menu changes daily and what you’ll get here depends on what’s available at the market that day and what the fishermen bring in off the boats. The menu is handwritten on a sheet of paper and the antipasti are served on hand-painted ceramic plates. Enjoy dishes like Sicilian couscous with saffron and tomatoes or fresh pasta with pine nuts and eggplant.
Sicily is very big on seafood and some of the best seafood in the country can be found on the island. Ristorante Vittorio is an eclectic restaurant where the seafood is the specialty and the relaxation and stunning views are a bonus. The location of Ristorante Vittorio is right on the edge of the water on the western edge of the island. Gaze out at the blue waves while you dine on fresh seafood pasta dishes, grilled tuna, and seared octopus. All the wines and ingredients served here are from Sicilian growers and producers and that includes the wine as well.
Some say that pizza was invented in Naples so if you fancy yourself a true pizza connoisseur then Sorbillo in Naples is going to be a place of pilgrimage for you. In Naples, it’s difficult to assess who has the best pizza in the city but one thing is for sure, Sorbillo is definitely a front runner. Located in a maze of narrow walkways and alleys, nestled in a little corner in the old town of Naples is this iconic restaurant. The restaurant is not very big and it is always packed and if the inside isn’t packed then there is a line-up outside. People often wait for hours to get one of these pizzas, especially at night so be prepared to wait, but the wait will be worth it.
Gran Caffè Gambrinus
Though not strictly a restaurant per se, the Gran Caffè Gambrinus is a must stop and visit if you’re in Naples and looking for a coffee fix. While there are a million places to get a coffee or an espresso, Gran Caffè Gambrinus invokes a more elegant and refined aesthetic similar to Viennese or Parisian coffeehouses of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The walls here are lined with fine and the high ceilings are rimmed with gold while the marble countertops and white tablecloths make you feel like you’re in a castle about to have afternoon tea with royalty. The waiters wear white waistcoats and the people who prepare your coffee are not simply baristas but true brewing experts, knowledgeable in all things coffee. Gran Caffè Gambrinus was founded in 1860 and has hosted important Italian luminaries like philosophers and poets, and on the first day of the year, it is a tradition for the Italian president to stop for coffee here.
From the alps to the islands, Italy has a far-ranging and diverse style of food that is not always limited to pasta and things covered in tomato sauce. The various regions all have that certain something that makes the food here one of a kind whether that’s seafood or handmade artisanal bread. From the fanciest of restaurants to the humblest of corner shops, there is no shortage of amazing food to be found throughout the country. Treat yourself to something elaborate and high-end or indulge in the carb-loaded cheesy goodness of a fresh oven roasted pizza. Because no matter what you get, it’ll be simply amazing.
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