Any place with ristorante in the name is going to be a) classier and b) probably more expensive than your other options. They are usually formal dining affairs where you are shown to your seat by an elderly waiter called Umberto wearing a smart suit and a long apron. You’ll be given a menu and a sizeable wine list. A stuzzichino and a welcome glass of prosecco may be offered once you’ve ordered. Items on the menu could be typical dishes of that region or more elaborate creations.
If you find yourself at a rather expensive ristorante (as I have done, by mistake) and gasp at the price of a steak or the cheapest bottle of wine, don’t panic. You could just get up and leave, but to spare the embarrassment, you’ll be able to find a fairly reasonable priced pasta or rice dish and get the house wine.
Italian red wine, cheese and salami etc. are a perfect combination for a starter.
For those looking for a more relaxed vibe, look out for a trattoria or an osteria. These are traditionally family run places with a rustic atmosphere. Osterie are traditionally wine bars but nowadays they also serve meals. A list of food options will be found on a board and will change regularly depending on the market.
If you’re hungry and want a wider choice you'd better look for a trattoria. While these are mainly family run and a cheaper alternative to the ristorante, some trattorie are just as expensive due to the relaxed dining slow-food cooking becoming more popular.
The cheap and popular way to eat out in Italy. You can easily get a pizza and a beer for around €12-15. It’s very common for families and friends to head out on Saturday to chiacchierare over a pizza and a few beers. You’ll also see pizza boys zooming around on mopeds, slipping down back streets to get their orders delivered on time.
As this is probably the most popular food in Italy, you don’t have to look hard to find a pizzeria. But stay clear of tourist traps as that’s a sure fire way of paying a lot more for less quality. Any pizzeria selling the classic Hawaiian (Ham and Pineapple) pizza is a place to steer clear of. A pizzeria boasting a traditional wood oven is a good call. Most pizzerie these days also serve primi, secondi, salads etc so you’ll find something for everyone.
The other pizza option is pizza al taglio. This pizza is thicker than the usual pizza tonda. You choose the pizza you want from the deli counter, choose how much you want (pay by the gram) and they heat it up for you ready to take away.
A pizza with prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes and basil can be a great alternative to the usual margherita.
When I first moved to Italy, I was a little worried about a few of my colleagues when they told me that they often have breakfast in a bar. I imagined them at a “greasy-spoon” picking at an equally greasy-looking plate of eggs and toast. Thankfully I was wrong and I quickly discovered the joy of grabbing a cappuccino and brioche (con la crema - always with crème patisserie) at the local bar all for around €2.50.
While most bars do serve alcohol, this is the place to get a good coffee. Make sure you know what you want. Un caffè will always be an espresso, order a cappuccino only in the morning, if you want something milkier in the afternoon go for a macchiato. A good bar will have a good selection of croissants with various fillings (chocolate, jam, nutella, crème patisserie) and serve panini (bread rolls with ham or cheese) or toast (basically a toastie, no baked beans).
You can also head to a bar for an aperitivo. Some bars put on a small buffet of food during happy hour (18:00 - 20:00). Grab an Aperol Spritz or a Hugo (if in Veneto) and get stuck in. Don’t worry if you miss the buffet, usually all alcoholic drinks are served with snacks, could be a humble bowl of crisps or a plate of delicious treats.
A "caffé macchiato" is the best way to start your day.
Non-Italian food and fast food
While Italy is home of the "slow-food" campaign, fast food is becoming more and more popular with the increasing hoards of tourists looking for a quick bite. In the last couple of years, burger places have been popping up everywhere. Sushi is also extremely popular. Apart from those, you’re not going to find a lot of other multicultural food without hunting it down.
For something quick you can try a piadina (found at a piadineria), these are like big tortillas but thicker and you can fill it with anything you want, including nutella. Made to order and will definitely fill a hole. French fries places have recently taken off too. Choose from the 250 different sauces to go on top. Kebabs are always an option too.
General Opening Times
- Closed one day a week, usually Monday
- Open 12:00 - 14:30 then 19:30 - 22:30, but open later.
Trattoria / Osteria
- Similar to the ristorante, though some may be open all day serving coffee and bar snacks.
- Closed one day a week
- Open 12:00 - 14:30 then 19:00 - late
- All day / late night