A Guide to Finding Great Food in Venice

Venice is one of Italy’s most expensive cities in which to eat out, not least because of the added cost to restaurants of bringing in all their supplies via boat, and yet many visitors complain that they did not eat well there even when they splashed the cash. On our first two visits, in 1998 and 2006, we had some great meals, but also several mediocre ones – perhaps because our budget was too tight to accommodate the better places, or maybe we just didn’t know what to look for. On our most recent trip, we had a higher food budget and spent more time researching on the web, which seemed to do the trick and this time we enjoyed a whole week’s worth of fabulous meals.

Read on and learn how to find the best places to eat in Venice.

A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice

Pizza is not a regional speciality, but is much more widely available (and better quality) in Venice today than it was during our first visit twenty years ago.

Venetian Specialities

It helps to have some knowledge of traditional Venetian dishes and to look out for these on restaurant menus.

  • Baccala’ Mantecato – Made from air-dried cod that is poached to reconstitute before being mashed into a creamy spread with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice nad salt and pepper, usually part of an antipasto selection.
  • Bigoli in salsa – bigoli is a long, thick and dense wholemeal pasta, somewhat like spaghetti and this dish dresses it in a sauce most commonly made of onions and salted anchovies or sardines. Also fabulous in a meaty ragu.
  • Carpaccio – thinly sliced (orpounded) raw beef simply dressed with lemon and olive oil and parmesan cheese or fresh white truffle, and credited to Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of Harry’s Bar, this is a perfect starter with a glass of local wine
  • Fegato alla veneziana – calves liver and onions, a hearty dish full of flavour.
  • Fritelle – a sweet speciality available during Carnevale, these sweet fried doughnuts are stuffed with cream and dried fruit.
  • Fritto Misto – with an abundance of seafood available in the lagoon and sea beyond, a plate of battered and fried fresh fish and seafood is a treat. When in season, look for moeche, tiny little crabs from the lagoon.
  • Risi e bisi – rice and peas, a simple dish that allows the ingredients to speak for themselves.
  • Risotto al nero di seppia – squid ink risotto, rich and black on the plate and the palate.
  • Sarde in saor – sardines cooked in an agrodolce (sweet-sour) sauce, served hot or cold.
  • Sweet biscuits – cookies such as zaeti and bussolai buranei are a popular treat, commonly served with dessert wine.
  • Tiramisu – popular throughout Italy, this famous biscuit, coffee, egg and mascarpone dessert originated in the Veneto region.
  • Tramezzino – while a simple sandwich may at first seem an odd entry to include, the tramezzino are typically Venetian, made from two triangles of white bread super-stuffed with ham, cheese, and veggies.

Although rice is a key ingredient in the Veneto, gnocchi, pasta and polenta are also popular staples.

A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice

What’s the Difference Between a Ristorante, Trattoria, Osteria, Bacaro and Enoteca?

A ristorante is usually an upmarket restaurant; most customers will order more than one course from antipasti to pasta to meat and veg and then dessert. A trattoria is a humbler place, the food is often simpler and its the kind of place locals might eat in on a more regular basis than a ristorante. An osteria is much the same as a trattoria but is a little less formal again, and often focused more on the wine than the food. There may not be a printed menu, perhaps only a dish or two of the day and customers often have a small plate or snack rather than a full meal. A bacaro is also a bar that offers snack-sized food, most commonly in the form of cicchetti (see below). An enoteca is a wine bar, and may or may not offer food.

Of course, this sounds useful in practice, but the reality doesn’t always match! Many places that started out as one thing have, over time, become more like another, so you’ll find trattoria that are as formal and expensive as restaurants, and bacari that serve full meals as well as cicchetti!

Incidentally, many Venetian Caffè (cafes) are essentially also bars, offering not only coffee and other hot drinks but soft drinks and alcohol too.

A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice

Venetian Cicchetti

One tradition of Venice that you must not miss is cicchetti – small portions of food served in bacari (bars). Venetians enjoy cicchetti with a glass of wine – or perhaps a beer or aperol spritz – before lunch or dinner, or sometimes instead of the main meal. Traditionally, cicchetti are enjoyed standing near the counter, or even spilling into the street outside if its busy… but many bacari offer some seating, first come first served. A lovely way to spend an hour or two of an evening is to meander from bacaro to bacaro enjoying a glass and a couple of cicchetti at each.

The range of dishes is huge, including small portions of many of the Venetian dishes I listed above, such as baccala’ Mantecato on polenta, fritto (both seafood and vegetables), and sarde in saor, plus fresh grilled seafood, (polpette) meatballs, crostini (grilled bread with toppings) and more.

A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice

Breakfast at a Pasticceria

Instead of paying a premium for a hotel that offers bed and breakfast, we prefer to book Room Only so that we can head out to a local pasticceria (pastry shop) for coffee and pastries to start the day. Most pasticcerie offer a wide range of local pastries as well as croissants, bread, fruit and nut tarts, biscuits and small cakes.

To maximise their business, many bars open early to offer coffee and pastries in the morning, albeit a much smaller selection than the pasticcerie.

You will be charged a premium for sitting down to enjoy your order, or you can go native and drink and eat at stood at the counter before heading off to work.

A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice
A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice

Our Favourite Places

Coming soon… individual posts on our recommendations for our favourite restaurants, pizzeria, bacaro, pasticceria, coffee shop and more!

A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice

You may also enjoy the best places to enjoy panoramic views of Venice, and this post about the utterly charming Libreria Acqua Alta bookshop.

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A Guide to the Best Places to Eat Out in Venice

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75 Comments to "A Guide to Finding Great Food in Venice"

  1. Nick Kembel

    My wife and I went to Venice as part of our honeymoon, and were absolutely disappointed with the food. It was the worst we had in Italy. But you are right that this is probably because we hadn’t done any research at all. We just randomly chose a few places along the main strip, and the food was so bad that I’ve actually had better microwave pasta before. So I’m definitely looking forward to your more specific tips about good places to eat there, for next time!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    On one hand, I think it’s fair to point out that in some places in Italy, you can visit without any research and be almost guaranteed a great meal wherever you walk into — Bologna was like that for us. But I definitely found that the understanding of Venetian specialities (and looking out for restaurants that served them) plus a little searching for recommendations, was very worthwhile in Venice!

    Reply
  2. Emma

    Wow there is so much to think about, much more so than going to a lot of other places in the world. Do you know whether there’s a lot of veggie food on offer? A lot of the dishes you’ve written about are meaty or fishy!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Emma, I have to say that honestly, we didn’t look as we both eat fish, meat and veggies. That said, there were definitely veg-only pasta and pizzas widely available. I couldn’t say how varied the range might be, but you wouldn’t go hungry.

    Reply
  3. kaveyeats

    It’s one of the most unique and beautiful cities in the world. Hope you get to visit.

    Reply
  4. Michelle M

    The pasta!!! I had a hilarious good experience I’m Venice… My husband loves potatoes, so when we saw a “potato pizza” on the menu, we immediately ordered it. I’m not sure what we were expecting, but it was a pizza covered in French fries!!

    Reply
  5. Paul Healy

    I’ve always wanted to know the difference between Ristorante, Trattoria and Osteria. As you say it doesn’t always work out that way but good to know what it should be. I found the food in Venice difficult to locate because everything is so geared towards tourists, so it’s good to have a few of your recommendations for next time.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, I think the mythical holy grail of finding restaurants that only cater for locals is virtually impossible in Venice, given the ratio of tourists to inhabitants, few restaurants could afford to ignore the tourist trade and spend. But certainly understanding what Venetian cuisine looks like helps find places that serve great food that appeals to both locals and visitors alike.

    Reply
  6. kaveyeats

    Portugal is wonderful, I’d love to see so much more of it. Wonderful food there too. Venice will be there when you move on from Portugal!

    Reply
  7. eli

    Craving Italian food right now! Especially like in the first pic where it comes with a stunning view

    Reply
  8. Mike

    Wow, you really did your research. And man that food looks so tasty. I was in Venice back in high school and it’s still one of my favorite cities in the world. And that was with absolutely ZERO food budget 🙂

    Reply
  9. Stevo Joslin

    The food looks amazing. Good to know about the small noshes you can get at bars between meal times while enjoying a beer! Sounds like a great way to spend an evening. And thank you for the break down of the different types of eateries to be found, it’s always an adventure trying to figure out where to find the next great meal. Coffee and croissants on the go, the best way to live! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    The definitions aren’t always as useful as they could be, as places that started off as one thing (and were named accordingly) morph into something different over time, so it can be tricky, but it’s a handy starting point at least!

    Reply
  10. Claire

    Ooh this is fab, I’m going to Venice for the first time next year so I will definitely need some help! Cicchetti sound like a lovely way to try different dishes in different bars, rather like Spanish tapas? And I love seafood so I’d be all over the Fritto Misto and cod pate!

    Reply
  11. Marie

    I love going about Venice and how restaurants display food for you just to drool over and try…great write up! I haven’t tried eating at a Bacaro and Enotec, just the first three…hmm I’ll look for them when I come visit Venice again…

    Reply
  12. Renuka Walter

    Yeah even I felt that I didn’t eat to my heart’s content in Venice. Even the food is quite expensive. I remember my husband and I chose to have just wine by the canal, and we later had sandwiches from a street shop. But it was fun! You seem to have explored Venice quite deeply, and thus, have discovered the true food scene out there. Helpful food guide!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    It is definitely more expensive than many places in Italy, though I understand why given the logistics of distribution and delivery. But hopefully this will help others to find good food when they visit.

    Reply
  13. Line

    Finding great food can be so hard in touristy places like Venice, but it just makes a trip so much better if you find a nice place where you can sit down, relax and have a nice meal. The food really looks delicious.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, I’ll be sharing my favourite for traditional Italian classics soon and it’s just that kind of place!

    Reply
  14. Vicky and Buddy

    This is such a useful post. I didn’t realize there was such a breakdown of places to eat, so knowing the names is important. When I finally visit Venice I don’t want to be wandering around aimlessly hoping I enter the right kind establishment. Looking forward to reading about your favorite pizzeria!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    The definitions aren’t always as useful as they could be, as places that started off as one thing (and were named accordingly) morph into something different over time, so it can be tricky, but it’s a handy starting point at least! Pizza post will be up in a few weeks!

    Reply
  15. Rosemary

    Traveling anywhere and ending up with mediocre meals is a real bummer. This is a great guide for what to look for in Venice and importantly where. Loved reading about cicchetti and discovering how to enjoy small bites affordably. I’m looking forward to reading more about your food adventures.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Thank you, I hope this will help others both understand the food of Venice and find some delicious treats.

    Reply
  16. Kirstie

    Wow, what a view! The food looks delicious and when I travel, I really make it a point to enjoy the food. Nothing beats good food during a vacation! I love your blog and how it’s really informative for foodie wannabes like me!

    Reply
  17. Jennifer

    I lived in Venice for seven years. First, you are right that many people are disappointed because they didn’t research. Most people know Italian cuisine as the American-Italian of the immigrants and that actually isn’t Italian at all. Then Venetian cuisine is something entirely different and influenced by neighbors like Austria and Slovenia.

    Cicchetti is one of my favorite things to eat in Venice. You can have a really great meal for not much money at all. Spaghetti vongole is another really typical dish from this part of Italy and it’s my go to when I want pasta in the summer. Then the pumpkin dishes in the winter are cozy.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    I’ve rarely enjoyed American-Italian food when I’ve visited the States, it doesn’t resemble Italian-Italian food to me at all. And yes, Italian food is so regional that the food of Venetia is different to other regions, though many dishes now considered national are of course available there today. Love chicchetti!

    Reply
  18. Lisa

    Oooh, Carpaccio just sounds so yummy! I would love to try it 🙂 I would definitely like to visit a trattoria but an enoteca sounds like my type of place 😉 Haha! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  19. Medha

    Mama Mia, what an informative post 😉 It’s really interesting to read the difference between Ristorante, trattoria and Osteria because a lot of Italian restaurants outside Italy have these words in their names and it makes it much clearer to me to know how to differentiate between them. I love Italian food, and the squid ink risotto is particularly attractive to me. I’ve had it once, though it wasn’t in Italy, it was in Croatia and it was really awesome!

    Reply
  20. Erica Edwards

    The last two photographs of the pasta dishes just made my mouth water! I can’t wait until you round up your favourite places – I MUST try those! One of the biggest reasons I tend to avoid highly touristic destinations is because it’s so hard to find good food amid the tourist traps, so I LOVE posts like this with fresh, recent experience. The Risotto al nero di seppia is also a speciality here in Spain (arroz negro) and is one of my all-time favourite dishes, so I’ll definitely have to check out the Italian version as well!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes it is both harder and more expensive for sure, but not impossible. Venice has one of the highest ratios of tourists versus inhabitants in the world, and the key tourist sites are heavily crowded but we found it still possible to get away from those crowds and enjoy the magic of the city!

    Reply
  21. Cindy

    What a helpful post! I visited Venice only briefly and had only mediocre food. So much of it is touristy, so your description of the different types of places to eat is good to know. I will certainly take your suggestion to go to a Pasticceria for breakfast. I’m looking forward to your restaurant recommendations.

    Reply
  22. Joanne

    Great post! Your breakdown of popular dishes was really helpful. I was so surprised to learn that rice is more popular than gnocchi or pasta! Venice is on our must visit soon list so I’m definitely going to keep your post close by for planning.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    In terms of traditionally Venetian, yes rice is a key staple. Of course, these days, when restaurants are catering for tourists, it may well be that more pasta is sold and eaten by the tonne than rice!

    Reply
    Luca Marchiori

    We’ve only really been eating pasta in Venice since the second world war and even now many of us prefer our traditional staples of rice and polenta, both of which are produced in the Veneto and other northern regions. There is only one traditional pasta dish in Venetian cuisine, bigoli in salsa. As Kavey says, most of the pasta eaten in Venice is eaten by tourists.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    And this is actually such an interesting thing to me, because unlike elsewhere in Italy, in Venice the expectations and tastes of tourists really shapes the menus of the city far more than elsewhere, where the ratio is still balanced by locals, even in the touristy spots!

    Reply
    Luca Marchiori

    The problem is that there are very few Venetians left living in the city. The vast majority of people there on any given day, especially in the summer, are tourists. Even among the residents there are a large number of Italians from other parts of Italy and foreigners. Most authentic Venetian food is sadly eaten at home in an ever dwindling number of households.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, I have been reading about this trend, throughout the last few decades, and it must be a sad thing to witness as a Venetian, because it will inevitably lead to the loss of local cuisine and traditions in the end.

  23. AMBER TATTON

    I found the food in Venice a little disappointing – but this could have been as I was on an Italian road trip and had last stayed in Bologna for a few days! There was a lot of good popular dishes that you have found and I remember a great back street pasta place with queues out the door! I also found by St Elena on the other end of the island there was some good Italian food, but the main part of Venice is so touristy that the food isn’t authentic! Glad you are trying to help though by pointing out where you should go!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Bologna food is SO good and so inexpensive that hitting Venice straight after must have been a big shock. For sure, it doesn’t compare, especially if the budget is the same. But you definitely can find good food in Venice, if you look for it, albeit a bit more costly!

    Reply
  24. Yukti

    Wow, you have shared a complete guide of Italian food in Venice. I don’t think that local people of Venice also know so much. Loved the varieties as earlier I used to think only Pizza, Pasta and Risotto are from Italy. Also, for the first time I can now know the difference between ristorante, Tratorria and Oesteria.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Ha, I wouldn’t go that far, there are many many many Venetian food experts. For me, my intention is just to share some info and guidance that worked for us, and may help fellow travellers!

    Reply
  25. Maggie

    When my mom and I visited Venice earlier this year, it was pouring down rain when we arrived (which was around lunchtime) so we kind of just dashed into the first restaurant we saw. We ordered pizza and wine and were shocked by how expensive it was!!! And it wasn’t even that great. SO yeah, you’re totally right!! Wish I’d had this article beforehand and had known how overpriced Venetian food is!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Aaw, I understand that, we’ve been there! At least on the rain side, Venice is still stunning, it was pouring (and flooding) on one of our trips, fascinating!

    Reply
  26. Mel Butler

    I just love Italian food and I have been to Venice a couple of times. Granted though I have not always had the best food there and it was expensive, I remember very well because I was so disappointed. I love the idea of Venetian Cicchetti that you have small portions of food served in bacari (bars) that is my type of eating for sure especially the fresh grilled seafood

    Reply
  27. Carmen Edelson

    Okay, I really shouldn’t have read this on an empty stomach! My dream is to go to Venice and eat my way around town 🙂 Good to know the pizza is yummy there, that photo is epic.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    You can find great pizza there now but I would still recommend that you prioritise seeking out more local dishes, and turn to pizza for a change if you feel like it. We were there for a week on this latest trip so we had lots of meals to play with!

    Reply
  28. Jacqueline Meldrum

    It’s somewhere I’ve never been but I’ve read a few books set there and it must be a wonderful place to visit. It looks like I might have to live of pizza and cake while there as a veggie, but I can live with that. Thanks for your recommendations. Shared!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    There are often pasta dishes with vegetables as well, so you may be OK, but the pizzas are now so much better than they once were, so that wouldn’t a complete tragedy!

    Reply
  29. Helen at Casa Costello

    Well that view puts eating pizza in Pizza Hut to shame, doesn’t it? I would love to visit Venice for the seafood for a start but good to know the kids would be catered for with pizza.

    Reply
  30. Kacie Morgan

    This is such a great guide, I love how you’ve given some insight into the best local dishes to taste, as well as the best restaurants to eat them. Venice is certainly becoming more and more appealing to me as a holiday destination.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Thanks Kacie, I want people to feel more confidence about finding good food in Venice!

    Reply
  31. Luca Marchiori

    What a great post! One small correction however: baccalà mantecato is not made from salt cod. Confusingly baccalà means salt cod everywhere in Italy except in Venice. In Venice it refers to air-dried stockfish imported from the Norwegian Lofoten islands. It’s been a staple of Venetian cooking every since a Venetian merchant was shipwrecked on Lofoten in the fifteenth century and brought some back. Venetian baccalà therefore has quite a sweet flavour to it which makes it doubly delicious. Don’t worry though as everyone gets that wrong 😉

    Reply

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