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 ahead, 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.
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.
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.
One tradition of Venice that you must not miss is cicchetti (pronounced chi-ke-tee) – 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.
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.
Our Favourite Places
Enjoy these individual articles on our recommendations for our favourite restaurants, pizzeria, bacaro, pasticceria, coffee shops and more!
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