Venetian dining

Ristorate Da Raffaele offers canalside dining in Venice. (Photo by Badly Drawn Dad)
An over-priced lunch with a million-dollar view.

The restaurant scene in Venice

Great Venetian dining experiences

A Venetian meal has many courses, and it can take a few hours to work your way through them all—from an antipasto seafood platter (or the classic sarde in saor, Venetian swet-and-sour sardines) through spaghetti alle vongole (with clams) or risi e bisi (rice and peas) and grilled catch of the day to a cheese platter or tiramisú for dessert.

Notice a theme? Yeah, in a city where the streets are made of water, seafood definitely dominates the menu.

This abundance is not just a scam played on tourists; Italians actually eat such massive full meals, to be accompanied by good wine and lively conversation.

The Venetian meal & typical dishes

Antipasto (appetizer)

Start with an antipasto (appetizer), which in Venice means seafood.

Frutti di mare are "fruits of the sea" and include a plethora of shellfish, crustaceans, and tentacled sea critters.

Another archetypal Venetian starter is sarde in saor, sardines prepared with a sweet-and-sour sauce and often served with grilled slices of polenta (a distant, wetter, denser cousin to cornbread).

Primo (first course)

Your primo (first course) could be a soup (try the zuppa di cozze mussels soup); a rice (risotto alle seppie, stained with squid ink, is popular, but it's beat out by risi e bisi, a creamy blend of rice and fresh peas, sometimes with bacon); or a pasta—perhaps spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams), or spaghetti al pomodoro (spaghetti in a plain tomato sauce) being the most common.

Secondo (main course)

Your secondo (main course) should take advantage of the setting and be fish. Most is priced by weight, grilled or otherwise simply prepared, and served on a bed of bitter red radicchio lettuce.

Other popular secondi include anguille in umido (eels stewed with tomatoes, garlic, and white wine) and the local, non-seafood staple fegato alla Veneziana (tender calf's liver cooked down with onions).

Dolci (desserts)

Finish with a selection of formaggi (cheeses) or a dolce (dessert)—might I suggest the ever-popular tiramisù (espresso-soaked lady fingers layered with sweetened, creamy mascarpone cheese and dusted with cocoa).

Vino (wine)

Italy is famed for its wines, and the Veneto region around Venice produces some great ones, including the white Soave, and reds Bardolino and Valpolicello. The best table wines in the region tend to be the whites.

Reid's recommended restaurants in Venice

In San Marco

In Castello

In Dorsoduro

In San Polo

In Cannaregio

Tips & links

General dining tips
  • Book ahead: Great Venetian restaurants are few and far between—and everybody knows about them. It pays to reserve your table, at least at dinner. I find that a corollary of Murphy's Law seems to apply. If you prudently book ahead, you are likely to show up to a half-empty restaurant and feel a bit like a fool for having worried about finding a table. If, on the other hand, you just show up at the door expecting to find a free table, the place will inevitably be packed and its bookings full for the evening. For restaurants that I am truly eager to try, I go ahead and book.
  • "Pane e coperto" is not a scam: Nearly all Italian restaurants have an unavoidable pane e coperto ("bread and cover" charge) of anything from €1 to €15—though most often €2 to €5—per person that is automatically added onto your bill. This is perfectly normal and perfectly legal (though a few trendy restaurants make a big deal about not charging it).
  • Find out if service (tip) is included: Don't double-tip by accident. If the menu has a line—usually near the bottom of the front or back—that says "servizio" with either a percentage, an amount, or the word "incluso" after it, that means the tip is automatically included in the price. (If it says "servizio non incluso," tip is, obviously, not included.)

    Even if the menu doesn't say it, ask É incluso il servizio? (ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo)—"Is service included?" If not, tip accordingly (10%–15% is standard).

    Don't be stingy about tipping, though. If il servizio is, indeed, already included but the service was particularly good, it's customary to round up the bill or leave €1 per person extra—just to show you noticed and that you appreciated the effort.
  • Tourist menus: The concept of a bargain prix-fixe menu is not popular in Italy. Some restaurants do offer a menu turistico ("tourist menu"), which can cost from €8 to €20 and usually entails a choice from among two or three basic first courses (read: different pasta shapes, all in plain tomato sauce), a second course of roast chicken or a veal cutlet, and some water or wine and bread. With very few exceptions, tourist menus tend to live up to their name, appearing only at the sort of tourist-pandering restaurants that the locals wisely steer clear of.

    However, a menu à prezzo fisso ("fixed-price menu") is often a pretty good deal, usually offering a bit more choice than a tourist menu.

    Then—especially at nicer (and pricier) restaurants—there is the menu degustazione ("tasting menu"), usually far more expensive (anywhere from €25 to €110) that is a showcase of the chef's best, or of regional specialties, and can make for an excellent way to sample the kitchen's top dishes.
  • Book ahead: For restaurants that I am truly eager to try, I go ahead and book a table—at least at dinner. I find that a corollary of Murphy's Law seems to apply. If you prudently book ahead, you are likely to show up to a half-empty restaurant and feel a bit like a fool for having worried about finding a table. If, on the other hand, you just show up at the door expecting to find a free table, the place will inevitably be packed and its bookings full for the evening.
Top Venice culinary tours & experiences
The price categories
Under €15
€€ €30–60
€€€ Over €60

The dining prices categories above (and throughout this site) represent a rough estimate of how much, per person, you would pay for a standard Italian meal—which is to say three courses with a bottle of water and the house wine.

(A truly "full" Italian meal really consists of five courses—antipasto/appetizer, primo/first course, secondo/main course, contorno/side, and dolce/dessert—but few actually splurge on the whole, belt-busting thing at every meal. Select any three of your choosing and call it dinner. Espresso and digestivo at the end are extra.)

If we're talking about something other than a full-service, sit-down restaurant (pizzeria, sandwich shop, Venetian cichetti bar, or some other lighter-fare establishment), the price category will be for whatever constitutes a "full meal" there (a pizza and a beer, 5–10 cicchetti and a glass of wine, etc.). This is why every gelateria on this site is ranked "€."

Then again, if some old-school 19th century caffè on the main piazza charges four or five times what a typical bar does for a cappucino (and they do tend to), I'm slapping it with a "€€" even if your bill does come to under €15 a head because, relatively spekaing, it's really pricey.

That said, nothing is more variable than what you will spend to eat out. You may show up at a moderately priced restaurant and splurge on a truly full Italian meal of five courses (including the priciest seafood or steak dishes on the menu), plus dessert, grappa, espresso, and an expensive bottle of wine or two.

Your abstemious neighbor at the next table might just have a plate of spaghetti and a bottle of water.

Your bills will be radically different, even though you ate at the same place.

Splurge at your own discretion.

(In case you are curious how I estimate the costs, decades of writing travel guidebooks led me to a surprisingly accurate formula—at least for Italy. Average the price of the cheapest and most expensive primo on the menu—ignoring any obvious outliers, like a spaghetti with lobster that costs twice what everything else does. Now multiply that average by four. The result is amazingly close to the cost of a full meal at that restaurant.)

Italian dining phrases
English (Inglese) Italian (Italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a restaurant un ristorante oon rees toh-RAHN-tay
...a casual restaurant una trattoria
oo-nah trah-toar-RHEE-yah
oon ohst-air-EE-yah
I would like to reserve... Vorrei prenotare... voar-RAY pray-note-ARE-eh
a table for two una tavola per due oo-nah TAH-voal-lah pair DOO-way
...for 7pm per le sette pair lay SET-tay
...for 7:30pm per le sette e mezzo pair lay SET-tay eh MET-tzoh
...for 8pm per le otto pair lay OH-toh
I would like Vorrei... voar-RAY
...some (of) un pó (di) oon POH (dee)
...this questo KWAY-sto
...that quello KWEL-loh
chicken pollo POL-loh
steak bistecca bee-STEAK-ah
veal vitello vee-TEL-oh
fish pesce PEH-shay
meat carne KAR-neh
I am vegetarian sono vegetariano SO-no veg-eh-tair-ee-YAH-no
side dish [veggies always come seperately] cotorno kon-TOR-no
dessert dolce DOAL-chay
and e ay
...a glass of un bicchiere di oon bee-key-YAIR-eh dee
...a bottle of una bottiglia di oo-na boh-TEEL-ya dee
...a half-liter of mezzo litro di MET-tzoh LEE-tro dee
...fizzy water acqua gassata AH-kwah gah-SAHT-tah
...still water acqua non gassata AH-kwah noan gah-SAHT-tah wine vino rosso VEE-noh ROH-so
...white wine vino bianco VEE-noh bee-YAHN-koh birra BEER-a
Check, please Il conto, per favore eel COAN-toh pair fah-VOAR-eh
Is service included? É incluso il servizio? ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo
Venice links & resources

Share this page

Intrepid Travel 25% off


Culinary tours

Useful links
Train tix

Shortcuts to popular planning sections:

Airfares, Cars, Trains, Tours, Packages, Cruises, Lodging, Itineraries, Info, Packing, Prep, Comm

Follow ReidsItaly
Follow ReidsItaly on Twitter  Join the ReidsItaly fan page  Follow Reids Italy Adventures blog