Types of restaurants in Italy

A sampler platter of the different kinds of restaurants, cafes, trattorie, and other eateries you'll find in [[thisnat]

The generic word for restaurant in Italian is, conveniently enough, ristorante.

Thing is, just like in America where you might specify you want to go to a diner, a deli, a pizza parlor, or a Mickey D's, Italy has plenty of specialized words for particular types of places where one might find some nosh. 

Italy has many different types of dining establishments, which go down in price—but rarely in quality or authenticity—as they get less fancy and formal.

The top rung is called a ristorante, but plenty of more casual eateries abound, usually smaller and serving classic cooking like mama used to make—the kind of place to head on a nightly basis for filling, excellent, well-priced food and a homey, friendly atmosphere. Roughly in order of fanciness—from more refined to more rustic—they are the trattoria, the osteria (or hostaria), and the pizzeria (many of which will also offer a few simple pastas).

These designations aren't hard and fast. A fancy restaurant might call itself "osteria" to evoke a kind of quaintness, and a simple eatery might puff itself up by billing itself as a "ristorante."

Most cities also sport cafe-like places that serve hearty dishes; a tavola calda, (a "hot table" cafe selling prepared dishes by weight), rosticceria (basically a tavola calda with spit-roasted chickens in the window), pizza à taglio or pizza rustica (pizza by the slice), paninoteca (sandwich shop), and bar (serving booze, yes, but also the place for a coffee and croissant in the mornings, and sandwiches and other simple nosh throughout the day).

Eating establishments in Italy

Here's a handy glossary of different kinds of eateries and some other food-related terms you may come across in Italy.

  • Aperitivi / stuzzichini: Fabulous trend spreading across Italy (though it's been in Turin and Milan for a while now). In brief, in the late evening (usually around 7pm) many bars around town will lay out sumptuous spreads of free finger foods—canapés, cheeses and meats, fried things on sticks, sometimes pastries. Cruise to a few bars, enjoying a glass of wine and free nosh at each, and you won't even need dinner» more
  • Bar: An Italian bar, although it does indeed serve liquor, is more what we'd call a cafe. It's where workers pop in for their morning espresso and cornetto(croissant) or brioche (sweet roll) on the way to work, return for a cappuccino at the 10am break, and stop on their way home for a Campari-soda at the end of the work day (mmm, fizzy hair tonic). It's also where kids grab a gelato after school and, yes, where everyone gathers for a glass or wine or beer in the evenings. An Italian bar is also a great place to grab a cheap panino (flat roll stuffed with meat, cheese, and/or vegetables) or tramezzino (large triangular sandwiches on white bread with the crusts cut off—like giant tea sandwiches). Both come stuffed with fresh mozzarella and pomodori (tomatoes), prosciutto and provolone, or perhaps tonno (tuna).
  • Caffé: Pretty much just another name for a bar, though there may be more of an emphasis on the coffee, and on outdoor tables.
  • Gelateria: An Italian ice cream shop—though calling Italy's thick, creamy, flavorful frozen treat something as banal as "ice cream" is deeply insulting to gelato.
  • Osteria or hosteria: Usually an even simpler, down-home local's eatery than a trattoria—though sometimes fancy restaurants use the word to try and evoke a simple, trendy charm.
  • Paninoteca: Fancy way to say "sandwich shop." And by the way, since the term has gotten so popular in the U.S., some clarification: a single sandwich is called a "panino" (ends in an "o"). "Panini" (ends in an "i'") is the plural. Asking for "a panini" is like asking for "some spaghettis"—it just sounds dumb.
  • Ristorante: Restaurant. I know, obvious, right? But it's useful to to know that eateries which call themselves "ristorante" usually have pretensions to haute cuisine status—or at least high prices. This is in contrast to a (typically cheaper) trattoria or osteria. By far not a hard and fast rule—plenty of upscale places use the title "trattoria" to cash in on the presumed quaintness factor, and plenty of family-run joints call themselves "ristorante" to try and catch from cachet—but something to keep in mind.
  • Rosticceria: A tavola calda (see below) with some spitted chickens roasting in the window.
  • Pizzeria: A casual restaurants where you go to eat pizza. Again, pretty obvious, but here are a few Italian quirks. Traditional pizzerie are open only in the evenings, and they don't serve much beyond pizza. That said, many trattorie have slapped a pizza oven in the kitchen (largely to service the tourist trade, which expects pizza to be available everywhere), offering a wider variety of dining options—and many are open at lunch as well, which is why you'll see some restaurants proudly advertising "pizza anche à pranzo!" (pizza even at lunch!"). Oh, one more thing: all Italian pizzas are pizzas for one, You don't order a pizza to split, or to share with the table. Each person orders his or her own pizza, and while they are pretty large, they usually have ultra-thin crusts so it's not too hard to wolf an entire one down.
  • Pizza à taglio: Sometimes called pizza rustica (especially in Rome), this is a pizza-by-the-slice joint, tiny shops where they cut the pizza of your choice from big, steaming sheets and wrap it halfway up in waxed paper for easy carrying. Just point to the bubbling sheet with your preferred toppings behind the counter and hand over a couple euro. It's priced by weight, but they'll slice off however much what you hand them will cover. About €2 ($2) will get you a healthy portion. Some varieties to try: pizza margherita (tomato sauce, cheese, and basil), pizza con patate (with julienned potatoes, but no sauce), and pizza napolitana (with anchovies). Or go minimalist with pizza rossa (just the sauce) or pizza bianca (just the dough, brushed with olive oil and salt, sometimes with rosemary; exquisite).
  • Tavola calda: A very informal (and sometimes self-serve) eatery where you usually choose from a pre-prepared selection of hot dishes—like an olde worlde cafeteria. Great for a quick, light meal.
  • Brek: This chain of high-class cafeterias—where they cook each dish for you on the spot at prices that range mostly from €1 ($1) to €5 ($6)—has spread to 21 cities across the country, including Rome, Milan, Turin, Venice, Padova, and other popular tourist destinations. Find them at Brek.com.
  • Trattoria: Usually a traditional, family-run establishment that serves fresh pasta and other home-cooked food.


About the restaurant star ratings (☆☆☆ to ★★★)

You will notice that all restaurants (and sights and hotels) on this site have a ReidsItaly.com star designation from ☆☆☆ to ★★★.

This merely indicates that I feel these eateries offer a little something that makes them special (or extra-special, or extra-extra special, etc.).

These star ratings are entirely based on personal opinion, and have nothing to do with any official local restaurant ratings or grades.

In general, a pricier restaurant has to impress me that it is worth the added expense.

This is why I give ★★★ to some inexpensive eateries or sandwich shops that happen provide amazing value for the money—and similarly have ranked a few fancy but notable restaurants just ★★☆.

About the restaurant price brackets (€–€€€)

Here at ReidsItaly.com we simply provide a general price range indicating the general amount you should expect to pay for a full meal in the eatery.

Each eatery is rated into a price category, which indicates—very roughly—what you could expect to pay, per person, for a standard full meal: Three courses—primo (first course), secondo (main course), and contorno (side) or dolce (dessert)—plus something to drink.

There are three price ranges, giving you a sense of which restaurants are budget, which are moderate, and which are splurges:

under €15
€€ under €40
€€€ over €40
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for dining

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
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
...rare al sangue ahl SAN-gway
...medium rosato ro-ZA-to
...well done ben cotto ben KO-to
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
...red wine vino rosso VEE-noh ROH-so
...white wine vino bianco VEE-noh bee-YAHN-koh
...beer 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

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
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
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
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
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).

Culinary Tours