The search for the perfect restaurant in Italy

The restaurant hunt, Italy, Italy (Photo by Roberto Trombetta)

Tips for finding great restaurants in Italy

Here are some helpful tips as you go about the business of choosing your daily eats: 

Look for places that are crowded 

This is the simplest but most important rule. If people are staying away, there's a reason. 

Look in your guidebooks—or not

We travel writers go to great trouble and indigestion to sample a wide range of local restaurants in search of the best and most interesting places.

Read the restaurant reviews carefully and try a few that sound right up your gastronomic alley, but don't feel that you have to patronize only those joints. Poke around to find your own undiscovered gem of a trattoria. 

Get advice from your friends

I've eaten some of my best meals on the advice of fellow travelers who've already scoped out a city. Word of mouth is a great way to find memorable meals. 

Ask locals

Taxi drivers, the person from whom you buy postcards, and anybody with whom you strike up an acquaintance are all good people to ask for advice on where to eat, but hotel concierges sometimes are not.

Some of them strike quid pro quo agreements with a nearby joint—it may indeed be a good restaurant, but there's no guarantee. 

Look for places full of locals, not visitors

If an eatery seems to be entirely tourist-ridden, don't even bother. If the locals steer clear, there's usually a good reason.

For years, a smiling bald man has been standing on a sidewalk across the street and just down from the entrance to the Vatican Museums in Rome, waving a menu to attract tourists to the restaurant behind him. The place is usually crowded, but I've never seen an Italian in there—one look at the slop they're serving tells me why. 

Be wary of restaurants in popular sightseeing areas

There may be perfectly fine restaurants and even great little bistros right near a major sight. But the parts of town most frequented by visitors also inevitably draw the largest proportion of low-quality joints—those that pander to out-of-towners by serving bland, uninventive versions of the local cuisine (like that place I mentioned across from the Vatican). 

Case several places before choosing

Look inside to gauge the clientele and read the menus posted outside to compare prices and offerings. 

Look for the menus without English

The sign "We Speak English" should read "We fleece tourists." Good restaurants don't have to play on visitors' fears of the language to drum up business.

This is far from a hard and fast rule—even in smallish towns with any tourism, nearly every restaurant will have copies of their menus in English (or a menu with everything translated, sometimes into four languages). However, often the place that advertises its multilingual menus is after passing tourist trade, not the locals.

Restaurants with un-translated menus will be better, or at least more authentic, than a place with each dish translated. Although those menu translations may be helpful (and can save you from having to furtively consult your phrase book), they are not necessary. In most Italian restaurants these days, at least one person speaks a smidgen of English.

If not, in a pinch you can set aside pride and decorum and make do with barnyard noises. Point to a dish, raise your eyebrows, and cluck like a chicken. The waiter will usually catch on and say something like, "No, No. Baa-aa-aa-aa."

Now at least you know that one's lamb.

Find the place with no sign, no menu

Tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurants with no menu at all or one on a chalkboard will often treat you to the greatest and most authentic food you'll ever find. It'll just be you, eight tables, maman in the kitchen, a passel of neighborhood regulars watching the soccer match on television, wine from the family estate, and heaping portions of hearty, home-cooked, utterly incredible local food.

Use the internet 

Notice I put this advice after all the other ways to find a great eatery. That's because I'd trust locals, guidebooks, and your friends that went before you before I'd trust the advice on the internet (and yes, I realize that sounds a bit odd from a guy offering advice on the internet).

Just keep in mind: take all random, crowdsourced advice with a grain of salt—heck, an entire shaker of salt. More people log on to complain than to proclaim satisfaction, skewing many aggregate reviews to the negative. Plus, the vast majority of crowdsourced reviews are done by amateurs.

Nothing wrong with amateurs, except that, by definition, they don't really know what they're talking about. They might wax rhapsodic about a pizzeria because they happened to have a good pizza there, whereas a professional travel writer and food critic knows all that goes into the perfect Italian pizza, and what's more has sampled far more than he ever wanted to at a dozen or more pizzeria in this town along and so can tell you exactly which places actually do serve the best pizza.

Culinary Tours

Culinary tours links


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

You will notice that all restaurants (and sights and hotels) on this site have a 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 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 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

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.).