Fixed-price and tourist menus

Menu turistico, prezzo fisso, pranzo veloce—A fixed-price or set tourist menu may not be the best meal you could have at that restaurant, but it's certainly often the best budget option

Set menus of all types all follow a similar formula: a few courses, maybe a side dish, maybe, dessert, sometimes with single servings of wine, water, and an espresso at the end—and all for a single fixed price. The price for this meal can range anywhere from €5 (though that will probably be just a pizza and drink) to €25.

Some people will tell you that a "fixed-price menu" is more expensive with more options than a stripped-down "tourist menu." Whatever the restaurant calls them, meals at a set price are always cheaper (up to 30%) than ordering the same dishes à la carte.

The tradeoff? Your options are usually far more limited than if you ordered from the main menu. Shop around. Is your only choice four different pasta shapes in tomato sauce, or are there more inventive dishes available? Is beer or wine included, and how much—a glass or a half-liter? Is dessert or coffee included?

However, since sampling the food is every bit as important as the museums and monuments you visit when traveling, I'd say splurge on what hits your fancy or seems to be the local specialty, and leave the spaghetti and chicken cutlet until you get home.

Menu degustazione—Tasting menus

Another option, typically offered at nicer restaurants, is the menu degustazione (tasting menu), a multi-course sampling of some of the restaurant's specialties (or perhaps chef's specials not on the regular menu).

Though usually far pricier than a tourist menu—ranging anywhere from €25 up to €150 (though typically in the €40–€80 range)—these can be an excellent value, especially as they often cost at least slightly less than were you to order an item off of each course a la carte.

A menu degustazione may feature the kitchen's most creative dishes, or perhaps its best efforts at traditional cuisine (sometimes this is called the "menu tradizionale").

Some restaurants offer multiple variations as different menus, each with fanciful names. Some of my favorites are the ones offering not just dishes, but sampler platters of two or three of the kitchen's top dishes at each course.

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