While touristy restaurants are the norm in Venice, you can still make the most of your meal by dining at one of my recommended listings and following these tips. First trick: Walk away from triple-language menus or laminated pictures of food. Second trick: For freshness, eat fish. (But remember that seafood can be sold by weight—per 100 grams or etto—rather than a set price.) Many seafood dishes are the catch of the day. Third trick: Eat later. A place may feel touristy at 19:00, but if you come back at 21:00, it can be filled with locals. Tourists eat barbarically early, which is fine with the restaurants because they fill tables that would otherwise be used only once in an evening.
I rank restaurants from $ budget to $$$$ splurge. For general advice on eating in Italy, including details on ordering, dining, and tipping in restaurants, where to find budget meals, picnicking help, and Italian cuisine and beverages—including wine, see page <?>.
NEAR THE RIALTO BRIDGE
North of the Bridge
These restaurants and wine bars are located near or beyond Campo Santi Apostoli, on or near the Strada Nova, the main drag going from Rialto toward the train station.
$$$ Taverna al Remer is a creative place with its own private square overlooking the Grand Canal (across from the Rialto Market). Its restaurant seating is deep in an old, candlelit warehouse, and its happy-hour “yard” offers a chance to sit on their private pier and enjoy the Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge action (free light buffet accompanying drinks, 17:30-19:00). They also offer a good lunch buffet (€20, Mon-Fri 12:00-15:00), regular dinner menu (19:00-22:30) and live music after 21:00 (daily, Sat dinner seatings only at 19:30 & 21:30, reservations smart, Cannaregio 5701, tel. 041-522-8789, www.alremer.it, [email protected]). From Campo San Bartolomeo, head north (behind the statue) and cross one bridge. Then, just past the pink church (San Giovanni Crisostomo), about 10 yards before the next bridge, venture down the tiny dark lane on the left.
$$$ Trattoria da Bepi, bright and alpine-paneled, feels like a classic, where Loris carries on his mother’s passion for good, traditional Venetian cuisine. Ask for the seasonal specialties: The seafood appetizer plate and crab dishes are excellent. There’s good seating inside and out. If you trust Loris, you’ll walk away with a wonderful dining memory (Fri-Wed 12:00-14:30 & 19:00-22:00, closed Thu, reservations recommended, half a block off Campo Santi Apostoli on Salizada Pistor, Cannaregio 4550, tel. 041-528-5031, www.dabepi.it).
$$$ La Cantina is a rustic yet sophisticated enoteca—you won’t find a menu here. Rather than cook (there’s no kitchen), they serve cicchetti and gourmet cold plates of meat, cheese, and fish. Though short on smiles and expensive (meat-and-cheese plates-€18/person, seafood plates-€35/person), you’ll enjoy good ingredients paired with fine wines. You can sit inside and watch the preparation scene or enjoy the parade of passersby from great seats right on the Strada Nova (Mon-Sat 11:00-22:00, closed Sun, facing Campo San Felice on Strada Nova near Ca’ d’Oro, Cannaregio 3689, tel. 041-522-8258).
$$$$ Vini da Gigio, a more expensive option, has a traditional Venetian menu and a classy but unsnooty setting that’s a pleasant mix of traditional and contemporary (Wed-Sun 12:00-14:30 & 19:00-22:30, closed Mon-Tue, 4 blocks from Ca’ d’Oro vaporetto stop on Fondamenta San Felice, behind the church on Campo San Felice, Cannaregio 3628a, tel. 041-528-5140, www.vinidagigio.com).
$ Rosticceria Gislon is a cheap—if confusing—self-service diner. This throwback budget eatery—kind of an Italian Mel’s Diner—has a surly staff: Don’t take it personally. Notice that the different counters serve up different types of food—pastas, secondi, fried goodies, and so on. You can get it to go, grab one of the few tiny tables, or munch at the bar—but I’d skip their upper-floor restaurant option (great fried mozzarella al prosciutto, fruit salad, cheap glasses of wine, prices listed on wall behind counter, no cover and no service charge, daily 9:00-21:30, San Marco 5424, tel. 041-522-3569). To find it, imagine the statue on Campo San Bartolomeo walks backward 20 yards, turns left, and goes under a passageway. Follow him.
$$ Osteria al Portego is a small and popular neighborhood eatery near Campo San Lio. Carlo serves good meals, bargain-priced house wine, and excellent €1-3 cicchetti—best enjoyed early, around 18:00. The cicchetti here can make a great meal, but consider sitting down for a dinner from their menu. From 12:00-14:30 & 17:30-21:30, their six tables are reserved for those ordering from the menu; the cicchetti are picked over by 21:00. Reserve ahead if you want a table (daily 11:30-15:00 & 17:30-22:00, on Calle de la Malvasia, Castello 6015, tel. 041-522-9038, Federica). From Rosticceria Gislon (listed above), continue over a bridge to Campo San Lio, turn left, and follow Calle Carminati straight 50 yards over another bridge.
$$ Osteria da Alberto, up near Campo Santa Maria Novo, is one of my standbys. They offer up excellent daily specials: seafood dishes, pastas, and a good house wine in a woody and characteristic interior. It’s smart to reserve at night—I’d request a table in front (daily 12:00-15:00 & 18:30-22:30; on Calle Larga Giacinto Gallina, midway between Campo Santi Apostoli and Campo San Zanipolo/Santi Giovanni e Paolo, and next to Ponte de la Panada bridge, Cannaregio 5401; tel. 041-523-8153, www.osteriadaalberto.it, run by Graziano and Giovanni).
East of the Rialto Bridge
The next few places hide away in the twisty lanes between the Rialto Bridge and Campo Santa Maria Formosa. Osteria da Alberto is a tad farther north of the others, in Cannaregio.
Even more so than the rest of Italy, Venetian cuisine relies heavily on fish, shellfish, risotto, and polenta. Along with the usual pizza-and-pasta fare, here are some typical foods you’ll encounter. For more on Italian food, including salumi and cheeses, see here.
- Panini: Sandwiches made with rustic bread, filled with meat, vegetables, and cheese, served cold or toasted (riscaldato).
- Piadini: Flatbread or wrap-like sandwiches.
- Tramezzini: Sandwiches served cold and stuffed with filling (like egg, tuna, or shrimp), mixed with mayonnaise.
- Cicchetti: Finger-food appetizers sold in some pubs.
- Antipasto di mare: Marinated mix of fish and shellfish served chilled.
- Asiago cheese: A regional specialty, this cow’s-milk cheese is either mezzano (young/creamy) or stravecchio (aged/pungent).
- Sarde in saor: Sardines marinated with onions.
Risi (Rice), Pasta, and Polenta
- Bigoli in salsa: Long, fat, whole-wheat noodle in anchovy sauce.
- Pasta alla buzzara: Pasta in a rich seafood-tomato sauce, generally with shrimp.
- Pasta al pomodoro: Pasta in a simple tomato sauce.
- Pasta al vongole: Pasta with clams.
- Pasta e fagioli: Bean-and-pasta soup.
- Polenta: Thick cornmeal porridge served soft or cut into firm slabs and grilled.
- Risi e bisi: Rice and peas.
- Risotto: Short-grain rice simmered in broth and flavored with seafood, meat, or veggies. Risotto nero is made with squid and its ink.
Frutti di Mare (Seafood)
Venetian fish are generally smaller than American salmon and trout (think sardines and anchovies). The weirder the seafood (eel, octopus, frogfish), the more local it is.
- Baccalà: Atlantic salt cod that’s rehydrated and served with polenta; or chopped up and mixed with mayonnaise as a topping for cicchetti (appetizers), called baccalà mantecato.
- Branzino: Sea bass, grilled and served whole.
- Calamari: Squid, often cut into rings and deep-fried or marinated.
- Cozze: Mussels, often steamed in an herb broth with tomato.
- Gamberi: Shrimp: gamberetti are small, and gamberoni are large.
- Moleche col pien: Fried soft-shell crabs.
- Orata: Sea bream (usually farmed).
- Pesce fritto misto: Deep-fried seafood (often calamari and prawns).
- Pesce spada: Swordfish.
- Rombo: Turbot, a flatfish similar to flounder.
- Rospo: Frogfish, a small marine fish.
- Salmone: Salmon (typically farm-raised).
- Seppia: Cuttlefish, a squid-like creature. Seppia al nero is the squid served in its own ink, often over spaghetti. It’s sweet and tender when grilled (grigliata or alla griglia).
- Sogliola: Sole, served poached or oven-roasted.
- Vitello di mare: “Sea veal,” like swordfish—firm, mild, and grilled.
- Vongole: Clams, often steamed with fresh herbs and wine, or served as spaghetti alle vongole.
- Zuppa di pesce: Seafood stew.
Rather than order dessert in a restaurant, I like to stroll with a cup or cone of gelato from one of Venice’s popular gelaterie. Cookies are also popular. The numerous varieties are due perhaps to Venice’s position in trade (spices) and love of celebrations. Many treats were created for feast days and religious holidays.
- Bisse: Seahorse-shaped cookies.
- Bussola: Ring-shaped cookies made for Easter.
- Croccante: Toasted almond confection, similar to peanut brittle.
- Fritole: Tiny doughnuts associated with Carnevale (Mardi Gras).
- Pinza: Rustic cornmeal and wheat-flour cake filled with dried fruit; made for Epiphany, January 6.
- Tiramisù: Spongy ladyfingers soaked in coffee and Marsala, layered with mascarpone cheese and bitter chocolate.
Cocktails and Local Wines
- Amarone: Rich and intense red, made from dried Valpolicella grapes that yield a wine high in alcohol—often around 15 percent.
- Bardolino: Beaujolais-like wine made from Valpolicella grapes.
- Bellini: Cocktail of prosecco and white-peach puree (invented at the pricey Harry’s American Bar near St. Mark’s Square).
- Fragolino: A sweet, slightly fizzy dessert wine made from a strawberry-flavored grape.
- Prosecco: Sparkling white wine. Connoisseurs say the best hails from Valdobbiadene.
- Recioto: Sweet dessert wine made with dried, aged Valpolicella grapes.
- Sgroppino: Traditional after-dinner drink of squeezed lemon juice, lemon gelato, and vodka.
- Soave: Crisp, dry white wine, great with seafood. “Soave Classico” designates a higher quality.
- Spritz: White wine and soda or prosecco mixed with Campari (bitter) or Aperol (sweeter), over ice.
- Tiziano: Grape juice and prosecco.
- Valpolicella: Light, dry, fruity red wine, often served as the vino della casa (house wine).