There’s no shortage of restaurants in Venice but it’s easy to get trapped in one that caters exclusively to tourists who do not want to savor the true flavors of Italy. My criteria for a good restaurant in Italy are:
- it should have customers who are locals (and preferably who are regulars)
- it should not have a menu translated into five languages (ideally the menu should only be in Italian but in a place like Venice, which is devoted to the tourist trade, that’s the equivalent of commercial suicide)
- it shouldn’t serve large tour groups
It helps to ask people who live there or who go there all the time and love to eat well. I asked my Viennese friends, who had an apartment in Venice for several years (they sold it last year) for restaurant recommendations, and the list below includes their tips as well as some I have discovered myself.
Because of Venice’s location, seafood is a key element of local cuisine. The inland areas supply the grains such as polenta and rice for risotto, so those also appear in traditional Venetian cooking. Nevertheless, restaurants that serve food from other parts of Italy are popular. One of those appearing in the list below is a Sardinian restaurant called Pane Vino e San Daniele on the Campo dell’ Angelo Raffaele.
(1) Osteria alle Testiere: tiny osteria, nearly impossible to get a reservation but worth it. Their menu changes daily. The focus is seafood. On the menu you will find dishes such as antipasto misto di frutti di mare al vapor (antipasto of steamed shellfish), filetto di branzino (fillet of sea bass), spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams). Reservations are necessary.
(2) Acqua Pazza: one of the best places to dine outside under the stars, it is located in a large square called Campo Sant’ Angelo. Although it is quite touristy, there are enough Italian customers to keep them on their toes. Serves Neapolitan food. Expensive.
(3) Pane Vino e San Daniele on Campo dell’ Angelo Raffaele: another terrific place to dine under the stars, this one is low-key, inexpensive and much quieter than Acqua Pazza, but the food is Sardinian and very delicious. You must try two things: malloredus, a Sardinian “gnocchi” which is made from durum wheat semolina, not potatoes, served with tomato sauce and pecorino sardo (a hard sheep’s milk cheese like pecorino but much richer in flavor); and fregola, a Sardinian “couscous” cooked with peas.
(4) Osteria di Santa Marina (Campo Santa Marina: +39 (0)41 5285239): serves Venetian cuisine, specializing in fish and shellfish. They have a small garden for al fresco dining. Reservations are necessary.
(5) Osteria al Mascaron on Campo Santa Maria Formosa (+39 (0)41 5225995): several celebrities have been to this place (e.g. Anthony Bourdain) and I usually do not recommend celebrity-infested restaurants, but I will make an exception for this one because it does serve some of the very best Venetian cuisine (emphasis on seafood) in the city.
(6) Trattoria Dona Onesta: I found this place by accident. I was tired, hungry and a bit wet from the rain, but I wanted something simple and inexpensive. This restaurant served wonderful spaghetti al nero di sepia (spaghetti in squid ink) and
spaghetti alle vongole veraci (spaghetti with clams). Great for lunch or dinner.
(7) Vedova (Ca’ d’Oro) on Calle del Pistor (off the Strada Nova): favorite local “cicchetti” bar (the Venetian version of the tapas bar), very lively, inexpensive, delicious food.
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Need a hotel in Venice?
If you haven’t booked a room yet, make sure you check out my review of the wonderful Pensione Accademia, housed in a 17th century villa on a quiet side canal, and look at my list of favorite hotels in Venice.
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Travel guide to Venice
I posted a short travel guide to the city with tips on how to get around cheaply and efficiently, hidden corners, what to see, what to do, what to avoid.