Let’s be honest, the idea of eating Italian food in Italy is part of the reason you booked your trip, right? It’s certainly one of the reasons I keep returning to the boot shaped country. Which is why I was so supremely disappointed when I got to Venice and for the first time in all of my visits to Italy, I found bad food.
Wait? What? There’s bad food in Italy?
I’m afraid so and it seems almost exclusively found in Venice. Before you click off, disgusted with me, Venice and life as a whole, hang on. You can find good food in Venice – I’ve written this post so I can share with you my list of the best restaurants in Venice.
But first I wanted to set your expectations: Venice’s food scene is hit and miss. This surprised me. I’d spent many trips elsewhere in Italy swanning into any old eatery and taking for granted that the food would be good; because it was. Sadly, that’s not the case in Venice.
Why? My best guess is three factors:
- Venice is a city of tourists – Venice has millions of visitors each year yet fewer than 60,000 locals. With little repeat business, it becomes easy to serve bad food and get away with it;
- Prices are high and elevate expectations – I don’t know about you but if I’m paying up to €30 for a plate of pasta, when I can pay about half that in Rome, I’m expecting something special. Usually what is served doesn’t justify the price. ‘Side order of disappointment, please.’
- Most tourists don’t know what to order – food is hyper regional in Italy. For pizza, go to Naples. For Carbonara, you want Rome. Florence for steak. Venice too has a cuisine all of its own (more on typical Venetian food below).
That doesn’t mean there isn’t good food in Venice. There is, you just have to work a bit harder for it. Of course, you want to know the best places to eat in Venice but it’s also good to understand what to eat in Venice.
Planning a trip to Venice? Check out my guide – 45 Amazing Things To Do In Venice – Italy
In this post, I’ve put together a list of the best restaurants in Venice. I’ve done it by category so you can find everything from the best cafes, Michelin star restaurants and cheap eats.
Food typically shapes my daily sightseeing so I’ve put these eateries in the broad order that you might visit them so you know where to eat in Venice as you go through your day. But hey, if you want to have a Prosecco for breakfast, just skip to the end and work backwards.
Best cafes in Venice
Caffè Florian is an institution in Venice. Open since 1720 and with a prime spot in St Mark’s Square, I can see them temptation to stop here and many tourists do. The only thing I would caution is check you’re happy with the prices first. At around €10 for a coffee and a mandatory fee over €6 per person if the live music is playing, focus on the fact that you’re paying not just for the coffee but also for the experience. Food is available if you want to get the most out of your music fee. Tip from a local: if you want to visit but want to spend a lot, stand at the counter inside and pay €2 for an espresso just like the locals.
Ai Do Leoni – I love this place because it offers a quick, cheap stand-at-the-counter espresso in St Mark’s Square for €1.50. Full of Italians.
Caffe del Dogge – another coffee institution, Caffé del Dogge is also a roasting house, located about five minutes from Rialto Market.
Pasticceria dal Mas oh so many choices but I’m going to suggest this one. It’s been going since 1906 and it was good enough I went back more than once. They serve a very good espresso, too.
Venice travel tip: Did you know that there is a whole etiquette of dos and don’ts when it comes to ordering coffee in Italy. Want the low down? Check out my post: How to Order Coffee in Italy
What about breakfast in Venice? Italians don’t tend to linger over breakfast in Venice (or anywhere in Italy). Typically, Venetian breakfast is a pastry standing up at the counter of one of the many cafes in Venice. With an espresso or two, of course. You can do the same seated; just know that most cafes serving a sit down breakfast in Venice are aiming at the tourist market, so set your food expectations accordingly. Personally, I do what the locals do – chomp down some pastry and save my self for a grand lunch.
Best lunch and cheap eats
It tend to mix up lunches and dinners when I travel. Some days, I grab a quick bite or snack on produce from the local market then have a long dinner. Other days, I sit down and scoff a multi-course lunch with wine and go light on my dinner. My point: check out the sections on the best dinner in Venice, fresh food markets, chicchetti and cheap eats for more inspiration.
Al Merca – oh, the Italians are going to wage a war on me but I’m putting this chicchetti place under best lunch in Venice because the chicchetti here are like tiny sandwiches and if you get a couple, it makes for a very tasty lunch. There’s no seating but you can stand at the counter with a glass of wine or because the place is so close to Rialto Bridge, sit on the canal banks and enjoy your casual al fresco picnic. Frequented by the gondola ‘drivers/sailers/steerers(?)’ – if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. Al Merca also has an osteria with seating if you want something more formal.
Bar Al Campanile – I was late for a tour which is the only reason I stumbled across this gem just round the corner from St Mark’s Square. For under €10 (cheap in Venice, I assure you), I grabbed a piadina stuffed with cheese and spinach. Piadina if you don’t know is a popular lunch option in northern Italy. It’s a cross between bread and a pastry, stuffed and served hot, not too dissimilar to a panini but more delicious (IMO). It’s the picture above.
What you don’t see is what happened next – walking through St Mark’s Square, scoffing it down, a seagull swooped in and took a beak-sized bite. While I was scrambling to pick up my sunglasses that the attacker had knocked to the floor (it really was quite violent), he took his chance and swooped the rest of it out of my hand. I’m pretty sure this is all uploaded on YouTube by one do the many tourists filming my shame.
Osteria Ai Promessi Sposi – fish or seafood pasta for under €15 and it tasted darn good. I dined at this place at lunchtime on one of my large lunch days. It’s a traditional restaurant with an ever-changing menu of the day. Located in Cannareggio.
Best fresh food market
Tip: if you’re on a budget, be aware that most Venetian restaurants add a cover charge to your bill. It’s typically a couple of euros but can be more if you’re close to a famous landmark. Check the menu, the cover charge should be listed. On the plus side, you often get a basket of bread thrown in for ‘free’.
Rialto Market: The Rialto market is old – 11th century old, testament alone to how good it is. Located under Venice’s famous Rialto bridge, you’ll find the freshest fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese in the city.
Mercato del Pesche There is also a fish market neighbouring the Rialto market. Admittedly, you’ll need a kitchen to be able to enjoy most of the offerings but it’s worth a wander.
The markets are open daily except Sunday. It closes at 1 p.m. so go before (or for) lunch.
Aliani Casa del Parmigiano – more of a deli than a market but that doesn’t make the produce any less delicious. Mostly you’ll find cheese and meats in this delicatessen that’s been in business for over 80 years.
Chicchetteria Venexiana Da Luca e Fred – this is one I researched and it seemed to pop up on every list of best restaurants in Venice. It was also recommended to me by my Venice food tour guide as a place I had to come back to. I was therefore expecting a tourist venue stuffed with visitors but it couldn’t have been more different. Locals lined the bar and I was actually able to get a table where I could settle in for a while. Even better? The food was just as good as the guide books promised.
Bacaro Risorto – I don’t know that this bar is necessarily better than all the others but I found it by my usual getting lost and I liked that there were no tourists here. The prices were good, the food and drinks were perfect and the service friendly.
All’Arco – another chiccetti place that wins the trifecta of good food, price and location. It’s another mainly locals haunt and I’m surprised because this place is heavily recommended in most Venice blog posts and guide books.
What is the meaning of chicchetti? If you skipped it, see the section on Venetian food above where I explain all.
Best dinner and osteria
Feel free to try some of these restaurants and osterias for lunch. Often you’ll find fewer people and some places may offer a lunch menu special. In this section, I focus on simple, local eateries. There’s suggestions for fine dining below.
Osteria N1 – I was taken here by a local on a Venice food tour and it didn’t disappoint. A delicious plate of seafood risotto, I easily could have stayed for several courses. Here’s the Venice food tour I took if you want a local to take you on a multi-restaurant eating tour through the city. I’d highly recommend it.
Cantina Do Spade – open since 1448 (the year, not the time), I went here for lunch and really wished I had time to visit for dinner too. A dark wood, cantina that serves up dishes that look far more impressive than you’d expect from a cantina. Expect traditional Venetian food.
Osteria Ae Botti This is not your average Osteria – the food served is close to art. Located on Giudecca island, I love eating on the other side of the lagoon from St Mark’s Square because it makes for a great post-dinner stroll with views of Venice lying before you.
Trattoria Da Gigio – This trattoria served up some venetian classics. I ate a delicious plate of liver here. Apologies if that makes you want to vomit but if you do want to taste what the locals eat, this is as good a place as any to do it.
What is an osteria? What the flipperty-jig is an osteria anyway? Basically, it’s a simple restaurant. They’re usually family run and less expensive than more formal restaurants. Osteria are my favourite restaurants in Italy because they tend to serve simple food with good flavours. Personally, I’m not after a ravioli stuffed with an exotic animal, covered in vivid foam and served with a waft of dry ice.
What is a trattoria and what is a cantina? Technically, trattoria means tavern and cantina is usually a bar, commonly in a cellar. However, I wouldn’t take these translations too literally. In the same way bar, pub, tavern and watering-hole have become interchangeable, so have many of the different descriptions of Italy’s eateries. Check out the website – that’s the best way to get a feel for what style of dining is on offer at the various restaurants.
How do I tell you this? Venice is possibly the worst place for pizza in all of Italy. I know, I suspect you’re getting fed up with me and my doldrums by now. But it’s not my fault – wood fired ovens (the thing that makes Italy’s crisp base pizzas so famous), are banned here. It’s because the city is made from a lot of wood and the government is worried it will burn to the ground, which is fair enough. What to do if you’re craving pizza? Don’t despair, there is a loop-hole (love a pizza loop-hole): some of the city’s oldest restaurant still have some pizza ovens from before the rule came into place. This list is based on local recommendations. Let me know if you go and find good pizza in any of these.
Pizza all’anfora – cosy for dinner but also with a garden and outdoor dining area if you want to enjoy pizza for lunch in the open air.
Rosso pomodoro – this pizzaeria is not only near St Mark’s Square, it’s popular enough it has sister restaurants in nearly 10 other countries around the world.
Pizzeria Barbato – fair warning, this pizzeria is not in Venice but it’s only an hour away. Located in Follina in the middle of the Prosecco Hills, I’ve included it here because it’s the best napoli pizza you’re going to get without going to Naples. You can find out more about how to get there on my Prosecco blog.
Osteria Bentigoi– this was a follow-your-nose find. It was late, I was tired and I’d been walking for about 30 minutes sniffing the air for some hint of someone cooking something tasty. Finally, I found it, complete with a cute patio. Spaghetti al vongole and a beautiful glass of white wine later and I was purring as content as a kitty. This Osteria is simple and had very good prices for Venice (my bill was under €20).
As you know, pasta isn’t really Venetian food but t can be hard to resist.
Best Michelin Star restaurants in Venice
I’ve dined in more than my fair share of Michelin star restaurants. Here are some of the best in Venice.
Glam Enrico Bartolini – located in Palazzo Venart Hotel, the setting is as glorious as the food looks. With 2 Michelin stars and the ability to migrate upstairs afterwards for a post-dinner sleep, this is the perfect option if you’re celebrating a special occasion.
Osteria da Fiore – with one Michelin star, you might want to start here if it’s your first foray into Michelin star dining. Expect simpler (though still Michelin stylised) food and possibly lower prices.
Zanze XVI – just to be clear, this restaurant does not have a Michelin star. Yet. But it certainly looks like it has designs on it. This new restaurant has an excellent priced tasting menu.
Let’s take a second to understand Italy’s drinking style. Sure, you’ll find late night bars like any city but Italians tends to enjoy drinks with food whether that’s with dinner or the famous aperitivo, enjoyed with antipasti. I’ve explained what is aperitivo above. These bars focus on places to get your aperitivo. If you’re searching for the best happy hour in Venice, be aware, happy hour isn’t really a thing in Venice and if you see it, it’s aimed at tourists with either high prices or low quality drinks; most likely both. Instead, head to a bar, order an aperitivo and enjoy.
Harry’s Bar – I feel compelled to include Harry’s Bar because it’s where the Bellini was invented is on almost every list of things to do in Venice. I share my view on Harry’s Bar in my Venice blog post. In short, I’m not a fan but don’t let that stop you. Try the Bellini or try a Negroni. If you need to deplete your cash quickly, try both, then have another round.
Bacareto Da Lele – this is a bar usually packed with locals and students. The drinks are wonderfully affordable and there is plenty of chicchetti to choose from. It’s close to the station if you’re en route somewhere else or great for one more drink if you’re back in Venice after a day of wine tasting in the nearby Prosecco region.
Best wine bars
Enoteca Al Prosecco – if you want to taste high-quality wines and maybe learn a thing or two along the way, head to Al Prosecco. You’re going to get much better quality wine here than you will in most other places in the city and it’s one of the best places for Prosecco in Venice. Close to the train station.
What is Venetian food and drink?
The first thing to do when you hit Venice is adjust your expectations. This is a city of rice and seafood and polenta. Sure, you can find pizza and pasta but because they’re not the local flavours, they’re not going to be as tasty as you’ll get if you do eat Venetian food. You’ll find this again and again in the Tripadvisor reviews of Venice restaurants: ‘worst lasagna in Italy.’, ‘terrible pizza’. Reason: it’s not Venetian food. If you want to have the best experience, eat what the locals eat. Here are a few of the most commonly found Venetian dishes.
Chicchetti – more of a food style than a dish, chicchetti is Venetian tapas, small bites eaten before dinner, usually with a spritz, Prosecco or glass of wine. Typically, you’ll get small slices of white bread topped with all things divine: fish, meat, vegetables, or cheese. I love snacks and I love wine so this, for me is the best food in Venice.
Baccala mantecato – dried cod blended with olive oil, salt and usually garlic, this creamy fish is commonly found on top of bread for chicchetti or in other forms of antipasti.
Sarde in saor – another antipasti, this dish is sardines cooked in onions and balsamic vinegar. Think: pickled fish.
Polenta e schie – tiny shrimp from the lagoon served on a bed of polenta. Expect flavours of lemon, olive oil and pepper. Simple but delicious.
Risi e bici – rice and peas sounds a bit basic but the Italians cook these simple ingredients like no other country can. It’s got more liquid than a risotto and way more flavour than it sounds.
Bigoli in salsa – if you want to try a local pasta dish, this is the one. Bigoli is fatter than your average spaghetti and the salsa is a blend of onions and anchovies rather than a thick tomato sauce.
Fegato alla venezia – if you can’t stand the ideas of eating liver, you’re excused – feel free to move along. If offal is in your eating repertoire like it is in mine, you’re going to love this Italian version served with onions and polenta.
Sepe al nero – you’re on your own with this one. I’ve tried it and it wasn’t for me but I’ll attempt to describe it objectively. Slimey fish..wait, that’s not objective…local cuttlefish from the Venice lagoon, cooked in its black ink with a strong fish flavour usually served as a risotto or with pasta or polenta. It’s worth ordering for the picture. Maybe try one between your group rather than everyone having their own dish.
What’s the difference between antipato, antipasti and chicchetti? The answer: there isn’t any difference. Antipasti is the name of the first course of food eaten in Italy, usually small bites. Chicchetti is one type of antipasti, usually bits of bread with various toppings. As for antipasti versus antipasto, antipasti is plural (lots of pieces of food) and antipasto is singular (one piece of food).
What’s aperitivo? Very simply, it’s a drink before dinner designed to whet your appetite. Popular options are Aperol spritz (Aperol – orange bitters similar to Campari – Prosecco, a dash of soda water and a wedge of orange); a glass of Prosecco; a cocktail or a glass of wine. Aperitivo is usually enjoyed between 7 pm and 9 pm along with some chicchetti (antipasti). It’s one of the purest pleasures in Italy.
Did you know? The region where Prosecco is made is just one hour from Venice and can be reached easily by train. I have a whole blog dedicated to visiting the region and going wine tasting there. You can check it out here: Visit Prosecco Italy.
What’s the Best area for food in Venice?
Hands down my favourite area for food in Venice is Canareggio. This is where the locals go and if you find yourself in Venice without this list, at least scratch down Canareggio (in blood/with a tattoo if you need to) and make your way to this area. It’s about a 20 minute walk from St Mark’s Square. Here you stand the best chance of walking into a restaurant and finding good Venice food. It’s where the locals tend to eat. Several of my suggestions for the best places to eat in Venice will be in Canareggio. But don’t worry, I cover other areas too.
Well, that list should have you stuffed to the gills. I’d be interested to know how you get on dining at these restaurants in Venice. Let me know in the comments below. Happy dining.
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