The call of la dolce vita brings millions of visitors to Italy each year, ready to explore the country’s rich art and history, the thriving wine and food culture, stunning scenery and more. Enjoying Italy is as much about the broad, bucket list items (glimpsing Venice on the horizon as you speed across the lagoon from the airport) as it is the smaller details (enjoying the hustle-bustle of Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori with its stacks of fresh produce and flowers).
Sightseeing is often an all-day agenda when visiting Italy, and you'll need plenty of fortification to stay on the move. Whether you're hungry or thirsty, in the mood for fine dining and the world’s best wine lists or just want a quick bite and a refreshing local quaff, our editors have the right spot for you.
Reading the Signs
Before picking a spot to eat, familiarize yourself with the different styles of dining establishments to find the experience you want.
Ristorantes: Expect a formal restaurant with printed menus and solicitous service. Wine lists tend to be longer.
Trattorias: These are more relaxed and often family-run. Sometimes the menu is written on a board or simply recited.
Osterias: Traditionally places where men would drink wine, play cards and maybe have a panino or a plate of cheese and salumi, today these often make food to order, too. Some ascend to restaurant service.
Enotecas: Originally tasting rooms where you could try wines before you buy a bottle, the term now more commonly applies to wine bars. Some have food; some do not.—Owen Dugan
Any visitor’s itinerary when visiting Rome will involve a lot of walking in the city’s historic center, an endeavor that requires tasty refueling. Despite a multitude of dining destinations, it can be hard to find a place that doesn’t scream “tourist trap.” At these three favorites, you won’t be dragged in by a streetside hawker, but rather greeted by a bustling staff serving high quality local fare and a good selection of wines.—Alison Napjus
Armando al Pantheon
Osteria Da Francesco
Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina
Near the center of Rome, the Testaccio neighborhood offers a taste of real Roman life along with a number of singular attractions, especially for food and wine lovers. The southeast corner is anchored by a pyramid dating to the 1st century BC. Next to it is the beautiful, quiet Protestant Cemetery, the final resting place of Keats and Shelly. Nearby Monte Testaccio is a grassy hill (visit by appointment) formed from a Roman era dumping ground of amphorae. Several restaurants are carved out of the hill; Flavio al Velavevodetto (ristorantevelavevodetto.com) is well-known for classic pastas, especially cacio e pepe, while a covered market boasts food stands next to clothing and houseware stalls. Fill up your picnic basket at the cheese, salumi and grocery destination Volpetti (volpetti.com), or grab a quick bite at its tavern around the corner.—O.D.
Where the Winemakers Go
Verona: Antica Bottega Del Vino
To find this Verona institution, look for the glass-in-hand party spilling out a doorway into a narrow side street. Established in 1890 and purchased by a group of Amarone producers in 2010, it caters to an enthusiastic crowd of locals and tourists alike, serving northeastern Italian dishes and wines from a Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning wine list.—A.N.
Piedmont: Osteria More e Macine, in La Morra
When I’m in Barolo and Barbaresco, I often run into vintners at the casual More e Macine in La Morra, where the extensive list of regional wine selections—chosen by owners Fabrizio Borgogno and Stefano Carbone—is accompanied by generous portions of local Piedmontese dishes.—Bruce Sanderson
Sicily: Cave Ox, in Solicchiata, Etna
This quaint osteria with a convivial atmosphere is located along Etna’s northern wine route. Enjoy robust pastas, pizzas and other local fare as well as an extensive wine list. Whenever I’ve visited here, owner Sandro Dibella has been happily socializing with regulars, including many area winemakers. But even newcomers are welcomed as part of the gang at this small-town hangout.—A.N.
Wine Lists at the Pinnacle
Part of the beauty of Italian wine is its incredible diversity, a quality on full display on the expansive wine lists of the country’s six Wine Spectator Grand Award winners. But alongside gracious service and delectable cuisine, these prize-winning tomes of anywhere from 2,500 to 4,500 selections, and up to 75,000 bottles in inventory, go well beyond Italy to explore the wide world of wine.—A.N.
Antica Bottega del Vino | Vicolo Scudo di Francia 3 Verona; (011) 39-0-45-80+390-4535; bottegavini.it
Enoteca Pinchiorri | 87 Via Ghibellina, Florence; (011) 39-0-55-263-1150; enotecapinchiorri.com
Il Poeta Contadino | Via Indipendenza 27, Alberobello; (011) 39-0-8+390-432-1917; ilpoetacontadino.it
La Ciau Del Tornavento | Piazza Baracco 7, Cuneo; (011) 39-0-17-363-8333; laciaudeltornavento.it
La Pergola | Via Cadlolo 101, Rome; (011) 39-0-63-509-2152; romecavalieri.com
Ristorante Cracco | Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan; (011) 39-0-28-767-74; ristorantecracco.it
Emilia-Romagna: Osteria Francescana, in Modena
Born in 1962 in Modena, a city in the Emilia-Romagna region, chef Massimo Bottura fostered a love of cooking from an early age, eventually opening his first restaurant, Osteria Francescana, there in 1995, having trained with pasta expert Lidia Cristoni and chefs Georges Coigny and Alain Ducasse. Bottura’s menu plays with the intersection of traditional and contemporary cuisine, often putting avant-garde twists on his family’s own recipes. Modern art and music are inseparably woven into the experience. Though his work quietly influenced Italian cuisine for years, Bottura only emerged on the global stage in the 2010s. Among his signature dishes, his “five ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano” features contrasting textures and temperatures that showcase variations of the cheese—and the genius of the chef.—Julie Harans
Piedmont: Piazza Duomo, Alba
When you’ve had vitello tonnato, tajarin and agnolotti del plin in their traditional preparations at the local trattorias, head to Piazza Duomo in Alba for chef Enrico Crippa’s creative Piedmontese cuisine (piazzaduomoalba.it). Don’t miss the Insalata 21…31…41…51, (the numbers refer to the greens and herbs in the salad), fresh from the chef’s garden. Owned by the Ceretto family, Piazza Duomo is a must-visit for both its fresh take on local ingredients and its wine list, a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner. Breadth and depth in Piedmont includes extensive selections back to Ceretto Barbaresco Asili 1974 as well as other top producers, such as Aldo Conterno, Giacomo Conterno, Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Mascarello, Capellano and Cavallotto. Or if it’s a Comtes Lafon Montrachet, Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St.-Jacques or Haut-Brion 1985 you want, they have those, too.—B.S.
Tuscany: Antica Macelleria Cecchini, in Panzano in Chianti
It took the larger-than-life-personality of Dario Cecchini to put this 250-year-old family butcher shop on the international map. Beginning with Cecchini’s 2001 funeral procession for the bistecca fiorentina during the mad cow blight, he’s been a passionate promoter of the ancient art of butchering and its inherent respect for the animals we eat. Try lunch or dinner at one of Dario’s associated restaurants to enjoy his favorite cuts prepared just right.—A.N.
In historic Verona, the home of Romeo and Juliet, a virtual hole in the wall on a side street just off Piazza Erbe serves up some of the best cocktails in town. Locals and visitors mingle at Archivio, where you can get a classic Negroni or one of the many hand-crafted versions mixed by owners Raffaele and Tommy. “Our drink list changes every three months or so, and drinks are never repeated, with the exception of one drink that has stayed there since the beginning: our Asian Mule,” says Raffaele. “It’s made with gin, pine liqueur from Piemonte, our own ginger syrup, lime and matcha. This is, for sure, our best-seller.” The pair also created their own vermouth, Volume Primo, which is available in the U.S.—B.S.
Casual Fare and Snacks
The Venetian tradition of cicchetti elevates snack time to new heights. These small plates of anything and everything, from olives to calamari to small sandwiches, are best paired with a small glass of wine. It’s a quick pick-me-up that can sometimes turn into a full meal at places such as Cantine del Vino già Schiavi in Venice’s Dorsoduro area. Squeeze through the jovial crowd, select your wine from the many by-the-glass offerings and head to the counter to order—via a lot of pointing as you try to be heard. Then, grab your small plates and glass of wine and settle on the nearby steps of the San Trovaso bridge. When your first round is consumed, lather, rinse and repeat.—A.N.
Pizza Rivalry: Rome vs. Naples
Roman pizza uses oil in the dough so that it can be stretched a little thinner for a crispier crust. The pies tend to be large and oblong. You point to where you want it sliced, and they cut and weigh it to price it.
When in Rome:
Bonci Pizzarium | bonci.it
Neapolitan pizza is round and served whole, with a knife and fork. Beyond the famous places, we like two less-known destinations that are especially mindful—and sometimes even imaginative—about ingredients.
With more than a dozen locations throughout Italy, Signorvino is a good retail source for bottlings from regions up and down the boot, including new releases as well as reserve selections from older vintages. Each location has an eatery serving salumi, salads, pasta and more, frequented by native Italians as well as tourists. For an al fresco meal with one of the best views of the Ponte Vecchio, reserve a table on the terrace of Signorvino in Florence. Find other locations at www.signorvino.com/it/wine-store.—A.N.
Gas Station Sandwiches
It’s not that everything is better in Italy, it’s just that the things that are better are so much better. Take the food available at highway rest stops, for example. Even Italians will tell you that it’s pretty good. Autogrill, the dominant chain, offers reliable panini that they toast to order. And better coffee than I’ve found on I-95. —O.D.