When friends ask us to recommend a good Italian restaurant outside of Italy, we always share our golden rule: if the name of the restaurant is too easy to understand to non Italian speakers, then chances are it’s a marketing gimmick.
‘Familia’ it’s not Italian no matter how many pictures of Tuscany and Italian grandmothers are stuck on its walls! Bella Italia with all the Italian paraphernalia is way too tacky of a name for a good restaurant. If the owner did not even try to spell it right or choose a meaningful Italian name, what are the chances he has a clue about Italian cuisine? Truth to be told, Italians should have been a bit more marketing oriented and copyright all their specialties! And by the way, in Italy we don't have an Italian cuisine, each region and city has its own delicious food. The specialties of Bologna could not been more different from the typical cuisine of Palermo!
‘Il Buco’ one of my favorite Italian restaurants in NYC is an excellent example of an authentic, Umbrian restaurant. It is called ‘Il Buco’ (The Hole) because it is rather small.
Food in Italy is generally good but if you stick to our advice you will enjoy quality that meets the very high local standards. As a general rule, a good restaurant has no need to display food on the sidewalk or have waiters trying to seduce passersby. Restaurants conveniently located in front of major tourist attractions often focus more on location than food and their menu can be plain or mediocre. Instead, follow the 'glamorous' Italian employees on lunch break and discover the best and cheapest Italian delis or trattorie.
A good trattoria might looks shabby with paper on the tables and no menu, but don't get discouraged, if it is crowded, it is where you want to be. Take "Er Filettaro" in Rome, the place has not been updated since the 60's yet their juicy cod filets coated with a crispy deep fried 'pastella' are to die for, and you can dine outdoor in one of the cutest little piazza!
The name of a good restaurant often means something cherished by the owner. One of my favorite restaurant in Rome is ‘Al Ragno D’Oro” - the golden spider - a popular lucky charm in Roman tradition.
Good restaurants with a long standing tradition are called with the name of the owner followed by the location “Otello alla Concordia”, “Alfredo all'Augusteo” - sounds familiar? Yet, the real 'fettuccine all'Alfredo' are nothing like the cheap market sauce available everywhere in the world!
Other times, restaurant are called by the owner's nickname: “Coco Lezzone” (filthy cook), “Il Troia” (the messy one). Some are called in local dialect: "Sa Gardiga Su Schironi" a delicious seafood restaurant near Cagliari (Sardinia) it's worth a trip!
Sometimes, restaurants are only known by their nickname, the real name being just a legal entity. A clear example is "L’Obitorio" (The Morgue) – its real name is Trattoria Ai Marmi but locals call it L’Obitorio. Its marble tables remind the clientele of the welcoming decor at the morgue. Romans have a macabre sense of humor sometimes…yet pizza at L'Obitorio is thin, crispy, delicious...!
On the cheap side, an excellent way to enjoy the best local food is to stop at the various pizza-by-the-pound places in Rome and South of the Roman border.
Pizza is a Neapolitan tradition so don’t expect to get a decent one in Florence. Florentines they have their own specialties and pizza is not one of them.
In Florence, stop at 'i baroccini
' (food carts) and enjoy the authentic 'panino con lampredotto
' (tripe sandwich), 'polenta fritta'
(fried grit) or finocchiona
(a famous salami made with fennel seeds).
A line in front of the pizza place is a sure sign that your mouth can start watering.
For example, at
” in Piazza Campo De’ Fiori in Rome, it never takes less than 10 minutes to order. A bite to the crispy, 'pizza rossa
' is worth all the wait!.
’ spots in Venice offer a delicious alternative to a full meal: small sample dishes of Venetian specialties, the Italian version of Tapas.
Just follow the gondoliers...
PS - Any clue about the specialties are featured here? Carciofi alla Giudia/Artichokes the Jewish way, Fritto Misto di Pesce /Fried Seafood and Suppli' al Telefono/deep fried rice balls with mozzarella inside...is your mouth watering?