Italy is the country of good food, and anyone who disagrees is either acting in bad faith or has fallen into one of the traps of modern dining, which we will help you avoid in this article. We do so with honest pleasure because for us Italians, producing, serving, and consuming good food is a source of pride and a national treasure.
In the past, it was genuinely challenging to find a disappointing restaurant, no matter the region or country we were visiting. The best cuisine in the world is that of our grandmothers and mothers, and when it transitioned from Italian homes to family-run restaurants, it was a wonderful, authentic, and special moment.
Today, things have changed a bit: in the name of modernity, economy, and development, some restaurants have lost their identity, their menus have become sterile and standardized, and the love for good food is a distant memory.
But do not despair, for every mediocre establishment, there are at least three with excellent qualities; you just need to know how to recognize them. In this article, we will give you some tips for finding and choosing them.
Where to Look
A rule that applies somewhat universally, including Italy, is not to linger in the most touristy places. Opting for a plate of bigoli in Piazza San Marco in Venice or an amatriciana in Piazza Navona in Rome is certainly not a winning choice. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find a good restaurant near major landmarks in our art cities, but it is undoubtedly more challenging, and the value for money will likely be worse.
In my experience, the best restaurants in terms of quality-price ratio, with the most authentic and genuine cuisine, can be found in small provincial towns outside the major cities. However, if you don’t have a car or simply don’t want to travel too far, your attention should still be on neighborhoods halfway between the historic center and the outskirts. Look for streets with a high concentration of local establishments, but away from the typical tourist routes in front of major monuments.
Every big city has areas like these, such as Trastevere in Rome or San Frediano in Florence. Neighborhoods close enough to the city center to reach on foot but far enough to avoid the most common tourist paths.
Trattoria and Osteria
Although not an absolute rule, the two types of restaurants known as Trattoria and Osteria generally identify simple establishments with high authenticity, menus based on local ingredients, and a good value for money. Pay attention; this doesn’t mean that the term guarantees quality, but it usually indicates a good level of cuisine, certainly very traditional, without reaching too high prices.
As mentioned, there are exceptions, both negative and positive. For instance, one of Italy’s most renowned and exclusive Michelin-starred restaurants, with three Michelin stars, is Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana.
In my opinion, the menu offered is the most discriminating factor when choosing a restaurant. A good restaurant almost always offers a limited and often focused menu centered around a particular type of dish. In my experience, restaurants that try to satisfy every type of customer, offering everything from pasta to pizza, from meat to fish, end up with mediocre cuisine across the board. It’s definitely better to opt for a place that does a few things but does them well.
Another fundamental factor is the authenticity of the dishes offered. In Italy, each region, and even each city, has its own typical recipes, and those are what we should look for on a menu. The best pizza I’ve ever had was in Campania, the best Spaghetti alla Carrettiera in Rome, and the best Cappelletti in Brodo in Romagna. These are not just stereotypes; if a dish originated in a place, it’s much more likely to be well-prepared there.
The last point, but no less important, is the locality and seasonality of the ingredients. Local and seasonal ingredients are typically fresher, tastier, and healthier. Look for seafood restaurants in coastal areas, porcini mushrooms in autumn and spring, zucchini flowers in batter in summer, and strawberries from March to June, to name a few examples.
Ultimately, even we Italians take a look at reviews. Using classic platforms like Google or TripAdvisor can be helpful, but it’s often better to read two or three of the latest reviews rather than relying solely on the average rating. If recent visitors have had terrible experiences, even if the overall average is high, it could be an indicator of recent management changes or a decline in service.
Furthermore, reading textual reviews often allows us to pick up on specific details that make a difference, such as “excellent food, but the staff was very rude” or “great pizza, but the pasta and main courses were disappointing.”
In conclusion, choosing a good restaurant at an appropriate price is not a trivial task, even in Italy. However, with a few small precautions, the probability of finding the right place is much higher.
In any case, it’s essential to remember that no matter how precise or lucky you might be, there’s only one place where sitting down at the table will truly feel like you’ve drawn the joker from the deck, and that’s at the home of one of our mothers or grandmothers who, with their personal versions of our famous recipes, have been cultivating what is not just an art but a true mission for hundreds of years: the cuisine of good food.