Italian Lakes Restaurants
20 Piazza Calderini
Torri del Benaco
Tel: 39 045 722 5411
Annalisa and Giuseppe Lorenzini oversee this classic lakeside restaurant and inn located in a 1452 palazzo (Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Winston Churchill, and King Juan Carlos I have all spent the night). Despite this illustrious background, the indoor dining room is unspectacular, so be sure to request a table on the long terrace. The sweeping view is of the seafront promenade lined with medieval buildings and the town's 14th-century castle just across a tiny harbor bobbing with fishing boats. The menu is very northern Italian, with some international influences. The specialty is humble chub turned into a lemon and thyme–scented roulade. Other standouts include wild salmon marinated with smoked duck and lentils, fresh ricotta gnocchi with white truffles, and veal nuggets and sweetbreads grilled on a spear of cinnamon.
Open daily 7 to 10 pm, May through mid-September; open Wednesdays through Mondays 7 to 10 pm, mid-September through October and mid-March through May.
5 Piazza Venezia
Tel: 39 0331 976 507
Il Sole has become a temple of Italian haute cuisine, with the presentation and prices that go along with it. The cuisine is based on regional specialties plus ancient recipes, such as the Lasagna del Sole, made with multicolored pasta, scampi, and a Sauternes (sweet wine) sauce. Run by the Brovelli family since 1850, the current chefs Carlo Brovelli and his son Davide also offer fresh seasonal fare: artichokes in the spring, eggplant in the summer, and the catch of the day, whether perch or lake trout, throughout the seasons. Dinner reservations are essential.
Open Mondays 7:30 to 10 pm, Wednesdays through Sundays 12:30 to 2 pm and 7:30 to 10 pm.
Tel: 39 0344 55 083
Lunch at the remarkable Locanda dell'Isola Comacina is literally a trip. The only access to this uninhabited Lake Como island is by boat from Sala Comacina, and the meal combines a rustic feast with a delightfully hokey homespun floor show. You might think you have had enough after the eight antipasti, grilled trout, sautéed chicken, cheese, dessert, brandied coffee, and all the wine and water you can drink. But that's when owner Benvenuto Puricelli deploys brandy and coffee while recounting a well-worn history of the island in the "exorcism of fire," a choreographed ritual designed to expiate a curse put on the island by a 12th-century bishop of Como. True, the set-price menu is a bit steep for what you get, but the experience is worth it.
Open Wednesdays through Mondays noon to 2 pm and 7 to 9:30 pm from March through May and September through October, daily noon to 2 pm and 7 to 9:30 pm from June through August.
33 Via A. M. Bolongaro
Tel: 39 0323 30 453
Like all lakeside tourist towns, Stresa is littered with passable pizzerias and bland restaurants cranking out the "greatest hits" of Italian specialties for the masses. The Osteria degli Amici is decidedly neither sort of place. Make no mistake: It still serves pizza. But the pizza comes from a wood-fired oven and is topped with such mouthwatering combinations as porcini and lake perch or arugula and gamberetti. The restaurant also does a roaring business in such tried-and-true Italian favorites as sirloin steak with rosemary, grilled fish, broiled perch under slivered almonds, and a hearty casserole of pasta crêpes folded with ham and cheese from the nearby Valle d'Aosta region. But the restaurant's commitment to fresh ingredients and traditional recipes helps ensure that even simple dishes are done to perfection, and tellingly, as many locals as tourists pack into the delightfully boisterous trio of cozy rooms. If you book early enough, you can even snag a seat on the pocket-size patio shaded by vines.
Open Thursdays through Tuesdays noon to 2:30 pm and 7 pm to midnight.
13 Salita Mella
Tel: 39 031 951 389
Bellagio is the most popular resort on the most popular lake, which makes its lack of truly superlative restaurants doubly surprising. Luckily, this cozy corner joint tucked into the heart of the historic center offers a solid meal in festive surroundings. Even though the restaurant is steps from the port, the menu steers clear of seafood and focuses more on seasonal ingredients: risotto with pistachios and hazelnuts, ravioli stuffed with goat cheese in a pear sauce, or the more traditional rosemary-scented roasted lamb.
Open noon to 2:30 pm and 7 to 10 pm, late April through October.
18 Via Roma
Tel: 39 0322 983 228
Nestled in the tiny village of Soriso, five miles south of Orta San Giulio, Al Sorriso is spelled with a double "r" because sorriso means "smile" in Italian. And gourmets have reason to grin, since this is one of the few restaurants in Italy with three Michelin stars (it's also one of Italy's most expensive). Chef Luisa Valazza changes her menu to make use of the freshest local ingredients, in dishes like ravioli with goat cheese filling, or crostini with polenta, onions, roses, foie gras, and pomegranate seeds. The dining room is just as over-the-top, with silver, crystal, candlelight, and mirrors with gilt botanical prints.
Open Wednesdays through Sundays ; closed for three weeks in late January.
8 Via Maestri Comacini
Tel: 39 031 264 042
There's nothing fancy about this homey trattoria under an arcade beside Como's cathedral, and that's pretty much the point. The only hints of pretension are the playbills and actors' autographed photos carpeting the walls, a sign of the restaurant's popularity with the casts, crews, and post-show crowd from the Teatro Sociale next door. They all come for the home cooking. The set menu includes four pastas, four meats, and a side to choose from. Just don't order the fish, which (curiously, given the restaurant's location mere blocks from the lake) is frozen.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays noon to 2:30 pm and 7 to 10:15 pm, September through July.
11 Via Gippini
Orta San Giulio
Tel: 39 0322 911 977
Everyone needs a break from Italian food once in a while, and the international cuisine at the San Rocco fits the bill. Start with the smoked Scottish salmon or "Paris style" escargots before moving on to veal filets drizzled with white truffle sauce and gnocchi with walnuts and Gorgonzola (in Italy, even pointedly multicultural menus pay homage to regional specialties). If you can handle it, the hazelnut parfait with Gianduia chocolate sauce makes a fine finish. The restaurant, with picture-window views of the lake and its island, shares its 17th-century convent and quiet stone cloisters with the four-star, 85-room Hotel San Rocco. Worn modular furnishings and a decor focused on pinks and peaches make the rooms look a bit outdated, but the external scenery is the draw here—splurge on a room with a lake view and be sure to request air conditioning if you're traveling in summer.
Open daily 12:30 to 2 pm and 7:30 to 10 pm.
1 Piazzale Vecchia Lugana
Tel: 39 030 919 012
For three decades, the Ambrosi family ran Lake Garda's best restaurant in this converted 16th-century farmhouse at the base of the Sirmione peninsula. They closed up shop in 2004 but reopened in 2007 with Pierantonio Ambrosi in the kitchen, just as it should be. The cuisine is a delightfully inventive take on local ingredients: a classic terrine of eels; a soup of lake fish stewed with cannellini beans; a rack of lamb with hazelnuts, artichokes, and coriander with a celeriac purée; and roasted red snapper in an onion fondue with saffron-tinged mussels. Be sure to leave room for Parmigiano mousse with green tomato marmalade or chocolate layered with citrus fruit and salted pistachios.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 12:30 to 2 pm and 7:30 to 10 pm, February through December.