2 Traversa Dragone
Tel: 39 089 871 840
Atrani is Amalfi's smaller and more modest next-door neighbor. One of its attractions is this ultra-authentic trattoria, which offers one of the best traditional seafood meals anywhere along this coast. All the tables are inside, but the thick walls and barrel-vaulted ceilings keep things cool except on the hottest days. There's no fancy stuff: The Proto brothers, who run the place, know that the best thing to do with a fish if it's fresh is to grill it, so secondi consist mostly of swordfish, or turbot, or pezzogna (spotted bream, a local variety) grilled to perfection. But many people never even get that far, distracted as they are by the abundant spread of antipasti (which might include lightly stewed baby octopus or zucchini flowers filled with sheep's cheese) and by tempting, succulent pasta dishes such as scialatielli 'a paranza (thick, handmade spaghetti with mussels, clams, prawns, and tomatoes). Service is informal but friendly, and the whole ambience feels grittily local.
Open daily July through mid-September; Wednesdays through Mondays end of September through June.
9 Piazza Augusto Imperatore
Tel: 39 06 322 6273
Mod, Conran-inspired 'Gusto—with its restaurant, pizzeria, and kitchenware shop—caused a sensation when it opened in 1998, but it's looking rather frayed around the edges these days. The wine bar, with its entrance out back in Via della Frezza, remains a lively place for an after-dinner drink. (However, the Web site's claim to offer 1,500 different labels is marred by the fact that the depleted cellars are probably out of your first three or so choices.) There's live jazz or soul some evenings, and you can soak up the wine with plates of cold cuts or cheese. 'Gusto's occupation of Piazza Augusto Imperatore continues with Tatì al 28, a bar, coffee shop, and bistro specializing in fish and vegetarian dishes.
Open daily 12:30 to 3:30 pm and 7:30 pm to midnight.
3r–7r Via dei Georgofili
Tel: 39 055 219 208
This daytime wine bar, hidden in a tiny lane between the Uffizi Gallery and the Ponte Vecchio, is a great spot for lunch after a morning spent overdosing on art. Owner Alessandro Frassica's forte is gourmet panini with ingredients like gorgonzola and radicchio, served inside focaccia baked in a wood-fired oven and accompanied with a glass of wine from a solid regional list. But 'Ino is also a high-class deli where you can buy top-quality artisanal food products from all over Italy, from Piedmontese sausages to Sicilian pistachios to the meltingly delicious fondant chocolate made by Florentine chocolatier Andrea Bianchini. Watch for the occasional Friday evening "panino d'autore" events, when a top chef is invited to create his or her own specialty riff on the humble panino.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 11 am to 8 pm, Sundays noon to 5 pm.
10 Corso Como
Tel: 36 02 653 531
Carla Sozzani's small retail, dining, and accommodations empire was the chicest address in town for a long time, and though it's pretty much relinquished its queen's crown and scepter, it's still a place first-time visitors should check out. Designed by American artist Kris Ruhs, the black-and-white dining room, which looks out on a plant-filled, Parisian-style courtyard, is full of the women who shop here for their Alice Temperley and Comme des Garçons, their cult cosmetics, their homewares, and (upstairs) their ambient soundtracks and photographic monographs. Women who, in short, don't eat. Yet the organic food is good, the risotto al salto (vegetable risotto pan-seared into a crusty cake) is sublime, and even the low-carb menu works. The real point of this café, though, is aperitivi: Come 6 p.m., it's a hot perch for your Negroni; ditto brunch on Sunday.
Closed Monday lunch.
15 Via Fratelli Bandiera
Taormina , Sicily
Tel: 39 094 224 408
No, you didn't have too much vino; those really are ancient Roman artifacts at your feet. One area of this popular local trattoria has a glass floor showcasing pottery shards unearthed during building construction. But they're just a diversion from the main event: chef Pippo Vinciguerra's hearty fare. Grab a romantic table in the outdoor courtyard, framed by leafy fruit trees and wall frescoes, and order the meatballs grilled in lemon leaves, a house specialty.
38 Corso Garibaldi
Tel: 39 089 261 606
Cetara is a fishing port in the true sense of the word: Rather than have a few gaily painted wooden boats pulled up onto the beach, this lively town east of Amalfi has a fleet of state-of-the-art trawlers that venture as far as the coast of Libya and use tracker planes to help spot the shoals. It also boasts a couple of seafood restaurants that are as good as—and much better value than—anything you are likely to find between Amalfi and Positano. Our favorite is Acqua Pazza (the name refers to a local technique of cooking fish in a court bouillon), a laid-back den down by the port where every meal becomes a sort of salon presided over by genial owner-chef Gennaro Marciante. Don't miss the delicate seafood antipasti or the linguine with colatura d'alici, a local anchovy sauce that is the direct descendant of the garum of the Ancient Romans. But don't turn up too early for dinner: Things don't really get underway here until after 9 pm.
Open daily June through August; closed Mondays September through May; closed December through January.
Via Stalingrado 150
Tel: 051 328 118
Fax: 051 320 535
This lesser-known gem located outside Bologna's city walls is worth the trek. Chef Massimo Poggi, considered to be one of Italy's promising young chefs, whips up creative versions of classic dishes. Specialties include tortellini with scampi, green lasagna, and chocolate hazelnut ice cream.
Campiello della Pescaria
Tel: 39 041 5223812
A recent visit confirmed that the civilized gourmet refuge of Cesare Benelli and his American wife, Diane, is a foodie treat to rival the better-known Da Fiore. In a quiet backstreet behind the lagoon-side esplanade of Riva degli Schiavoni, Al Covo has only a few outside tables—but in summer it's better in any case to take refuge from the sticky Venetian heat in the two intimate, air-conditioned inner rooms. Cesare's cooking has been Slow Food since before the movement was founded, relying on recherchéé ingredients like Bianca Piemontese beef or candied Ligurian chinotto (the bitter orange that gives Campari its flavor). Antipasti and primi piatti (for example, the tasty paccheri with a pesto of pistachio, eggplant, and marinated mussels) veer toward seafood, while main courses are equally divided between fish and meat. It's not exactly great value for money (count on burning around $100 a head in the evening), but Al Covo does offer one of the few truly fine meals in the lagoon city. And if you come at lunch—when the sometimes tense service tends to be more relaxed—you can save by opting for the four-course $55 tasting menu.
Open Fridays through Tuesdays 12:45 to 2:15 pm and 7:30 to 10 pm.
71 Contrada Montevicoli
Tel: 39 083 137 7104
Young Antonella Ricci shares her Michelin-starred kitchen with her mother, Dora, and her husband, Vinod Sokar. But with its long tables, copper lamps, and beams, this farmhouse-style restaurant comes on more rootsy than snooty. The culinary style is half suited to the surroundings and half aiming for something less povera: soufflé omelets with mint or spinach, ricotta-stuffed zucchini-flower fritters, grilled skewer of suckling kid, sausage and chicken livers with green salad Afterward, take your espresso (or grappa) in the garden and contemplate the stone building with a conical roof, known as a trulli.
Open Wednesdays through Monday afternoons.
51 Via Santa Caterina
Tel: 39 051 585 111
This serious neighborhood osteria, not far from the Porta Saragozza town gate, celebrates the humble pig in all its gastronomic guises, from Parma ham aged for 30 months to gramigna con salsiccia (curly pasta shapes in tomato and sausage sauce). Host Daniele Minarelli is a highly knowledgeable gourmet and wine buff, and it pays to follow his prompts. The tortellini in chicken broth is exquisite; among the secondi try the cotoletta alla Bolognesea huge veal cutlet fried in breadcrumbs, then wrapped in thin slices of ham and coated in melted parmesan. They also serve an excellent Bolognese dessert called torta di riso, a moist rice cake flavored with crumbled amaretti biscuits, candied fruit, almonds, and lemon peel. This place is well known on the city's foodie circuit and it only seats 24, so book ahead.
Open Tuesdays through Sunday afternoons.
5482 San Marco
Calle della Bissa
Tel: 39 041 520 9775
Campo San Bartolomeo is fast being overtaken by the Rialto market area as the city's nightlife hub, but this busy little bacaro tucked just off the square has stayed popular. Come aperitivo hour, you'll have a hard time elbowing your way to the barrel-shaped bar (botte means barrel), but once there, you can choose from 30-odd wines by the glass. You can also sample the excellent cicchetti and feast on Venetian staples like tagliolini with scallops or ink-stewed cuttlefish with polenta. Allow around $40 without wine for two courses.
Open Mondays through Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays noon to 3:30 pm and 7 to 10:30 pm, Sundays 7 to 10:30 pm.
Tel: 39 041 528 7719
The Giudecca is a strange island, with a jolly resident community of tough old boat builders and dreadlocked types seemingly untouched by the tourism of Venice proper (it's actually just a quick vaporetto ride away). Like any small Italian community, this one has its favorite bars, where residents banter over morning coffee or evening aperitivi. Alla Palanca would be just that—a lively neighborhood bar—except for the fact that it happens to serve one of the best lunches around. At midday, the canal-side tables fill with diners enjoying simple, traditional dishes like squid-ink risotto, spaghetti with mixed seafood, and whatever fresh fish is being thrown on the grill that day. It's good home cooking, at prices that are difficult to beat anywhere else in Venice.
Open Mondays through Saturdays noon to 2:30 pm and 7 to 9 pm.
16r Via del Proconsolo
Tel: 39 055 240 618
Since its move in 2005 to the 14th-century Palazzo dell'Arte dei Giudici e Notai, next to the Duomo, Alle Murate has been as much a museum as a restaurant. That's not to say the food's bad; the mouthwatering menu anchors its creativity in a mix of Tuscan and southern Italian influences, so a soup of chickpeas and flaked cod (a typical dish from Basilicata) might be followed by an all-Tuscan number like braised Chianina beef in Brunello wine sauce. But the culinary experience is lent weight by the extraordinary surroundings—the meeting hall of the city's medieval guild of magistrates and public notaries, decorated with recently restored frescoes of famous Florentine heroes, soldiers, and poets, including the earliest known portrait of Dante. The wine list is encyclopedic, though it's a little short on cheaper bottles.
Evenings only. Closed Mondays.
Calle del Mondo Novo
Tel: 39 041 522 7220
Nabbing one of the eight tables at this tiny, cramped restaurant near the Santa Maria Formosa church is a major coup; despite a few recent negative reviews (by no means confirmed by our own experience), these are still some of the most sought-after seats in Venice. And there's good reason: Chef Bruno Gavagnin's aromatic, boldly flavored cooking puts a new spin on some favorite Venetian recipes. Gnocchetti are served with baby squid and perfumed with cinnamon; prawns are sautéed in lime and ginger; and the pasta alle vongole, instead of the usual plate of pasta and clams, is actually is a dish of delicious caparossoli clams with a little pasta thrown in, almost as an afterthought. Out front, sommelier Luca di Vita gives details about the short but select wine list.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 12:30 to 2 pm and 7 to 9:30 pm.
Fondamenta della Sensa
Tel: 39 041 720 744
Set far from the tourist hordes, in the north of the city, this small, relaxed, family-run bacaro is a favorite among locals. The menu of simply yet elegantly prepared primi includes a wonderful bigoli in salsa (fat spaghetti in anchovy sauce) and an aromatic tagliatelle with prawns and zucchini flowers. True to its name (anice stellato means "star anise"), the restaurant does interesting things with spices, too: Giant sardines are cooked with lemon and ginger, and baked salmon comes with potatoes tossed with a mix of pungent herbs. Weather permitting, grab a table on the lovely Fondamenta della Sensa and watch the boats drift by.
Open Wednesdays through Sundays 12:15 to 2 pm and 7:30 to 10 pm.
2168 San Polo
Campo San Polo
Tel: 39 041 275 0570
Pizza isn't Venice's thing, so you'll find nothing in the lagoon city to match the pizzerie of Rome or Naples. But this contemporary space on airy Campo San Polo is as good as you'll find here and has a warm, welcoming vibe even if you're dining with unruly young children. Besides pizza, there are interesting salads, a selection of pasta courses, and absolutely no fish…though a little meat sneaks onto the menu. In good weather, tables spread out into the square.
Open daily noon to 2:30 pm and 7 to 10:30 pm.
159 Corso Umberto I
Ragusa , Sicily
Tel: 39 0932 941 225
This amazing sweet shop and museum, tucked into a 19th-century building, is where serious chocolate-lovers get their fix. Since 1880, the Bonajuto family has been crafting chocolate confections from secret recipes that the Spaniards brought to Ragusa centuries ago. Don't leave without a bar of their special Aztec cinnamon chocolate, some almond nougat, or a half-moon empanadilla of meat and chocolate.
58 Via Alessandro Paternostro
Palermo , Sicily
Tel: 39 091 320 264
Open since 1834, this absurdly picturesque place—with its Juliet balconies, blooming window boxes, and frescoed, stained-glass facade—has wisely hitched its wagon to the Slow Food movement. (Founded in Italy, this school of thought advocates sustainable farming; local, seasonal ingredients; and minimally processed food.) Consequently, both the indoor dining room serving ready-made pastas and contorni (vegetable side dishes), and the covered terrace serving wood-fired pizzas, are excellent bets. The eatery's most famous dish is milza—focaccia stuffed with fresh ricotta, grated parmesan, and sautéed veal spleen—and, yes, it is delicious. If you're too full for dessert, get something to go from the bakery counter; the selection of cakes and artisanal breads is divine.
7 Piazzale Aurelio
Tel: 39 06 581 5274
The "Old Arch" on the Gianicolo hill above Trastevere has established itself as a reference point for Roman gourmets who want to eat well without breaking the bank. "Creative Italian cuisine" is an overused term, but that is exactly what chef Patrizia Mattei offers in dishes like tonnarelli with gray mullet bottarga, wild fennel, and breadcrumbs, or duck breast in vin santo sauce with stewed cannellini beans. The recipes are based on the kind of roots-y local ingredients an Italian grandma might use, but in combinations that Nonna would never attempt. The menu changes according to the season, but even in winter, lightness is a key word, with plenty of vegetables and herbs. Main courses go beyond the usual binary meat-or-fish option to embrace game (rabbit, pheasant, guinea fowl), and a small selection of side dishes (such as grilled vegetables with Piedmontese Toma cheese) can easily take the place of a secondo. There's no outside space, but the air-conditioned interior, fresh from a 2007 makeover in tones of white, cream, and dark chocolate, balances seriousness and friendly intimacy, as does the generally excellent service. Wine is another forte: If you're unsure what to order, ask knowledgeable sommelier Domenico for advice. Be sure to book at least a day in advance.
Open daily 6 pm to 11:30 pm.
27/29 Via di Voltaia nel Corso
Tel: 39 0578 758 615
Perfect for a light lunch, tea, or just a rest stop after trekking through Montepulciano, the historic Art Nouveau café, with its balcony overlooking the Val di Chiana, has been a favorite of those with a discerning eye, from Luigi Pirandello to Federico Fellini.
3 Piazza XXIV Maggio
Tel: 39 0522 626 124
Okay, I admit it: The name scared me a little. "Arnaldo Clinica Gastronomica"—gastronomic clinic? After molecular, now there's medical cuisine? I pictured waitresses dressed as nurses, food served on hospital trays, or, worse, dishes concocted purely for their curative properties and never mind what they taste like. But more than one food-savvy Italian friend had recommended the place as a perfect stop for lunch along my planned route between Bologna and Parma, so I got out my insurance card and stepped through the door into a warm, traditionally furnished place full of brick and wood, flowers both real and straw, and friezes of mythological beasts around the tops of the walls. Not a gurney in sight. But plenty of serving carts—big, no-nonsense ones—laden with salads and vegetables, antipasti, meats both boiled (like capon) and roasted (pork in Barolo). Everything but pasta is served from these conveyances, in fact. One holds an exquisite prosciutto di Parma, a mortadella as thick as a tree trunk, and some serious-looking salami, as well as non-meat treats like erbazzone, a spinach tart from nearby Reggio Emilia. Another cart has a garden's worth of salads and cold vegetables. Yet another has desserts. It's all traditional and local and very, very good. But why "clinica"? When it opened in the 1960s, Arnaldo became a favorite eating place for doctors and nurses from the main clinic in nearby Modena, and the name was adopted in their honor.—Colman Andrews, first published on Gourmet.com
Open Mondays 8 to 11 pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays noon to 2:30 pm and 8 to 11 pm.
50 Via XX Settembre
Colle di Val d'Elsa
Tel: 39 0577 920 549
You can catch two pigeons with one bean—as the Italian expression goes—by booking a table chez Arnolfo. First it will allow you to discover picturesque Colle Alta, one of the most overlooked historic towns in Tuscany. The restaurant itself (your second pigeon) perches on the edge of the old town, with views over a steep wooded valley that can be enjoyed from a panoramic terrace on summer evenings. Inside, the small Baccarat chandeliers and discreet splashes of contemporary art hit a note of lush urban elegance. The menu changes seasonally, but could include a starter of white and green asparagus served in a series of variations—the fat, white Bassano asparagus immersed in an egg-white foam, with an asparagus tempura arriving as a mid-course surprise; or scampi in balsamic vinegar with a scallop of foie gras (Arnolfo swims against the tide in inland Tuscany with its good selection of seafood dishes—though meat and game feature too). Desserts, such as the frozen chocolate soufflé with mint gelatin, are equally impressive. And the service is a pleasure to watch. The huge wine list has some amazing vintages.
Closed Tuesdays, Wednesdays, six weeks from mid-January to the end of February, as well as the last week in July and the first week in August.
The market at the northwestern foot of the Rialto Bridge throbs in the morning as crowds of homemakers and restaurateurs fight to nab the freshest produce. Recently, a crop of good restaurants has turned the neighborhood into an evening destination, too. One of these, Do Mori, has actually been serving ombre and cicchetti beneath its ceiling of hanging copper pots for centuries. But it's newcomers like Bancogiro and Naranzaria—both dim, tastefully cluttered bacari with small groups of tables overlooking the Grand Canal—that put the area on the modern-day nightlife map. The slightly fancier Naranzaria specializes in wine from the owner's Friulian vineyards, coupled with the unique Veneto-Asian fusion cuisine of Japanese chef Akira. Bancogiro's defiantly pasta-free menu may include turbot fillet with pumpkin and rosemary or king prawns with local artichokes. The nearby Muro has a sleek, minimalist aesthetic and draws a chic design-y crowd to its downstairs bar before and after dinner. Upstairs, the chefs have no qualms about overturning Venetian traditions to combine pasta with angler fish and licorice, or to create a smoked sturgeon salad with zucchini and coriander. (The lunch menu is lighter on the wallet.) To knock back a spritz (the classic Venetian aperitivo of white wine, soda water, and Campari) in a congenial setting, Bar Mercà (also known as Al Marcà) is a friendly hole-in-the-wall serving wine and panini.
18 Via Fuorlovado
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 0181
Currently the place to be seen eating (or picking at a few lettuce leaves) on Capri, this 120-year-old family-run restaurant had a design makeover in 2006. The old-fashioned trattoria decor has been replaced by a warm, urban minimalism that plays on dark brown and cream hues, with soft lighting and an ambient soundtrack. The owners, the D'Alessio family, greet major and minor celebrities like old friends, leaving nonentities like us to the waiters, but that's par for the course on Capri, and the service is, in fact, extremely professional. Aurora's nip and tuck has not carried through into the menu, which offers decent renditions of Caprese standards such as spaghetti alle vongole, grilled fish of various species, and specialty thin-crust pizzas.
Closed November through April.
22r Via San Giuseppe
Tel: 39 055 241 773
This stylish trattoria on a street alongside the art-filled Santa Croce is the first Florentine project of dynamic expatriate Scottish hotelier and restaurateur David Gardner. Baldovino has been going for years (since 1995, to be precise), but a winter 2010–11 makeover freshened up its chic bistro-style decor and creative Tuscan menu without changing the focus on value that makes it a perennial favorite for locals and visitors. Pizza from a wood-fired oven is a strong point—try the pesto variety—but Baldovino covers most bases, from substantial salads to pasta dishes to luscious bistecca alla Fiorentina. The wine list is excellent and the mark-ups reasonable. Next door, at number 20r, Baldobar serves coffee, pastries, wine, and Tuscan snacks all day, while at number 18r there's another Gardner enterprise, wine bar Enoteca La Botte.—Lee Marshall
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 7 to 11 pm.
Via Emilia Levante 111
Tel: 051 546 110
Visiting gourmets and locals rave about the fresh local cuisine that has earned this popular dining spot a Michelin star. Housed in a wedge-shaped building outside the city (but worth the trip), the restaurant has operated as a trattoria since 1834. The main room has an arched ceiling, windows, and wood beams; a smaller, more intimate dining area is paneled with dark wood and features a skylight and wall paintings. Specialties include tortellini filled with herbs and hazelnut butter, turbot with crisp artichokes, and a wine list with more than 400 names. The vegetarian and tasting menus are also outstanding.
35 Via Longano
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 0723
Situated on the ruins of the ancient Greek walls of old-town Capri, this bright and cheery café just off the Piazzetta serves good grilled fish, pasta, and authentic high-rise Neapolitan pizzas. It also has an extensive wine list that won't break the bank.
Closed Mondays and December.
3 Via della Cervia
Tel: 39 0583 55 881
At first glance, this historic buca in Lucca's centro storico looks like a parody of an Italian trattoria, with copper pots and whole prosciutti hanging from the ceiling—but it's actually one of the city's most sophisticated and successful restaurants, boasting excellent service and an unparalleled wine list. Meat-filled tortelli Lucchesi, breast of guinea hen with sweet Muscat grapes, and baby goat on the spit with herbs are staples of the menu. In colder months, try a wonderful country soup called frantoiana (olive press), made with Lucca's renowned extra-virgin olive oil, or an equally good zuppa alla garafagnina, a soup of spelt and vegetables. Among the filling desserts, the caramelized fruit with chestnut gelato stands out. The only downside is the fact that dishes sometimes arrive with unseemly haste—so fast that one seriously doubts they've had time to prepare them all from scratch.
Closed Sunday evenings and Mondays.
44 Piazza Navona
Tel: 39 06 6819 2998
Hats off to this new café-restaurant, which is attempting to bring quality catering to touristy Piazza Navona—noted until now both for the beauty of its Baroque architecture and the uninspiring, overpriced food served by the clip joints that line it. As befits this most scenic of piazzas, seating is mostly outside, with overhead heaters making it a viable option year-round. The menu, created by Emiliano Pascucci, sous-chef to Heinz Beck at the stellar La Pergola, mixes lighter, more creative fare (raw shrimp marinated in ginger and lime) with traditional Roman dishes such as spaghetti all'amatriciana—with tomato, pancetta, onion, and pecorino cheese—or veal saltimbocca, prosciutto-filled veal rolls. But this is also a good place for a morning cappuccino or an evening aperitivo. Service is efficient and multilingual.
Open daily 9:30 am to midnight.
125 Corso Vittorio Emanuele
Noto , Sicily
Tel: 39 0931 835 013
Foodies travel for miles to get a forkful of this tiny pasticceria's cassata (ricotta cake with marzipan) or homemade almond-milk ice cream. Calorie counters should stay away from this shop, located in the Baroque town of Noto, which was rebuilt after Siracusa's 1693 earthquake. It's hard to leave without trying everything, including the sesame crunch and candied fruit.
Closed Mondays, except in August.
105 Via Alloro
Palermo , Sicily
Tel: 39 091 610 1147
Near Quattro Canti and behind Piazza Marina is this delightfully intimate medieval cave of a place—the best spot in the city to sample from Sicilian wine cellars. Young proprietor Gianfranco Cammarata pours exceptional wines from tiny producers, including many you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere other than the vineyards themselves. Food tends to be simple but well-sourced platters of salumi and pâtés—and dark chocolate for the red-wine drinkers.
3 Piazza degli Antinori
Tel: 39 055 235 9827
One of the best of Florence's "branded" wine bars, this outlet for the Antinori wine estate, in the family's palazzo on the fashion street of Via Tornabuoni, is a good place for a glass of Chianti and a quick gourmet lunch (we find it a little too crowded and businesslike for relaxed evening dining). With its elegantly timeworn decor and old-fashioned waiters, the place has something of Venice's Harry's Bar about it, though the tables are crammed in even more tightly. The menu is creative Tuscan, so an excellent soup of chestnuts and porcini mushrooms might be followed by salt cod with leeks, tomatoes, and chickpeas, or an old standard like bistecca fiorentina, done by the book. The wine list stretches to the furthest corners of the Antinori empire, from Puglia to Umbria.
Closed Saturdays and Sundays.
18-20 Via dei Tavolini
Tel: 39 055 268 590
This central bakery just south of the Duomo sells Florentine breads, torte, and biscotti up front and features a bar-caffè in back. With its old-fashioned, wood-framed mirrors, it seems to have been around forever, though it's little more than 15 years old. At the tables: a menu of sandwiches, stuffed focaccia, wild-boar salumi, and cheese, all with the fine wines of Castello di Verrazzano. Drink the Chianti Classico or have a glass of vin santo—with cantucci (almond-studded biscuits) for dunking.
Closes at 9 pm (4 pm in July and August). Closed Sundays.
19 Via Volastra
Groppo di Manarola , Manarola
Tel: 39 01 8792 0563
The hamlet of Groppo is just a scatter of houses high up on the hill behind Manarola, but it's here, in two rooms of a converted private house, that you'll find the best restaurant in the Cinque Terre. Chef Maurizio Bordoni is passionate about the local peasant cuisine, which has always been equally balanced between land and sea. This is reflected in the binary menu, which offers two routes through the meal: The menu di terra might kick off with a humble but delicious focaccina, sprinkled with grains of sea salt and filled with local testa in cassetta salame and red pepper purée, and continue with stuffed leg of rabbit in pine-nut and lemon sauce. The menu di mare offers a fishy selection, which almost always features the dish that gives the restaurant its name: Cappun Magru, a rococo assemblage of pesce cappone (a type of gurnard), ship's biscuits, steamed vegetables, broccoli pesto, oysters, mussels, and clams. In each case you pay a fixed price (around $50 for the land menu and $60 for the sea version) and generally get two choices for each of the three courses. Bordoni's German wife, Christine, who takes your order, is a trained sommelier: Ask her to recommend a bottle from their good selection of smaller local producers. If you don't have a car, you'll need to get a taxi from Riomaggiore or La Spezia.
Open Wednesdays through Saturdays for dinner only, Sundays for lunch and dinner.
60/r Via Ricasoli
Tel: 39 055 289 476
The best gelato in Florence—and yes, that includes the much more famous Vivoli—comes from this gelateria not far from the Duomo, which quickly reveals its Sicilian roots. Once a surprise you stumbled on, Carabé is always hopping now. Look for its great nut flavors, such as almond, pistachio, and hazelnut, made with select nuts from Sicily. Fresh fruit granita (a granular ice drink) is available in warm-weather months, while coffee, lemon, and almond-milk versions are sold year-round.
Via Santa Maria dei Greci
Taormina , Sicily
Tel: 39 094 221 208
Austrian-born chef Andreas Zangerl consistently gets rave reviews for his creative versions of Sicilian classics. Fusionistas go gaga over his prix fixe menu, which has included grilled rabbit loin with olives, capers, and sun-dried tomatoes; pan-seared bluefish with pine nuts, raisins, and fennel sauce; and saffron ravioli stuffed with pesto and topped with toasted pistachio nuts. The backdrop is a 16th-century stone-studded nook in the heart of old town, with a lovely outdoor terrace.
Dinner only. Closed Sundays November to March; closed January and February.
8/r Via A. del Verrocchio
Tel: 39 055 234 1100
Nearly three decades after it first shook up the city's sluggish dining scene, Cibrèo, near Santa Croce, still ranks as one of Florence's top culinary destinations. Fabio Picchi's winning idea was to do refined, top-quality versions of the sort of fare that a Tuscan granny would make. The main restaurant has linen tablecloths, more formal service, amuse-bouche (ricotta soufflé with shaved parmesan), and some gourmet twists to the menu, but if you can do without the frills and are prepared to wait in line (they don't take bookings), the food in the trattoria next door (known as Trattoria Cibrèo) is pretty much the same—and less than half the price. In both places, your server will recite the daily menu: a lengthy selection of first courses (soups and polenta mostly), then on to main dishes (fish, meat, including some innards, and squab). Finish up with a top-notch, if not quite Tuscan, chocolate cake or cheesecake. The most recent addition to the Cibrèo family is the cabaret diner Circolo Teatro del Sale, just across the road at 111/R Via de' Macci (39-055-200-1492). It's a fun alternative to the main restaurant and does an excellent breakfast.
All closed Sundays and Mondays.
Calle del Pestrin
Tel: 39 041 522 7024
Marco Proietto's seafood restaurant near the shipyards of Castello is no secret, so you'll likely have to share it with crowds of reveling tourists and local foodies. But even if you never make it past the antipasti, you'll have a memorable meal. The selection of fresh-caught delicacies include sardele in saor (sardines in a sweet-and-sour sauce), marinated anchovies, moeche (tiny soft-shelled crabs), briny mussels, and moscardini (baby octopus). The pasta dishes are also excellent; our favorite is gnocchi with canoce (mantis shrimps). For dessert, don't miss the warm zabaglione. In good weather, dining in the leafy courtyard is wonderful (and more quiet than the dining room)—but you'll need to reserve a table a few days in advance.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 12:30 to 2 pm and 7 to 10 pm.
4 Via Victor Hugo
Tel: 39 02 876 774
This innovative Italian restaurant has put central Milan back on the foodie map of Italy with its unrepentantly contemporary Italian food. Chef Carlo Cracco added a second Michelin star to his tally in 2004 and long ago shook off the "trained under Alain Ducasse" qualifiers to emerge as a major player in his own right. Still, not all Cracco's gambles come off: The spaghetti with sea urchins and coffee tastes as strange as it sounds. However, the secondo of steamed spigola (sea bass) is a tribute to simplicity, despite the oddness of the accompanying purple Peruvian potatoes. There is really no need to order more than two dishes, as there is a regular stream of amuse-bouches. For those determined to spend, there are two tasting menus at about $170 and $210. The ambience of the basement dining room is austere modernism: all marble facing and somber grays and browns. Service can be a little uncertain and occasionally surly, with a gulf between the assurance of the able maître d' and his young apprentices. But overall, Cracco is worth trying at least once if you want to touch the city's culinary peaks.—Updated by Lee Marshall
Open Mondays and Saturdays 7:30 to 11:30 pm, Tuesdays through Fridays 12:30 to 2:30 pm and 7:30 to 11:30 pm.
19 Via Colonnello Costadura
Tel: 39 083 224 5178
Known to locals simply as Le Zie ("the aunts"), this family-run trattoria still feels like the private house it once was, and is a perfect place to immerse yourself in the cucina povera of the region. Chef Anna Carmela Perrone turns out typical local dishes like the classic pure di fave con cicoria e pane fritto, a fava bean puree with braised wild chicory and fried bread into which you mash some peppery olive oil. This is also a good place to try Puglia's most famous pasta specialty, ear-shaped orecchiette served with a creamy green sauce of cime di rapa (turnip tops), spiked with a little chile to give it a bite. Horsemeat, served in tomato sugo, is another forte. The best idea is to let Perrone decide your menu (allow around $70 for a meal for two with house wine).
32 Via Isidoro La Lumia
Palermo , Sicily
Tel: 39 091 586 460
Everyone in Palermo will tell you to go to this atmospheric, torch-lit restaurant with tall brick arches—and they're right. Though it sounds like some Italian-themed joint in Croatia (it's named after the Bulgarian founder), Cucina Papoff is all about traditional Sicilian dishes. These include caponata (diced eggplant with celery, olives, capers, and sugar), maccu (a fava bean soup with wild fennel), and grilled swordfish with capers and citron (the local citrus fruit, like a very dry lemon).
Closed Sundays. No lunch on Saturdays.
73 Piazza Pasquino
Tel: 39 06 6880 1094
The original Roman wine bar, Cul de Sac may not look like much inside, but its great position (just around the corner from Piazza Navona), highly prized outside tables, and reasonable prices mean that it's usually packed. The service is relaxed and friendly, and there's a small but select menu of house specialties, from lasagna to Greek salad to homemade pâtés and terrines. The wine list is as thick as a phone directory—but much more interesting—and the crowd is equally mixed with an emphasis on the artsy.
Open daily noon to 4 pm and 6 pm to 12:30 am.
29 Via Mastro Giorgio
Tel: 39 06 574 6800
When the inaptly named Felice ran it (felice means "happy," and he rarely was), this traditional Roman restaurant in the down-home Testaccio district was a spit-and-sawdust bolt-hole for traders from the local produce market. Felice's offspring have since given the place an industrial-chic makeover, and upped the ante in the kitchen. As a result, smart-set newcomers now squeeze in with salt-of-the-earth stalwarts. The decibel level is as high as ever, and the traditional Roman dishes are as generous and tasty as ever, if somewhat more refined (try the tonnarelli cacio e pepe, chunky spaghetti with crumbled sheep's-milk cheese and black pepper). The wine list is now large and interesting, and though prices have risen (haven't they everywhere?), it's still a fair value for genuine cucina romana.—Lee Marshall
Open Mondays through Saturdays 12:30 to 3 pm and 8 to 11:30 pm, Sundays 12:30 to 3 pm.
2202 San Polo
Calle del Scaleter
Tel: 39 041 721 308
The release of the 2003 Da Fiore Cookbook catapulted this restaurant into the spotlight (though it had been around for 30 years), and it's been a hot spot ever since. The attention's not unwarranted: Chef Mara Martin's creations—many of them reworkings of traditional Venetian dishes—are dependably delicious. Her tagliata di tonno (tuna steak) is tender and succulent, as is the turbot baked in a potato crust; the sea bass with balsamic vinegar is another hit. There's also a terrific array of raw seafood among the antipasti choices. The homemade desserts are better than average, and both the cheese and wine lists are impressive. But there are downsides: no romantic view (the table by the one small window is booked weeks in advance), the service isn't overly solicitous, and since you're paying as much for the reputation as the food, the prices are exorbitant even by Venetian standards. (Note: There's a small bacaro called Trattoria da Fiore near St. Mark's; it's not related.)
Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Anacapri , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 1499
Get away from the tourist crowds in this lovely family-run trattoria perched on the southern cliffs to the west of Monte Solaro. This is a place where Caprese come to tuck into dishes such as spaghetti with clams or the signature coniglio alla cacciatore (spicy stewed rabbit), along with white wine from the proprietors' own vineyards. Before or after your meal, you can take a dip in the huge pool for a few euros; there are also six simple bedrooms for those who decide to make a night of it. Gelsomina is an appetite-building 20-minute walk along a pretty path from Anacapri; alternatively, ring ahead and you can get picked up from Piazza Caprile.
Closed Tuesdays from October through April. Closed January and February.
6 Via Pascale Sottocorno
Tel: 39 02 7602 3313
Most of the time, fashion-industry people don't eat in the glitzy bars and restaurants they put their names to. They come to Da Giacomo instead. On an anonymous residential street a brisk 15-minute walk from the fashion district, this high-class trattoria has been pulling in the movers and shakers of the rag trade for decades, alongside financiers, designers, architects, and captains of industry. On any given evening, you might see Giorgio Armani tucking into a plate of linguine with scampi and zucchini flowers, or Dolce and Gabbana (actually, these days, Dolce or Gabbana) wrestling with a grilled turbot. But it's far from pretentious: Venerable Giacomo is an able and serious host, the service is affably old-fashioned, and the reliable cuisine is rooted in Giacomo's family's Tuscan origins, with fiorentina steaks backing up an impressive range of just-off-the-boat seafood. Just watch those skinny models attack the dessert cart, and marvel at the elegant decor, a present to Giacomo from late, great interior designer Renzo Mongiardino. It's not even particularly expensive ($95 for a three-course prix fixe), though be aware that the fresh fish and seafood secondi, sold by weight, can push the price up considerably. Booking is essential.
Lunch and dinner daily.
4 Vicolo Rossini
Tel: 39 06 687 3434
Good centro storico trattorias are hard to find, and Gino's is no exception: It's tucked away in a tiny cul-de-sac just around the corner from the Camera dei Deputati, the lower house of the Italian parliament. It pays to book, as the place tends to fill up with homesick deputati who come for the next best thing to Mamma's cooking. The day's specials are chalked up at the entrance to this rustic time capsule; they generally include Roman classics like tonnarelli cacio e pepe (pasta with crumbled sheep's-milk cheese and plenty of black pepper) and pasta e ceci in brodo di arzilla (a soup of pasta and chickpeas in skate broth). The house wine is onesto, as they say around these parts: rustic and unrefined, but gratifyingly low in price.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 1 to 2:45 pm and 8 to 10:45 pm.
12 Via Dentecale
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 6718
It's a little out of the way, just off the path that leads to the Arco Naturale, but this place is well worth scouting out for its well-priced gourmet spin on the cuisine of the Bay of Naples. Try top-notch dishes such as scialatielli (homemade pasta twists) in a clam-and-pumpkin sauce or pezzogna (a member of the bream family found only in these waters) either baked or poached all'acqua pazza (in a court bouillon of fresh tomatoes, white wine, onions, and parsley). The owner long ago sold off part of his huge wine cellar to the Capri Palace hotel, but there's enough left to keep the rest of us happy.
Closed Wednesdays and mid-September through February.
178 Viale Pasitea
Tel: 39 089 875 128
This historic family restaurant has long been one of the most reliable places in Positano for a good-value meal. Its location, about halfway up the near-vertical stack of houses on the west side of town, makes for a thigh-testing climb from the beach, but it's well worth the effort, as Da Vincenzo is much better than any of its waterside rivals. This is a serious family restaurant with affable waiters who know a thing or two about wine, and a real dedication to seasonal local cuisine. Though the secondi are good, most habitués go for a selection of antipasti—don't miss the skewered grilled octopus accompanied by crispy, deep-fried artichokes—followed by a pasta dish such as the delicious, herby linguine with anchovies and wild fennel, perhaps finishing up with a homemade dessert made by Mamma Marcella. The outside tables are strung along the road, but close encounters with buses, scooters, and strolling locals are all part of the Da Vincenzo buzz.
Open Wednesdays through Mondays 1 to 3 pm and 7 pm to midnight, November through April.
Via Indipendenza 24
Tel: 051 231 302
This 1920s restaurant located near Piazza Maggiore was once considered the high palace of Bolognese cuisine. It still does justice to the basicstortellini soup, tagliolini with butter and truffles to name a fewand suited waiters continue to showily carve meat tableside. For dessert, try the popular rice tarts or semifreddo Diana (ice cream cake).
2a Via Carlo Poerio
Tel: 39 02 757 7771
The little mirror trays next to the hand basins in the restrooms say it all. They're ironic, of course (at least, we didn't see any telltale traces of white powder when we went to wash our hands). But like much else in Dolce & Gabbana's new multipurpose bar, restaurant, bistro, and nightclub, the trays craftily celebrate the very lifestyle they're sending up. And most of the gilded youths who have kept this glitzy new venue fully booked since its October 2006 opening are living that lifestyle without the quotation marks. True to its name, gold is everywhere: in the inverted ingot motifs that decorate the lobby desk and the ceiling, in the stairs that sweep up to the restaurant proper, in the latter's '70s-style chandeliers and monogrammed linen. The menu doesn't try to compete with the decor: Though presentation and the mix of ingredients nod at fusion, deep down this is good old southern Italian cooking, with Sicilian, Puglian, and Calabrian influences. There's also a dieters' version of the menu, a necessary thing in the Italian fashion capital. At street level, the bar has become a popular after-hours meeting spot, despite Gold's out-of-the-way location, just east of the city's inner ring road. On the same level, a spangled, mirrored bistro offers lighter (and cheaper) versions of the dishes served upstairs. Book well in advance, especially when the fashion crowd's in town.
Lunch and dinner daily.
11 Corso Sant'Agata
Sant' Agata sui due Golfi
Tel: 39 081 878 0026
The little town of Sant'Agata is a rather modest place, but it plays host to what is generally (and rightly) considered to be the best table south of Rome, presided over by the indefatigable Alfonso Iaccarino—grandson of the original Alfonso, who was born in 1890. (They like to keep things in the family here: Alfonso's sons Ernesto and Mario work as assistant chef and dining-room host, respectively). A 2007 makeover has brought the previously rather dated decor up to par with the cuisine, though the pink-and-green color combinations are still rather forceful. All the fruit, vegetables, and herbs come from the family's farm, Le Peracciole, including Nocellara, Moraiola, and Frantoio olives, which they handpick and cold-press the same day for the exquisite fruity, spicy oils integral to Iaccarino's cuisine. The food thinks local but acts global, updating age-old Campanian recipes in dishes such as annecchia (halfway between veal and beef) with guanciale bacon, fior di latte cheese, and potato-and-sage foam. The kitchen can also find virtue in simplicity, with a plate of ravioli filled with caciotto cheese and marjoram, topped with a sauce of Vesuvian tomatoes and basil. There's also the option of staying overnight in one of the nine rather grand rooms. And breakfast comes from Don Alfonso's kitchen.
Open Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday through Sunday, June through September; all day Wednesday through Sunday, October to mid-November, April, and May; closed mid-November through March.
97/99 Via Montepertuso
Tel: 39 089 811 806
High above Positano, on the slopes of Monte Sant'Angelo, is a tiny village called Montepertuso. Of an evening, Positanesi and tuned-in visitors brave the curving road to bask in the cool mountain air and to eat at Donna Rosa or Il Ritrovo. Donna Rosa is the more bijou-elegant of the pair, but what's on the plate is reassuringly unpretentious, with homemade pasta going into primi such as stripy black-and-white pasta strips served with seafood. The desserts are terrific (be sure to leave space for the hot chocolate soufflé), while the impressive wine list is particularly strong on whites from the Campania region. Note it's closed Tuesdays September through May.—Lee Marshall
Open daily June through August 12:30 to 2:30, 7:30 to 10:30 pm.
10 Via Cartoleria
Tel: 39 051 222 529
Bohemian chic is the key mood in this funky gourmet bistro. In a designer-cluttered former druggist's emporium, with ancient glass jars still intact on the shelves, chef Emanuele Addone meets and greets his regular guests with in-crowd familiarity. Addone's tendency to hold court and the lack of anything like a printed menu would grate if the food weren't so damn good. Recited a voce, the day's spread might consist of tortelli filled with runny Squacquerone (cream) cheese and topped with artichokes, or lightly grilled swordfish served with seasonal vegetables. Desserts are deliciousbut you might prefer to end a memorable meal with a gelato at the Sorbetteria Castiglione just around the corner.
Open Mondays through Saturdays.
31 Via Capitano Bocchieri
Ragusa , Sicily
Tel: 39 0932 651 265
Not to be confused with Al Duomo in Taormina, this Michelin-starred spot features the wizardry of one of Sicily's hottest chefs, Ciccio Sultano. Upon returning to his native Ragusa after cooking stints at famous kitchens around the world (including New York's Felidia), Ciccio teamed up with entrepreneur Angelo di Stefano to open this elegant 19th-century spot. His menus have included a mouthwatering Ragusano tart (made with grilled vegetables, cheese, and apple compote in pastry) and black squid-ink spaghetti in pepper cream sauce. Ciccio has also painstakingly revived many of Ragusa's lost recipes (including a soup made from wheat, grapes, honey, almonds, marmalade, and cinnamon). The restaurant bakes its own bread and displays an extensive collection of olive oils used in the dishes. More than 800 local labels round out the wine list.
Closed Mondays November to March.
10a Via Sella Orta
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 8378364
This Slow Food, shabby-chic restaurant is a novelty in Capri; a welcome change from pink tablecloths and black-stemmed glasses. Only one room and a cute courtyard are laid out with proper restaurant tables; elsewhere you sit at sofas, in armchairs, or wherever there's a perch amidst the clutter of objets d'art, antiques, cooking pots, and a (still functioning) vintage espresso machine. The menu is equally original: gourmet versions of peasant dishes from the area around Naples, such as paccheri with braciola (seasoned veal and ham rolls), tortiera di alici (a dish of baked anchovies dusted with garlic, parsley, and chili), and migliaccio (a comforting, grandma-style pudding made from semolina and ricotta). The domestic ambience carries through into friendly service and cross-table socialising. Add the charms of a vino buff's wine list and the fact that the place is full of locals, and Èdivino is a winner. Upstairs, two equally boho rooms are rented out on a B&B basis—a good choice out of season, when it can be difficult to find accommodation on the island.—Lee Marshall
Open Wednesdays through Mondays 12:30 am to 3 pm, 7:30 pm to 12 am.
87 Via Ghibellina
Tel: 39 055 242 777
This elegant, high-class temple to culinary excellence is Florence's best restaurant by a long chalk; it also has the distinction of being one of the most expensive in Italy. Housed inside a Renaissance palazzo just north of Santa Croce, it oozes formal, old-fashioned luxury, though lush flower arrangements and pink tablecloths contrive to lighten the mood. It's the sort of place you need to make an effort for: While it attracts its share of distracted high spenders, there's little point in coming unless you're a committed foodie. Wine buffs will be sent into ecstasy by Giorgio Pinchiorri's personal selection of vintages, which reads like an oenological Who's Who. Pinchiorri's French wife, Annie Féolde, does front-of-house honors and coordinates the 18-strong kitchen brigade, which turns out Italian cuisine of the highest quality. Starters generally take in a couple of variations on foie gras, while the primi might include "double ravioli," stuffed with guinea fowl and burrata (a buttery, almost liquified form of mozzarella from Puglia). Meat, fish, and game share the main-course honors: Preparations like monkfish with almonds and peas stewed in thyme sauce, chicken liver mousse, and balsamic vinegar may sound fussy, but the end result is surprisingly light. Desserts are no disappointment.
Closed Sundays and Mondays; lunch served Thursday to Saturday only.
3 Via Pantaleone Comite
Tel: 39 089 871 241
The granddaughter of Hotel Santa Caterina's founder runs this upscale, upstairs place with tasty views over Amalfi's harbor—at their best if you book one of the three coveted tables on the outside loggia. Expect sophisticated, evolved Neapolitan dishes, often decorated with seasonal flowers. The emphasis, unsurprisingly, is on seafood: cod-filled ravioli topped with a sauce based on tartufi di mare, a large local clam; sea bass with lemon salt and fennel leaves. The eggplant-chocolate dessert, based on an ancient Amalfian recipe that is believed to have been imported from the Arab world, is revelatory.
Open Wednesdays through Mondays.
43 Via San Niccolò
Tel: 39 055 2001 397
It takes a while to soak in this new Oltrarno contemporary bistroespecially if you come early, when service and atmosphere are both getting up to speed. But as the evening wears on, everything falls into place: the almost frou-frou mix of Tuscan rustic (whitewashed brick walls, exposed beams) and Parisian chic (strong-hued linen drapes, mismatched antique chairs, candles on every table); the efficient, no-nonsense waitstaff; and above all the food, which is more southern Italian than Florentine. The menu is creative without excess: A grissini-skewered lecca lecca (lollipop) of cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, caramelized figs, and buffalo mozzarella was tasty once the "How do I eat this?" challenge was resolved; and the baked monkfish with zucchini flowers on a bed of caper cream with garlic foam, paired with a pear and apple salad, is a delightful one-two punch of savory and sweet. A bonus on warm nights is the tiny interior garden, which seats just 12. The wine list is not large but is gratifyingly well-rounded (at least as far as Italian wine regions go) in a city that sometimes finds it difficult to look beyond Chianti.
7 Via Montebello
Tel: 39 02 2901 4390
One of the city's most original restaurants, the bistrolike Fioraio Bianchi Caffè occupies a former flower shop in the artsy, fashionista Brera district. The fiorista, Raimondo Bianchi, still tends to the blooms and the slightly gothic sculptures of dried plants that adorn sideboards and walls—and they're all for sale. The floral Addams Family decor is charming and unsettling at the same time—rather like the brisk and sardonic manner of the gruff French headwaiter. Even the menu is different: Entrées and primi are grouped together, followed by mid-courses, then desserts. It all feels like it's trying too hard for effect—until the food arrives, and the whole thing falls into place. This is really top-notch modern Italian cuisine, artfully presented, but also convincingly flavorsome, from the toasted tuna chunks with dried fruits on a bed of artichoke purée to desserts like the deconstructed tarte Tatin (a lot less pretentious than it sounds). Another bonus is a really fine selection of by-the-glass wines at affordable prices.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 8 am to 2:30 pm and 6 to 11 pm.
1 Via Vincenzo Gioberti
Monterosso al Mare
Tel: 39 01 8781 8333
Focaccia, the less doughy Genoese form of pizza, is the staple local snack. Just about every village has a bakery or focacceria where you can buy slabs of the stuff with various toppings, but this Monterosso takeaway establishment, on a side street just off the main drag, is one of the best. Top toppings include tomato and pesto or anchovies and capers, and the turnover is so rapid that you'll generally be eating it fresh out of the oven. They also do a couple of other specialties, like torta di riso salato (a rice, egg, and cheese bake) and, in winter and early spring, a knockout castagnaccio (classic Ligurian chestnut-flour pizza with pine nuts and golden raisins).
Open daily 9 am to 1 pm and 4 to 8 pm.
The fornello is a brand of ultra-local osteria that exists only in Puglia. A throwback to a time when povertyand the fire riskmeant that few people had proper ovens or grills at home, fornelli are essentially butcher's shops, with an attached grill room where clients can tuck into such delicacies as gnumarieddi, a mix of lamb and goat organ meats stuffed into a casing made from lamb intestines (it tastes better than it sounds); bombette, plump sausages made with cured pork shoulder (capocollo), pecorino cheese, and herbs; or simple pork chops, with or without a dusting of bread crumbs and Parmesan. The drill: First choose the meat at the counter (it's charged by weight), then file through to the back room (or next-door locale); sit at one of the simple wooden tables and salivate while you watch your selection being grilled or roasted on the wood-burning range. Other items on the menu consist mostly of hunks of freshly baked local bread and a flask of robust Primitivo red wine. Some fornelli offer a small antipasti selection, though you'll be hard-pressed to find a salad: This is unrepentant carnivore territory. The fertile Valle d'Itria is fornelli heartland, especially the picturesque hill town of Cisternino. Expect to pay around $25 a head. Here we list a few of Puglia's most renowned fornelli, but most inland villages between Bari and Brindisi will have at least one, and it's invariably good.
7 Piazza Marconi
Tel: 39 01 8781 2265
Right above Vernazza's small beach, next to the colorful fishing boats pulled up onto the slipway, this is one of the very few Cinque Terre waterside restaurants to maintain high culinary standards despite the tourist onslaught. The seafood practically lands on your plate from the sea and is prepared with a minimum of fuss in antipasti like moscardini (baby octopus) with crostini, or the marvelous paccheri al Gambero Rossoshort pasta tubes cooked al dente and dressed with a sauce of red mullet, herbs, and spices. Service is efficient, without the smarmy edge that mars not a few Cinque Terre dining experiences. It's not the cheapest meal on the coast, but it's a reliable option if you feel like splurging.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays noon to 3 pm and 7 to 10 pm.
13 Piazza della Vittoria
Tel: 39 0565 701 021
Fulvio Pierangelini, the moody but brilliant front man of the "Red Shrimp," is a real chef's chef, a man who is better known within the trade than he is to the general public—perhaps because his creations (which lean toward seafood, with the occasional foray into meat and game) are neither loud nor flashy. Take one of his signature starters: passatina di ceci con gamberi, which is just what it says: lightly steamed prawns in chickpea purée—the latter consisting of nothing but chickpeas, water, and a little olive oil. It's such a simple combination that you wonder why nobody else thought of it before. Since then, of course, plenty have—but Pierangelini keeps an edge thanks to the perfection of his cooking techniques and times, which are also on display in exemplary dishes like pigeon-breast risotto or herring-filled ravioli with burrata (a sort of buttery, melting mozzarella from Puglia). Desserts range from classic (crème brûlée) through creative (licorice gelato) to bizarre (little parcels of beans and peppers served with custard). There are only 20 covers in the sea-view dining room, which is elegant without excess. Pierangelini and his wife usually greet diners personally—so if you speak a little Italian you'll have a richer experience, as the chef likes to embellish his tips and explanations with anecdotes and ironic asides. Compared to many restaurants at this level, the Gambero Rosso is not prohibitively expensive: Count on $200 a head with a good bottle of wine.
Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and from the end of October until mid-January.
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.
As befits a city that takes its food seriously, Bologna can boast a handful of ice-cream emporiums that are the equal of anything in Rome, Florence, or Naples. The high temple of the local gelato cult is Sorbetteria Castiglione, a gleaming modern space that's so spotless it looks more like a laboratory than an ice-cream shop. And in one way it is: Since opening in 1994, the Sorbetteria has been at the forefront of gelato experimentation; not only are all the ingredients carefully sourced (Piedmontese hazelnuts, Sicilian pistachios, lemons from the Sorrentine peninsula), but the gelati are low in sugar (fructose is used instead) and contain no gluten; there are also milk-free and egg-free flavors. Most importantly, though, they're delicious: Creamy combos like the Dolce Emma (ricotta and figs caramelized in grape must) or the Guglielmo (coffee-flavored mascarpone and caramelized cocoa beans) vie for one's attention with more than a dozen seasonal fruit sorbets, including lemon, raspberry, and cinnamon-dusted apple. You can even have your gelato served between two slices of sweet focaccia. Other great Bolognese ice-cream outlets include the Gelatauro, in the University district, where three Calabrian brothers bring a taste of the warm South to their blends of strictly organic ingredientswitness flavors like the Principe di Calabria (bergamot and jasmine) or orange chocolate (made with top-quality Amadei cocoa). Another top spot is the ever-popular Gianni, the closest to Piazza Maggiore, where alongside the standard flavors are fantasy melds with kooky names like "Dove vai?" (zabaglione, gianduia, and coffee with crumbled ladyfingers and chocolate) and "Cosa vuoi da me?" (Amaretto and hazelnut).
The last decade has seen a slew of high-end gelaterie open in Rome. The first, and still one of the best, is Il Gelato de San Crispino, set up by gelato revolutionaries Giuseppe and Pasquale Alongi. These brothers take things back to basics, carefully sourcing the hazelnuts that go into their nocciola flavor or the 20-year cask-aged marsala that makes their zabaione flavor so unmissable. A new Pantheon branch gives you even less of an excuse to miss out on the San Crispino experience. However, a new contender, the Gelateria al Teatro, located in a tiny cobbled cul-de-sac between Piazza Navona and Castel Sant'Angelo, is winning converts with its organic approach and unusual range of flavors, many of them based on Italian pastries like cannoli. Chocoholics will also be knocked sideways by the 85 percent cocoa cioccolato puro option. Over in Prati, north of the Vatican, Mirella Fiumanò, the owner and founder of Al Settimo Gelo, is a volcano of creativity. Devotees swarm here to enjoy inventive, gluten-free flavors such as hot chili–spiced chocolate, honey and sesame, cinnamon and ginger, and Greek ice cream (goat-milk yogurt, honey, and pistachio). But some of the capital's more traditional gelaterie are still well worth checking out, from Giolitti, the multiflavor cathedral of Roman ice cream, to lesser-known stalwarts like Alberto Pica, which does a knockout riso alla cannella (cinnamon rice), in which the risotto is so perfectly al dente it's almost crunchy.
Il Gelato di San Crispino open Wednesdays through Mondays. Gelateria del Teatro open daily. Al Settimo Gelo open Tuesdays through Sundays. Giolitti open daily 7:30 am to 1:30 am. Alberto Pica open Mondays through Saturdays.
71 Corso Vittorio Emanulele
Tel: 39 083 199 6286
It used to be a humble osteria situated under the old arch ("sotto l'arco"), but the third generation of the Buongiorno family, led by chef Teresa, has moved up in the world, in more ways than one. Now on the second floor of an 18th-century palazzo in the center of this delightfully laid-back southern town, Già Sotto l'Arco is considered by many to be Puglia's best restaurant. The decor feels neo-Bourbon (that's the royals, not the drink), with shiny old leather-upholstered chairs and glossy pastel doors being set off by the uniform white walls and ceilings of this elegant arched dining room. But the welcome is warm and the good vibes continue on the plate, with seasonal dishes rooted in the territory. An autumn selection might include bucatini with ricotta and wild fennel on a sauce of bitter tomatoes, or seared lamb chops with caponatina (a local variation on the classic Sicilian vegetable casserole) and roast eggplant. The cuisine is surprisingly simple but spot-onthis is the kind of unfussy high-class joint that even those allergic to high-class joints will enjoy.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays.
7a Via San Sebastianello
Tel: 39 06 687 0251
A lively, young crowd packs Gina Eat&Drink for its all-day menu. Speck and Brie sandwiches, pasta e fagioli, and bresaola with shaved Parmigiano and arugula don't break new ground but are well executed and made with first-rate ingredients. Eat in the stylish, all-white room, or take your meal to go: The restaurant supplies overstuffed lunch baskets for a picnic in nearby Villa Borghese, complete with dishes, glasses, and thermoses of piping-hot espresso.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 11 am to midnight, Sundays 11 am to 8 pm.
58 Vicolo del Cinque
Tel: 39 5833 5903
In Trastevere—with its wine bars and student-filled trattorias, rowdy pizzerias and late-night dives—Glass really stands out. This place is not only design-heavy, with a shadowy mezzanine, pebble-filled floor cutouts, and dramatic lighting, it is also gastronomically innovative. United States–trained chef Cristina Bowerman has earned herself a Michelin star with creations such as warm squab salad with sunflower seeds, micro greens, and roast polenta and her signature coffee-crusted lamb with spiced cherries and asparagus. Prices are high, but so is the quality; make sure you leave room for the superlative desserts. Only the service—often slow and not always charming—can let Glass down occasionally.—Lee Marshall
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 8 pm to midnight.
Facing off across St. Mark's Square, the highly competitive cafés Florian and Quadri are almost as iconic as the piazza they overlook. When Venice was ruled by the Austrians in the early 1800s, the occupiers frequented the Quadri, while Venetian patriots (plus Lord Byron) holed up in the Florian. Both places look much the same now as they did then, with ornate 18th-century interiors (heavy on the mirrors, gilded moldings, and damask upholstery). Though they can get very crowded during high season (and they're both ridiculously expensive), it's still extremely romantic to linger over afternoon caffè at either and look out at one of Europe's most famous squares. At Florian's, clued-in regulars head for the bar area at the back, where you can sip cocktails for less while watching the choreography of tray-laden waiters. Upstairs, chef Massimiliano Alajmo has put Quadri restaurant firmly on the gourmet map of Venice.—Updated by Lee Marshall
53 Piazza Rondanini
Tel: 39 06 6819 2096
Concept restaurants come and go in Rome, but Grano has substance to match its style, and the location—in a pretty piazza just around the corner from the Pantheon—could hardly be better. The name translates as grain or wheat, a theme that underpins both the contempo beige and cream urban-country decor and the cuisine, with homemade bread (check out the walnut and golden-raisins version) and high-class pasta taking center stage. A plate of perfect, al dente paccheri with calamari and cime di rapa (turnip tops) sums up the chef's tasty southern-Italian approach, but there are plenty of non-carb options, too, from antipasti like a simple but fresh tuna tartare to the meat or fish main courses. The owners previously worked at Gusto, and the influence of that Roman mold-breaker is clear in the mix of strong design, creative but unfussy Italian cuisine, and reasonable prices (which extend to remarkably honest markups on wine). Service is simpatico, and the small al fresco seating area in the piazza is a delight on a summer evening (it's not undiscovered, though, so book ahead if you're angling for an outside table).
Open daily 12:30 pm to midnight.
Tel: 39 041 523 0004
A fresh new arrival on the Giudecca, I Figli di Stelle is run by three friends who met as student activists during Italy's mid-'70s protest years (the name is that of a popular song that was adopted as a kind of anthem by the student movement). But don't expect grungy radical chic; this is actually a light, bright, and stylish contemporary restaurant with a magical location overlooking the Punta della Dogana and St. Mark's across the water; outside tables on the wharf provide a ringside seat. The pan-Italian menu reflects the origins of its owners—one Venetian, one Roman, and one from Bari in the deep south. It's simple but tasty fare: fava purée with a salad of mixed seasonal vegetables; cavatelli with mussels and haricot beans; baked lamb with sun-dried tomatoes. The small, well-priced wine list is slanted toward the surrounding regions of Veneto and Friuli. There is live jazz here some evenings, with visiting musicians from the Cini Foundation on the nearby island of San Giorgio.
Open Wednesdays through Sundays noon to 2:30 pm and 7 pm to midnight.
2 Località Beo
Monterosso al Mare
Tel: 39 01 8781 7829
In the hills above Monterosso stands this utterly charming country restaurant (they'll even send a minibus down to pick you up if you book ahead). Eat on the chestnut tree-shaded terrace and watch the paragliders circling above the slopes that descend from here to the sea. The menu is classic Ligurian: trofie (short pasta twists) are served in an herb-rich swordfish and tomato sauce from a huge casserole. Anchovies in various guisesperhaps fried in bread crumbs, or stuffed with cheese and herbstake a starring role among the secondi, which also include coniglio à la cacciatora (hunter-style rabbit stewed in wine.) The house wine is a little on the rustic side, but there are plenty of bottles to choose from if you want something more refined. Finish up with a homemade mandarin liqueur. Service is extremely affable, but you'll have a more rewarding experience here if you speak a little Italian, as the servers' English is pretty limited.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays.
31 Vicolo dei Soldati
Tel: 39 06 686 9432
At Il Convivio, imposingly formal decor is matched by impeccable, equally formal service. The three dining rooms are always busy, with a well-heeled, elegant crowd that doesn't mind the prices (i.e., plenty of silver-haired businessmen). The Troiani brothers turn out perfectly executed dishes, including a risotto with herbs, Roman cheese, and favas, and a sage-scented roasted pigeon with red wine and cherry sauce. The extensive wine list, with bottles from all over the world, is another pleasure.
Closed Sundays, and for lunch on Mondays.
16 Strada Statale
Tel: 39 083 133 0276
A masseria near Ostuni and the sea shelters a sort of Puglian Farm Experience: horses, chickens, vintage carts, the lot. Many areas of this agriturismo (yes, there are rooms, and quite classy ones, too) work to supply the well-known all-female kitchen of Rosalba Ciannamea, who owns the place with her partner Armando Balestrazzi. Night after night, Ciannamea's kitchen turns out ten-course dinners, featuring local food that is occasionally not so rustic: smoked mozzarella with clover, chickpea soup with fresh borage pasta, fried lampascioni (wild hyacinth bulbs) with orange-blossom honey If you can't move afterward, remember those rooms are really very nice. You can also buy some of the estate's own olive oil, jams, and rosoli (fruit and herb liqueurs) to take away.
8 Via Matteotti
Tel: 39 081 837 0616
After a couple of changes of name and ownership over the years, this secluded, panoramic restaurant near the Garden of Augustus has finally hit its stride—though it's best sampled when temperatures are warm enough to eat outside on one of the sea-view terraces, as the large inside dining space smacks a little of a hotel breakfast room. The menu takes the standard Capri seafood repertoire for an elegant spin in dishes such as rigatoni with swordfish or lobster thermidor. Service can be a little formal at times, but with that view, the quality food, and the candlelit ambience, you're unlikely to spend much time studying the waiters.—Lee Marshall
Open daily 12:15 to 3 pm and 7:15 to 11:30 pm.
6/r Via dei Palchetti
Tel: 39 055 210 916
Some places never change. This classic, evergreen family restaurant near the Duomo is one of them. Everyone queues in the same democratic spirit (no bookings are taken between 8 and 9 p.m.), and once inside, the lively, friendly atmosphere makes the decent Tuscan home cooking taste all the better. Opt for filling soups like the ribollita (the classic local bread and vegetable potage) and the establishment's trademark secondo, bistecca fiorentina, cooked on a charcoal grill (T-bone steak doesn't come much better than chez Latini). Wash it all down with the good house red wine, and wrap with a killer tiramisu.
129 Via dei Banchi Vecchi
Campo de' Fiori
Tel: 39 06 6880 9595
Formerly the chef at Palazzo Sasso in the Amalfi Coast resort of Ravello, Anthony (a.k.a. Antonio) Genovese started back at first base when he opened this charming but modest restaurant in a centro storico lane of antiques and craft shops. But his cutting-edge Italian fusion cuisine has already hooked a crowd of regulars, who come to taste creations like red prawns with toasted peanuts in a light sauce of coconut and green tea, or saddle of lamb with lemon and wild fennel, eggplant purée, and fried figs. A spring 2006 makeover brought the ambience up to par with the food, lending a touch of minimalist urban class to the rustic main dining room, with its old wooden beams and checkerboard tile floor. The wine list is small but perfectly formed, and the desserts, by French pastry chef Marion Lichtle, are to die for. The award of a second Michelin star in 2010 caused prices to creep up a little, but "The Clown" still offers a great-value epicurean dinner by Roman standards.
Open Mondays and Tuesdays 8 pm to 10 pm, Wednesdays through Saturdays 1 pm to 2:30 pm and 8 to 10 pm.
8 Via Raffeollo di Cesare
Città di Castello
Tel: 39 075 852 1356
The best-value gourmet meal in Umbria can be had at this former bus mechanics' workshop on the outskirts of Città di Castello, now restored as a colorful, jazzy dining room. Chef Marco Bistarelli is president of the Italian chapter of Jeunes Restaurateurs d'Europe, and his approach strikes a nice balance between loyalty to regional products and openness to innovative techniques and flavors. His frequently changing menu might include risotto with braised local onions, marinated duck liver, and a dark chocolate sauce, or a starter of roasted scallops with passion fruit sauce and tomato confit. Occasionally Bistarelli juggles one too many taste sensations, but most of the time his dishes are memorable and flavorful. His wife, Barbara, is a friendly, attentive front-of-house presence. Homemade bread, an excellent, well-priced wine list, and fine desserts seal the deal, and the final bill is a pleasant surprise (around $75 per person without wine).
No lunch on Saturdays. Closed Mondays year-round, and Sunday nights October through March. Closed late January and early February.
4 Via Gradola
Località Grotta Azzurra
Anacapri , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 1380
Perched on a series of stone terraces near the Blue Grotto, this beach-bar restaurant, in its previous incarnation as Add'O Riccio, was the kind of rustic place where happiness was a plate of linguine alle vongole (with clams) and a deckchair in the sun. It still is, though after being taken over by the Capri Palace Hotel, Il Ricco ("the sea urchin") now does retro seaside chic in a more deliberate, interior-designed way—most winningly in the Stanza delle Tentazioni or "Temptation Room," an updated grandma's larder where Neapolitan pastries and desserts are laid out on a country-style table. The prices are a shade higher and the cuisine is a little more elaborate but still firmly anchored in traditional fresh Bay of Naples seafood. The upsides, aside from the top-notch food and views, are professional service and a well-honed wine list. All in all, this out-of-the way haven is a perfect place for an understated glitterati lunch or dinner, whether you arrive by yacht or plebeian bus (take the Grotta Azzurra route from Anacapri). Bring your swimsuit so you can descend to the sea for a dip, or simply work that tan on one of six sundecks.—Lee Marshall
Open daily 12 to 2 pm, 8 to 11 pm.
Campo Santi Filippo e Giacomo
Tel: 39 041 520 8280
There's hardly room to swing a catfish in this brand-new, five-table gourmet locale behind the Doge's Palace. All the better to enjoy the cuisine, and the wines, of simpatico host Gianni Bonnacorsi, who serves as chef, waiter, and sommelier as the occasion demands, with the help of a single busy sidekick. Don't come for a quick snack, in other words—but if you have a couple of hours to spare for a really special dinner, this is one of the more interesting places in the $90-a-head range (excluding wine). The decor is pared back but not cold, with exposed brick walls adding warmth, and a large mirror to give an illusion of space. Bonnacorsi's cuisine is local and seasonal, high on technique but low on foamy pretensions: A pasta course of tortelli dyed with cuttlefish ink, stuffed with minced sea bass, and served on a bed of seafood "ratatouille" is typical of his ambitious and (mostly) convincing approach. At times, service slows down and a little angst emanates from the kitchen—especially when the number of diners approaches double digits—but this is all part of the cozy Ridotto experience. The wine list is as good as one would expect from a man who also runs a bacaro with one of Venice's best-stocked cellars just across the square.
Open Thursdays 7 to 10 pm, Fridays through Tuesdays noon to 2 pm and 7 to 10 pm.
77 Via Montepertuso
Tel: 39 089 812 005
Il Ritrovo is a few doors down from Donna Rosa, the village of Montepertuso's other must-visit restaurant. This place is a classic family-run trattoria and it looks the part, with spunzilli tomatoes hanging in bunches from the wooden ceiling beams and a glassed-in veranda that is half mountain refuge, half Neapolitan Old Curiosity Shop. Chef and owner Salvatore Barba is an able interpreter of the local tradition, serving up, alongside all the usual fish and seafood classics, dishes such as paccheri in a sauce of walnuts and provola cheese, which derive from the more land-based cuisine of inland villages like Furore or Agerola. The house white wine, a summery local Tramonto, is delicious, but there's a well-stocked cellar should you need an alternative.—Lee Marshall
Open Thursdays through Tuesdays 12:30 to 3, 7:30 to 10 pm.
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.
167r Borgo San Frediano
Tel: 39 055 933 1341
Don't hold the pretentious name ("Me—Personal Osteria") against this chic restaurant near the western end of Borgo San Frediano. If you're a curious gastronome without the budget to splash out on culinary temples like Enoteca Pinchiorri, this is your place. Alarmingly-young chef Nicolò Baretti has worked for, among others, Martín Berasategui in San Sebastian, and his inventive way with local ingredients comes out both in the blackboard diagrams of some of the dishes on offer that grace the walls and in Osteria Personale's radical "no pasta" policy. Creations like a tartar of sea bass with ricotta, pine nuts, and spinach salad, and desserts such as the celery gelato with yogurt, walnut crumble, and candied carrots are well worth their price tag. Set in a former butcher's shop, the restaurant has artisan-chic iron and wood tables, whitewashed stone walls, and discreet designer lighting.—Lee Marshall
Open Mondays through Saturdays 8 to 10.45 pm.
18 Via Panfilo Castaldi
Tel: 39 02 295 22124
Vegetarian restaurants are thin on the ground in Milan; gourmet vegetarian restaurants are a rarity anywhere. So hats off to Swiss-born chef Pietro Leeman, whose creative way with greenery—and some fish—places this elegant establishment a million miles away from your average Berkeley-style nuts and sprouts café. It's a shame that Leeman insists on extending his creativity to the menu descriptions, too: Dishes have baffling names like "Un sasso rotola" ("A stone is rolling"), a crispy sphere of zucchini, artichokes, and peas in a saffron and hearty mushroom broth; or "Prima a sinistra, poi a destra" ("First left, then right"), a goat ricotta, fava bean, and spicy tomato soup. We forgive Leeman, though, because it all smacks of enthusiasm rather than pretension, and because the food is so darn good. There's a Japanese vibe, with bamboo screens, white tablecloths, and potted palms in the long dining room, which suits the Zen aspect of the food. The prix fixe lunch is a relative bargain at around €35 ($45); dinner is pricier, with tasting menus starting around €65 ($84).
Open Mondays through Saturdays noon to 2:30 pm and 7:30 to 11:30 pm.
194 Riviera Dionisio Il Grande
Siracusa , Sicily
Tel: Tel: 39 093 165 540
For simple, delicious, down-home Sicilian cooking by the sea, Jonico is worth a stop. Its ornate, Liberty-style interior is an odd backdrop for the no-fuss menu, which includes spaghetti with mussels, shrimp, and calamari, and several preparations of swordfish. The terrific signature dessert—mocha chocolate gelato—shouldn't be missed. The roof terrace serves pizzas, and there's a wide selection of local wines.
Località Chiarone Marina
Tel: 39 0564 890 295
With its gray sand and not exactly limpid sea, the beach resort of Capalbio, south of Monte Argentario, may not look like much to those with Caribbean standards, but for Rome's left-of-center politicos, journalists, architects, and film and TV types it's a popular summer nesting ground. Hangout of choice is the "Last Resort," a chic shack that stands on the very last scrap of Tuscan beach before you hit the border with Lazio. You can rent a couple of sunloungers under an ombrellone for the day (though from mid-July through to the end of August, you'll need to book ahead), play a game of bar football, or just come for a swim, followed by a light lunch that might take in panzanella (Tuscan bread salad) or calamari with potatoes. They're open daily from late May until the end of September, and also on Saturday evenings, when music and lights create a chill-out Balinese vibe.
7 Via dei Molini
Tel: 39 074 265 1277
This place vies with Il Postale as the place Umbrian foodies come when they can't afford a high-priced table. The restaurant and attached hotel occupy an old flour mill high up in the walled town of Spello. In summer, tables are laid out on a terrace with panoramic views; the rest of the year, they move inside to the rustic dining room, decorated with contemporary paintings. Chef Marco Gubbiotti is a classically trained chef who combines refined technique with a militant respect for provenance (at the top of his menu is a list of where the various ingredients come from). One trademark dish works three variations on Chianina beef; another pairs cotica (pork rind) as a filling for ravioli with rare Trasimeno beans, Savoy cabbage, and wild mint. A string of amuse-bouches (including some fine predesserts) fill any gaps; the wine cellar is one of the best-stocked in Umbria, and—hallelujah!—markups on bottles are gratifyingly low. Allow €65 per person (around $90) without wine if you go à la carte; there are also three tasting menus, including one for vegetarians.
Closed Wednesdays and the last three weeks in January. No lunch on Thursdays.
4367 Calle dell'Oca
Tel: 39 041 2412747
Located in an alley running parallel to and north of busy Strada Nuova, La Bottega ai Promessi Sposi is easy to spot after about 6 pm, when locals begin congregating at the door for their first ombra (glass of wine) and cicheto (bar snack) of the evening. It's not nearly as old as the pared-back decor might lead you to believe, but this eatery somehow distills all that's best in traditional Venetian eating and drinking. As in any true bacaro, there's a bar counter as you enter, heaving with delicious snacks. You can eat these standing up, with a glass in one hand, or you can perch on one of the very few stools and consume an inexpensive mixed plate there at the counter. Beyond, full meals are served at a handful of tables spread over two rooms. Ceilings are low, the noise level can be high, and when the place is packed, the generally charming serving staff gets very tight-lipped. Venetian seafood and meat dishes both feature on a changing seasonal menu, and the mixed vegetable antipasto is a great option for vegetarians. The selection of (mostly local) wines is excellent.—Lee Marshall
Open Thursdays through Sundays and Tuesdays 12:30 to 2:30 pm and 8 to 11 pm, Mondays and Wednesdays 8 to 11 pm.
18/20 Vicolo della Campana
Tel: 39 06 686 7820
This is one of those places that hasn't changed since Fellini was a bambino. La Campana claims to be the oldest restaurant in Rome, and you'll believe it when you see the venerable waiters. But the service is impeccable, and the classic Roman cooking is as reliable as the midday cannon on the Gianicolo hill. Alongside ubiquitous staples such as spaghetti alla carbonara are more recherché seasonal delights like vignarola, a spring soup of artichokes, fava beans, and guanciale. The wine list is limited, and the ambience rather stuffy. But like the more expensive (and less worthwhile) Dal Bolognese in Piazza del Popolo, this is the sort of trattoria that attracts everyone from artists to bankers to contessas, which makes it great for people-watching.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 12:30 to 3 pm and 7:30 to 11 pm, September through July.
Via Le Botteghe
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 0732
Although it's a magnet for the red-carpet crowd—which has included, at various times, Jackie O., Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Dustin Hoffman, and Julia Roberts—this tavern-style restaurant in town has managed to stay refreshingly unstuffy over the decades. The warm, professional welcome of the De Angelis family, which has owned the restaurant since 1951, is one of La Capannina's charms; another is the spot-on local cuisine, which includes specialties like ricotta-stuffed eggplant and ravioli Caprese. Desserts, such as torta caprese (a rich chocolate-and-almond sponge cake) and mulberry crêpes, are not to be missed; there's also a wine list with more than 200 labels. If you can, score a table on the veranda with hanging vines and ferns; it's romantically candlelit at night.
12 Via Matteo Camera
Tel: 39 089 871 029
Many tourists pass by Amalfi's best restaurant, put off perhaps by the lack of outdoor tables and the proximity to the main road. But inside there are two elegant marine-themed dining rooms with works of modern art by Vietri ceramicists, and gourmet seafood prepared by owner-chef Antonio Dipino. There's a six-course tasting menu, or you can choose à la carte from dishes such as risotto with lemon rind, prawns, and bottarga (mullet roe); or a fillet of the day's catch from the Gulf of Amalfi braised "acqua pazza" style in a broth that includes, alongside the usual onion, tomatoes, celery, and bay leaves, little bread cubes fried in seaweed. This is seriously creative stuff, not cucina di mamma. The ambience, the service, and the amazing wine list (the cellar holds over 15,000 bottles) all rise to the occasion.
Open Wednesdays through Mondays January through October.
126 Via Molfino
San Rocco di Camogli
Tel: 39 01 8577 3835
In such a dramatically perched village you'd expect a panoramic terrace, but apart from a handful of tables near the entrance, "Grandma Nina's Kitchen" is all inside, on the second floor of a typically sober Ligurian house. The approach is so local that the seasonal menu is written in Camogli dialecta challenge even for most Italian speakers. But the attentive owner-host will talk you through the day's highlights in regular Italian or halting English. Starters include a delicate torta rustica di verduresteamed and spiced bietola (Swiss chard), chopped up fine and encased between two thin layers of phyllo pastry. Follow up with a generous plate of tagliolini with branzino (bream) and artichokesthey don't skimp on portions here. If you still have room, try a classic Genoese secondo like buga in carpionea bogue (a small fish with the improbable Latin name Boops boops) that is marinated in vinegar and oil and then fried. If you're planning to walk back to Portofino over the mountain (it's actually a fairly easy 90-minute trek), you may also want to sample their delicious homemade cakes.
Open Thursdays through Tuesdays.
Località San Pietro
Porto Santo Stefano
Tel: 39 0564 825261
High up above the busy sailing and fishing harbor of Porto Ercole is another, more rural world of olive trees and small kitchen gardens. It's here that you'll find this upmarket trattoria, its pretty summer terrace, with views down a green valley to the sea, shaded by a spreading cherry tree and vine pergola. The seafood cuisine is good without pretensions; standout dishes include the croquante tuna steak sprinkled with sesame seeds and Sicilian pistachios and the spaghetti in a delicate hake and tomato sauce. Service is cordial and efficient, and the arcadian bliss is sealed by little touches like homemade bread (focaccia, walnut) and sorbets (green apple and jasmine, passion fruit). To get there, take the inland road from Porto Santo Stefano to Porto Ercole.
2 Via Mastro Giorgio
Tel: 39 075 922 1836
Like Gubbio itself, this wine-oriented restaurant in the heart of the centro storico is a little old-fashioned, with its starched tablecloths and starched waiters. But it's also a reliable place for a high-quality meal, as long as you're not in a hurry. The decor is froufrou at table level, sternly medieval above and around (exposed stone walls, ancient wooden beams). It feels a bit like a Liberace makeover of Bluebeard's castle. The menu uses fresh local ingredients in strong taste combinations: smoked duck breast with pecorino cheese, mille-feuille of potatoes and porcini mushrooms. The delicious breads and pastas are all made on the premises. When wine buffs see the selection of bottles in the cellar, their cups runneth over.
Closed Tuesdays, the last two weeks in January, and the first two weeks of July. No lunch on Wednesdays.
30 Via Federico Ozanam
Tel: 39 06 534 6702
It's a bit of a trek to get out near the end of the No. 8 tramline from Largo Argentina, but people come from all over to sample the exquisite pizza turned out by the "Greedy Cat." Though the bright, colorful restaurant also offers excellent pasta, meat, and fish dishes, the main event is the pie, with a crunchy crust slightly thicker than the usual pizza romana. Toppings include Caciocavallo cheese, artichokes, and pancetta; there's also a margherita made with superb buffalo mozzarella, and a small selection of daily specials (check the blackboard). Start with fried zucchini blossoms or fried stuffed olives. Unlike most pizzerias, this one has a substantial wine list. Book ahead, or be prepared to wait in a long line.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 8 to 11:30 pm.
12/r Borgo Pinti
Tel: 39 055 241 341
Sure, this place gives itself airs that are not quite justified by the quality of the foodor the prices. But you've got to eat in La Giostra, north of Santa Croce, at least once, if only to experience the Aladdin's Cave decor and the eccentric guiding hand of the chef-owner, who looks uncannily like David Carradine in a cook's hat, but who is in fact a Hapsburg prince. Prince Dimitri and his two sons run an opulent ship, which sails along on rich flavors: Mushrooms and truffles are a speciality. It's luxe comfort food rather than cutting-edge gourmet cuisine, and the stellar wine list is, one suspects, more about big names and big prices than in-depth oenological research. But the welcome is genuine enough, and there's nothing wrong with smoke and mirrors when they're this dazzling.
15A Via San Gabriele dell'Addolorata
Tel: 39 075 815 352
If you're stuck for a meal in Assisi, you'll find this bright and cheerful osteria is a cut above the rest. It's set below the cathedral of San Rufino, where an herb and vegetable market used to be (the restaurant's name translates as "Little Herb Square"). Vegetables are still much in evidence here: Beef carpaccio with artichoke hearts, and saffron-flavored pappardelle paired with chunky ratatouille are dishes you might find on the seasonal menu. The wine selection is small but carefully chosen: Ask the waiter to guide you toward a good bottle.
Closed Mondays, late January, and early February.
Hotel Cavalieri Hilton
101 Via A. Cadlolo
Tel: 39 06 3509 2152
Believe it or not, a German chef, Heinz Beck, is the heart and soul of what is unanimously considered to be the best restaurant in Rome (a status recently consolidated by the awarding of a third Michelin star), located in the Cavalieri Hilton. Beck's creative cuisine, always grounded in the Italian tradition, sashays effortlessly from simple but succulent dishes like ricotta tortellini with pecorino cheese and fava beans to elaborate party pieces such as organic wood pigeon with a purée of dried-fruit bread and pomegranate granita. With its elegant but unstuffy decor, breathtaking views of the city, superb service—less fussy now than it was a few years back—and mind-boggling wine list (not to mention the mineral water and tea list), this is the place for a big splurge. Book well in advance, and allow for at least $200 a head with wine.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 7:30 pm to midnight.
18 Via Sant'Elia
Tel: 39 083 326 4205
Next to the Baroque church of the same name in Gallipoli's centro storico stands this evergreen seafood restaurant. Attentive, old-fashioned waiters bustle about in the main, marine-themed dining room, serving up an array of hot and cold antipasti (Puritate's real calling card) that might include spicy mussels, thinly sliced octopus marinaded in olive oil and lemon, palamita (Atlantic bonito), raw shrimp, hake in a lemon and yogurt sauceall simple dishes based on the freshest fish and seafood cooked (or not) with the minimum of fuss to bring out the flavor. After the antipasto parade, most regulars might stretch to a pasta dish, such as linguine alla Purtitatewith shrimp, zucchini, and cherry tomatoesand then wrap with a palate-cleansing lemon sorbet. Just when you thought it was all over, coffee arrives with complimentary almond sweets. Book ahead at peak times (Friday and Saturday evening, Sunday lunch).
Open Thursdays through Tuesdays.
4 Via Roma
Tel: 39 0571 668 188
Push past the loaves and cream puffs in this unassuming bakery in a Medieval hill town, and you find yourself in a tiny back room that hosts a restaurant–wine bar with just seven tables surrounded by shelves full of tempting Tuscan vintages. The reason for the odd mix is that mom runs the pasticceria while her son is a wine-and-food buff—so rather than go their separate ways, they adopted the very Italian solution of cohabiting. The menu is strong on meaty Tuscan specialties such as tonno del Chianti, pork morsels that are cooked in wine and preserved in olive oil, or roast Chianina steak fillet with balsamic vinegar and rocket, but there are some good primi too, including gnudi—spinach and ricotta balls—in walnut sauce. There's a small but interesting selection of regional wines by the glass; if you go by the bottle, the choice (at least of Tuscan wines) is almost endless.
8 Via Lo Capo
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 6300
The Tarantino family's fabulous cooking is worth the 20-minute walk from town. This rustic idyll is one of the few restaurants on Capri to champion the rural, land-based cuisine that so many islanders subsisted on in the days when fish was a rare and expensive treat. In a peaceful garden shaded by orange and lemon trees, you can sample scrumptious linguine alla Eduardo (with anchovies, capers, and tomatoes), coniglio alla Poppea (rabbit in a wine sauce garnished with rosemary) and ravioli alla Caprese (ricotta ravioli simply prepared with fresh tomatoes, basil, Parmesan and garlic). Combine your meal with a trip to nearby Villa Jovis, once the summer home of Emperor Tiberius. It's off the beaten path, so ask for directions.
Closed November through March.
Via Rovita 13
Tel: 0973 876 588
In the old town of Maratea, this long-established restaurant has a very loyal following, so be sure to book a table in advance. The Lucanian specialties include stuffed peppers, game birds, local salami, and calamari fried in olive oil, hot pepper, and tomato paste. Finish in style with a cassata Lucana, a lighter, spongier version of the Sicilian ricotta and marzipan pudding (closed Tuesdays).
8 Piaggia di San Martino
Tel: 39 0575 352 035
Arezzo has no shortage of worthwhile places to eat, but on recent visits it's this little osteria–wine bar just off Piazza Grande (one of the venues of the monthly antique market) that has really won our hearts. Plain wooden tables crowd into a single vaulted, bottle-lined room with parchment-colored walls; there are a few more outside on a raised street-side veranda. Wine is the main act: There are more than 800 bottles to choose from, and a selection of around 20 wines by the glass chalked on the blackboard (note that these are only the top-end vintages; ask if you want a more humble quaffing wine). But the food does more than just soak up the alcohol: Alongside wine-bar classics such as crostoni (open toasted sandwiches with toppings like mozzarella and anchovy) there are some more substantial hot dishes such as zuppa di cipolla al forno (a "solid" onion soup that can be eaten with a fork) or a local rarity, grifi all'aretina (calf's snout stew), all simple but succulent. Service is friendly, and the final bill is unlikely to exceed $30 a head unless you really go to town on the wine.
2/4 Via San Carlo
Tel: 39 0578 748 606
In the historic center of Pienza, this family-run trattoria has a pleasant, simple dining room and an outdoor terrace shaded by market umbrellas in summer. Of course, at lunchtime it's full of tourists, but there's no arguing with the quality of the typical dishes served here: tagliatelle with truffles, local bread soup with vegetables, duck with black olives, and the real party piece, maialino da latte (roast suckling pig). Finish your meal with the restaurant's homemade semifreddo—a sort of frozen custard that comes in various versions, including orange (arancia) and hazelnut (nocciola).
1762 Santa Croce
Ponte del Megio
Tel: 39 041 524 1570
If you're vegetarian—or just tired of Venice's fishy menus—La Zucca ("the Pumpkin") is the place to go. Although there are some meat dishes on the menu (pork with ginger and pilau, roast duck with apple and Calvados), what's really special about this place near the Rialto Bridge is its inventive way with vegetables. Tender pumpkin flan is served with a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese, as is the warm pumpkin quiche; pasta dishes are made with radicchio and eggplant instead of mussels and prawns. The wood-paneled dining space is warm, and bench seating makes for a communal atmosphere, as does the slightly crunchy crowd that frequents the place. Lone women travelers are made to feel particularly welcome. The few canal-side tables are picturesque; you can watch other diners arriving at the back entrance by boat.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 12:30 to 2:30 pm and 7 to 10:30 pm.
1 Piazza dei Rossi
Tel: 39 055 239 8132
One of the city's best wine bars, "The Foxes and the Grapes" is a delightful bottle-lined cubbyhole on a secluded piazza just off the heavily touristed Ponte Vecchio–to–Palazzo Pitti route. The owners are real wine scholars and pride themselves on discovering wines from small producers. An atmosphere of quiet contemplation reigns, and the food—plates of cheese and salumi, and gourmet panini involving ingredients like smoked goose breast—exists mainly to soak up the wine. It's difficult to order just one glass: Start chatting to the guys behind the bar (one of whom speaks good English), and you'll find yourself embarking on a dangerous wine odyssey as bottle after bottle is opened to illustrate a point about Tuscan ways with merlot, or the best sauvignons from Alto Adige.
Open 11 am to 9 pm. Closed Sundays.
1314 Piazza Umberto I
Tel: 39 075 837 771
Just south of Lake Trasimeno is the postcard-perfect walled hill town of Panicale, home to this small, utterly charming trattoria. There's a touch of the boudoir about the candles and painted lightbulbs, and the rather florid menu descriptions (in Italian and English) teeter on the brink of pretension. But the food, when it comes, is excellent. The dishes here are true to their territorial roots, focusing on meat and game (grouse, wild boar, wood pigeon) andfrom autumn to springlashings of truffle. In summer, book ahead for one of the four tables on the tiny outdoor terrace.
Closed Mondays, January, and February.
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.
39 Via Orfanotrofio
Ragusa , Sicily
Tel: 39 0932 248 778
The cellar of a Baroque-quarter palazzo in the oldest part of Ragusa is the setting for Antonio and Giuseppe La Rosa's elegant restaurant. It's one of the best places to sample contemporary local dishes, like lasagnette with cocoa and ricotta; rabbit with bacon and pistachio; and Ragusano cheese with thyme honey on puff pastry. There's also a wine bar with 700 labels, a huge cigar list, and—if you're too full to drive back to your hotel—22 magnificent rooms, specially reserved for customers.
61 Via Carducci
Forte dei Marmi
Tel: 39 0584 874 030
In summer, it's next to impossible to get a table at this Michelin-starred classic when chic vacationing Italians take over. If, however, you should manage to snag a reservation, try the flash-baked calamaretti and the bavette sul pesce (macaroni boiled in the juices of the dish's crustaceans and shellfish rather than in water). Other signature dishes include an excellent bollito di pesci (boiled fish platter, served with homemade mayo) and fillet of turbot with aromatic herbs, served with a truffle and courgette flan. The dessert to go for is the chocolate soufflé with pear and pear ice cream. The bright-white Art Nouveau dining room has well-spaced tables and impeccable service.
Closed Mondays except July and August, when they open daily, evenings only.
51 Via Bighetti
Tel: 39 01 8530 1063
When you've had your fill of Portofino's yachty elitism, head for the historic town of Chiavari, around 20 minutes away by train. Chiavari rivals Bologna as Italy's arcade town: Most of the lanes in the centro storico are lined with ancient porticoes, and underneath one of them you'll find this buzzing canteen of a place, which has been going strong since 1907. Luchin's specialty is farinata: Liguria's classic chickpea-flour bake, a sort of wheatless pizza (it looks a bit like a burnt coconut pie). Grab a seat at one of the communal tables and watch the farinata being cooked in the huge wood-fired oven. Other local dishes on the menu include burrida di seppie (a filling cuttlefish and potato stew) and baccalà al forno (salt cod baked with tomatoes). Service is unrefined but friendly, and there's a surprisingly good wine selection. Luchin doesn't generally take bookings, but the turnover of tables is rapid.
Open Mondays through Saturdays.
16 Via Santa Radegonda
Tel: 39 02 8646 1917
Like many Italian cities, Milan does not have a highly developed snack-on-the-run culture. One of the few city-center addresses to offer more than the usual desultory tramezzini (sandwiches) is this tiny bakery on a side street off Piazza del Duomo. Though panzerotto—a small, fold-over pizza pie—is a Puglian speciality, Milanesi have taken to it enthusiastically, largely thanks to the efforts of the Luini family. The classic panzerotto is filled with tomato and mozzarella, but the ricotta e spinaci version is good, too. The place gets packed with hungry office workers at lunchtime, so come early or be prepared contend with the hungry masses.
Open Mondays 10 am to 3 pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 am to 8 pm.
23 Lungarno Torrigiani
Tel: 39 055 234 5957
Opened in June 2009, this beef-oriented restaurant on the riverside Lungarno road, just upstream from the Ponte Vecchio, makes for a great alfresco summer dining experience. Despite its proximity to the main tourist routes, Lungarno 23 (the address, natch) is as much frequented by locals as visitors—perhaps because it's set back from the street in one of Florence's Liberty-style patrician villas. One of the owners also has a Chianina cattle farm in southern Tuscany, and the beef he raises goes into hamburgers (each named after one of the farm's prize bulls), steak tartare, roast beef, and carpaccio. Inside the spacious main dining room with back wall bar, a chic trattoria ethos reigns; but Lungarno's real trump card is its outside terraced seating area overlooking the riverside promenade (though not quite the Arno itself, which is hidden by a low wall).—Lee Marshall
Open Mondays through Saturdays 12:30 to 3 and 7:30 to 11 pm.
23c Via Rialto
Tel: 39 051 220 118
Tucked away in a courtyard, this in-crowd diner weds the informality of a Parisian bistro with the culinary intensity of serious Italian chef Marco Fadigaa young protégé of Milanese super-chef Gualtiero Marchesi. So the walls are painted in raunchy hues, Piaf is playing on the stereo, and the menu is chalked on a portable blackboardbut the dishes themselves are ambitious creations like sea bass tartar with a salad of apricots, mango, chervil, and almonds, or stracchino-filled ravioli served in a sauce of cime di rapa (turnip tops) and anchovies. Some of the combos, like the salmon marinated in coffee, are a little too daring for their own good, but most of Fadiga's intuitions work, and with the strong emphasis here on seafood (including oysters delivered daily), fruit, and vegetables, the late-closing Bistrot offers light relief from Bologna's meaty, calorific traditional cuisine.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 7:30 pm to 12:30 am and Sundays for lunch.
Most first-time visitors are too busy holding onto the back of the seat to notice the traffic signs on the spectacular Sorrento–Positano route. But if you head west rather than east at the watershed town of Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi, a more rural side of the Amalfi Coast emerges, with villas grouped around small terraced olive and lemon groves and fertile market gardens. Beyond the pretty village of Nerano, the road drops to Marina di Cantone, a laid-back, slightly shabby, family-oriented resort with a long, thin sandy beach, which can also be reached by boat from Positano. Don't be fooled by appearances, though: Marina di Cantone has three of the best restaurants on the Amalfi Coast. The rather anonymous (not to say ugly) white building between the beach and parking lot houses the unmissable Taverna del Capitano (39-081-808-1028; www.tavernadelcapitano.it; closed Monday and Tuesday lunch), a creative seafood place run by the Caputo family, with son Alfonso in the kitchen. Occupying most of a wooden jetty a little further along the beach, Lo Scoglio is the reign of Mamma Antonietta: The rich and famous yacht over from Capri to sample her spaghetti alle zuccchine, dripping with butter and cheese, and served with lashings of black pepper (39-081-808-1026, open daily). But it doesn't end there: Just up the Nerano road is Quattro Passi, where the best of the day's finny catch is paired with the terra firma side of the local culinary tradition, with vegetables from owner-chef Antonio Mellino's own garden (39-081-808-1271, closed Tuesday evening, all day Wednesday). The wine cellar—which burrows under the road you just drove down—needs to be seen to be believed (and Mellino will happily oblige). A few simple rooms on the grounds make for decent bivouacs if you can't face the drive back to Positano.
24 Via de Leone
Tel: 39 06 683 2100
This relaxed, informal trattoria not far from Piazza di Spagna is a convenient pit stop before or after a shopping spree on the boutique strip of Via Condotti. Service is old-style Roman (that is to say, self-assured but not obsequious) and efficient. The menu champions local traditions in dishes such as rigatoni all'amatriciana (with pancetta and tomato), saltimbocca alla romana (thin veal slices with prosciutto and sage), and carciofi alla giudia (fried artichokes). The clientele and surprisingly extensive wine list are more upmarket than you would expect, given the checked tablecloths and down-home cooking. In summer, book early to secure one of the few outside tables.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 7:30 to 11 pm. Closed August.
240a Via Saragozza
Tel: 39 051 614 3947
Nestled along the covered portico leading up to San Luca, this tiny trattoria is easy to miss. But its unassuming facade belies the basic but delicious dishes served inside. Favorites include meatballs in tomato sauce (considered the city's best), stuffed rabbit, osso buco (braised veal shanks), handmade pastas including knockout tortelli di ricotta, homemade semifreddo, and the traditional rice desert torta di riso, plus any of the excellent wines. You may want to work the meal off by trekking up to the sanctuaryor build an appetite by running up and back before your meal.
33/r Borgo Tegolaio
Tel: 39 055 265 4675
Florence's leading wine shop occupies the former coach house of an old mansion in the Oltrarno. Its cool, vaulted rooms are packed with temptations for the oenophile, and the French owner, Marie, is a fountain of knowledge of both Italian and French wines. There are wines from all over Italy, but areas of particular interest include Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Amarone, and organic wines. There is also a small but perfectly formed section of French wines and champagnes. Ask to visit the impressive cellars, where wine tastings can be organized for interested groups.
Open Mondays through Fridays 2 to 8 pm, all day Saturday, and the second Sunday of each month.
7 Vicolo San Rocco
Erice , Sicily
Tel: 0923 869 595
One of the best discoveries of a trip to this labyrinthine mountain town is this lesser-known trattoria, serving up fresh fish and Moroccan-inspired specialties like seafood couscous. Grab a table on the leafy patio.
93 Corso Garibaldi
Tel: 39 02 655 4602
Fast food doesn't come much tastier than this, in a rustic, home-cooking sort of way. Though it's had more than one makeover since opening in 1859, this tiny, buzzing, great-value bottiglieria (wine shop with tables) is still a charmingly local place to refuel on a filling spread of risottos (with nettles, or with pumpkin and vegetables), pasta dishes, megasalads, and meaty secondi like osso buco, all served from a glassed-in buffet counter. Take a seat in the crowded back room, which has a vintage jukebox: The waiter will bring your food and drinks—including, perhaps, a glass or two of wine from a surprisingly refined list. No need to ask for the bill; you simply pay on the way out. The clientele is more upmarket than the mama's-cooking vibe might suggest. After all, Moscatelli's is just a high-heeled hop from the alternative fashion strip of Corso Como.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Mercato Centrale San Lorenzo and elsewhere
Tel: 39 055 219 949 (Nerbone)
Say "Florence," and Michelangelo and Dante are apt to spring to mind; one's thoughts are less likely to turn to tripe. Yet the bovine stomach, and more particularly the firm abomasum—known locally as lampredotto—has long been considered a delicacy in the Tuscan city. The courageous can sample it in Florence's tripe stalls, where knots of eaters can be seen hunched over paper-wrapped sandwiches. Some stands prepare a whole menu of tripe dishes, but the classic panino al lampredotto, a boiled-tripe sandwich dressed with salsa verde, is available at them all. One of the best is Nerbone, a stall inside the Mercato Centrale that has grown over the years into a full-scale trattoria, where hot dishes like seppie e piselli (cuttlefish and peas) are served at marble tables alongside the classic trippa (tripe) and lesso (a boiled-beef sandwich, served either as it is or dipped in meat broth). The appropriate accompanying beverage is a stubby tumbler of Chianti (open Mon–Fri 7 am–2 pm). Other trippai include Orazio Nencioni, at the corner of the Loggia del Porcellino (the covered craft market on Via dei Cimatori), and Maria Albergucci, in Piazzale di Porta Romana.
242 Viale Pasitea
Tel: 39 089 812 3516
Don't be fooled by the ambient music and the Miami-minimalist design aesthetic. Beneath its stylish veneer, this cool new bar-restaurant a few doors up from Da Vincenzo has solid local credentials and takes its food and wine very seriously; it's also surprisingly good value—at least for Positano. Some dishes, like the pumpkin soup with rosemary oil and a sprinkling of shrimp, fall into the creative category; but others—the sartù di riso or slow-baked beef braciola in tomato sauce—are classic Neapolitan dishes, sharpened and refined rather than revisited. An outside patio set back from the road makes for a relaxed alfresco meal; in high season, it also acts as a venue for occasional jazz concerts. The wine list is a pleasure to read: It's not a huge selection, but one that's clearly been drawn up by someone who knows their Italian producers, from Alto Adige down to Campania.
Open daily 6 pm to 2 am, April through the first week of November.
Piazza San Martino 9
Tel: 051 23 2502
Bologna's best pizzeria serves up crispy pies with scrumptious toppings in a quiet square near Montagnola and the Ghetto. Best to visit when the weather is good and white-clothed tables line the pavement. Carb counters will enjoy the excellent fish dishes.
26 Via dei Prefetti
Tel: 39 06 683 2630
The first mozzarella bar in the city, and perhaps the world, Obikà is a shrine to this most versatile cheese, serving three main regional varieties gathered from the country's top producers, backed up by a supporting act of salumi, salads, and a few cooked dishes. The raw material is as genuine as they come, but the vibe is a little posed, with self-regarding waiters and cramped designer tables. Still, with its hipster clientele, this is a good place for people-watching, and there are some exceptional Sicilian and Campanian wines to take the edge off the pretension.
4 Via Santo Spirito
Tel: 39 055 265 8198
The Oltrarno district, Florence's version of the Left Bank, is home to this restaurant that doubles as a gastronomic emporium, serving creative Tuscan cooking and selling an impressive selection of wine, cheese, salumi, and prepared foods to go. Olive oil is a speciality: Sourced from all over Italy (but mainly Tuscany), it starts arriving from November onward. A good year will mean that there are up to 40 different oils to choose from; the best time to taste is early spring. Alternatively, dine in the back room lined with wine bottles: The creative lunch and dinner menus change according to the season, but might take in broad bean and pecorino risotto or turbot on a bed of chickpeas; generous salumi boards are another feature.
Closed Sundays and Monday evenings.
51/r Via delle Terme
Tel: 39 055 212 421
On a small side street in the center of town, Oliviero drips old-fashioned glamour, with its red velvet banquettes and white-gloved waiters—so it's not surprising to learn that Burt Lancaster, Sophia Loren, and Maria Callas were once patrons. The cuisine, however, is not stuck in the past: Local ingredients are used with flair, as in the leek soup with lampredotto (tripe), or their amusing variation on the most clichéd of Florentine desserts: a vin santo–flavored cheesecake, its base made up of crumbled Prato biscuits. Fish, meat, and game take equal billing among the secondi (which might include rabbit terrine with plums, or tuna filet in a sauce of Tropea onions, sultanas, pine nuts, and ginger-scented olive oil). On Fridays between November and March, there's a nod to tradition with the carrello dei bolliti (boiled meat trolley). The wine list and selection of Cognacs, single-malt whiskies, and grappas is unusual and impressive.
11/r Via Pian dei Giullari
Tel: 39 055 220 053
A ten-minute cab ride into the hills south of Florence, Omero is a classic, midpriced country restaurant. You enter beneath the hanging hams of what seems a rustic grocery shop to emerge out back into a panoramic dining room with an outside terrace, affording marvelous views of the vine-covered slopes. Begin with crostini and salumi and continue with pasta or soup, grilled chicken, or artichoke wedges fried without batter. Tables full of Florentine families pack the restaurant at Sunday lunchtimes. Bring mosquito repellent in the summer months.
9r Via Accademia dei Georgofili
Tel: 39 055 200 1699
If you're a certified foodie, Marco Stabile's creative Italian restaurant is a must-visit. A move in 2010 to intimate new quarters just around the corner from the Uffizi brought kudos—not to mention the international clientele that the chef had struggled to attract in his previous suburban location. The open kitchen is the wow factor of Ora d'Aria's new home, which otherwise has a domestic intimacy to it, as if they've moved some retro designer chairs into a Florentine apartment and replaced the books on the shelves with wine. Stabile is not afraid of strong flavor combos, such as his trademark antipastos, egg yolk with foie gras and pear cooked in balsamic vinegar. Everything is good here, from pastas and risottos through to desserts, and the 600-bottle wine list makes for absorbing reading and drinking. Reservations recommended.—Lee Marshall
Open Monday evenings through Saturdays.
117 Via Fieschi
Tel: 39 01 8782 1166
Aloof on its rocky spur and lacking a port, Corniglia feels less touristy and more authentically Ligurian than the other four Cinque Terre villages. Its more rustic, inland spirit is summed up in this cave of wonders halfway up the narrow main street, where gruff but simpatico owner-chef Agostino Galletti presides. The day's menu is scrawled on a series of blackboards inside the stone-walled main dining room. Pasta dishes might include tagliolini with mixed seafood, or the classic pansotti (spinach-and-ricotta-filled ravioli) in walnut sauce; follow up with a perfectly grilled fish of the day or the rabbit baked with olives and thyme. Galletti's English is pretty limited, but the effort to communicate tends to encourage a communal atmosphere, and by the end of the meal everyone is swapping Cinque Terre tips and anecdotes. Booking is essential, especially in high season.
Open Wednesdays through Mondays 1 to 3 pm and 8 to 9:30 pm.
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.
8 Via Baldeschi
Tel: 39 075 573 5461
Umbria's regional capital, Perugia, has never quite had the restaurants to match its vibrant, cultured image. This lively, reasonably priced place on a medieval lane behind the Duomo comes closest to capturing the spirit of the city, with its bohemian-bistro vibe and unfussy focus on good food and wine. The jazzy soundtrack and artistic presentation of dishes may hint at style over substance, but dishes like pork filet cooked in Colonnata lard with caramelized onions and apple cider vinegar are actually very good. The service—at times a single waitperson—can get overwhelmed when the dining room's busy, but you can always order a bottle from the excellent wine list to tide you over till the food arrives.
Dinner only. Closed Mondays, the last two weeks in January, and the last two weeks in June.
24 Via G. Bettolo
Tel: 39 06 372 9470
The owner, a former rugby player, and his slightly scruffy crew serve a three-course, fixed-price menu (currently $31 a head) that includes cookies and wine. Among the hearty, traditional Roman dishes on offer are pasta all gricia (with bacon and pecorino), as well as superb roast lamb. Other grilled meats and fish are available for a small supplement. Lunch has a similar menu but à la carte menu. Service is informal and gruffly jovial. There are outdoor tables, when the weather allows; but whether you eat inside or out, it pays to book ahead, as this place is popular.
Closed Sundays and in August.
16 Via del Trivio
Tel: 39 074 344 349
We're still waiting for Spoleto to come up with a must-eat-there restaurant along the lines of L'Asino d'Oro in Orvieto, but until then, the Osteria del Trivio, a Slow Foodmovement place in a lane just off steep Corso Garibaldi, will have to do. In a dining room with red-checked tablecloths and vintage black-and-white wall photos, diners tuck into first courses such as strangozzi (thick, hand-rolled spaghetti) with broad beans, pancetta, and pecorino cheese; and secondi like tender beef filet in a Sagrantino wine sauce. Regulars know to save room for cresciondaa special dessert pie made with almonds and dark chocolate. Service is attentive, though slightly gruff.
Closed Tuesdays and the month of January.
1 Via del Piano
Monticchiello di Pienza
Tel: 39 0578 755 163
This charming osteria-cum-wine-bar nestles just inside the entrance to the ancient borgo (village) of Monticchiello, with a lovely little terrace overlooking Pienza, the Val d'Orcia, and Monte Amiata (book ahead if you want to be sure of an outside table). Inside, rustic tables with butcher-paper place mats set the casual tone. Unusually for Italy, it's open all day from 9 a.m. to midnight; you can stop for a morning cappuccino, lunch, afternoon tea, an aperitif, or dinner. Sommelier Daria Cappelli stocks 250 labels in her wine cellar, many available by the glass to accompany local pecorino or cold cuts. La Porta also serves delicious renditions of local specialties at lunch and dinner, from pici with roast duck ragù to a fine agnello in porchetta (lamb roasted in the same way as one would normally do porchetta, with garlic, onion, and aromatic herbs). The owners also have a few apartments for rent in the village.
33 Via del Porrione
Tel: 39 0577 48013
Though it calls itself a humble osteria, this is really more of a gourmet restaurant that likes to dress down. It's extraordinary that food this good is served within hopping distance of Piazza del Campo; curious, too, that the host, Gianni Brunelli, is a former extreme-left rabble-rouser and union organizer (check out the photo of him with Fidel Castro in the dining room). Since then he's added restaurateur, contemporary art buff (you can admire part of his collection on the walls), and Brunello di Montalcino wine producer to his list of achievements. The main dining room fuses wine and literary culture in its glass-fronted bookcases, which are packed with good bottles and good books. On the plate, fusion dishes like seared tuna with soya and wasabi alternate with more Tuscan treats—the latter more reliable, in our experience—like cinta senese pork liver served both whole and in sausage form; or the restaurant's trademark primo, malfatti all'Osteria (spinach and ricotta gnocchi served in tomato sauce). The wine list is extensive—at least if you stick to Tuscan bottles—with extremely reasonable markups.
1 Via Orazio Comes
Tel: 39 080 937 2208
A local institution, Osteria Perricci is one of those great Italian trattorias that leave you sated, smiling, and not much poorer. In a narrow lane of the rough-edged but heart-of-gold fishing port of Monopoli, the Osteria looks like it's been there foreverand, of course, it has. Under whirring ceiling fans, tuck into an array of antipasti served by three generations of the Perricci family (the youngest waiter can't be a day over 14). These might include tiny Minnella olives, a variety that is at its best when lightly fried, as they are here; raw cuttlefish marinated in lemon; or delicate, crisp-fried Lecce seaweed. Then it's the turn of the unmissable house specialty: cavatelli ai frutti di marelittle pasta shells swimming in a sapid tomato and seafood sauce, topped with baby octopus, clams, shrimp, and whatever else the boat brought in that day. Even if you're starving, you'll be hard put to spend much more than 20 euros a head with a flask of house wine.
Open Thursdays through Tuesdays.
Campo Santa Marina
Tel: 39 041 528 5239
In a quiet campo near the Rialto, this upmarket osteria with its beamed ceiling and polished dark-wood bar gets all the details right: The various breads are all made in-house, and the intervals between courses are filled by tiny amuse-bouche dishes. The seafood-focused menu includes first courses like creamed borlotto-bean soup with fresh chunks of tuna, and ravioli stuffed with turbot and mussels in celery broth. Follow this up with fried soft-shell crabs and tender artichokes, or bream filet with asparagus au gratin. The warm chocolate tart dessert is locally—and deservedly—famous.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 7:30 to 9:30 pm.
94 Via Frattina
Tel: 39 06 6920 2132
The regional government of Lazio, of which Rome is the capital, opened this stylish and high-tech–looking wine bar and restaurant, near the Spanish Steps, to promote local wine and food. Eat downstairs at one of the tables that crowd around the bar, or in the coolly minimalist upstairs room. The wine list proves that when it comes to wines from this region, there is life beyond Frascati: You might be tempted by a bottle of the aromatic red Cesanese del Piglio, or by the excellent chardonnays produced by Paolo and Noemi D'Amico in Lazio's far north. A menu based exclusively on local produce includes specialties such as Monte San Biagio sausages and cannellini beans from Atina. The healthy, veggie-rich dishes on offer include an excellent fried baccalà (salt cod), crunchy on the outside and butter-soft within, served with endives, pine nuts, and golden raisins. There are also several kosher options.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 12:30 to 3 pm and 8 to 10:30 pm.
14 Via Matteo Bandello
Tel: 39 02 4398 6316
Design guru Rossana Orlandi opened this sophisticated shabby-chic trattoria next door to her warehouse showroom in November 2006. Previously a tobacconist's, the trattoria mixes furniture and fittings from its former life with pieces created or found by Orlandi: Think industrial-style architectural salvage filtered through an acutely Milanese design sensibility. But what makes the place is the laid-back atmosphere and the friendly guiding hand of the three young but experienced Teruzzi brothers, who between them handle most of the cooking, serving, and wine pouring. The good-value food is light Italian, based on carefully sourced organic ingredients, with homemade bread and plenty of risottos and salads; there are also a couple of tasting menus, including a delicious four-course seafood spread currently pegged at about €40($54). Pane e Acqua keeps café hours, with gourmet breakfast on offer from 8 a.m. and dinner service winding down relatively early, at 10 p.m.
Closed Mondays. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.
3 Piazza della Mercanzia
Tel: 39 051 23 2807
A Bolognese institution, the "Parrot" is housed in a medieval building near the city's two leaning towers. The comfortable but rather demode restaurant is a favorite of the rich and famous, whose signed photos line the walls. There's nothing nouvelle about the cuisine, but the kitchen here can be relied on to serve up impeccable tortellini, filling lasagna verde, anda house specialtyturkey breasts baked in white wine, Parmesan, and truffles. A well-stocked wine cellar features some 250 labels.
196 Via Tiburtina
Tel: 39 06 9727 3519
Since the 1970s, this former pasta factory in the student-y eastern district of San Lorenzo has been a point of reference for the city's contemporary and experimental artists. Now the upper-floor exhibition spaces have been complemented with a street-level wine bar/restaurant to cater to the cool and creative set. The decor is retro industrial, the vibe very laid-back, with one corner of the huge room dedicated to comfy armchairs and sofas for drink-in-hand lounging and the rest uncluttered with well-spaced tables. Up-and-coming chef Stefano Preli works the spectrum from traditional Roman to more creative experiments (roast suckling pig with hazelnut purée and spicy fruit, smoked duck breast with coconut milk and caramelized grapes), most of which are successful. From aperitivo hour (with bar snacks) through dinner, the clientele here is well-heeled and fashion-conscious; the ambience at lunchtime is more relaxed.—Lee Marshall
Open Tuesdays through Fridays 12:30 to 3 pm and 8 pm to 1:30 am, Saturdays 7 pm to 2 am, and Sundays 12:30 to 3 pm and 8 pm to 1:30 am.
40 Corso Cavour
Tel: 39 075 894 2376
This corner bar in the southern town of Todi looks like any number of others where local old-timers (who may eye you warily as you walk in) gather for coffee, sandwiches, and glasses of grappa. But what sets Pianegiani apart from the pack is the homemade gelatonot the Day-Glo whipped stuff designed to lure passing tourists but serious ice cream made with fresh local ingredients. The best flavors to try are crema ai pignoli (made with pine nuts), chocolate, and Fior di Latte (sweet and milky,sort of like vanilla without the vanilla); in summer, the fruit sorbets are good, too. The shop sells gelato from about mid-March to the end of October.
43 Via della Meloria
Tel: 39 06 3974 5416
If hours of admiring the priceless masterpieces of the Vatican Museums has you craving a humble piece of pizza, you'll be grateful for this tiny to-go outlet, hidden away on an anonymous street less than ten minutes' walk from the museum entrance (walk down the steps to Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie, take your first left, then your first right). Gabriele Bonci, a young chef expert in the use of flours and leavens, lets his pizza dough rise for 72 hours, and sells it by weight. The fresh, organic toppings include treats like wild asparagus; pesto and eggplant; and buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and anchovies. Bonci also bakes bread: The rye loaf and sourdough are both particularly good—and long-lasting.
64/r Via Tornabuoni
Tel: 39 055 211 656
Just about the last bastion of "Old Florence" on designer boutiquelined Via Tornabuoni, Procacci started selling truffles in 1885, when it opened as a luxury grocer. The decor has changed little since the late 19th century, and the atmosphere is elegant in a genteel sort of way; it's the kind of place where elderly ladies in hats meet for an early-evening chat and a Campari with soda. Apart from fresh truffles, Procacci stocks a wonderful selection of indulgent edible goodies, from bottled truffles (both white and black) and delicious cheeses to decadent chocolates. After your purchases, order a prosecco at the bar and accompany it with a delectable panino tartufato (a tiny truffle creamfilled roll).
4 Piazza Umberto I
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 4108
The Piazzetta's most secret bar, Pulalli hides up a flight of steps next to the clock tower (the proximity is brought home every time the bell tolls the quarter-hour). To get there, head through the tiny arch to the right of the newsstand, and keep on up the stairs to the top. There are just four tables on a small terrace overlooking the square—making it a great place to sip a glass of wine (try a Campanian white, such as Fiano or Falanghina) while observing the beau monde below. They also offer a light Caprese lunch and dinner menu, including lemon risotto or straccetti all'aceto con grana (beef strips braised in balsamic vinegar served with shavings of Grana Padano cheese). If the terrace is full—or the weather contrary—head inside for more views, this time over Monte Solaro and the Bay of Naples.
Closed Tuesdays and December through February.
5 Piazza Martiri dell'Olivetta
Tel: 39 01 8526 9037
If you want to hang with the Portofino smart set, book a table chez Puny, the most classic and chichi of the harborside restaurants, with its refined marine decor (including a cool raffia-seated version of Gio Ponti's iconic Superleggera chair). You probably won't recognize most of the VIPs who pack in here on summer evenings, as few of these captains of industry, Roman aristos, and small-time Milanese TV celebs have achieved international fame, but the people-we-know vibe is unmistakable and makes for an entertaining meal. As for the food, it's standard Ligurian fishy fare; competent but unchallenging. On our last visit, the warm octopus and artichoke salad was good, fresh, and herby, but the main-course gilthead bream baked with potatoes and olives was rather too doused in oil. Still, the faithful, well-heeled clientele comes here for '60s-style comfort food, not nouvelle cuisine. And the lemon and wild strawberry sorbet is delicious. Book well ahead or trust in fate: There are times when even the concierge at the Splendido can't guarantee you a table.
Open Fridays through Wednesdays 12:30 to 2 pm and 7:30 to 10:30 pm.
Vico Ebrei/Piazza Duomo
Taormina , Sicily
Tel: 39 094 262 5656
The traditional Sicilian fare is as lovely as the view from the patio at this popular dining spot near—you guessed it—the Piazza Duomo. Start with one of the pristine seafood antipasti, then move on to fresh fish, pastas, lamb stew, and almond-pistachio desserts. The wine list includes a variety of Sicilian labels.
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.
Via Corrado Grande 15
Santa Maria di Castellabate
Tel: 0974 961 182
Located in Hotel Colleverde, on a hill in Santa Maria di Castellabate, this homey pizzeria offers picture-perfect vistas of the Cilento Coast. The menu highlights fresh local fish, regional wine, and homemade pizza. Sample buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes and extra-virgin olive oil, seafood risotto, and traditional fish soup, but save room for desserts like crème caramel, panna cotta with strawberries, and budino al cioccolato, chocolate pudding. There is outdoor patio seating in the summer, and the restaurant is open year-round.
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.
121 Piazza San Marco
Tel: 39 041 522 2105
The window tables in the upstairs restaurant at Gran Caffè Quadri—with their peerless views across St. Mark's Square—have been sought after for centuries, whatever the standard of the food served. But with the arrival of Michelin-starred chef Massimiliano Alajmo, the battle to secure them, or indeed any other perch in this classically elegant Venice restaurant, has really hotted up. With maître d' Raffaele Alajmo (the chef's brother) ensuring that diners are treated with the utmost in old-fashioned charm, the groundbreaking dishes sometimes come as a surprise. The lagoon cappuccino appetizer is a concoction of the best of local seafood and dark, creamy squid ink in mashed potato so exquisite you might not even identify it at first bite. First-course and main dishes change seasonally; on a recent visit, a risotto with baby shrimp and garusoli (sea snails) was given an exotic undertone with a note of cumin. Downstairs in the beautiful frescoed-and-mirrored café itself, two young chefs prepare light meals at lunch and dinner, at prices that are (a little) lighter on the holiday budget.—Lee Marshall
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 12:30 to 2:30 pm and 7:30 to 10:30 pm.
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.
34 Via dei Chiavari
Campo De' Fiori
Tel: 39 06 686 4045
Near Campo De' Fiori (a magnet for young Romans at night), the Roscioli family has turned their long-standing bakery and grocery store into destinations for food and wine aficionados. For our money, it's the bakery-diner side of the operation in Via dei Chiavari that works best, rather than the deli-restaurant in Via dei Giubbonari, where the wine and food is top-notch but the service is on the unpleasant side of frosty. Not so in the forno, a friendly, bustling neighborhood bakery where you can get a slice of pizza to go, or come lunchtime, perch at a few bar-height tables to sample daily specials like lasagna, involtini, or meatballs: A generous single dish plus a glass of wine will set you back about $14.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 12:30 to 3 pm.
28 Via San Giovanni del Toro
Tel: 39 089 818 181
The region's grandest dining (and no lunching) takes place at grandissimo hotel Palazzo Sasso, courtesy of young Pugliese chef Pino Lavarra, who took over from the original chef, Antonio Genovese, in 2001. In a low-ceilinged baronial hall that's been slightly Marriott-ized in multiple shades of beige, an army of waiters ferry the food—which turns out to be less alarmingly haute than the ambience, or the menu descriptions, suggest. Lavarra is a little more Slow Food than he used to be, anchoring his creations in locally sourced ingredients such as Cetara anchovies, Cilento mozzarella, and cheeses from Tramonti. This is southern Italian food writ large: basil-flavored chitarrini (a spaghetti variant) wrapped in swordfish carpaccio, or ricciola (amberjack) in anchovy emulsion with artichoke salad. Finish off with a famous decadent grand dessert al cioccolato, and steel yourself for the bill, which is likely to top 100 euros a head even if you go easy on the wine.
Open daily for dinner March through October.
77 Via Cardinale Ascanio Sforza
Tel: 39 02 5810 4451 (Sadler)
Tel: 39 02 8950 3222 (Chic'n Quick)
Probably the most famous Milanese chef after Gualtiero Marchesi, Claudio Sadler was sitting pretty with two Michelin stars and a suave city-center restaurant until 2007, when he surprised everyone by moving shop to a relatively down-market stretch of the Naviglio Grande, one of the industrial canals that bisect Milan's southwestern suburbs. Here he opened two restaurants supplied by a single kitchen—upscale, evening-only Sadler, and casual, cut-price offshoot Chic'n Quick. With its more formal table settings, modern theatrical decor, and full-on service, Sadler is the place for a big gourmet night out, while Chic'n Quick, as the name implies, is less demanding—though the food is still authentically Sadler (i.e., creative Italian, with carefully sourced ingredients, high on cooking technique but low on foams and other molecular pyrotechnics). In fact, a Chic'n Quick dish, such as the whole-wheat cannelloni filled with veal stew, burrata, and chanterelle mushrooms, is fully up to the standard of the mothership. So unless you're celebrating a special occasion or are a fundamentalist foodie, we suggest starting your Sadler experience with baby bro—where a three-course à la carte meal comes in at around a third of what you'd pay chez Sadler. Both avatars have fine wine lists, with an excellent by-the-glass selection.
Sadler open Mondays through Saturdays 7:30 to 11 pm.
Chic'n Quick open Mondays 7:30 to 11 pm; Tuesdays through Saturdays 12:30 to 2 pm and 7:30 to 11 pm.
32 Corso Vannucci
Tel: 39 075 572 4112
The interior of this historic bar-pasticceria on Perugia's main street is a museum of sorts; its carved wooden display shelves, painted ceiling, chandeliers, and marble bar all date back to the 19th century. But don't be fooled by the old-school atmosphere: Sandri's pastry chefs are on the cutting edge, turning out creative confections like meditazione (like triangular tiramisù pastries). More traditional Perugian treats can be had here, too, like torciglione—soft almond biscuits shaped like snakes eating their tails. In the evening, locals stop in for aperitivi.
Closed Mondays, and three weeks in August and January; call ahead.
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.
4 Piazza Sant'Andrea
Palermo , Sicily
Tel: 39 091 334 999
By the Vucciria market off Piazza San Domenica, this chic little place serves evolved Sicilian trattoria dishes emphasizing seafood (like squid stuffed with pine nuts, tomato, and local cheese). Unlike many restaurants, it's open Mondays, when a coveted table in the piazza is even harder to snag, so reserve ahead.
Dinner only. Closed Sundays.
64r/66r Via Santo Spirito
Tel: 39 055 211 264
Ever popular since its 2002 debut, this well-placed Oltrarno diner pitches the old wooden-table, paper-placemat osteria formula at Florentine hipsters and tuned-in tourists. Service is informal but efficient, and the tasty food is well priced for this city and location. Some dishes mine the Florentine tradition, while more ambitious flavor combos include spring pea soup with sautéed squid, but all are based on fresh, locally sourced produce. This is one of those laid-back, wine-oriented Italian hostelries where you can stop off for a glass of Chianti and a plate of cheese or salumi (from an excellent selection) or launch into a full-scale meal. Whichever route you take, try to find room for a dessert—both the panna cotta and the rosemary crème brûlée (served with chestnut gelato) are excellent. Next door, bar offshoot Il Santino offers wines by the glass, accompanied by tapas-style portions of some of the mothership's specialities.—Lee Marshall
Open Sundays 7:30 pm to 11 pm and Mondays through Saturdays 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm, 7:30 pm to 11 pm.
63b Via Broccaindosso
Tel: 39 051 263 404
When you can't bear the thought of yet more tortellini, head for this southern Italian restaurant just inside the walls near Porta di San Vitale. The owner comes from Basilicatathe region in the instep of the Italian bootand the menu has an original Mediterranean touch, with dishes like licorice-flavored maccheroncini (little macaroni) with artichokes and shrimp, or seared alalunga (albacore tuna) served with ginger-marinated persimmons and mostarda di peperoncino (spicy relish). The sober dining room with its unforgiving wooden chairs is pepped up with framed sets of tarot and Neapolitan cards and chessboards (the restaurant's name means "checkmate"). Although the vibe can be a little flat at lunchtime on weekdays, it buzzes here most evenings, so book at least a day in advance.
Open Monday evenings through Sundays.
12 Via Piella
Tel: 39 051 233 533
In the canal district east of Via Indipendenza, this eight-table family-run trattoria is a bastion of traditional Bolognese cuisine. Don't be fooled by the homey appearance of the warm wood-paneled dining room lined by dusty bottles: Serghei's fabulous cooking and convivial vibe attract fashion designers, university professors, and captains of industry as well as local artisans. The pasta is all homemade: Don't miss the melt-in-the-mouth ricotta and spinach tortelloni, served with butter and sage or Gorgonzola sauce. The hearty secondi include zucchini stuffed with polpettine (meatballs) in tomato sauce; in winter, polenta with spuntature (pork ribs) also puts in an appearance. There are some good regional bottles on the wine list.
Open Mondays through Fridays.
25 Via Luigi Settembrini
Tel: 39 06 323 2617
Settembrini proves that chic design can go hand in hand with friendly service, good food, and reasonable prices. Not far from the media hub of Piazza Mazzini (state broadcaster RAI has its offices nearby), this multipurpose diner morphs throughout the day: late-morning panino bar to smart buffet lunch stop, afternoon tearoom to early-evening wine bar to full-on tête-à-tête restaurant. Roman chef Luigi Nastri insists on only the freshest, best-quality ingredients, from just-landed Puglian fish to Gerardo di Nola pasta. Dishes like the marinated beef fillet with couscous and steamed vegetables show him at his creative best. The ever-changing wine list, strong on carefully selected small Italian wineries, is a real treasure.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 1 to 3 pm and 8 to 11 pm, September through July.
Via Mirasole 19
Tel: 051 585 857
This is not your grandfather's trattoria. Chef Silverio Cineri's new Bolognese cuisine challenges the palate with parmesan cheese gelato, sage-spiced lemon sorbet, and egg pasta with wild nettles. Great for terrace dining in summer.
30 Piazza delle Cinque Scole
Tel: 39 06 687 4216
There's no sign, just a small door with red curtains. Inside you'll find a jumble of wooden tables and a sawdust-covered floor—and homemade pasta, gnocchi, and other comfort food worth the often-long wait. Though Margherita herself has become too old to cook, two assistants who trained at her side for years continue to offer straightforward, traditional food at very reasonable prices: pasta and chickpea soup, tonnarelli cacio e pepe (thick spaghetti with grated cheese and black pepper), fried zucchini flowers, osso buco, and Roman Jewish specialties, including fried artichokes. Be forewarned: The restaurant doesn't take credit cards.
Open Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays 12:30 to 3 pm; Fridays and Saturdays 12:30 to 3 pm and 8 to 10:30 pm, September through July.The restaurant sometimes closes on summer Saturdays as well; call ahead to check.
Sunday brunch has caught on in a big way in Milan over the last few years. Among the city center hotels, Bulgari, the Park Hyatt, and the Four Seasons all offer sumptuous buffets—at a price. Another hot brunch spot, though only during the summer, is Old Fashion, a historic nightclub with restaurant attached in leafy Parco Sempione, right by the Triennale museum. But for our money, the best and most convivial brunch spot in Milan is the Cantina della Vetra, a large, split-level bistro just off Corso di Porta Ticinese, with warm new-rustic decor and a fabulous buffet that takes in a huge range of salads, quiches, cold fish and meat dishes, and desserts, as well as a daily list of hot specials. In Old Fashion and Cantina della Vetra, expect to pay around €30 ($38) a head without wine. In Milan, brunch is generally served between noon and 3 pm, and should be booked ahead.
1 Via Porta Nuova
Tel: 39 074 460 496
The tiny, delightful walled village of Stroncone (just a few miles south of Terni, Umbria's sprawling version of Detroit) is home to this welcoming, mostly undiscovered trattoria. Just inside the door is a big fireplace for grilling meats (the house specialty), but everything here is good: the zuppa Contadina, a vegetable soup served in a scooped-out loaf of bread; the tagliatelle with broad beans and zucchini flowers; the calorific desserts. The couple that runs the place is friendly and garrulous, and since the restaurant has only five tables, dinner here generally turns into a lively communal discussion about food, politics, and life.
Dinner only. Closed Wednesdays and the first two weeks of August.
Via Battibecco 4
Tel: 051 223 298
This Michelin-starred restaurant specializes in seafood but also turns out a delicious tagliolini with eggplant and scampi or goose breast with honey and walnut salad. Chef/owner Nico Costa keeps the standard high, with impeccable service and an excellent wine list. Spanish brickwork and small niches make the restaurant cozy. In summer, ask to eat on the porch.
1 Piazza Cavour
Tel: 39 01 8780 8497
In a corner of Levanto's main square, a couple of blocks back from the sea, this local institution is always full of regulars. Angle for an alfresco table on the veranda, which functions year-round (in winter, overhead braziers take the edge off the chill). Best advice is to follow the suggestions of the owner's son Matteo, whose surliness is only skin-deep. The day's offerings might include an antipasto of salted anchovies with roast yellow peppers, or a primo of taglierini neri (thin pasta ribbons dyed black with squid ink) in seafood sauce. In autumn, don't miss the scaloppina (veal cutlet) with mushrooms; the mixed fish grill (for a minimum of two) is another flagship dish. The house white wine is excellent, but there are plenty of other options. Wrap up with a refreshing lemon sorbet. If you're coming for dinner be aware that the kitchen starts to wind down around 9:30 pm.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays.
6 Piazza Sant'Egidio
Tel: 39 06 580 6033
This small, unpretentious trattoria has won the hearts of many Romans, and not just because it serves better food than most places in tourist-clogged Trastevere. The restaurant also offers jobs to mentally handicapped youth, who work both as waiters and in the kitchen. The menu features simple, consistently good dishes such as sea bass carpaccio, Tunisian-style couscous, chickpea soup, and fresh cassata and cannoli from Sicily.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 7:30 to 11 pm, September through July.
Via del Pratello 11a
Tel: 051 236 358
This traditional trattoria near the Church of San Francesco is not only tasty and affordable, it even has the requisite red-and-white-checkered tablecloths. The menu changes daily, with such specialties as macaroni Norma style, grilled meats, seafoods, seasonal veggies, bread, and cake, plus several good local wines. This place is always crowded, so book ahead.
29 Via Capodieci
Siracusa , Sicily
Tel: 39 093 166 233
The Pravato family's veggie-leaning cuisine is a welcome relief from Sicily's meat-laden menus. Rich soups, pastas, and simple entrées are practically free of the beef ubiquitous at neighboring trattorias. If nothing else, come for the decor: The 50-seat dining room is a riot of antiques, mismatched glasses, silverware, and father Beppe's sculptures.
Closed Tuesdays November to March.
6 Via Gentilino
Tel: 39 02 8940 9089
You couldn't design a trattoria this authentic (though this being Milan, they probably did). Beer company clocks, framed photos of someone's grandparents, a poster for a Rod Stewart concert in Sweden, and old road signs jostle one another on the walls, while down below, the red-check tablecloth reigns supreme. The menu—basically a photocopied scrawl—takes in filling northern staples like tortellini in brodo or sausages with braised verza (a kind of cabbage), and the classic bollito misto (a dish of mixed boiled meats). The clientele is a mix of old regulars and young hipsters attracted by the buzz and the low prices—if you pay more than $30 a head with wine, you've really pushed the boat out. Despite its out-of-the-way location—in the southern Navigli neighborhood—it's always packed: So book ahead, or take your chances.
Open Mondays through Wednesdays noon to 2:30 pm, Thursdays through Saturdays noon to 2:30 pm and 8 to 10:30 pm.
2/r Via Rosina
Tel: 39 055 218 550
Trattoria Mario, behind the San Lorenzo market, caters to students, market workers, and other regulars, who stand outside waiting for a place at one of the tiny tables jammed into its dining room. A glassed-in kitchen offers a view of the hardworking crew. The day's menu is posted on the wall, and it's ultra-cheap, classic Tuscan faresoups like ribollita or pappa al pomodoro, pastas, grilled meats, a few stews. Most of the menu is simple, apart from the Florentine steak, the most expensive item available. A handful of fine wines are available by the bottle or quartino (quarter liter). Lunch only.
Via Saragozza 240a
Tel: 051 614 3947
Nestled along the covered portico leading up to San Luca, this tiny trattoria is easy to miss. But its unassuming facade belies the basic but delicious dishes served inside. Favorites include meatballs in tomato sauce (considered the city's best), stuffed rabbit, ossobuco, handmade pastas, a homemade semifreddo, and any of the excellent wines. Many diners work off the meal by trekking up to the sanctuary.
11 Via Santa Marta
Tel: 39 02 8645 1991
This local institution just around the corner from the main post office does just what it says on the box: It offers great, down-home Milanese cuisine in an upmarket trattoria setting. This is one of the best places in town to sample that local stalwart risotto alla milanese—a delicate, saffron-flavored risotto cooked in chicken broth. But it's equally strong on other filling Lombard dishes like osso buco and tripe. Don't miss the warm Zabaglione dessert. The healthy portions; warm, bottle-lined ambience; and lack of outside space makes this local favorite more of a cold-weather option, but it does have AC in summer—and one or two lighter options on the menu.
Closed Tuesdays. Lunch Monday through Friday. Dinner nightly.
13A Via di San Vito
Tel: 39 06 446 6573
It's as difficult to get a booking at this tiny upscale trattoria as it is at most of Rome's white linen restaurants. Just up the road from the city's new ethnic hub of Piazza Vittorio, Monti is run by three good-looking brothers from Le Marche, the Adriatic coast region of central Italy that's famous, among other things, for its culinary prowess. The cuisine here is certainly a good advertisement for marchigiano genes: Dishes like tagliolini with anchovies, pecorino cheese, and golden raisins, and a thinly sliced cod carpaccio with red onions and truffles are both ambitious and delicious. In fact, with its contemporary decor, clientele of creative professional types, adventurous menu, and extensive wine list, one might think that there's little of the trattoria about the place—but the warm welcome and commitment to value for money are reassuringly true to the name.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 12:30 to 3 pm and 7:30 to 11 pm, Sundays 12:30 to 3 pm. Closed in late August.
89/r Via Senese
Tel: 39 055 220 542
Outside the city center, near Porta Romana, is one of the best trattorias in Florence, a must-try if you're in the area. It's a great value for the money, and lunch and dinner dishes are fresh and beautifully prepared. Its two small dining rooms are always full, so there's no lingering at the tables. Spaghetti alla carrettieraliterally "teamster's style"has a delicious spicy tomato sauce. Other favorites are roast pork loin, roast rabbit, or, in season, porcini mushrooms.
Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Castiglione della Pescaia
Tel: 39 0564 944 322
Opened in June 2005 as the catering annex of L'Andana, Alain Ducasse's first Tuscan hotel, Trattoria Toscana is so far the more convincing part of the exercise (the hotel is overpriced and still needs to iron out some service issues). It's housed in a huge former granary, where polished wood beams arch overhead and a semi-open kitchen allows you to see some of the culinary drama unfolding. Despite Ducasse's Gallic origins, the cuisine here is authentically Maremman (from the Tuscan coastal strip), though it's veined with a modern Mediterranean lightness that one doesn't always associate with the region. The starters (toasty crostini with various toppings, salumi platters) are classic enough; it's in primi like gnocchi with chickpeas, green onions, and shrimp, or secondi such as shoulder of Chianti rabbit in sweet and sour confit that the twist worked by Ducasse's protégé Christophe Martin (the great man himself rarely shows) on the rather rustic local tradition is most evident. Grilled fish from the Tyrrhenian Sea or meat (lamb with rosemary, bistecca alla fiorentina) are other strong points. Desserts include a spectacular zuppa Inglese (rum-soaked sponge cake layered with fruit and custard).
Via Felippe Cavallotti 27
Tel: 080 432 1820
When you're done watching Japanese tourists exhaustively documenting trulli, stop in for sustenance—a lot of it. This is a great place to sample what Pugliese cuisine does best: antipasti. Vegetables (olives, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, wild mushrooms...) just bought from the market and fried or grilled; foccacia; tripe; the local pasta, orecchiette sauced with sausage and broccoli rabe; grilled meats; salads; you name it. All you have to do is sit back, watch the procession of plates, then clear them.
5 Piazza della Scala
Tel: 39 02 8068 8201
The location could not be more central or prestigious: on a corner overlooking La Scala, just across the square from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and within easy reach of both the banking hub and the fashion district. The street-level Café Trussardi, with its elegant contemporary design, has become a favorite lunch and aperitivo stop for those with business in the area (and if you're doing business in Milan, this is the area). If there's a deal to clinch, though, do it in the upstairs restaurant, with its red leather armchairs (perhaps a little too low-slung for comfort) and ringside view of the piazza. It's worth specifying a window seat when you book, as the low ceiling, the aisle layout of the tables, and the soberly minimalist decor—all russets and browns—make the inner tables feel decidedly second-best. The service here is as good as we have seen in Milan, striking a perfect balance between friendly and efficient. And if the restaurant's name suggests another style-over-substance fashion franchise, think again: Andrea Berton's creative Italian cuisine has met with plaudits all over. Dishes might include an antipasto of artichokes, scorzonera (black salsify), mozzarella, and beet juice, or raw and cooked prawns with amaranth grain and red beet gelato. The desserts are cheekily creative—especially the martini-glass variation on tiramisu. And the wine list is both extensive and surprisingly well valued. Excellent pre- or post-opera, but always book ahead.
Open Mondays through Fridays 12:30 to 3:30 pm and 8 to 11 pm, Saturdays 8 to 11 pm.
Via Lungomare 43
Tel: 0974 986 397
U' Zifaro is one of the best local seafood restaurants along thisor indeed any otherstretch of coast. Housed in a former boathouse on the esplanade, it offers a range of cheap, rustic dishes. As your first course, sample the spaghetti di mare alla puttanesca (that is, with seafood, tomatoes, and capers) and try the excellent grilled fish as your secondi. It all pairs wonderfully with the house whitea surprisingly good local Chardonnay.
147 Via Capriglione
Tel: 39 089 813 1333
Just occasionally it's nice to have an alternative to the Amalfi Coast's mamma-in-the-kitchen trattorias and formal seafood restaurants. The Casa Angelina design hotel's restaurant falls into neither camp: It's unashamedly contemporary, bringing some of the pizzazz of the new dining scene of Rome or Milan to a region that sometimes uses tradition as an excuse for lack of originality. A cool white and cream dining room with well-spaced tables looks onto a view of startling beauty, with the bay of Positano and the Li Galli islets in the distance (for the full diorama, book one of the tables on the outside terrace). Chef Vincenzo Vanacore plays around winningly with Neapolitan classics, fusing two standards (paccheri in seafood sauce, and fish soup) into a single dish, or offering a Sushi Napoletano, in which parboiled spaghetti chopped into rice-size fragments is tossed in garlic, chile, and oil and served with raw tuna and olives. Maître Andrea Confessore is an excellent multilingual host and guide to the well-chosen wine list. But attention to detail is only to be expected in a place where the color of the napkin the waiter brings is chosen according to what you happen to be wearing.—Lee Marshall
Open daily 1 to 3, 7:30 to 11 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.
3 Fondamenta di Santa Caterina
Tel: 39 041 5272281
A gourmet eating experience it may be, but Venissa must also rank as one of Venice's strangest. For a start, it's on an island—Mazzorbo—that most visitors have never heard of. It's also in the middle of a high-walled working vineyard, where a long-lost local grape variety—Dorona—is being coaxed back into production by the Bisol winery. Perhaps most surprisingly, it's attached to a hotel/hostel where the cheaper rooms come in at backpacking-student prices. But there's no arguing with the quality of chef Paola Budel's cooking. Budel's career has taken her from London to Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Milan, sparking influences that she ably merges with the Venetian tradition. In a tall, barnlike structure with contemporary dark wood fittings and open kitchen, Budel uses produce from the garden right outside and pairs them with seafood caught daily in the lagoon in a series of ever-changing creative hors d'oeuvres, pasta and risotto dishes, and mains.—Lee Marshall
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 12:30 to 3 pm and 7:30 to 10 pm. Open daily from March to November.
25a Via Lo Palazzo
Tel: 39 081 837 0944
This bustling place just below the Via Roma bus terminus in Capri Town is popular with tourists and locals—always a good sign. The large main dining room, with its colorful murals and framed pictures of Napoli's soccer dream team of the 1980s, has views over Marina Grande and the sea; behind it is an equally spacious pergola-shaded terrace. But though they pack 'em in here, they don't skimp on quality: The ravioli caprese are homemade, filled with fluffy, tangy sheep's cheese and served with generous lashings of fresh tomato sauce, and the seafood—a delicious sauté of mussels and clams—comes from that morning's catch (in the rare cases where they use frozen ingredients, they say so on the menu). Service is friendly and efficient—you can be in and out of here in under an hour if you have a boat to catch.
Open daily noon to 3:30 pm and 7:30 pm to midnight.
11 Borgo Albizi
Tel: 39 055 234 0374
For a great selection of handmade chocolates in intense, unusual flavors, come to Vestri, located just north of Piazza Santa Croce. Based in Arezzo, Vestri takes the art of chocolate so seriously that in 2001 the family bought their own cocoa plantation in Santo Domingo. Chocolates are flavored with Earl Grey tea, nutmeg, chile, or pepper, but there are plenty more prosaic flavors to choose from. Come in winter, and there will be steaming vats of hot chocolate (try the one spiked with bitter orange), while in summer, sinfully creamy ice cream (laced with mint, Cointreau, or fresh wild strawberries and white chocolate) is the order of the day.
60 Vicolo della Torretta
Largo Fontenella Borghese
Tel: 39 06 687 1445
Finding a good spot for a bite of light lunch is not easy in Rome, where a gulf yawns between the sandwich-in-a-bar and the three-course-meal jointswhich makes Vic's a welcome find. In a former vini e olio (wine and oil outletthe sign's still painted above the door) between Via del Corso and the river, this unpretentious eatery offers a small selection of filled savory crepes, plates of cold cuts and cheese, and a huge range of salads from a classic caprese (tomato, mozzarella, and basil) to more exotic options such as radicchio, golden raisins, pine nuts, and Parmesan. Rushed but charming staff serve a packed house of local workers and waistline-conscious shoppers who come here to refuel for less than $30 a head.
Open Mondays through Saturdays noon to 3:30 pm and 7:30 to 10:30 pm.
Via Grotte 2
Tel: 0973 876 163
Down in the port of Marina di Maratea, an enchanting little harbor is home to a number of good seafood restaurants. Among them, the reasonably priced Ristorante Za' Mariuccia is reliable for stellar service and a solid wine listfish is filleted at the table, and the wide selection of bottles is stuffed into nooks and crannies throughout the restaurant. (Open for dinner only: daily in high season, Friday and Saturday the rest of the year; closed October through Easter.)
2r Via San Miniato
Tel: 39 055 2342 864
This tiny deli-restaurant in the increasingly buzzy San Niccolò district, below Piazzale Michelangelo, has stools around a central island and an affable host, Alberto, working his culinary choreography in the middle. Once a humble family deli, Zeb updates the Italian rosticceria formula to offer a series of hot and cold Tuscan dishes with a cordon bleu twist, among them lentil, chestnut, and ginger soup; ricotta-filled cappellacci (like ravioli) with butter and sage; and a series of delicious seasonal flans and pies made by mamma Giuseppina. There are some Florentine classics too, from pappa al pomodoro to bollito (tender beef simmered in onion, celery, and carrot). There's an excellent selection of wines from Tuscany and farther afield, some of which are available by the glass. Best of all, though, Zeb is great value for money.—Lee Marshall
Open Mondays and Tuesdays 9:30 am to 8 pm, Thursdays through Saturdays 9:30 am to 10:30 pm, Sundays 9:30 am to 5 pm.
3/r Via di Terzollina
Tel: 39 055 433 383
In the hills above Florence, Zibibbo is a country restaurant that's still inside the city limits. The journey is well worth it. Benedetta Vitali's cucina is original, a blend of Tuscan comfort food that might include sformato (vegetable molds, kind of like unstructured mousselines), or a classic spaghetti with tiny wild clams, as well as stewed meat and fish. Benedetta named Zibibbo after a Sicilian grape, and plenty of the dishessuch as the pasta con le sarde (baked pasta and sardines) or the impepata di cozze (sautéed and peppered mussels)show her love for southern Italy. The wine list offers some quirky gems.