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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.