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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.