Once upon a time, Venice was known for being a place full of terrible, run of the mill restaurants that catered to tourists. I’m unhappy to report that these places still exist in abundance, but don’t panic… I’m here to help.
The reality is that Venice is an absolute treasure trove of incredible food. If you’re a fan of seafood, welcome to your own personal heaven. Veggie? No problem. Some of the most amazing produce I’ve ever had comes from the island of Sant’Erasmo, located in the Venetian lagoon.
I’m a big fan of cicchetti, uniquely Venetian small bites that you’ll find in charming little bàcari around the city. I wrote a guide to exploring them, which you can find here. Sometimes a girl needs to stuff her face though, and with that in mind I decided to put together a little list of my favourite restaurants and cafes in Venice.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few of my favourite spots to get you started so you can discover some hidden gems on your own, too. As guide rules, I’d recommend steering well clear of any restaurant that displays photos of their food outside, or places that have English translations of their menus. And you absolutely must get lost! Walk directly away from the main tourist areas until you have absolutely no idea where the hell you are. This is where you’re most likely to stumble upon a brilliant family-run trattoria or a tiny wine bar that happens to do incredible fresh pasta dishes for lunch.
Note: I highly recommend making a reservation wherever you plan on dining. The best restaurants in Venice get booked up quickly by locals and travelling foodies, especially during high season. Aim to book a table at least 48 hours in advance and you should be good for most places.
Now go stuff your face…
For a delicious and reasonably priced sit-down meal:
Al Timon – Cannaregio, 2754 Fondamenta Ormesini – +39 (0)41 5246066 – Dinner
This one’s for my fellow carnivores. If you find yourself craving steak in Venice, Al Timon is your new target… run as fast as your sore little feet can carry you. It’s usually crowded with locals here, deep in the heart of the Cannaregio district where the day-tripper tourists rarely ever step foot. Steak is served up on ginormous wooden platters with heaps of roasted potatoes, grilled vegetables, and creamy borlotti beans. The platter is intended for two to share, but there’s nobody stopping you from being greedy and having it to yourself (although you might burst). I love the staff here, they’re always happy to help guide you through the menu, and on more than one occasion I’ve had some exceptional wine recommendations that I may have never tried if not provoked.
La Colonna – Cannaregio, 53/29 Fondamenta Trapolin – +39 (0)41 5229641 – Lunch/Dinner
La Colonna is one of my best ‘accidental’ foodie finds. It’s located about a two minute walk from the ACTV stop at Fondamenta Nove (just head straight down Calle de Fumo), making it #1 on my list of “really good restaurants that you most likely won’t get obscenely lost trying to get to”. If you’re spending a day doing the Murano/Burano/Torcello loop this is the ideal post-sightseeing dinner spot. Just follow the directions above from the Fondamenta Nove stop, which is where you’ll be dropped back off in Venice.
La Colonna is ridiculously quaint, romantic, unstuffy, and truly local. Nab a spot outside if the weather is kind, it’s covered by a gorgeous pergola that’s absolutely dripping with vines and flowers in the Spring. Life moves slowly here, in the best way, so go with enough time to enjoy it properly. The owner, Maurizio, is a shining beacon of hospitality. He couldn’t be more welcoming or genuine if he tried, and if he has a son of a legal age I call dibs.
After a brief overview of some of the specials they had going that day, Maurizio came back out of the kitchen with a couple of glasses of crisp local white wine and a delicious slice of fresh bruschetta, on the house. MY MAN.
They do incredible seafood here, but I was feeling a bit over seafood after absolutely gorging on it for days so I went for the lasagna al forno. I wasn’t let down. The ragu was beautifully rich and the meat was so well cooked it practically melted into the sauce. I got the corner slice (YES!) with some of those amazing crispy bits that make lasagna worth living for. Topped off with lashings of freshly grated parmesan, it was a hearty lunch that didn’t even come close to breaking the bank.
Muro Frari – San Polo (directions here) – +39 (0)41 5245310 – Lunch/Dinner
I was advised to try Muro by a lovely girl who worked at a hotel I was staying at. Even with her detailed directions, I got lost about forty-seven times on the way there. When I finally arrived it was jam-packed with locals and I had to wait forty minutes for a table… just enough time to nip over to the osterie down the lane for a glass of wine. I was told by the waiter that I positively had to try the chef’s homemade meatballs, so I obliged and had them as a starter. They were delicious beyond reason. Little melt in your mouth balls of beef and pork, mixed with herbs, and gently fried.
For my main course, I was torn. I kept seeing food coming out of the kitchen and literally everything looked heartbreakingly good. I had my heart set on pasta so I went for the orecchiette with sausage and broccoli. It was so good it made me want to be a better person.
To finish everything off, and to make myself genuinely look like I was in my third trimester of pregnancy, I had the tiramisu and an espresso. The grand total for all of this, including a few large glasses of their gorgeous house red, was under €30… an absolute bargain for Venice.
La Zucca – Santa Croce, 1762 Calle de Tintor, +39 (0)41 5241570, Lunch/Dinner
Vegetarian? Look no further (don’t worry, carnivores – they do incredible meat and seafood too!). La Zucca is well-known for their delicious vegetarian dishes and I was told by a local chef with impeccable taste that I had to try it out. Don’t be scared off by the menu being only in Italian, the staff are beyond kind and will always help you with any translations or questions. Zucca means pumpkin in Italian, so it’s no surprise that one of the famed dishes from La Zucca is their pumpkin flan. They also do a divine carpaccio, extremely fresh pasta, and lots of dishes with more exotic flavours and spices.
For a quick lunch on the go:
Bar Ae Maraveje – Dorsoduro, 1185 Calle della Toletta, +39 (0)41 5235768 – Lunch/Dinner
This is my go-to spot for one of those days where you just have to grab a sandwich and run. Maraveje has a huge selection of tramezzini, which can only be described as the most overstuffed, bloated sandwiches you’ll see in your entire life. Google them, you’ll see what I mean. They’ve also got beautiful panini, and I always grab a glass of their locally made house wine to sip on while mine is being toasted.
If they have it during your visit, always try any panino made with their olive bread. If you’re a fan of olives this is your moment. There are literally huge, whole olives hidden throughout the bread.
Lino Fritto – San Polo, 319 Campo de le Becarie – +39 (0)41 8220298 – Lunch
No visit to the Rialto Market in the morning would be complete without a quick stop in Lino Fritto. This place is a lesson in what fast food should be like. At Lino Fritto, they serve up insanely fresh seafood in smallish portions so you have the opportunity to sample a few different things. The top sellers are fritto misto (mixed fried seafood, usually calamari and octopus – delicious), and their tuna burger. There’s limited space in here, so you’ll either have to devour your food standing or take it away for lunch on the go.
Lino Fritto also delivers, something of a novelty in Venice. They’ll go most places in the San Polo and San Marco districts, with a minimum spend of €15 at lunchtime and €25 in the evening. I haven’t tried this service out yet, but next time I’m hungover in bed and craving fish (which is probably never) I’ll give it a go.
Fancy a gelato?
Gelateria Nico – Dorsoduro, 922 Fondamenta Zattere – +39 (0)41 5225293
I’ve sampled many a gelato in Venice, and Nico’s always wins hands down. They may not have a hundred options to choose from, but their selection of flavours are each done perfectly. Stracciatella is the Italian equivalent of chocolate-chip, and I find it to be the perfect test of a gelateria’s quality. Nico’s is luxuriously creamy, that perfect amount of sweet before it becomes sickly, and flecked with decadent dark chocolate. On a hot summer’s day, I pair it with the mint chip flavour and park my ass out front with my feet dangling in the lagoon. There’s a beautiful view across the water to the island of Guidecca and it’s one of my favourite ways to cool off after a morning of shopping or sightseeing.