Italy can turn any food eater into a passionate food lover.
All it may take is one lick of an authentic gelato, a forkful of hand-made pasta coated with the perfectly-paired sauce, perhaps a taste of fresh mozzarella cheese… and – voila! – a foodie is born.
And if you’re already a gourmand, then Italy is definitely the foodie heaven you’d be dying to visit!
So when planning a trip to Italy, we want to ensure you’re well informed about how to find the best food in Italy. So here some handy hints on how to pick the best restaurants in Italy…
1. ‘Tis the season. Many traditional Italian recipes change with the seasons to make the most of fresh, seasonal produce. As such, handwritten menus are a great sign that the dishes have been chosen based on what is in season. Gigantic menu boards printed in various languages and offering a massive range of standard options are usually just for tourists.
2. Bigger is not always better. Some of the best eateries in Italy may have just a few tables, to accommodate only as many persons as the kitchen can cater for and maintain the food quality.
3. Fewer items on the menu means they stick to what they are good at. So, pretty much everything on the menu is their specialty. Avoid menus that offer heaps of pasta and risotto dishes, steak, seafood, pizza, the works, which may mean the food is not as fresh and seasonal as it could be. The simple things in life are often the best, and a menu is no exception.
4. Want to find the best pizza in Italy? Go to a pizzeria. The wood-fired places are the best. You can pimp your pizza by adding Mozzarella di Bufala, which may cost a euro or more per pizza, but is well worth it! Pizzas in Italy are served steering-wheel sized, and one per person. They have fewer toppings and fairly thin bases (although that changes a little from region to region). Neapolitan pizza is the original and arguably the best.
5. When in Rome, do what the Romans do… and eat what the Romans eat. Italian food specialties are very localised to what grows in each specific area. Italy is, after all, where the Slow Food concept was born and raised.
6. Check out the drinks list as well as the menu. Some places may look reasonably priced, but then mark up the beverages a lot. You may be pleased to know that local specialties are even better when paired with local wines. Italian wines developed to be enjoyed with the local dishes. This one is easy to remember, and to enjoy! Tuscan food pairs with Tuscan wine, Venetian food pairs with Veneto-region wine, and so on. One exception is pizza, which can be paired with an Italian beer.
7. The obvious rule is to go where the locals go. But short of stalking someone local in the hope they’re off for a delicious dinner, look out for smaller restaurants in narrow streets with little signage.
8. If the food is really good, it is unlikely they will have a spruiker outside trying to entice people in – the locals will be there already.
9. Hungry at 5pm? Have a snack. Any restaurant that is accepting people for dinner at this time is not for the locals. Italians eat from around 8 pm onwards so most restaurants don’t even open until 7 pm or so.
10. For great insight into the best places to eat in Italy, ask the locals! You can meet lots of foodie locals on our small-group Italian Food Tour in Florence!
To learn to make delicious, typical Italian recipes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.
Want more tips on travel in Italy? See our Top Travel Tips for Trips to Italy series and be part of the Italy travel community for top travel tips.