Do you know your trattoria from your tavola calda? A love of food is so deeply ingrained in Italian culture, it’s no surprise they have so many places to eat for different occasions, cuisines and times of the day. Next time you’re in Italy, eat right with our quick guide to the different types of restaurants in Italy.
If you’ve visited Italy before, you’ve probably heard of this one – ristorante means ‘restaurant’ in Italian. It’s a formal place to eat, where you’ll go for a full sit-down meal with table service. That means the price is a little higher, too. In a ristorante, you’ll generally order a couple of courses, such as antipasti (starter) and a primo (first course, often pasta) or secondo (second course, like a meat dish).
Top tip: Most restaurants in Italy have a service charge, known as coperto or pane e coperto (bread and cover charge). This is typically €1-2.50 per head. For a steer on tipping, read our guide to tipping in Italy.
The trattoria is similar to a ristorante, but they tend to be smaller with a more casual atmosphere. Usually, trattorie are family-run, with the head of the family taking pride of place in the kitchen cooking traditional, home-style dishes. Instead of a menu, they’ll decide what to cook each night. The food is often cheap, plentiful and delicious – the perfect opportunity to try authentic Italian home cooking.
Osterie are cheaper and more relaxed than trattoria. They tend to be small, neighbourhood eateries predominately for locals to gather together and eat in a laid-back atmosphere, with shared tables, wine and simple, home-cooked fare. Some will also have music and entertainment.
Top tip: If you’re planning a city break to Rome, the Barberini area is best for authentic osterie. We love Osteria Romana and Osteria Barberini, famous for its black and white truffle dishes.
Traditionally a wine shop for tasting and buying regional wines, these days an enoteca is typically a wine bar serving wine by the glass and a small menu of food, similar to tapas. Expect a selection of cheeses and meats, simple salads, bruschetta and occasionally pasta and small main courses.
The superstar of our list. Pizzerias, of course, are the best place in Italy to go for pizza. There are two different types of pizzeria – the first is a traditional ristorante-style pizzeria, where you can sit and linger over your meal (always order your own pizza – you won’t find Italians sharing theirs).
Pizza al taglio (‘pizza by the slice’) originated in Rome; these deli-style pizzerias are the go-to for grabbing a steaming slice to take away, or eat standing up, if there’s space. The huge, rectangular pizzas are sliced up generously and sold by weight, and you can usually get a decent slice for €2.
Rosticceria and tavola calda
These are casual delis ideal for a quick, cheap lunch. In a tavola calda (literally, a ‘hot table’), you’ll order pre-cooked dishes from the counter and either take them away or eat standing up – they’re popular with time-pressed office workers at lunchtime. A rosticceria is similar, but specialises more in antipasti and roasted meats like chicken, which you purchase and take away for a picnic or meal at home.
Top tip: In many Italian bars and eateries where you pay at the counter, it’s common to pay first before taking your receipt to the bar to place your order. Take a moment to watch what the locals do if you’re unsure.
Italian bars are what we would think of as a cafe. They’re meeting points in neighbourhoods, popular in the morning for coffee and a croissant (consumed standing at the bar, like a true Italian). At lunchtime, they’re good for a cheap panino or tramezzino (tasty triangular sandwiches), and later on, stay open for a glass of wine (or gelato for the bambini).
Top tip: There’s a quick turnaround in bars. Italians tend to drink their coffee standing up, rather than lingering. That’s why some bars charge a table service; it will cost you more to drink your coffee while sitting at a table. Make sure you check before you pay.