Several years ago, my husband and I spent a semester in Venice supervising a group of Wake Forest University students, for the third time. As I’d done during previous semesters, I held a weekly “cooking class” for students, sometimes based around things they’d read or seen that week, but mostly to ensure that they ate a square meal once a week, and that their culinary adventures took them beyond Nutella on toast.
So, yes, once a week I would undertake the arduous task of shopping in this city with fewer and fewer butchers, bakers, and grocery story. Shopping could take the better part of the morning. And then cooking, with many sous chefs at my command, another couple of hours. So quite an undertaking for this trailing spouse!
And that was enough cooking and chopping for one week. Every other night, I declared to my patient husband, we were eating out! And eat we did, in all sorts of restaurants, all over town. Indeed, dinners were often the highlight of our days, that and the long walks both two and from wherever we’d decided to cast our lot.
Dinners were a mixed bag in this city that sees far too many tourists and most tourists eat only once in a restaurant and never return. Not surprising we found that the second time we turned up, we were treated like family. I should add that speaking Italian already placed us in something of a VIP category, as did turning up in the dead of winter when waiters actually had the time to notice who was seated at their tables.
What follows are the restaurants, most of which we patronized several times, that never disappointed.
Osteria da Fiore: An outstanding restaurant in every way. Perhaps the best fish I have ever eaten and certainly the most beautful water glasses, which you can purchase on Murano. They cost about as much as your dinner. Very very expensive, intimate, lovely waiters, special. Must be booked ahead. You can arrive by gondola, water taxi, or foot. Though if you come by foot you might want some help from Google Maps. Closed Sunday and Monday. San Polo. Disclaimer: I’ve spoken with Americans who were disappointed. How of this the attitude we bring to the table?
Tel: 3041 721 308
Ai Artistiis perhaps my favorite restaurant in Venice. It is tiny AND it is easily reached from the Accademia Bridge, on the far side from San Marco. You can either cross at the Accademia bridge or take the Vaporetto to Ca Rezzonico. Always fresh fresh food and a menu that changes daily, depending on what’s available at the market. Also, excellent wines by the glass. It is on the fondamenta della Toletta. Reserve early! Sadly, like may Venetian restaurants, during the season, you can book at 7:00, when the place will be teaming with Americans, or at 9:30, when the Italian show up. But this is also when I go to bed! 041 523 8944
Quatro Ferion the calle lunga San Barnaba, easily accessible from the Ca Rezzonico vaporetto stop, is a cozy, inexpensive trattoria serving standard Venetian fare. Paper place mats, cramped quarters, ample portions of basic, tasty dishes. If you think you’ve scored a larger than normal table, be prepared for strangers to join us. Always better if they’re NOT Americans. 041 5206978.
Al Garanghelo. This wine bar/trattoria near Rialto has lots of homemade goodies: pastas, breads, desserts. Renato, the owner, is a genuine holdover from the days of old, when these sorts of places were intended for day laborers and shopkeepers. Expect very good fish, given its proximity to the Pescheria fish market. At least for now. I understand the market may be closing. Lots of tourists, but not so many people buying fish. Oh dear. Open all day. Moderate prices. 041 721 721
Ai Gondolieri: I have enjoyed many wonderful meals at this intimate mid-century-ish restaurant on a tiny canal near the Peggy Guggenheim: wood paneling, black-and-white photos, mood lighting. It always felt a bit like Milan in the 50s. It’s a mostly meat restaurant, and the perfect antidote to all the fish one normally eats in Venice. Unfortunately, I hear that its standards have slipped. Though a good option if you tire of fish. Quite expensive but now they offer the option of half portions. In the Dorsodura near the Peggy Guggenheim. Closed Tuesday.
Tel: 041 5286 396
Alla Madonna: a Venetian institution in the San Polo district near the Rialto. Mostly fish is served at this hectic and bustling establishment. Large rooms, high ceilings, lots of noise, but very good food. Moderate. No reservations. Get there early or late for a table. One of the great pleasures, after your meal, is walking across the Rialto Bridge at night, and pausing to watch the boats emerge from beneath it, their motors gently humming.
Tel: 041 522 3824
Fiaschetteria Toscana: Near the church of San Giovanni Crisostomo in the Cannaregio district. Its name not withstanding, this is a thoroughly Venetian restaurant. Excellent traditional Venetian dishes; old-fashioned atmosphere; serious waiters, not too much fuss and bother. A good place to try Venetian liver. Moderately expensive.
Tel: 041 528 5281
Da Bepi: a local restaurant that is, amazingly, usually filled with locals—workmen, businessmen. A Venetian I spoke with claims this is the ONLY restaurant in Venice where he will eat, being far too suspicious of the fish served at all the others. Excellent grilled fish. Simple, moderately-priced honest seafood. In the Cannareggio district. Closed Thursdays, which means they are open on Sunday and Monday while others are closed.
Antiche Carampane: a hard to find, tiny place on the San Polo side of the Rialto. Excellent fish. One of our favorite spots although no one speaks much English and they are not overly tolerant of foreigners. Moderately expensive. Closed Sunday and Monday. 041 5240165
Linea d’Ombra: a very stylish fish restaurant on the Zattere and looking out across the Lagoon. If the weather is nice, it is a gorgeous place for an outdoor lunch. Fabulous wine list. Excellent fish. 041 5285259. Closed for lunch on Wednesday and closed for dinner on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Very expensive.
Bancogiro: a hip winebar/restaurant near the Rialto markets in what was once a money changer’s offices. Good seasonal unusual food. When we lived there, they did not serve pasta (!) although this was going to change. Friendly service, casual, delightful, not so expensive. 041 523061. Campo San Giacometto. Near Rialto.
Anice Stellato: a delightful restaurant in the far side of Cannaregio, so sort of out of the way, but worth the walk. Very good food at prices that will make you doubt you are still in Venice. Some unusual dishes but the standard stuff is equally good. (Fritto Misto!) 041 720744. Book ahead. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Canneregio.
Alla Zuccain Santa Croce is a vegetarian friendly restaurant. And actually a restaurant that is friendly in just about every way. Tiny and hard to get a booking, but worth the effort and the hike. Their specialty, as their name suggests, is a pumpkin flan. Very popular with Americans, for some reason. Closed Sunday. Very moderately priced. 041 5241570.
I Figli delle Stelle is on the Giudecca, so it’s a boat ride. But from there you have a stunning view of Venice. Truly, it’s a lovely restaurant, assuming you can get a table outside The food is Pugliese, which makes a nice change from Venetian cuising. Closed Monday. 041 523 0004
Al Covois extremely good AND expensive. Both the fish and the meat dishes are excellent—an oddity in Venice. So are the desserts. Closed Wednesday and Thursday. To get there, take the #1 to Arsenale. When you get off, turn left, cross the bridge and enter the calle de la Pescaria. The restaurant will be in a short distance, on your left, when the calle opens into a small campo. The wife/pastry chef is from Texas! 041 522 3812
NB: Al Covo has recently opened up a less-espensive “sister” restaurant called CoVino. Right next door. They have a daily menu of 3 “Portate” (courses) for euro 36. This sounds like a great deal. 041 241 2705
Restaurants near the Accademia Bridge:
Acqua Pazza:this large corner restaurant in the Campo Sant’ Angelo is run by Neapolitans and thus they serve excellent pizza (***) for a price, fabulous fish, and their wine list is made up almost exclusively of wines from the Bay of Naples. Fairly expensive but very good. Gigantic servings. You can ask to share. 041 2770688. Beautiful outdoor dining at night if it’s warm enough.
Beccafico, in the Campo Santo Stefano, is a sort of Sicilian restaurant with a festive atmosphere, especially when they are serving outdoors. I have found the quality of the meals to be inconsistent although many people love this place. Oopen 7 days a week. 041 527 4879
You can also get a very good “light” meal in the cafe in Campo Santa Stefano. The one with tables in the Campo. Also excellent cappuccino if the hotel disappoints! Le Café.
Near the Hotel Palazzo Sant’Angelo:
Osteria Al Bacarettois the restaurant closest to the Hotel Palazzo Sant’Angelo, where we often stay. It is very modest and nice. Typically Venetian. San Samuele 3447. Ask the hotel to show it to you on the map. 041 5289336. Closed Sunday.
Best of all, buy a copy of Michela’s Scibilia’s guide to the restaurant of Venice. It comes in Italian or English. Or download her ap.