The Ultimate Guide to Venetian Restaurants, Cicchetti & Markets
Text and photos by Todd & Marcela Vucovich
If you’re like one of the typical 20M tourists visiting Venice annually, you stay in a hotel for a couple of days (or maybe just go for the day), see the main tourist attractions, eat a few meals at nearby restaurants then leave. I confess my wife and I experienced Venice like this the first couple of times we visited and still loved it.
Something clicked, though, after strolling through the Rialto Market and seeing all the fresh produce and seafood, much of which is difficult to find in most US cities, or at least extremely expensive. Why not stay in an apartment on future visits so we can experience all of the culinary and wine-related delights Venice has to offer?! We’ve now visited 7 consecutive years and stayed in apartments for as little as a week up to 6 weeks. This prolonged exposure has allowed us to get to know many of the vendors, restaurant and bar owners/workers and shop owners pretty well. As a result, these people have been very kind in sharing the names of their favorite local establishments.
With over 1200 restaurants listed on TripAdvisor, we expected there would be an endless and varying list of favorites. While the list isn’t small, we were intrigued at how often the same places were mentioned and that many of the owners know each other. Given Venice’s population of 55,000, I guess this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The net result of this, though, is that shopping and eating/drinking out has now become a personal experience for us…and we love it!
Having said all of this, my wife and I are by no means experts on Venice. However, we have a passion for food, wine and appreciate the Venetian “live-for-today” culture. Following are our thoughts/recommendations on making a Venice trip more enjoyable as well as a list of our favorite purveyors, restaurants, cicchetti bars, etc.
The average Venetian seems to be more concerned with the quality of life than making money (see how many Venetians stop off for a glass of wine with prosciutto before heading into work). To a first time visitor, this can be somewhat frustrating when dealing with inefficiency and/or perceived poor service.
However, consider the Venetians’ perspective. With 20M tourists visiting Venice every year, they see people from virtually every nationality with most speaking no Italian, so communication is very difficult. Furthermore, they rarely expect to see the same person again.
Most Venetians, though, tend to own and/or work at the same place for a long time, at least compared to the US. So if you become acquainted, there’s a very good possibility you’ll see this person again on a return visit. Given this, here are some things my wife and I do that have allowed us to become recognized at our favorite establishments (and get great service as a result):
- Learn at least a few phrases in Italian including hello, please and thank you.
- In Italian, ask the person their name and introduce yourself. Make it personal.
- If you’ve ordered a very good bottle of wine, offer to share a pour with the owner and your waiter.
- Make a note of names of manager, owners, waiters at your favorite places.
- Take a picture with the owner and/or manager. When requesting future reservations by email, we address them by their first name and attach the picture to jog their memory. You’d be surprised how you often you’ll get a reservation even though they’re officially booked.
- After taking your order and delivering your food, waiters will not typically check on your table as they consider it rude/pushy. If you need something, just make eye contact with them.
- Ask them for their favorite places. The best restaurateurs know who else is doing a great job.
RISTORANTE OSTERIA TRATTORIA & TAVERNA
Long ago there was a distinct difference between these different types of eating establishments. However, today, the lines are blurred. A ristorante is at the top of the food chain and will typically be the nicest and most expensive (think white tablecloths, tasting menus, etc). Osteria these days can either be on par with a ristorante or slightly more casual and less expensive. It really depends on the particular establishment. A trattoria is more casual (no tablecloths) in a bistro type atmosphere and prices to match. Tavernas began as bars with limited food but have morphed into trattorias and osterias. Again, it just depends on the establishment.
Following are some of our favorite eating establishments in Venice:
Fondamenta Nuove, Cannaregio, 5039
If you’re looking for a fabulous fine-dining experience with an incredible view, this is the place. It’s a little off the beaten path on the Fundamente Nuove with outdoor dining overlooking the lagoon as well as a very nice indoor dining room if the weather doesn’t cooperate. They offer classic Venetian cuisine with a Michelin-type flair for creativity. Giulo is one of the owners, speaks fluent English, is very welcoming and knowledgeable about his deep wine list. If you have the time and don’t mind spending the money, try the 5 course tasting menu for 74 Euro/person. Moderately expensive to expensive.
Osteria Enoteca ai Artisti
Fondamenta della Toletta
This is another one of our favorites, hidden in the Dorsoduro Sestiere (i.e. district) not far from the Accademia Bridge. Francesco, the manager, or Alessandro, head waiter, will greet you with a complimentary glass of Prosecco. Their wonderful personalities add a lot to the overall experience. Limited seating (20+- people inside and 8-10 outside) adds to the quaint and cozy atmosphere which is highlighted with the décor and great background music from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, etc. The menu, classic Venetian, is small but everything on it is delicious. Moderately expensive.
Ristorante al Covo
Calle della Pescaria
Owners Diane, a native Texan, and Cesare Benelli have a small place with indoor and outdoor seating and wonderfully fresh and creative cuisine. They are part of the slow food movement in Venice that focuses on using only fresh ingredients from local providers. Moderately expensive to expensive.
Osteria alle Testiere
Calle del Mondo Novo
Pint-sized restaurant in between the Rialto and Piazza San Marco focused on local seafood; solid, fairly-priced wine list; Lucca, the owner, is a wonderful host. Moderately expensive to expensive.
Trattoria da Jonny
Campiello de le Gatte
Small, casual place favored by locals living in the Castello Sestiere; typical Venetian fare with several meat options also on the menu; Vincenzo, the manager, is always friendly and fun. Moderately priced.
Calle Pestrin Castello
It’s tight quarters in this 7+ table restaurant, but it just adds to the ambience. While you can order a la carte, the 3 course tasting menu for approximately 35 euro is a bargain for the quality/quantity. Andrea, the owner, is quite the character with his bow ties and quirky personality. Moderately priced.
Vini da Gigio
Sestiere Cannaregio 3628
Food and wine play equally important roles here with Paolo, the owner, having a great cellar and wine knowledge to match. Also, part of the slow food movement, so the food and experience is authentic Venetian! On the upper end of moderately priced.
Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, 5183, San Marco
A must-see wine stop with good food; There’s no wine list, just bottles on the wall to choose from. Mauro, the owner and Albert Einstein’s twin brother, makes it a unique experience with his crazy personality and equally flamboyant outfits. By the way, he’s also incredibly wine-knowledgeable. Moderately priced.
Calle del Pestrin, 3886, Castello
The seafood is fantastic and moderately priced but the highlight is the quaint interior courtyard with the trellised vines overhead.
Osteria ai Assassini
RioTerà Assassini, 3695
Tucked down an alley in the San Marco Sestiere, they offer solid, reasonably priced fare in a casual, pub-like environment.
Osteria ai do Farai
Sestiere Dorsoduro, 30123
Casual atmosphere and reasonably priced; the star of the show is Stefano, the owner, and his table-side preparation of the Branzino (seabass) carpaccio topped with olive oil and Prosecco…a don’t miss for sashimi lovers!
Osteria Oliva Nera, Trattoria Antiche Carampane and Ristorante Al Giardinetto da Severino – these 3 places were recommended to us by several local friends and have great TripAdvisor reviews, but we haven’t had the chance to try them out yet.
CICCHETTI & WINE BARS
You’ll see them referred to as bacaros, cantinas, cicchetti bars, wine bars, vinaria, enotecas/enoitecas and a few other things. Either way, you’re talking about a casual place with limited seating that serves small portions of wine and food called cicchetti. Locals and tourists alike will stop by for a couple of drinks and some cicchetti before dinner, as a casual lunch or even for breakfast (you have to love those Venetians). Most places only offer wine by the glass and will have a sizeable number of selections very reasonably priced (4-6 euros).
To understand cicchetti, think tapas but more casual. You’ll see small sandwiches, single items with toothpicks in them (e.g. artichoke slices, meatballs, shrimp, calamari) and crostinis topped various seafood, meats and cheeses. All this is typically kept on large white platters displayed on shelves behind glass at the bar. You just go to the bar and point to what you want. The cost ranges from 1-4 euro per item.
Following are some of our favorite cicchetti bars:
Cantina do Mori
Sestiere San Polo, 429
Operating since approximately 1462, its billed as one of the first cicchetti bars in Venice. The location near the Rialto Market and the décor makes you feel as though youve gone back several hundred years in time.
The usual presence of older local gentlemen socializing over a glass of wine further reinforces your trip back in time. They have a great selection of local wines by the glass and classic cicchetti fare, all very reasonably priced. The x-factor is Pierre, who you’ll see behind the bar most of the time. He speaks fluent Italian, Spanish and English (maybe others), is very wine-knowledgeable and is an absolute pleasure to talk with. He’s also a virtual encyclopedia on cicchetti bars in Venice.
Fondamenta Misericordia, 2497
A little out of the way in the Cannaregio Sestiere, but worth the walk. You can stand up inside or sit at tables on the canal outside. They have a nice selection of wines and probably the best cicchetti we’ve had in Venice.
Wine Bar 5000
Fondamenta S. Severo, 5000
The wine barrel tables, background jazz music and lanterns outside create a fun, lively atmosphere at this trendy bar. Its not far from the Ponte dei Greci on an otherwise quiet, neighborhood canal. They have a good selections of wines by the glass and also a solid offering of spirits. For food they do some nice meat and cheese platters along with hot paninis. Most nights, youll find Giovanni, one of the owners, flying solo behind the bar. He speaks fluent English and is always happy and upbeat. He and his partner own the restaurant next door, Luna Sentada, so when you’ve finished your cocktails you can walk next door and have a great meal.
Campo San Felice, 3689
There always seems to be a lively crowd with its location on the Strada Nuova. They’re known for their wine selection and fresh fish. Great raw branzino (seabass).
Estro Vino e Cucina
A nouveau wine bar in the Dorsoduro district with an eclectic wine selection, good background music and some limited seating (many cicchetti bars have no seating).
Calle Larga Malvasia, 6014
Just around the corner from Marco Polos former residence and located under a portego (thus the name); you can sit down for lunch/dinner or stand up for cicchetti. We prefer the cicchetti and the lively atmosphere.
San Polo 1131
Quaint place in San Polo with indoor and outdoor seating; good wine and food; love the bathtub full of wine!
Campo S.Maria Formosa, 30122
Located in the Campo Santa Maria Formosa; Its more of café or bar with outdoor seating than a true cicchetti bar, but there is always something going on here. Its a great place to have a spritz or glass of
wine and take in the sights. Very casual and inexpensive.
Acqua e Mais
Venice’s take on street food. There’s no seating because everything is ordered to-go. The 5 euro paper cones stuffed with polenta and fried calamari and shrimp and are just what the doctor wouldn’t order, but should try anyway.
Molino Stucky Hilton Skyline Rooftop Bar
Molino Stucky Hilton Venice, Giudecca 810
Ok. It’s not exactly authentic Venice, but this rooftop bar boasts one of the most spectacular views of Venice. Located on the Giudecca, it’s a little out of the way, but well worth it. Tip: the best view is at the outdoor seating area next to the pool.
Hotel a la Commedia Rooftop Bar
S. Marco, 4596/A
Like the Molino Stucky, this is not a cicchetti bar but is a great place for a drink and snacks and to take in the view of Venice.
Osteria-Enoteca I Rusteghi
Corte del Tentor, 5513, San Marco
Tucked away in a courtyard not far from the Rialto Bridge. You’ll know you’re there when you see the 3 foot wine glass and large format bottles on top of the well in the center of the courtyard. Giovanni, the owner, is a former sommelier and has a diverse offering of wines and some really nice culatello (the king of prosciuttos). You can stand inside or sit in the courtyard. It’s a little pricey relative to other cicchetti bars but a fun place to visit.
Cantina del Vino gia Schiavi
Fondamenta Nani, 992, 30123 Dorsoduro,
Favored by locals and tourists alike. They have a good selection of wines by the glass and bottle, some solid food offerings and a fun atmosphere. Many choose to enjoy their food and wine while standing outside by the canal.
Cantina do Spade
San Polo, 859
Just around the corner from Cantina do Mori. Great cicchetti and there always seems to be a lively crowd.
Osterai da Zemei
San Polo, 1045/B
Located in the San Polo Sestiere midway between the Rialto Market and Campo San Polo. Solid wine and food with outdoor seating. Seems to be a favorite of many of the gondoliers working in the Rialto area.
VENICE FOOD PURVEYORS
Venetians expect their food to be fresh and, therefore, shop on a daily basis. The Rialto Market is central to this part of the Venetian culture. Most everything Italy has to offer from a culinary perspective can be found here. It’s a chef’s dream!
The Rialto Market started as a place for trading goods back in the 11th century and has been the central place for food purveyors since the 1500’s. When you set foot in the market area, it can be a little overwhelming with the endless rows of fruit and vegetable stands, pescherias (fish purveyors), macellerias (butchers), cheese shops and mass of humanity (spectators and shoppers). It looks like organized chaos, and it is.
Over the last several years of shopping here, we’ve learned some things that have helped us navigate this iconic area.
- Items must be purchased with cash only. It’s also helpful to have small bills (20 euro or less) when buying inexpensive items such as produce.
- You’ll see “nostrani” or some derivation on produce and seafood signs. This means the item is grown or caught locally.
- Remember, 2.2 pounds per kilogram.
- Most purveyors speak very little English, so you’ll sometimes need to be creative in how you communicate. Learning a few words like filet (filetto), enough/stop (basta) and being able to count to 10 is very helpful. Google translate on your smart phone is also a godsend.
- A Gimi shopping cart (2 wheeled roller with a storage compartment) is a huge help if you’re buying more than a few things (you always buy more than you think). Many apartment rentals will have one.
- You can select a whole fish and ask them to filet it for you. It’s free of charge but is customary to tip the person doing the fileting a euro or 2.
- Follow the locals to find the best purveyors. This is how we’ve selected our favorites
Venice has a reputation for being very expensive and certainly can be if you hit the tourist spots. However, generally we’ve found food costs to be reasonable, particularly at the Rialto Market. Among the best values are seafood and veal. Most other things seem to be about the same cost as in our hometown, Destin FL.
The selection of seafood at the market is impressive. Among many, some of our favorite items include branzino (seabass), merluzzo (hake, great for ceviche), scampi, gamberi (shrimp), cozze (mussels) and vongole (clams).
Following is a list of some of our favorite purveyors:
Brothers Simone and Tommaso “Tommy” provide fresh produce to local buyers as well as area restaurants. You won’t see a sign, but they’re facing the Pescheria under the southern colonnade.
Pescheria Fratelli Vio
Samuele and his cohorts offer a great selection and some of the freshest seafood around. Not convinced, look at the throng of locals crowded around their tables.
They’ve got a great selection of meats, home-made sausages, duck, chicken, etc.
Aliani-Casa del Parmigiano
Wonderful selection of cheeses and cured meats.
A bakery just around the corner from the Rialto Market that also offers pizza and sandwiches. You can watch the daily goods being prepared and baked on the other side of a glass wall in the store. Veronica is a friendly face behind the counter that’s always willing to help.
Droheria e Enoteca Mascari
This family-owned store doubles as one of the best wine shops in Venice and a high-quality gourmet store. Specialty items include a huge selection of spices, herbs, teas, nuts, truffle oils, risotto, dried porcini mushrooms and candy, among many other things. Gabriele Mascari speaks very good English and is a great wine connection. Note, they only take cash. An ATM is just outside their door if you’re running low.
Great little wine shop on the east side of the Rialto Bridge. Lorenzo, the owner, speaks very good English, really knows his wine and has a good selection.
Our favorite pasta shop is in the Castello district near the Ponte dei Greci. It’s owned and operated by the husband and wife team of Ivan and Ariana. There’s no sign out front so you’ll need to look for the address on the door, 3455 Castello. Everything is home-made onsite daily. They make everything from standard noodles to gnocchi, raviolis stuffed with artichoke, asparagus or spinach/ricotta, stuffed tortellini and a tortelloni stuffed with local fish. Other favorites include gnocchi alla romana (goes great with veal piccata) and homemade lasagna.
I Tre Mercanti
Located near Piazza San Marco, they’re a gourmet shop but the star of the show is the tiramisu. Frankly, they make the best tiramisu my wife and I have ever had. They offer up to 25 kinds of tiramisu (only available in single serving sizes) but will only have 3-6 available at any given time. Our favorites are the traditional, pistachio, coconut/rum/dark chocolate and amaretto. The front of the store features a large glass window so you can watch the staff make the tiramisu right in front of you. Dine-in or to-go are both options.
This isn’t a food purveyor, but a restaurant supply store. It’s a little out off the beaten path in the Cannaregio Sestiere (4303 Cannaregio) but worth the search. Nearly all of our favorite restaurants buy from them. It’s not fancy, but they’ve got most everything a gourmet chef might want at great prices. You can get everything including utensils, plates, stemware, platters, serving pieces, etc. This place is the reason we have to buy a spare suitcase to return home. Valentina is a joy to work with here.
Ok, this doesn’t have anything to do with food or wine. It’s a gym (called a palestra in Italian). With the consumption of all the food and wine, we always feel compelled to join a gym during our stay. If you’re so-inclined, there are several gyms in Venice to choose from that offer memberships for as little as a week. They include the standard equipment you’d expect as well as a variety of work-out classes.
Todd & Marcela Vucovich currently live in Miramar Beach Florida and have been married for seven years. Todd is a local business owner while Marcela is a software engineer for Motorola Solutions. However, their passions and hobbies are related to wine, food and travel.
Todd is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators, founding board member and former executive director of the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation (top 10 charity wine auction in the US) and a longtime judge and judging coordinator for the Sandestin Wine Festival and South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival. Marcela has taken numerous culinary classes in the U.S. and Italy and has participated in many competitions and demonstrations. When not at work, she can mostly likely be found in her cookbook library researching her next culinary project or in the kitchen creating it.