What to eat in Venice, Italy
Venice has some wonderful restaurants, featuring the cuisine of the Veneto. However it is widely regarded that the restaurants in Venice serve food of a quality and in quantities much lower than anywhere else in Italy. The pizza in Venice is well known as being the worst in Italy (It is a more southern Italian specialty). Specialties include polenta, made of corn meal; risotto with cuttlefish ink sauce. Diners should however be aware that for every genuinely wonderful restaurant or trattoria, there’s another serving rubbish food at inflated prices, especially in the most touristed streets around San Marco. Rule of thumb: if there’s a waiter outside pimping for business, it’s probably best avoided.
Peak eating times start at noon for lunch and from 7pm for dinner. That is when places will get crowded and when it will be better to make a reservation beforehand.
Near the Rialto Bridge there’s a row of restaurants with tables by the canal, where you can have the quintessential Venice experience of dining by the canal lights. Although they do have waiters outside bugging you, some have pretty acceptable quality for price, which is almost always expensive anyway.
In Venice, as in many other Italian cities, people meet before dinner for the ritual of happy hour at a so called ‘bacari’, that is characteristic osterias or wine bars where you can find a lively and genuine atmosphere. Here you can drink some typical aperitifs such as the famous ‘spritz’ (a cocktail made of Prosecco wine and Aperol or Campari) or taste the ‘cicchetti’ (tasty snacks, such as small croutons, meat cooked on a spit, savory pastries and typical Venetian dishes, both hot and cold, fried and not).
One of Venice’s trademark foods is cuttlefish and its ink. This intense black ink serves as a sauce and ingredient for polenta (corn meal), risotto (rice), and pasta.
Restaurants might offer low prices for food on their menus that they advertise outside the entrance, but they will sometimes compensate this by charging high prices for drinks (which is naturally *not* advertised). Also, please make sure that you get your change back after payment as sometimes it may be ‘forgotten’ by the waiters.
There are different ways of adding cover charges and service charges (up to 12%) to the final bill.
Check if they are included in what might appear to be a bargain.
Some places will advertise their lack of cover charges. Still, the have to meet the same costs as everyone else. So compare prices carefully.
For fresh fruit (including chilled coconut) watch for the street market stalls. There is always a boat parked in the canal on campo San Barnaba (Dorsoduro, open till late) and then end of Via Giuseppe Garibaldi (Castello, open till around mid-day) selling fruit and vegetables.
To save money at lunch, eat standing up – that’s what Venetians themselves do. Every cafe, trattoria, osteria, enoteca or whatever it chooses to call itself is stocked at lunchtime with cicchetti – Venetian tapas, including tramezzini (triangular sandwiches on white bread), bite-sized rolls with various cold cuts, polpette (fried balls of minced fish or meat) and assorted antipasti. Order by pointing at what you want on the glass shelves, and wash the whole thing down with a glass of wine (un’ ombra) or a spritz (made with, in order of bitterness and alcohol content, Aperol, Campari or Select). Bear in mind that as soon as you allow yourself to sit at the table and be waited on, instead of ordering and consuming your food at the counter, the prices for the same items go up – you can end up paying double. If you look at the (government-mandated) chart of prices stapled to the wall near the bar, you’ll see 2 columns of numbers, accommodating this arrangement. However, sitting is worth it if you plan on staying a while. Some places will also serve bread and water for seated patrons, but then there is usually also a small charge (€1-3 per person) for “pane e coperto” (bread and cover charge).
If self-catering, the Rialto food markets are an absolute must for fruit, vegetables and cheese, but most of all for the huge range of seafood, much of it fresh out of the lagoon and still moving! There are a variety of small stores around the city that sell fruits and vegetables, but tourists will be hard-pressed to find them. Anything else you will find in the one of the few supermarkets in the city.
Head to the Dorsoduro area of Venice if you want to save a few euros. It is located on the south side of the city. It has the highest concentration of places where locals, especially students, go to eat. Generally staying away from the main squares will be the cheapest option. If you’re willing and able to walk around the town, some back streets offer the best food for the lowest price. Seeing the city from this vantage point is a lot of fun too!
Try a Spritz (with either Campari, Select or Aperol mixed with Prosecco wine and Seltzer), a typical drink loved by all Venetians that’s usually drunk while eating cicchetti. You can find it in almost every bar in the city.
Coffee is everywhere in Venice, and both Venetians and the tourists avail themselves of the opportunities, usually by downing a quick dose at the counter (see warning about sit-down prices above). Rule of thumb: the bigger (and shinier) the espresso machine, the better the result.
There are two late-night drinking areas in Venice. Piazza San Marco is not one of them. Although it is very pleasant and there are many people wandering around late. But the actual late night scene is in either Campo Santa Margherita, near the University Ca’ Foscari in Dorsoduro; or in Erbaria on the West side of the Rialto Bridge where the main vegetable market is held during the day.