The Best Dining Experiences in Venice

There is no city so expansively praised for its beauty, history, mystery and romance than Venice. It is easy to see why when you can, in a single day, meander between gorgeous Lombardy-style churches, medieval courtyards and Byzantine basilicas and ride a gondola past quaint centuries-old homes with brightly painted doorways. In fact,poets, chroniclers and historians have eloquently written about Venice and its canal-lapped cobblestone paths and incredible stone bridges for centuries.

All the things that make Venice worth waxing lyrical about also make it worth visiting, and Venice is incredibly popular with tourists. This popularity has given rise to a vast array of ubiquitous, uninspiring restaurants aimed at moving hordes of tourists in and out of their doors. Visitors who, after a day of sightseeing discover they are suddenly famished, may find themselves being abruptly ushered by a desperately enthusiastic waiter into an overpriced restaurant offering only the standard tourist fare of pizza and spaghetti.

But Venice has an incredible array of wonderful, authentic and traditional local food. You just need to know where to look for it, and what to try. Here are our suggestions for you:

Cantina Do Mori for BaccalaMantecato – Whipped Salt Cod

Incredibly, Venice’s oldest wine bar, Cantina Do Mori, has been in continuous operation for more than 550 years. With its stone floors, wood-paneled bar and ancient wine barrels, it’s easy to imagine its rooms filled with 15th century artists and sailors.

However, this is not a bar to eat like a local. Located mere steps from the Rialto Bridge, the bar spans a full city block, and is often busy with market vendors and tourists who have stopped in for a look and a cicchetti. But it is still worth a visit for its incredible history… and its several varieties of baccala mantecato.

Venice’s first inhabitants were villagers who banded together for defence against the barbarian Lombards. Often fish was their only food source, and they used salt to preserve it for the winter months. This has given rise to many dishes based on salted and preserved fish, and baccala mantecato, or whipped salt cod is one of the most sublime.

In this dish salt cod is soaked, poached and blended with cream, olive oil, salt and pepper to form a light, moreish mousse. Sometimes the preparation includes parsley or garlic as well, and it is served smeared generously atop slices of fresh bread or gilled white polenta, another Venetian staple food.

At Cantina do Mori you can try many variations of this delicious Venetian mousse, and you should. Take a seat at the ancient wooden bar and tuck into antipasti that could have been eaten by fishermen sitting at the same bar in the 15th century.

Cantina Do Mori
Contact: S. Polo, 429, 30125 Venezia VE, Italy, +39 041 522 5401
Hours: Monday – Friday, 8am to 7.30pm; Saturday, 8am to 5pm; Sunday, closed

Osteria da Alberto for Sarde in Saor – Sweet and Sour Sardines

Sarde in saor is another antipasti dish that arose in the Middle Ages from the historical need of Venetian sailors and fisherman to preserve their fish. While this is no longer necessary, the sweet and tangy flavours of the dish remain wonderfully tantalising for modern tastes.

Prepared by marinating deep-fried sardine fillets in vinegar, onions, raisins and pine nuts, sarde in saor is a delectable sweet and sour dish that was traditionally prepared on July 15th to celebrate the Festa del Redentore. Now it is so loved that it is prepared by Venetians throughout the year.

One of the best places in Venice to sample this wonderful traditional appetizer is Osteria da Alberto. Unlike Cantina Do Mori this is a true local’s favourite, and if you stop by during any lunchtime you’ll see the small room filled with workers from the neighbourhood.

If you don’t feel like the sarde in saor the proprietors of Osteria da Alberto are also well known for authentic and classic Venetian cuisines such as risotto al nero di sepia (squid ink seafood risotto) and bigoli in salsa (whole-wheat pasta with a sauce of salt-cured fish). Their specials change daily based on what the chef has obtained fresh that morning from the local seafood market. Regardless of what’s on the menu, it’s well worth heading over, grabbing a table and letting them serve you the freshest, seasonal Venetian food.

Osteria da Alberto
Contact: Calle GiacintoGallina – Cannaregio, 5401, 30121 Venezia, +39 0415238153
Hours: contact for hours of operation

Trattoria Alla Rampa for Risi e Bisi – Rice and Peas

At first blush, rice and peas might not seem much of a basis for a culinary masterpiece, but this is truly a case of the sum being so much more than its parts. Not quite risotto and not quite soup, risi e bisi straddles a middle ground between the two. In fact, Venetian-food aficionados continue to argue over whether you should eat it with a fork or a spoon. But regardless of your choice, no one can argue –this is a truly superb spring supper.

This Venetian specialty is made with fresh peas, and only fresh peas will do. The quality of this dish depends so much on the flavour that comes from this star ingredient. Once the most tender fresh peas are obtained, it is combined with vialonenano rice, pancetta, onion, butter, parsley and pea-shell broth and risiibisi is born. It is a deeply savoury dish with a distinctive green sweetness that is worth searching out from a local Venetian trattoria.

One of these, Trattoria Alla Rampa, is a wonderful local lunch spot where risiibisi shines on the menu. Located in a working-class neighbourhood, Trattoria Alla Rampa is a popular spot for locals who live nearby, not the least of which is because of its reasonably priced ‘worker’s lunch’ consisting of pasta, a main course, wine and, of course, coffee.

If you arrive after the lunch rush, you can choose from other home-style Venetian dishes such as veal scaloppini. All are delicious and Trattoria Alla Rampa is a wonderful space to get off the beaten path and enjoy traditional dishes (including risiibisi) in a neighbourhood setting.

Trattoria Alla Rampa
Contact: Castello, 1135, 30122 Venezia VE, Italy (Via Garibaldi), +39 041 5285365
Hours: Lunch only, closed on Sunday

Dal Nono Colussi for Baicoli – Venetian Biscuits

If you have an afternoon sugar craving, Dal NonoColussi in Dorsoduro is the place to go. Take a single step inside the modest shopfront and you’ll feel as if you’ve entered another world. The cases and display shelves in this traditional Venetian pasticcerialie laden with indulgent cakes and pastries, including what is widely recognised as Venice’s best focaccia Veneziana, a sugar-crusted panett one-like cake.  But you certainly won’t want to stop there! Dal NonoColussi has won awards for its fugassa, a light and moist Venetian sweet bread, and locals wax lyrical about the bussolàburanello, a traditional cookie from the Venetian island of Burano that is baked in the shape of an ‘S’.

And of course, there are the baicoli. Baicoli are wafer-thin, crunchy sourdough biscuits that are made by baking a focaccia, slicing it into very thin slices and baking those slices again. Though they are simple biscuits, they are believed to have been eaten in Venice for over three centuries and were originally twice-baked by the wives of sailors to give them longevity at sea.

Today Venetians consider baicoli to be the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Do give them a try. As the Venetians say, ‘no gh’è a stomondo, no, più bel biscoto’ (‘there isn’t, in this world, a more beautiful biscuit).

Dal NonoColussi
Contact: Dorsoduro 2864/A, Calle Lunga de San Barnaba, Venezia, VE 30123, +39 041 5231871
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday, 9am to 1pm and 2.30pm to 5pm; Monday and Tuesday, closed

If you need help planning next Venetian holiday, just give us a call on 1800 242 353 and we’ll be happy to plan all the details with you.