Know your Italian restaurants: savouring the different types of Italian eateries

Paul De Tourreil | 23/11/2018
Restaurant. Venice. Trattoria
Trattoria in Venice

It should come as no surprise that Italy’s ancient and diverse food culture would yield a plethora of amazing eateries. All this variety can cause confusion, as terms that seem familiar can mean something completely different. For instance, a bar is not just where you go for drinks, but for a quick espresso and snack on the way to work. 

Here’s a handy guide for deciphering ten types of restaurants you will find in Italy.

Trattoria: the place to go for a hearty helping of authentic Italian food. They’re quite informal, usually family-run, and a great introduction to how Italian culture manifests itself around mealtimes.

Pizzeria: Serves pizza, obviously, but often primo and secondo, first (pasta or rice) and second (meat or fish) courses. Some don’t serve pizza at lunch, those that do will indicate it: pizza anche a mezzogiorno.

Pizza al taglio: If you thought that pizza-by-the-slice was invented in America, these tiny shops will set you straight. It’s served hot and ready to eat by the slice. You can down it standing up or take it to go… because they don’t do tables and chairs.

Ristorante: A “restaurant” in Italy is more upscale and pricier than a trattoria or pizzeria, with a menu that often isn’t limited to typical Italian food.

Osteria: This is essentially the Italian equivalent of a tavern or corner pub, serving appetizers, snack food, and simple dishes that can also be shared. Osterias are an unpretentious way to enjoy traditional Italian food in a relaxed environment.

Enoteca: If you replace the “E” with a “Vi”, it’s easier to understand what this establishment is all about. Usually a little more formal than an osteria, with a greater emphasis on local wines, enoteche are upscale wine bars often connected with local vineyards and wineries. You can enjoy tastings by the glass, and buy a few bottles to take home.

Enoteca in Naples. Italian wine bar

Paninoteca: Panini is Italian for sandwich, but like everything else about Italian cuisine, “sandwich shop” doesn’t begin to describe the delectable discoveries you’ll make in a reputable paninoteca.

Rosticceria: Serves whole rotisserie chickens and a variety of ready-to-eat meals. Prices vary widely, but so does the quality. You can find some exceptionally good eats in the best rosticcerie.

Tavola calda: Literally translates to “hot table”, these establishments offer pre-made dishes. They often feature local specialties, usually including carni arrosto (roasted meat), insalata (salads), and of course pizza al taglio. Tavola calda are generally self-serve, with cafeteria-style trays, although the quality has nothing to do with your old high school cafeteria menu.

Gelateria: An ice-cream parlour, Italian-style — delicious beyond words.

One last piece of advice for dining in Italy: never judge a restaurant by the quality of its decor. It’s practically an Italian tradition to find the most sumptuous of culinary achievements nestled in the humblest of surroundings.