Are you walking around a gorgeous city in Italy pondering what the differences between all these types of restaurants are?
You see signs that read, “Trattoria, Ristorante, Osteria, etc…” and wonder what that even means? These are eatery classifications and they let people know sort of what they are getting into before sitting down. For example, a Peschiera serves predominantly fish but how are you supposed to know that?
This article is the answer! We’ve listed out almost every restaurant classification under the Italian sky.
Pro Tip: This is a great post to bookmark in your browser. You can circle back to it on your trip when someone asks, “What is a Trattoria anyway?” Also, if you eat food you should check out our food tours in Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, and Barcelona.
Types of Restaurants
Imagine waking up at 6:30 am and rolling over to see your significant other. You look at them and say, “Want to head to the bar?” This is something that happens almost every morning to millions of Italians.
No, they are not alcoholics. You can get alcohol at an Italian Bar, but you normally don’t. You get breakfast there. You’ll see the “Bar” sign all over Italy and when you walk in, you’ll find espresso drinks, cornetto, and panini.
You can also get fresh-squeezed orange juice or vegetable juice. I highly recommend it!
Unlike the bar, you definitely shouldn’t wake up at 7 am asking you’re significant other to roll into the enoteca. This is definitely a place to drink wine or maybe beer & alcohol.
A good enoteca will serve tons of wine by the glass in many different price ranges. They will often serve cured meat plates for a snack or even warm dishes at times. I definitely recommend stopping into one of these in your travels to Italy and Rome.
One of my favorite types of places to eat lunch is a Tavola Calda. They are normally unassuming and serve many different types of dishes from cooked vegetables to lasagna and pasta dishes. Normally the dishes normally change day to day based on what is in season and other factors.
For example, gnocchi in Rome is only served on Thursdays. If you see it on the menu 7 days a week you may be in a tourist-trap. Authentic Roman restaurants only serve this dish on giovedí.
These are pretty cool little sandwich shops. They are dotted all over Rome and range in quality. Don’t refer to your sandwich as a “panini” unless you get more than one. The “i” makes it plural. Italian’s order a panino.
Check out 200 Gradi by the Vatican. Awesome place. Campo dei Fiori also has an awesome drive-up stand open for lunch that serves porchetta.
Osterie are pretty cool if you can find one. They are basically super cheap and extremely unassuming places to eat. A true osteria would have communal-style tables and serve super cheap eats.
Back in the day when Italy was extremely impoverished, they’d even allow you to bring your own food and just drink there. Imagine that today?
You can find restaurants with the title “Osteria” in Italy and you shouldn’t bring your own food or normally expect to eat with strangers. There is a place named “Da Mario” in Florence which says it is a Trattoria but feels like what a traditional Osteria would have been.
You should definitely expect a warm and cheap meal if you happen to go inside an Osteria in Rome and even more so in the Italian countryside. The menu will either be non-existent or small. In the Italian countryside or in small towns they can be really cool. The waiter may rock up to your table and say, “Today we are serving pasta with clams. Would you like Fettucini or Spaghetti with that?”
The Trattoria of Rome sits somewhere between Trattoria and Ristorante. Almost all Italian restaurants are family run but Trattorie almost must be family-run. They are normally inexpensive but have a larger menu that an Osteria.
Expect traditional regional cuisine at a Trattoria. If you go to two different ones you may find the same exact things on the menu. This is because they offer their family’s version of that regional dish.
This is basically the Italian equivalent of a more formal restaurant. They’ll have a more formal menu with all the Italian courses and you will be expected to eat each course.
You should definitely find a top-rated Ristorante in Rome and budget 3 hours for your meal. Really indulge in food, wine, and deserts.
This is an Italian bakery serving all types of delightful local treats. They are probably the best places to go for breakfast as they will make their cornetto’s fresh and supply them to all the bars.
You should be able to get a coffee here too but that isn’t a given. If you are doing an Airbnb or apartment rental, find a Pasticceria close by and pick up a bunch of cornetti for your group. You’ll be a star!
You won’t find this is in Rome but it is worth mentioning. A Rosticceria is a place you can go to find pre-cook meals like roasted meats and high-quality products. If you do find one and you are renting an apartment, consider doing take-out one night from a Rosticceria.
You will find restaurants in Rome with Taverna in their names but this is more a colorful play on words. Taverne are secluded restaurants in the Italian mountains that you could find a hearty meal, something to drink, and possibly a warm bed to sleep in.
Today, you can still find a few dotted in the landscape but you are more likely to find an agriturismo which is more a B&B.
A taverna in Rome is most likely going to decorate their interior with rustic countryside type decor and have hearty items on their menu. Kind of like going to a seafood restaurant that is decorated in a nautical theme but nowhere near an ocean.
If you have any background in Italian, you can probably guess that a Pescheria sells seafood. That said, this is most likely not a restaurant but a market where you can purchase fresh fish. Remember that in Italy, seafood can be purchased fresh almost anywhere but the cuisine is best consumed in coastal cities (Rome included).
Florence for example is not close to the sea. Close enough to get fresh seafood in this globalized market but the recipes have not been handed down from generation to generation and it is not their culinary strength. That said, if you find a seafood restaurant in Florence run by Venetians or Neapolitans, you are in for a treat.
Don’t Eat without us! We have restaurants recommendations in: