if you are a first time visitor of my blog, I’m an American food & drink writer in Florence since 2012 but spent a month in Bologna in 2017 to develop a gourmet tour plus subsequent frequent jaunts between Florence to research and keep a pulse on the food scene and continuously study its cuisine.
This Bologna food tour was my little passion project, and was added to my bespoke gamma of small-group, 3 hour tasting tours focused on Florence. I sweat over many bowls of tortellini and slices of mortadella to make it perfect!
If you’re planning a visit, check out the latest food tour in Bologna I designed! (Led by a team of local, certified experts! I wish I could commute there every day to eat pasta and mortadella.)
This is my guide to eating & drinking in Bologna (this will be updated when need be- so bookmark it!)
Over the years since 2005 of traveling & living in Italy, I’ve spent significant time in Bologna, la grassa (the fat one), to either visit friends who live there or who have studied at la dotta (the learned, another one of her nicknames).
Overall, I was impressed by the quality of traditional food found in the center compared to my experience in Florence. One may say that you eat better in Modena or Parma (other cities with exceptional foods in the Emilia-Romagna). And it’s not always a given you eat well in Bologna- I’ve had my fair share of mediocre, lackluster affairs!
My lasting impressions are these:
The quality of traditional eateries of Bologna are better than in Florence, period. Partly because the cuisine is inherently richer, they cook ragu’ in butter for crying out loud!
You find butter used in Florence, but it’s more of a luxury rather than something deeply rooted in tradition- you find more olive trees in Tuscany than in the Emilia-Romagna!
Not counting the student garbage food dumps in Bologna, the restaurateurs in Bologna are catering to the Bolognese palate. Which I found, to be somewhat discerning and critical.
In Florence’s center, I’d say a minimum 25-50% of the clientele is foreign, with no frame of reference for how the food should be tasting unlike those who study/work in the food industry in some way or who were raised with the cuisine.
So I think a restauranteur in Florence who is doing traditional fare might get lazy knowing a large % of their clientele may either not appreciate wholly authentic food or not know the difference. I’m convinced that the majority of the eateries in Florence’s city center pander to international tastes, rather than that of even their own.
Tuscan cuisine you find today is mostly la cucina povera (peasant soups, dishes) and some notes of noble and Etruscan cuisine, pappardelle an example of the Etruscans’ rich tastes.
The cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna seems to be fit for kings with all the prized ingredients which dominate their pantry- the region is home to 42 DOP products! There is interesting food in Tuscany, and I do find it more varied (especially in terms of vegetables).
Quite honestly, I’d get diabetes living solely on cucina Bolognese. But I think lasagna Bolognese, tortellini al brodo, mortadella and tagliatelle al ragu are unparalleled items for decadent indulgence compared to la cucina contadina Toscana.
Even if Bologna has better restaurant quality food than Florence, it mostly applies to traditional cuisine. They seem even more dinosaur in strength to refuse modernizing their food scene.
You’ll find ONE Michelin-star restaurant in the whole city, Ristorante dei Portici, and it’s at a hotel. You may find a handful of restaurants serving refined versions of Bolognese cuisine, but Florence to me has some diversity in terms of experimentation even if behind most other major cities like Milan and Rome.
At the end of the day, it may seem unfair to compare metropolis cities to Florence, but while small, has similar international appeal and draw. Plus, its the Italian city I have most experience eating in, so naturally I compare!
The only thing I found “modern” in Bologna were irritating bakeries and hipster joints trying to imitate Anglo-Saxon baked goods, burger and brunch foods. I want to flail and mope around desperately every time I see one of these places.
And to be honest, brunch is a gimmick of overpriced simple food really only worth eating when you’ve trashed your liver on a night out drinking and anglo-baked goods are glorified industrially risen, sugar butter bombs when compared to Italian sweets. I will never understand Italy’s fixation for American-style bakeries and brunch joints.
From a day-to-day perspective, I found the Bologna very Bolognese. The exception being the people I was lucky enough to come into contact with were rather internationally minded.
Despite the fact that the world comes to Bologna to display art and perform music, it seemed like just any other Italian working city. Florence, aside from its massive American and foreign expat communities, has a dynamic, international/artist scene. Paling in comparison to Rome’s or Milan’s, I’m sure!
Here in Florence there are international institutes, academies and festivals, bringing people from all over the world. Florence is one of the few cities in Italy that is both a picturesque village and somewhat dynamic.
I’d consider Florence way more accustomed to having diverse foreign communities residing there and seems to be culturally sensitive, more than I experienced in Bologna. Perhaps this is changing as now Bologna is getting more attention.
So you probably wanted the food recommendations, right? I’ll stop rambling and give you the goods.
Curious Appetite’s guide to food & drink in Bologna
For great food, don’t miss Da Serghei (loved their lasagna) and Oltre (one of my favorite plates of tortellini in brodo, they source their pastas from Le Sfogline- a generation-run pasta shop), loved Osteria Bottega (even if on every list, I went and saw why. Super high quality and great service, even if slightly pricey!) Vâgh íñ Ufézzí (mega super hidden gem, dirt cheap eats alert!)
Caminetto d’Oro (fine dining service, exceptional quality and prices) Trattoria La Santa (total time capsule, old school trattoria) they bring out a massive hunk of beef bollito (boiled beef) and slice up portions at your table, good tortellini and broth from their bollito), Collegio di Spagna for simple fare and especially fried bread pillows called crescentine fritte with cured meats and fresh cheese “squacquerone”).
For more of my picks, check out my latest piece on Vogue Magazine (online)
Head to Bologna for the Ultimate Food Tour
Refined, creative and fine dining picks
Cantina Bentivoglio, located in the Jazz Alley of Bologna procures quality traditional food in a white table cloth yet stylish atmosphere while showcasing live music. Scaccomatto for a little more gourmet “fusion” takes on traditional dishes and flavors. I’ll be honest, the dishes at Scaccomatto were hit and miss when I visited. My advice is to stick to familiar items like ravioli, gnocchi and tortellini. I did enjoy heavily the creative take they did on their tortellini in lemongrass cream and their desserts MAGIC. For fine dining head to Ristorante Portici, 1 star Michelin by Chef Iacobucci.
For THE best traditional Bolognese fare, albeit a few stone throws from the city center but worth the trek in a taxi or car is Ristorante Al Cambio by Chef Benassi Sala Piero Pompili. Also check Mastrosasso, Officina del Gusto, Bottega Aleotti and Mirasole.
For a solid traditional pick at chef quality still an easy reach from the center, head to Trattoria Bertozzi run by Chef Fabio Berti. To take a break from all the meat and partake in a great seafood meal dine at Ristorante Acqua Pazza by Chef Carboni. Ristorante I Carracci for more hotel, luxury-style fine dining led by Chef Sordi and lastly Villa Aretusi by Chef Panichi
More old-school, institutional picks
For old school, institutional Ristorante Donatello is a crowd pleaser with a time capsule 70’s vibe with photos of artists and actors plastered all over the wall.
Another historical joint worth dining at is Cesari open for over 50 years, still family run, mind blowing panna cotta, fab pastas and starters like truffle parmesan flan. Albeit in the center, Cesari is a place that locals still frequent for a taste of the past. *Pappagallo is a white cloth fancy restaurant for the well-to-do Bolognese, with a century of history and just a few steps from the iconic Two Towers. The dolce vita of Bologna, or what’s left of it, can be found here! (*2019 NOTE: Pappagallo has changed ownership and now a little more casual/not as formal & expensive)
For big groups or business lunches, head to Cesarina in Piazza Santo Stefano, dine with a view of one of the most beautiful piazzas of the city.
For something in the countryside, please go to Lucia Antonelli’s Taverna del Cacciatore
The best chef-quality Tortellini outside of Bologna
For craft cocktails, don’t miss Pastis by Mercato delle Erbe for a more young scene and classic craft cocktails and small bites, Casa Minghetti in Piazza Minghetti (a bit more swank but well-made classics plus food) Vanilla has a sort of dive vibe but in a good way in a super young part of town off Via Pratello, Ruggine if you want to experience a hipster bar that belongs in Brooklyn and has food at lunch & dinner, Marsalino for a more cozy casual drink fix and nothing fancy and Il Rialto near Giardini Margherita where bartenders highly praise and feels like Bologna’s first vintage bar “speakeasy” style (not a speakeasy though) with classic cocktails and food. If you’re not a vermouth-bitter obsessed libation enthusiast like me, you’ll like Nu Lounge Bar for Tiki drinks, but they also make good classic drinks if you ask and Foodies Bloody Mary Bar (self-explanatory, but beware this is more for a casual meal and cocktails rather than a full-blown lounge)
For gelato, don’t miss Cremeria Santo Stefano my favorite gelato in Bologna for extremely interesting flavors and perfect creaminess/sweet balance, Stefino Bio for fascinating vegan and organic flavors which fool you into contemplating veganism, Gelatauro for classic gelateria vibes and gelato made wholly artisanal with passion and a touch of Southern Italian flavors (the owner from Calabria) and Gallieria 49 if you are obsessed with pistachio and figs like me- they do a pistachio granita that is probably the closest I’ll get to having the real deal in Bronte, Sicily.
For coffee, my favorites were Terzi (big emphasis on bean quality, roasting and sourcing), Le Serre at Giardini Margherita and Caffe Zanarini
I worked really hard to taste as much as I could in the month I was there and gain advice from the right palates, and the subsequent visits which now make Bologna feel like a second base for me.
The first half of the month was spent blindly walking around and following my nose and figuring some things out for myself. The second half, I was finally able to compare notes with some local experts.
One contact I was lucky to meet was Luca Baldi and is officially one of my favorite palates and people in the world. He was so generous with his time to show me around, checking my homework and advising me on where I should go. This post was helped in part and approved by Luca, so I hope you trust it! Luca Baldi is an Italian journalist, sommelier and a proud born-bred Bolognese with a very open mind and an extremely well-trained, discerning palate.
In your love for la grassa,
For more about my time and thoughts on Bologna, visit the Bologna section of my blog: https://thecuriousappetite.com/category/italy/bologna/
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