This is a highly subjective mini-guide to where to eat in Venice along with tips for spritz, wine, restaurants and local resources. Before I get into that, allow me to share a few thoughts on this majestic city.
Prior to moving to Florence, I boycotted visiting Venice believe it or not. This was in the beginning of my Italian path (which started in 2005 and included trips and study abroad semesters) but the boycott ended when I moved to Florence in 2012. I boycotted visiting because even between 2005-2012, I saw Venice as an unsustainable city overrun by mass tourism and little left for locals. I didn’t want to contribute to the problem.
In hindsight, that was perhaps egocentric, as I’m just one person when we should be getting involved with tackling the bigger monsters such as climate change and global warming fueled by profits over people that pose the truest existential threats to a sinking Venice.
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When I finally broke the ban, my first meal was a trap of frozen burnt fish, mucky vegetables and bad wine. I had gone for the day with a roommate and came back ready to wash way the bad taste in my mouth with a Negroni at my local.
I met up at said local with friends I met through couchsurfing (as that’s how I made the most interesting friends when I first moved to Florence, so sad the org went downhill) and a Veneto (meaning someone of the region of Veneto) there laughed at my rookie mistake of going blindly and not having been guided by someone who lives there. They assured me food was great there, I just had to do more research or get spanked (and not in the fun way).
Subsequently, my 2nd summer in Florence (2013) was spent going to the city at least one long weekend per month thanks to friends who were living in Venice for art school/biennale work. I was on a shoestring budget at the time, barely hanging on by 2 part-time jobs, but thanks to Venice’s affordable ciccheti (finger foods) and spritz culture- I could enjoy a little slice of the good life.
It was these experiences which helped form my (unwavering) opinions about what makes Italian food culture so incredible: and that is, it’s access. In the US- there is a huge income divide between the working class and the well-to-do (if the working class isn’t already extinct).
The divide is getting larger in Italy too, but I wouldn’t say at the rate or proportions of that in the US. And yes, I know “comparing apples to oranges”, and surely there are wild problems in Italy too.
But for me being American born and always questioning where I would want to live based on my personal values- these are considerations (i.e. being able to afford a higher quality of life) which validate my reasons for wanting a better life in Italy.
I still visit Venice with great revel. I have been fortunate to tap into some truly notable places to eat and drink over the years. And while this sounds cliche’- walking through its empty squares and crossing the foot bridges catching the quiet ripples cooing from the canals in the later evening hours is something of pure enchantment.
These (dare I say) magical moments convince me we are lucky to exist on this planet and must do everything in our might to keep it bearable- for everyone, for as long as forever can last.
You came to this guide for the tea on where to eat in Venice, but this is also a personal blog so I couldn’t give you the SEO nuggets you’re hungry for without some context.
It also explains why I don’t have many restaurants in this mini-guide. In the countless times I’ve visited Venice- I’ve eaten meals mostly of ciccheti, so these are some of my favorite bacari bars. Still, I’ve included some restaurant names and links to reputable local sources.
NB: Please don’t come to Venice and eat pizza. You will be sorely disappointed. If you do manage to plan well and advance to book a quality restaurant- look for: risotto, polenta, anything squid ink pasta, bigoli and all things seafood.
When in Venice, and when spritz’ing, please choose Select or Cynar. I don’t care how you feel about Aperol. If you want cloyingly sweet jolly rancer hooch, please be banished to Padova and never come back. For a proper Venetian spritz for palates evolved past adolescence and can roll with complexity, consider choosing Venice’s OG bitter Select or artichoke-based Cynar with an olive. Thank you for coming to my TedTalk. (also, drink what you like, I honestly am not judging. kinda.)
Bars x Ciccheti
Cantine del Vino già Schiavi in Dorsoduro is considered the best in the quarter aka Cantinone or Al Bottegon. A few doors along is Osteria al Squero, which is a super characteristic bacaro overlooking the oldest gondola yard (Squero di San Trovaso) in the city. At both spots you can eat outside by the canal.
Al Mercà- tucked a few steps from the Rialto Market (hence the name) I enjoyed the plumply dolloped baccala-stuffed mini panini, fish croquettes and natural wines all from caliber producers of mostly the Veneto region, some Slovenian picks too. Campo Bella Vienna, 213
El Refolo in Castello, for more casual spot for panini and wines, spritz and chips.
Enoteca al Volto- I have fond memories sitting at the bench outside this historic bacaro, crushing all the baccala’ things, squid spaghetti and several ombre goblets of wines.
Osteria Bancogiro– Near the Rialto bridge and I like all the different polenta cicheti they offer (like the black squid ink polenta) and I enjoy the view of the canal.
Bar All’Arco- a tight but proudly made selection of quality cichetti bites with unique wines from small producers. Love this place! Always consistent year after year. Address: S. Polo, 436, 30125 Venezia VE
For tramezzini (triangle sandwiches)
Bar Alla Toletta has been my jam for years. I used to think it was secret as it was an unassuming cafe giving old school vibes, and love how packed the tramezzini fillings are, spritz or wine is quaffable and mostly utility for washing down mayo-rich triangle snacks.
Also Cantina Do Mori for a historic tavern with other cicheti to swoon over and Bar Rialto da Lollo.
Cà D’Oro alla Vedova in Cannaregio for traditional Venetian osteria digs famed for their “polpettine” (fried meatballs).
La Bottiglia- To “bere bene” for curated wines, with tagliere boards and panini. No ciccheti, but wine selection and location are both clutch.
More ideas in case you need them, these are straight from my travel consult files I’ve compiled from either trustworthy moles/local experts:
El Sbarlefo in Cannaregio, for decent ciccheti, as well as Cantina Aziende Agricole near the Jewish Ghetto. For a sit-down meal (lunch or dinner) La Zucca (time survived recommendation), Alle Testiere (cleverly fused Venetian cuisine with popular spices from the times of the Republic. book in advance), CoVino (reservations a must and so darling, tucked away from the crowds), Vini da Gigio (an old rec, FYI), Local for Michelin star dining (recommended to me by Maria Pasquale), I have Antiche Carampane on an old list (can someone let me know if it’s still valid?) TRATTORIA DA BEPI GIÀ “54”. chef owner takes food very seriously, traditional Venetian dishes enriched with unusual ingredients. This guide on Vogue seems pretty legit for restaurants in Venice. I have Al Covo saved with resounding feedback, too.
For coffee, I didn’t get a chance to hunt down specialty coffee but I always enjoy a stop at Florian which is Italy’s oldest continuously operating cafe. It’s quite special during Carnival time, too. You can’t beat a 3.5eu coffee at the bar inside!
Where to stay
Palazzo Schiavoni in the shoulder season is incredibly reasonable.
Please do not book Airbnb’s whenever possible, they are awful to their hosts, they are ruining the housing market and has yielded an accommodation culture of entitlement and unreasonable expectations that either hotels need to be cheap or Airbnbs should be like hotels (ahem, remember the whole “live like a local” thing?) but at low prices. And not appreciating all the work that goes into running a hotel or professional accommodation.
Of course sites like Airbnb have opened travel to a wider audience who perhaps couldn’t afford it before but you know there was such a thing as a hostel and sites like couchsurfing for budget travelers. The fact is, Airbnb sucks and support hotels/independent B&Bs if you can help it. Sometimes independent B&Bs/accommodations advertise on Airbnb because of its monstrous reach, so if you see them- message and see how you can book directly.
If anyone else has hotel recs, please comment and I’ll add to this guide.
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For more local resources, please follow Valeria Necchio who is super involved in Venice’s culture scene from a community standpoint, who wrote Veneto and writes myriad travel guides to Venice and works with Venissa (a restaurant that is top on my to-do list for the next visit!). I met her via a Persian New Year pop-uup dinner held at Tocia co-hosted by the lovely Rome-based food photographer and author Saghar Setahreh of Labnoon. For natural wine bars, hit up this guide in Italian (Vino Vero is on it/not shabby)
For unique Persian handicrafts, stop by Kooch Venice and there is a cool photograph shop across the way too.
For a food tour, check out Monica Cesarato (she also runs a podcast and wrote a book on ciccheti)
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In your ciccheti eating trust,