if you are a first time visitor of my blog, I’m an American food & drink writer in Florence since 2012 but have spent considerable time in Bologna between Florence to research and continuously study its cuisine- which fascinates me to no end!
Out of which, a Bologna food tour was born and added to Curious Appetite’s 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 this food tour in Bologna (Led by a team of local, certified experts! I wish I could commute there every day to eat pasta and mortadella.) It’s also Lonely Planet-approved!
(Updated: April 2023 but first written in January 2017- due to the pandemic I have limited opportunity to check opening times, etc and also limited time in making this pristine with links and addresses. Drop me a line if there are significant changes you noticed or a listing I should add!)
I have however recently did an update for Eater for an Essential 18 (basically a round-up of must-eats, shops and drinks) It’s really hard to do a listicle of only 18 so this blog post fills in the gaps and offers more options for those who like to have them.
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 made with inherently richer, prized local ingredients. Consider ragu’ is cooked in butter for crying out loud!
You find butter used in Florence, but it’s more of a novelty rather than something deeply rooted in tradition- after all 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 tends to lean more towards traditional home cooking they grew up on.Florence restauranteurs have a more dynamic target audience that isn’t as much based on being compared to their grandmother’s cooking.
In Florence’s center, I’d say a minimum 25-50% of the clientele is foreign, without this nostalgic (opinionated) 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. This is a gross generalization, and could honestly be applied to pretty much anywhere in Italy (i.e. local diners holding traditional restauranteurs to the standards of their family culinary memories)
So I personally think a restauranteur in Florence who is doing traditional fare might simplify knowing a large % of their clientele may either not appreciate wholly genuine/true to the recipe dishes or not know the difference. I’m convinced the majority of restaurants in Florence’s city center pander to international tastes, rather than those 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! Surely, 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 la 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 and multicultural food offerings 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 gimmicky “concept” hipster joints trying to imitate homogenous food trends.
From a day-to-day perspective, I found the Bologna very Bolognese in terms of culinary open mindedness, habits and cultural sensitivity.
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 notable 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
Picks for Traditional Trattoria and Restaurants in Bologna
Trattoria Via Serra (slow food/very popular and hard to get into), Trattoria da Me (shabby chic/thoughtfully sourced ingredients for mostly traditional fare run by talented Elisa Rusconi chef and is giving this trattoria mega cred amongst locals) Ristorante al Cambio is surefire time capsule for local favorites from lasagna to passatteli. Trattoria Autotreno (a little outside the main center but super homestyle), For a solid traditional pick at chef quality still an easy reach from the center, head to Trattoria Bertozzi run by Chef Fabio Berti.
For more great traditional food with a vibe, don’t miss Da Serghei (loved their lasagna) I 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!) and Grassilli for one of the best cotolettas in town.
Collegio di Spagna for simple fare and especially fried bread pillows called crescentine fritte with cured meats and fresh cheese “squacquerone”).
For more traditional, wine bar and a couple modern picks, check out this guide I wrote on Vogue Magazine (online) Head to Bologna for the Ultimate Food Tour in 2017 (like I said, not much changes but the only place I wouldn’t stand by any longer is Franco Rossi- not sure what I was thinking when I listed that one- but hey people grow!)
Refined, creative and fine dining picks
Caminetto d’Oro (fine dining service, exceptional quality and prices), Casamerlo’ for bold art decor and extremely well executed traditional dishes, some vintage wildcards (i.e. vodka sauce pasta) and excellent service. Oltre and their spin-offs (Ahime, Ciao Kebab and Sentaku Ramen) is probably the only modern restaurant group trying to do something creative with Bolognese food traditions. In other words, if you’re into trend food scene/places- anything associated with Oltre is your ticket.
Scaccomatto for a little more gourmet “fusion” takes on traditional dishes and flavors. 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: check Mastrosasso, Officina del Gusto, Bottega Aleotti and Mirasole.
To take a break from all the meat and partake in a great seafood meal dine at Ristorante Acqua Pazza by Chef Carboni or Ristorante Ciacco for exceptional seafood dishes as well. Ristorante I Carracci for more hotel, luxury-style fine dining led by Chef Sordi and lastly Villa Aretusi by Chef Panichi
For wine lovers:
You can’t go to Bologna without drinking at Enoteca Faccioli– this is my ultimate favorite wine bar which specializes in high quality minimal intervention (aka natural) wines. Otherwise a couple other choice spots could be Enoteca Favalli (make sure to snack on the stuffed tigelle) and Bocca Buona (wines only, I’m suspicious of the food/haven’t tried yet.
I’m sad to say that Lucia Antonelli’s Taverna del Cacciatore has closed. But I still want you to read about it: The best chef-quality Tortellini outside of Bologna
For more outside Bologna: Agriturismo Mastrosasso, La Lumira, Nuova Roma, Locanda Pincelli, Massimiliano Poggi, Ristorante Iacobucci, Bottega Aleotti, La Luna Rossa, Mamo Cucina, Osteria di Medicina, Antica Trattoria di Sacerno, Casa Mazzucchelli and La Vecchia Scuola
For craft cocktails, 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, Bar Volare for classic cocktails that have a total 60’s vintage vibe and simple bar snacks like boiled eggs and peanuts, 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. For amaro- stop by Caffe’ Rubik.
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, Forno Brisa (especially for a pour-over and fresh breads) and Caffe Zanarini
I do my best to taste as much as possible while in town and gain advice from the right palates, and the subsequent visits which now make Bologna feel like a second base for me.
Stay tuned for a future post for eating food from around the world in and near Bologna
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/
Also, I quite enjoy the local food blog Gourmettoria by Marco Salicini
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