Five Favorite Restaurants

One of the best things about our job is seeking out the best restaurants in Italy to recommend to our travelers. One of the toughest things about this job is selecting our favorites. In virtually every Italian destination, there are several places where you could have the meal of a lifetime. We've created this short list of places where we've eaten recently, very short - our top five, from a Michelin-starred destination restaurant to a humble village osteria. Our picks are diverse in style, but are united by the common and, to us, essential theme of local, traditional cuisine, concentrating on classic, historic dishes and/or locally grown or foraged ingredients.

If you are visiting Italy in 2015 and want to sit down to an unforgettable meal, search out these winners:

La Siriola - San Cassiano, Veneto


This Michelin-starred restaurant was recommended by a trusted Italian friend and excellent cook who is a close friend of Stefan Wieser, respected sommelier and La Siriola's owner. It's about a 45 minute drive over the Passo Falzarego from Cortina, so we hired a driver for the evening and set out to give it a try on our recent trip to the Dolomites.

la-siriola-san-cassiano-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

As we had suspected, our friend's recommendation was spot on. La Siriola's chef, Matteo Metullio - Italy's youngest to hold a Michelin star - creates 5 unique tasting menus each evening; we chose the “Arollo and Lagrein menu”, focused on local products and game, and the “Pine menu”, featuring Italian dishes from a number of regions. The most memorable courses were the light gnocchi paired with a rich, meaty wild hare sauce and the perfectly tender venison loin served with celeriac puree from the Arollo and Lagrein menu. They were paired with local Sudtirol Pinot Noir and a hard to find Lagrein. The real standout was dessert: “Tramonto del sud”, a baba al rhum with a cloud of spun sugar.

venison-la-siriola-san-cassiano-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

tramonto-al-sud-la-siriola-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

The service was exemplary, with attentive waiters dressed in traditional Sudritol garb. One of the restaurant's unique features is a chocolate room where guests at each table are escorted before dessert to taste from a vast selection of artisanal chocolates. We had a wonderful evening, and topped it off with a stop at the top of the pass on the way home to gaze at the stars, bright in the velvety sky above the perfectly dark mountain peaks.

Location: Via Pre De Vi 31, San Cassiano
Website: http://www.ciasasalares.it/it/ristorante-la-siriola.html
What's local: One of La Siriola's five nightly tasting menus is dedicated exclusively to food and wine from Sudtirol.
Our tip: For a less formal dining room atmosphere, you can request a table in the wine cellar and cheese room.

San Pietro a Pettine - Trevi, Umbria


We had a cozy truffle dinner before a crackling fire with friends here last winter, and the intimate space and rich, warming comfort food (Umbrian-style, of course) made for an unforgettable evening, perfect for a small group celebrating a special occasion.

san-pietro-a-pettine-regole-cr-brian-dore
(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

It was a multi-course extravaganza, including bruschetta with homemade ciauscolo and truffle shavings, a generous course of local cheeses, pumpkin flan, pasta, and poached eggs with black truffle. Our meal coincided with the end of the winter white truffle season, so the ricotta-stuffed ravioli with white truffle was particularly outstanding. Though the courses kept coming, the portions were manageable and the pacing perfect.

ravioli-white-truffle-san-pietro-a-pettine-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

black-truffle-san-pietro-a-pettine-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

The setting is stunning: a historic estate recently renovated with understated modern design touches, surrounded by ancient woods and, of course, a protected truffle reserve. Ask to visit the estate's lovely restored Romanesque church with fourteenth-century frescoes and they will proudly open it for you, or take a stroll around the grounds overlooking the picturesque hilltown of Trevi to walk off a bit of your meal.

Location: Loc. San Pietro a Pettine, Trevi
Website: http://www.sanpietroapettine.it/
What's local: It's all about Umbria's truffles, both white and black, at San Pietro.
Our tip: In the summer, guests can dine on the outdoor patio with a panoramic view to the west over the Vale of Spoleto.

Leon d'Oro - Parma, Emilia Romagna


Leon d'Oro is not about designer decor (the dining room is reminiscent of a 1970's paneled den), nor about white-glove service (most of the courses are served directly from a trolley). This landmark restaurant is about history, having served excellent, informal cucina emiliana to guests for most of the past century. It is definitely a throwback to another time.

salumi-leon-d-oro-parma-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Portraits of Verdi and other heroes of the Risorgimento hang on the walls, and you can easily imaging them eating these exact dishes in the 19th century. The specialty at Leon d'Oro is bollito misto (mixed boiled meats), which has been served from a trolley along with the local, hand-sliced charcuterie, roasts from pork loin to rabbit, grilled, baked, and pickled vegetables, homemade desserts, and fresh or syrupped fruit, since the Ghinelli family welcomed their first guest almost 100 years ago. The pasta dishes, including traditional *pasta rasa*, are ordered a la carte and faithfully prepared according to family recipes.

leon-d-oro-parma-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

bollito-misto-leon-doro-parma-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

We recommend stopping here for dinner, and savoring the no-frills but decidedly authentic Parma experience. Not for the faint of heart, this is a great restaurant for those who want to sample a nice slice of tongue cooked the old fashioned way and served with traditional salsa verde (in other words, the meat-heavy menu is not for everyone).

Location: Viale Antonio Fratti 4, Parma
Website: http://www.leondoroparma.com/
What's local: Diners have been feasting on Leon d'Oro's traditional bollito misto since 1917.
Our tip: Stick to the house Lambrusco...excellent, and a perfect foil to the bollito.

Ad Hoc - Rome


One of our favorite things to do in Rome is eat at the small, traditional neighborhood trattorie for which the city is known, so we are always looking out for new recommendations. Ad Hoc was recommended by one of our favorite food guides in Rome, and is a bit of a departure from our normal causal haunts in that it has a bit more of a modern, sophisticated vibe.

ad-hoc-roma-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

The menu is dominated by traditional Roman dishes, though prepared with an updated twist. We especially liked the Cubed Carbonara (carbonara 3 ways), and for those who are curious to try a number of Roman classics, one of the three tasting menus focuses on the city's historic cuisine (the other two feature meat and fish).

The warmly lit, intimate dining room is lined with some of Italy's best vintages (the wine list is extensive and varied) and is a quiet respite from the crowds of nearby Piazza del Popolo and the Corso.

Location: Via di Ripetta 43, Rome
Website: http://www.ristoranteadhoc.com/en/default.html
What's local: Ad Hoc has a tasting menu of contemporary interpretations of Roman classics paired with wines from Lazio
Our tip: This romantic spot is perfect for a quiet dinner for two followed by a night drive.

L'Aquacheta - Montepulciano, Tuscany


It's never a good sign to see the tourists lined up outside a restaurant to eat at 7:00 p.m., but we had to see if this rambunctious osteria lived up to its hype.

And the hype here is the beef, as L'aquacheta is known for its monumental Fiorentina steaks made from local Chianina cattle and grilled over wood coals. They do have a selection of pasta dishes, which were simple and good, but you can feel free to skip the primo and move directly on to the secondo at this meat mecca (we ordered 1.6 kilograms of Fiorentina). You can bring you're own Vino Nobile to wash down the steak, or drink the local vino della casa.

aquacheta-montepulciano-cr-brian-dore
(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

aquacheta-montepulciano-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

This is a true osteria, where you sit where you're told at long tables elbow to elbow with other diners (our table-mates were a nice couple from Milan who were on a motorcycle tour of Tuscany). You're given one glass for both water and wine, the bill is scribbled on your placemat at the end of the meal, and the noise and activity level hover between bustling and friendly pandemonium...so be prepared for the scene or you may disappointed. Also, don't expect to rub elbows with the locals; when we were there, everyone in there was an out-of-towner.

L'Aquacheta-montepulciano-tuscany-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

IMG_1830(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Location: Via del Teatro 2, Montepulciano
Website: http://www.acquacheta.eu/
What's local: L'Aquacheta is famed for its fiorentina made with heirloom Chianina beef.
Our tip: Skip the pasta. Forget the wine glass. Order the steak.

Related posts:
Ordering at a Restaurant in Italy: Rules and Exceptions
Deciphering Your Restaurant Bill in Italy: Coperto, Servizio, and Tipping
La Trattoria di Famiglia: An Italian Icon



Contributor: Rebecca Winke

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Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy