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Food and drink

Venice isn't a gastronomic mecca like Tuscany or Emilia-Romagna, although you can eat pleasantly enough--and extremely well, in some cases--if you're willing to sample the local specialties.

You don't need to go upscale, either. Just because your parents' generation dined in Harry's Bar or bought their gelato in the Caffè Florian doesn't mean you're obligated to do the same.


Breakfast usually includes rich Italian coffee with hot milk, a hard roll or two, and a sweet cornetto (croissant) filled with a dab of peach or apricot jelly.

Lunch is taken seriously in Italy, so don't grab a table in a sit-down restaurant unless you're willing to order a full meal. Instead, visit one of the many snack bars where you'll find sandwiches displayed in the window. Point at a sandwich, ask for an ombra (glass of wine), and grab a few inches of space at the crowded bar--unless your feet are sore from sightseeing, in which case you might want to pay a higher price for table service.

Another possibility is to buy rolls, sandwich meats, cheese, drinks, and pastries at neighborhood shops and have a picnic in your hotel room. Fruit is hard to resist, even in winter, at the street markets near the Rialto Bridge or in the local squares.

Dinner is likely to be your most expensive meal of the day. You can economize with pizza, which is reasonably priced by U.S. standards, and the flat-rate menù turistico can be a good deal if you have a modest appetite. Still, it's wise to splurge at least a few times during your visit, if only to try regional specialties such as:

Risi e bisi. A soft risotto (creamy rice dish) with peas and bacon.

Spaghetti alle vognole. Pasta with clams and hot sauce.

Fritto di mare. A deep-fried, forensically challenging assortment of fish, shrimp, clams, and tentacled creatures.

Baccalà. An exquisite creamed dish made from dried salt cod.

Pasta e fagiole. A thick soup made with beans and pasta. To enjoy it as the locals do, add a splash of olive oil.

Radicchio alla Griglia. Grilled red endive from nearby Treviso, on the mainland.

Risotto alle seppie. It looks like licorice, but the rice's black coloring is ink from a cuttlefish.

Cover charges and tips

In a restaurant, your bill will normally include a pane e coperto (bread and cover) charge of L2,000 or more. This charge is waived if you order the tourist menu.

You may also find a service charge of 10% or more on your bill, in which case additional tipping is optional. If you aren't charged for service, and if the menu doesn't contain the phrase servizio incluso or servizio compreso, tip the waiter 15%.

Caution: Many restaurants and most bars ignore credit cards, so don't go out for the evening without a stash of lire in your money belt.


Don't bother checking your phrasebook for "No-smoking section." There isn't any--at least, not usually.

However, I'm told that the Bar Tiziano, in front of the San Giovanni Crisóstomo Church near the Rialto Bridge, now prohibits smoking between noon and 2 p.m. The bar has tremezzini--sandwiches--along with pasta dishes for a quick lunch.


Cheap Eats in Italy, by Sanda A. Gustafson, is a handy guide to inexpensive and mid-priced restaurants in Venice, Florence, and Rome.

One of my own favorite budget restaurants in Venice is the Taverna San Trovaso, on the Fondamenta Priuli in Dorsoduro. The lively crowd is a mixture of neighborhood residents, university students, and tourists. The affordable menu offers something for everyone--from pizzas to multi-course meals. (But if the truth be told, no Venice pizza parlor can match the quality of Davanni's in Uptown Minneapolis, Minnesota.)

For more Venice dining suggestions, see my restaurant reviews at Venice for Visitors.

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