Port Food: Where to Eat in Venice

by Lisa Cheng

Port Food: Where to Eat in Venice

by Lisa Cheng

Once a stop along the ancient spice route, the city of canals is distinctive for its cuisine. Between dazzling peeps of palazzos and galleries, bridges and waterways, and churches adorned with marble and frescoes, you'll want to seek sustenance in Venice’s many cozy osterias (casual eateries) or bacari (wine bars). Just consider yourself warned: the city is full of tourist traps, which means an uninformed choice could lead to a mediocre meal. Here, our guide to navigating the food scene in Venice — one unforgettable meal at a time.

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Venice's Grand Canal / iStock / bluejayphoto
Bruschetta
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1. Cicchetti

Venice’s version of tapas are served buffet-style at a bar at either lunchtime or in the early evenings. Dishes range from the familiar (tomato-topped bruschetta) to regional favorites such as baccala mantecato, a salt cod whipped with garlic and olive oil served on grilled polenta or bread. Snacking on cicchetti is a great way to sample numerous dishes, and most are just a handful of euro each.

Try: At the low-key Osteria Al Squero, a glass counter displays the daily selection. Sandwiches and crostini come stuffed with local sausages and charcuterie as well as seasoned cheeses and veggies. Pair yours with wine from the Veneto region or a refreshing Aperol spritz.

Venice’s version of tapas are served buffet-style at a bar at either lunchtime or in the early evenings. Dishes range from the familiar (tomato-topped bruschetta) to regional favorites such as baccala mantecato, a salt cod whipped with garlic and olive oil served on grilled polenta or bread. Snacking on cicchetti is a great way to sample numerous dishes, and most are just a handful of euro each.

Try: At the low-key Osteria Al Squero, a glass counter displays the daily selection. Sandwiches and crostini come stuffed with local sausages and charcuterie as well as seasoned cheeses and veggies. Pair yours with wine from the Veneto region or a refreshing Aperol spritz.

Bigoli
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2. Bigoli

Though Venice is better known for rice and polenta, it also has its own pasta. Bigoli is a doughy whole wheat variety that’s thicker than spaghetti with a rough texture that absorbs sauce well. The most common toppings: a salty onion- and anchovy- salsa or a flavorful duck ragu made with giblets.

Try: It’s not hard to find bigoli on menus in Venice, but the pasta at Osteria Anice Stellato is made in-house and the bigoli comes with warm service, a quiet atmosphere, and a relatively reasonable price tag — all of which are not to be taken for granted in Venice.

Though Venice is better known for rice and polenta, it also has its own pasta. Bigoli is a doughy whole wheat variety that’s thicker than spaghetti with a rough texture that absorbs sauce well. The most common toppings: a salty onion- and anchovy- salsa or a flavorful duck ragu made with giblets.

Try: It’s not hard to find bigoli on menus in Venice, but the pasta at Osteria Anice Stellato is made in-house and the bigoli comes with warm service, a quiet atmosphere, and a relatively reasonable price tag — all of which are not to be taken for granted in Venice.

Sarde en Saor
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3. Sarde en Saor

One taste of these sardines, and you'll never eat the canned ones again. The fish are fried and the sauce — which is laced with onions, pine nuts, and raisins — dates back to ancient times when sailors ate it on long journeys. These days sarde en saor isn’t kept around quite as long, but the longer it stews in the marinade, the more flavor you'll taste.

Try: Osteria All’Arco serves an authentic interpretation of the time-honored recipe. Or, for a more delicate take, book a table at Do Leoni, home to Murano-glass chandeliers and mustard-colored walls.

One taste of these sardines, and you'll never eat the canned ones again. The fish are fried and the sauce — which is laced with onions, pine nuts, and raisins — dates back to ancient times when sailors ate it on long journeys. These days sarde en saor isn’t kept around quite as long, but the longer it stews in the marinade, the more flavor you'll taste.

Try: Osteria All’Arco serves an authentic interpretation of the time-honored recipe. Or, for a more delicate take, book a table at Do Leoni, home to Murano-glass chandeliers and mustard-colored walls.

Nero di seppia
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4. Nero di Seppia

It may require some courage to dive into Nero di seppia, a pasta dish that gets it dark color from squid ink. Be sure to check the mirror before you leave the restaurant — the sauce will color your teeth black.

Try: The menu at Antico Dolo, located near the Rialto Market, is rooted in the rustic cuisine of gondoliers and fishmongers. Comfort food dishes include stockfish and Nero di seppia, both of which are rich and satisfying.

It may require some courage to dive into Nero di seppia, a pasta dish that gets it dark color from squid ink. Be sure to check the mirror before you leave the restaurant — the sauce will color your teeth black.

Try: The menu at Antico Dolo, located near the Rialto Market, is rooted in the rustic cuisine of gondoliers and fishmongers. Comfort food dishes include stockfish and Nero di seppia, both of which are rich and satisfying.

Fritto Misto
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5. Fritto Misto

Venice is known for its seafood — from soft-shelled crabs to mussels, clams, shrimp, sardines, and anchovies — and there’s no better way to try the bounty of the lagoons than a fritto misto. This mix of deep-fried lightly battered seafood, if done right, is delectably crispy and not too oily. It’s so fresh and tasty that all you need is a squeeze of lemon for flavor — if anything at all.

Try: At the 300-plus year old Vecio Fritolin, the fried seafood was once sold to fishermen. It comes in a paper cone with a side of grilled polenta and it’s still the most popular dish on a menu filled with seafood delights.

Venice is known for its seafood — from soft-shelled crabs to mussels, clams, shrimp, sardines, and anchovies — and there’s no better way to try the bounty of the lagoons than a fritto misto. This mix of deep-fried lightly battered seafood, if done right, is delectably crispy and not too oily. It’s so fresh and tasty that all you need is a squeeze of lemon for flavor — if anything at all.

Try: At the 300-plus year old Vecio Fritolin, the fried seafood was once sold to fishermen. It comes in a paper cone with a side of grilled polenta and it’s still the most popular dish on a menu filled with seafood delights.

Harry's Bar
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6. Venetian-style Calf’s Liver (Fegato alla Veneziana)

This Venetian classic dates back to the ancient Romans, who made the dish with figs. Today, there are only two main ingredients: calf’s liver and thinly sliced Chioggia onions, which are grown in the region. The result: a balance of strong and sweet flavors that's a must-try for meat lovers.

Try: Though the original Harry’s Bar has a reputation for this down home classic, we suggest heading across the lagoon to the elegant Acquerello in the San Clemente Palace Kempinski. The calf’s liver here is a delicate mousse, a creative twist on the iconic dish. Request a table on the terrace for unparalleled views of the lagoon and Piazza San Marco.

This Venetian classic dates back to the ancient Romans, who made the dish with figs. Today, there are only two main ingredients: calf’s liver and thinly sliced Chioggia onions, which are grown in the region. The result: a balance of strong and sweet flavors that's a must-try for meat lovers.

Try: Though the original Harry’s Bar has a reputation for this down home classic, we suggest heading across the lagoon to the elegant Acquerello in the San Clemente Palace Kempinski. The calf’s liver here is a delicate mousse, a creative twist on the iconic dish. Request a table on the terrace for unparalleled views of the lagoon and Piazza San Marco.

Italian biscuits
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7. Baicoli and Zaleti

With all the delicious Venetian dishes to sample, it’s hard to imagine how anyone has room for dessert. Fortunately, Venetian biscuits — such as Baicoli (a double-baked boat-shaped cookie) and zaleti (made with cornmeal, raisins, and pine nuts) — are on the lighter side. We recommend trying them with sparkling wine or at tea time.

Try: Rosa Salva has been the go-to bakery in town since 1879, and it’s the kind of place that brings back an air of nostalgia. You can take your cookies back to the ship, or eat them at an outdoor table.

With all the delicious Venetian dishes to sample, it’s hard to imagine how anyone has room for dessert. Fortunately, Venetian biscuits — such as Baicoli (a double-baked boat-shaped cookie) and zaleti (made with cornmeal, raisins, and pine nuts) — are on the lighter side. We recommend trying them with sparkling wine or at tea time.

Try: Rosa Salva has been the go-to bakery in town since 1879, and it’s the kind of place that brings back an air of nostalgia. You can take your cookies back to the ship, or eat them at an outdoor table.

I Tre Mercanti
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8. Tiramisu

This popular dessert shines in its country of origin. The rich and creamy treat layers espresso-dipped lady fingers with decadent marscapone cheese.

Try: For the classic, head to Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti, which sources only the freshest ingredients. Or, check out I Tre Mercanti for non-traditional flavors (such as green tea, pistachio, and blood orange) made fresh all day long.

This popular dessert shines in its country of origin. The rich and creamy treat layers espresso-dipped lady fingers with decadent marscapone cheese.

Try: For the classic, head to Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti, which sources only the freshest ingredients. Or, check out I Tre Mercanti for non-traditional flavors (such as green tea, pistachio, and blood orange) made fresh all day long.

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