Ristorante, Trattoria, Osteria, Enoteca, Taverna, Locanda or Bar?
What is the difference between all of different Italian eateries and dining establishments? Once upon a time it may have been easier to distinguish but now the lines are fairly blurred with the titles being interchangeable. It could be argued that all rules have gone out the window. Osterias were once considered casual and now Osteria Francescana in Modena has been named the best fine dining restaurant in the world. Yes, this is an extreme example but the below is a general guide to help navigate Italy’s dining scene.
Restaurants are usually the most formal of the italian eateries and also cater to all foreign cuisines. Restaurants tend to serve more modern cuisine and are often in the higher price range. Think table cloths, professional and experienced staff, and a more refined menu.
Trattorias distinguish themselves from restaurants in that they are traditionally in the middle price range and serve local dishes that are classic to the area. Expect a casual atmosphere, no-fuss food and house wine served in jugs. Trattorias are usually family run, small businesses and can have signature dishes that have been passed down for generations
The word osteria comes from the latin hospes, meaning ‘hospitality’. An Osteria in medieval times, was a place where middle class society would gather for social events and you could also stay the night like you would at an inn. The focus was on the wine and only very simple food was served to accompany the drinks. You could even bring your own snacks to the establishment. Osteria Del Sole in Bologna has stuck to this tradition but generally speaking, today’s osteria is very similar to a Trattoria. Some may be slightly more casual, perhaps with a more limited menu or no menu at all, serving whatever is on special that day.
An enoteca is a wine bar that serves snacks like antipasti and sometimes sells small goods and gourmet preserves. The focus is definitely on the wine and usually you can buy bottles to take away.
This used to be a place to drink like a tavern or pub where you might be lucky to get something to eat. Now tavernas are also very similar to trattorias and osterias.
Need somewhere cheap to stay the night with a casual bite to eat? A locanda is what you’re after. Although the term has become trendy and can be used for places that have no accommodation at all, traditionally a locanda is like an inn.
A bar may seem like the simplest term of them all, but its meaning might surprise you! During the day, Italian bars are frequented as ‘cafes’ serving coffee, juice and pastries. Some will even offer sandwiches and basic food for lunch. In Italian the word caffè refers to an espresso shot. In the evening, these bars become what you would expect, serving alcohol and nibbles.
Learn more about dining out in Italy here.