We ate a lot of meals out in Bologna over 3 weeks, some at old favorites, others at places that were recommended. All places had some great dishes, but most of the meals were very solid but not exceptional as a whole. The two exceptions to this, which were just fantastic all around:
1) Trattoria di via Serra, which has 5-star reviews all around and lived up to the expectations. They described every item on the menu in detail, it was amazing, like an incantation to the slow food gods. Book a couple of weeks ahead if you can- we had a hard time getting in. Closed Mon Tues. www.trattoriadiviaserra.it. Just north of the train station. We ended up trying most things on the menu as we were 4 people and shared everything. The tortellini in brodo was great, as was the artichoke with a meatball on a parmesan sauce, and the ricotta-filled vegetarian tortelloni was voted “the best ever” by our resident vegetarian.
2) Drogueria della rossa. We’ve been eating there for 10 years, and it is consistently very very very good. It’s in an old pharmacy, and the décor is charming and quirky, as is the service. They talk you through the menu, nothing written, and the receipts are basically a number scribbled on paper. Also, no wine list, they just choose for you based on your preferences. Their pasta is exceptional, stand outs were cheese-filled ravioli with artichoke sautéed on top, an eggplant filled ravioli, and one of the best tortellini in brodo I’ve had. Their tagliata, thinly sliced medium-rare steak, was excellent, even better than a similar steak dish at Trattoria di via Serra. Open 7 days a week.
This is not to say that our other meals weren’t great, they were, but somehow none hit the high consistent levels across all the dishes that the two above did. That said, all the restaurants below are certainly worth visiting (none are particularly cheap).
o Quanto Basta - I didn’t have a chance to go to this Roman restaurant this time, but based on past experiences there and people talking highly about it, it would probably end up being number 3 on the list above. Closed Sunday.
o All’Osteria Bottega – considered to be a place to sample great versions of all the traditional Bolognese food, written up all over the place, white tablecloth, very nice service. The food was really good. Definitely book ahead here.
o Il Rovescio- vegetable-forward, super cute and cosy. 30 euro 4-course meal, or a la carte, really great, slow food/natural focused. It is in Zaragoza quarter and a nice lunch on the way back from the Portici di San Luca hike (which I absolutely recommend). There is also a pizzeria next door that our friends visited twice in one week, they liked it so much. http://www.rovescio.it/en/. Open Sunday.
o Da Cesari - old school white tablecloth mom and pops. We were anticipating touristy and it wasn’t particularly so, and we drank and ate very well, and they were very kind. Very centrally located.
o Leonida is a super popular with the locals, very 80s decorated, trattoria. They also are very used to tourists (who usually wait a bit longer to get seated). The pappardelle al cinghiale (wild boar) was the best I had on this trip. They have a great selection of vegetable contorni (artichokes, chicory, cardoons, roast onions, tomatoes) that I’d recommend sampling.
o Cantina Bentivoglio - jazz bar and restaurant, in a vaulted brick room, very atmospheric, and the food is quite good. There is an egg pasta with prosciutto and lemon that I get every time, and their starters with chicory and smoked mozzarella was amazing.
o Regina Margherita is a Neapolitan pizzeria/seafood chain, on Via Santo Stefano, very central. We didn’t try the pizza but their appetizers were off the hook. For example, fried/breaded zucchini flowers filled with the most soft and amazing cheese imaginable, and a truffle-cream-filled fried delicious cheese ball. So good. Very casual.
Places I didn’t go this time, but were good in the past or I have heard good things, or just curious.
o Tratorria Gianni- classic Bologna place, quite affordable, solid.
o Trattoria da Giampi e Ciccio- classic, solid.
o Osteria dell’Orsa- in student area, always a long line, very affordable.
o Marsalino- a bit hipster, supposed to be good.
o I Portici- Michelin star place in Bologna, in a hotel I think.
o Scacco Matto- supposedly very creative seafood focused place. In summer, they may do outdoor meals in a garden? Not sure, but look into it!
If you need a break from meat or Italian food, here are some options. But all the places above have some things for vegetarians.
o Botanica Lab Cucina
o Zenzero bistro- veggie-friendly
o Pars Ristorante Persiano - If you need a break from Italian food, maybe consider this Persian spot. I’m intrigued, never tried it but good reviews.
o Fiordaliso- near Piazza Maggiore/Mercato del Erbe. A completely gluten free restaurant and cafe. We ate ate very well there.
Wine bars/ bars with some food
o Enoteca la Risanamento – cute wine bar with simple but yummy food (they don’t really have a kitchen but heat up some stews and have salad, cheese, bread, anchovies), out in student area, 30 wines by the glass, loved it.
o Osteria del Sole- very old, very famous, very simple wine bar. Only a few types of open wine, full of students. You can bring your own food, but good luck getting a table! Great people watching.
o Ruggine is a very hip cocktail bar right near Santo Stefano.
o Osteria L’infidele- Never went but really wanted to, wine bar on a quiet side street near Santo Stefano.
Eating in Markets
o The market on via Clavature and Draperie area is my favorite. I get my veggies there, and cheese, and salumi, and also great aperitivo all around this area. It’s super vibrant and also increasingly full of tour groups.
o I specifically love Simoni for great salumi, aperitivo https://www.tripadvisor.it/Restaurant...
o La Baita Vecchia Malga is an exceptional cheese shop, they will vacuum pack it all for you to take home.
o Mercata de Mezze is a food court / fancy market around this area. It’s pretty good but not quite as atmospheric as the others. Baladin is a local beer with a bar there.
o Mercato del Erbe on Ugo Bassi- I like the vegetable and cheese shopping there, but there are also a few little restaurants and stands and it gets crowded at night, sort of food cart style
o Sfolia Rina – pasta shop, get fresh pasta to go, or line up for a warm pasta lunch. On via Castiglione.
Gelato (my barometer for good gelato is pistachio)
o Sorbetteria Castiglione. I’m very loyal to this being #1. pistachio!
o Cremeria Santo Stefano- salted pistachio gives Castiglione a run for its money
o Grom- more of a chain, but solid and great sourcing. bitter/dark chocolate.
o Forno Brisa- south of train station, excellent pastries, bread and coffee. Their bread is served across town in many of the foodie restaurants.
o Terzi -Via Guglielmo Oberdan, 10/d. Excellent if a bit fancy.
o Caffe Zanarini- good coffee and pastries in very posh location, good people watching, good aperitivo
o Regina di Cuadri (bakery with good coffee)- near castiglione gate
o I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza - Sicilian bakery with great cannoli and good coffee
o Pasticceria d’Azeglio – good pastries and coffee
o Zoo on Strada Maggiore- great baked goods, good coffee, midday it becomes lunch spot and they may ask you to leave your table if you are lingering with a laptop.
o Le Sorrelle (coffee only) on santa stefano near the center, serve Terzi coffee.
Cafes to work in
o Fram- sweet space and nice people, you can sit for hours. I didn’t love the coffee but they are so nice it’s worth it.
o Camera a Sud- in the student area. Turns into a bar in the evening.
Walks in/near Bologna
o Portico walk to San Luca. It's super worth it.
o Villa Ghigi, out San Mamolo gate to the south of town.
o Modena- we got a table at Osteria Francescana and yes, it was amazing, and amazingly expensive. Definitely recommended if it is in your budget, really hard to get a table, booked up for months in advance. We signed up for the waiting list and they called us a few days before, we got lucky.
o Ravenna- amazing, must do mind-blowing mosaics. No need to book ahead, buy a ticket (9.50) at one of the 5 sites and go visit them all. It’s a 1:15 train from Bologna to Ravenna (7 euro). We spent a full 3.5 hours seeing the sites and had an amazing lunch at http://www.anticabottegadifelice.com. The gnocchi was the fluffiest I’ve ever had.
o Padova- for those who want to see Giotto frescoes, a day trip to Padova is nice, but I’d argue is far less astounding than Ravenna. Go to the Capella Scrovingo to see the frescoes for a brief 15 minute visit (book ahead), then walk to the cathedral of St. Anthony of Padua. On the way eat pastries at Pasticceria Lilium al Santo, right off the cathedral square.