Venice is notoriously difficult for finding reasonably priced restaurants serving good food. The cheap eats challenge only increases when you find yourself at lunchtime at one of its most popular attractions. But hidden down a side street there is always the chance to come upon a traditional bacaro bar serving bite-sized cicchetti and panini, or a classic trattoria whose dish of the day is a steaming plate of pasta topped with a simple but tasty ragù.
Piazza San Marco
Finding anywhere decent to eat around the Piazza San Marco can seem like Mission: Impossible. The Calle delle Rasse is lined with touristy trattorie, but right in the middle is the Birreria Forst, a legendary watering hole favoured by raucous gondoliers and water-taxi drivers for almost 50 years. For a real slice of Venetian life, grab one of the wooden, bierkeller-style tables and order the signature square rye sandwiches called tramezzini (€10 for two, including drinks), which are stuffed to bursting with everything from wafer-thin slices of roast beef and pork to local cheeses and sopressa salami. Rushing around everywhere is feisty young owner Kevin Xu, who carries on a non-stop banter with the gondoliers in the local dialect.
• 4540 Calle delle Rasse, on Facebook
The Rialto market heaves at lunchtime with locals doing their shopping; there are some great bars, but all are crowded. A few minutes’ walk away, in the quiet Campo San Silvestro, is a newcomer on the foodie scene. With a name like H2 NO – No Water – there is a great selection of craft beers, organic and natural wines. But chef Davide Verna, who runs the place with his sister Mariangela, also creates an irresistible range of cicchetti, Venice’s take on tapas. The choice depends on what Davide finds in the market: a succulent butterfly prawn nestling on a bed of curried green cabbage; an octopus slice on pickled vegetables; smoked salmon with ricotta and asparagus – a plate of seven cicchetti costs €15. Otherwise there are big, fresh salads and three or four different soups each day.
• 1105 San Polo, on Facebook
After viewing the Accademia’s collection of Venetian masterpieces by Titian and Tintoretto, Carpaccio and Canaletto, take the street towards the Zattere. The smart art deco-style Rivista restaurant has outdoor tables, and its limited but gourmet seasonal menu is reasonably priced (primi piatti €13-€16.50, secondi €15-€21), with no added service or cover charge. Its talented Venetian cook, Sheila Berengo, reworks classic recipes by adding ingredients such as powdered sea urchin to a spicy plate of garlic and chilli spaghetti, or subtle saffron sprinkled over a tasty duck ragù. Good vegetarian choice, too.
• 979/a Dorsoduro, restaurantlarivista.com
Bacaro Da Fiore
François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi regularly hosts blockbuster art exhibitions, and currently Damien Hirst holds court until December with his controversial shipwreck show. Just by the grand Campo Santo Stefano, Da Fiore is a local institution, serving Venetian cuisine for the past 50 years and a firm favourite with students from the nearby university. For a budget lunch, though, go to the bacaro bar rather than sitting down in the more formal ristorante’s dining room. The bacaro counter is filled with tempting cicchetti (a selection for €10-€12) and the chef is forever coming out of the kitchen with plates of piping hot polpette meatballs, grilled baby squid, octopus salad and delicate courgette flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies.
• 3461 Calle delle Botteghe, dafiore.it
Osteria Ai Cacciatori
Everyone visiting Venice comes over to Murano at least once to see the island’s famed glass-blowing workshops. Stop off at this venerable 150-year-old osteria, where locals play cards and there is always a buzzing atmosphere. Glass-blowers troop in for their midday menu operai (working man’s lunch) but the genial 84-year-old owner, Toni Regazzi, says he is happy to serve the daily pasta (€8) to tourists if they are not sold out. All the rest of the food comes straight from the kitchen to the bar counter: delicious mozzarella in carrozza (a type of sandwich), battered mozzarella with anchovies, tiny pizzette, delicious tramezzini (€1.50-€1.70) and panini. House wine is €1 a glass, but it’s worth trying the local (red) Raboso at €2.50, a favourite tipple of Ernest Hemingway.
• 69 Fondamenta Vetrai, +39 041 739 845
Trattoria Alla Maddalena
The colourful fisherman’s island of Burano is one of Venice’s most popular destinations, but for eating out it is better to walk across the wooden bridge to bucolic Mazzorbo and sit out on the water at the friendly, family-run Trattoria Alla Maddalena. A full meal here can cost €35-€40, but the perfect plan for lunch is to order just a copious helping of the traditional lagoon dish, risotto di gò, which has all but disappeared in most Venetian restaurants. Made from the ghiozzi fish – known locally as gò – which lives in the mudflats of the wetlands, the risotto is complex to prepare. And though it may not look very appetising, the taste is out of this world.
• 7/b via Mazzorbo, trattoriamaddalena.com
The modern art hanging in Peggy Guggenheim’s palazzo – Picasso, Magritte, Max Ernst, Pollock – is a stark contrast to the old masters on display around the rest of Venice. And the same is certainly true of 60/40, a bright new eatery one bridge across from the museum. “We thought up the name 60/40 because this is a hybrid: part takeaway, part take a break and eat here,” explains the young owner, Andrea Perini. The speciality is giant panini (€5.50) prepared to order with fresh produce – mortadella, mozzarella, mountain cheeses and smoked ham. They also have a big selection of fruit and vegetable juices created on the spot, artisan ice-creams and tasty pastini pastries baked each morning by a nearby pasticceria.
• 128 Rio Terà dei Catecumeni, +39 041 476 4997
Osteria Al Bacco
The world’s oldest Jewish ghetto commemorated its 500th anniversary last year. Rather than the restaurants inside the ghetto itself, the most fun place for lunch is just across the canal in one of Venice’s most beautiful osterie. Al Bacco boasts a romantic wood-panelled dining room, shady garden and waterside terrace. Its copious lunch menu (€13.50 plus €2 cover charge) is one of the best deals in town: a choice of three pastas, such as spaghetti all’aglio olio peperoncino, or a vegetarian option, followed by a main course, plus grilled vegetables or mixed salad. The cuisine may be traditional Italian, but Bacco represents modern multicultural Venice – it’s owned by a friendly Jordanian, Haitham Hasan, an ex-architecture student who stayed on; the maitre d’, Afi, is from Tunisia; Moldovan Lili runs the bar; while your waiter could be Slava from Ukraine.
• 3054 Fondamenta de le Capuzine, 39 041 525 6093, osteriaalbacco.com
Isola Di San Giorgio
San Giorgio draws visitors for its famed Palladian church and stunning views over Venice from its bell tower. But there is just a basic cafe on the island, so hop on the vaporetto for one stop across to Le Zitelle on Giudecca. A narrow alley right opposite the boat stop takes you to Da Sandro, an old-fashioned pizzeria with a lovely garden. It is virtually impossible to find authentic pizza in Venice, but Sandro Mazzucato makes the dough fresh each morning, and there are a staggering 50 varieties on the menu (from €8.50), from the tasty Bresaola, with cured beef, rucola and mozzarella, to a Gustosa, oozing gorgonzola, spicy salami and crunchy onions.
• 53/c Calle Michelangelo, +39 041 241 1839
Osteria Al Ponte
The Biennale Gardens are the historic venue for Venice’s century-old biennale of art. Hidden behind the main entrance, this no-frills osteria is a quiet oasis away from the crowds, perfect for sitting out on its canal terrace beneath a shady umbrella. The owner, Elisabetta di Bortoluzzi, serves cicchetti and panini at the bar, but it is her papa who runs the kitchen, where he has been preparing classics such as pasta all’amatriciana and spaghetti al nero di seppia (from €8.50) for the past 30 years.
• 930 Fondamenta San Giuseppe, +39 041 520 6632