Everyone says Venice is expensive, but that’s not my experience, at least not for eating and drinking. My advice for enjoying one of my favourite cities is to go in winter when it’s relatively tourist-free, stay in the best hotel you can afford (preferably on the Grand Canal) and eat in the cheapest, out-of-the-way, holes-in-the-wall you can find (often in Cannaregio at the back of the island where many of the real Venetians live). Usually called bacari (bars) or osterie, they are everywhere, but to get you started here are a few of my favourite finds along with a couple (slightly dearer but still great value) not-to-be-missed experiences.
Al Mercà (San Polo)
This gem is perfect for a late breakfast/early lunch after visiting nearby Rialto Market. A hole-in-the-wall with a few stools, excellent coffee, grappa and tiny panini (meltingly sweet lardo on crunchy little rolls is my pick) – don’t let the time of day stop you from enjoying a glass of local red, after all ‘when in Venice …’
Trattoria dalla Marisa (Cannaregio)
Named for Madama Marisa, a well-known 1930s prostitute (and sporting some of her advertising as decoration), this tiny out-of-the-way spot simply serves antipasto then offers a limited spoken menu of pasta and secondi, finishing with whatever dolci they have. Great value, great experience.
Vini da Gigio (Cannaregio)
Several adjoining rooms, with ancient-looking walls, packed with locals every night, this family run restaurant is slightly more formal (so dearer) than the local bars and osterie, yet still friendly and great value. Have the crudo (raw seafood) and razor clams from the lagoon, and explore the wonderful wine list.
Trattoria al Gatto Nero (Burano)
Take the ferry across the lagoon to the colourful island of Burano for a memorable meal at this traditional trattoria. Allow Max – the third generation of his family to run ‘the black cat’ – to guide you through the menu full of seafood fresh from the lagoon. The excellent value antipasto, so large it comes on several plates, is a meal in itself and, depending on the season, contains the likes of king scallop in a slightly spicy tomato sauce, tiny black mussels and vongole in garlicky olive oil, poached cuttlefish, steamed mantis prawns, octopus salad with herbs and celery, baccalà of snapper and tiny grey prawns atop a grilled square of white polenta. Finish with excellent tiramisu.
Harry’s Bar (San Marco)
While it isn’t exactly cheap, a bellini and croque monsieur at the bar is an affordable way to experience this Venetian institution, opened in 1931 by the Cipriani family, declared a national landmark by the Italian government, frequented by royals, artists and celebrities, and open Sundays when many others are closed.
Updated 26 March 2022