Ristorante, trattoria, osteria, enoteca…what’s the difference?

Italy is renowned across the globe for its cuisine, with pizzas and pastas featured on menus around the world. But once you arrive in Italy, things can become a bit complicated. “Ristorante” is just one of the many eating establishments on offer…so what do the others mean? Read on to find out.

1. Ristorante: This is exactly what it sounds like. A full-serviced restaurant. Expect to be seated by a host or hostess and served by a knowledgable wait staff. You’ll be presented with a traditional menu, and tables will be sharply presented – likely with linen tablecloths.


2. Trattoria: Think rustic. Typically family owned and casual, these establishments serve fresh local food with no frills. Prices are low to moderate, and menus are usually displayed on a chalkboard rather than on a printed menu. It’s a good choice for a laid-back, unpretentious atmosphere. However, be aware that many restaurants are guilty of falsely using the term ‘trattoria’ in order to create a cozier image…so take a peek inside before sitting down.

3. Osteria: Traditionally, these were wine bars that served simple food or no food at all (many only served drinks, allowing you to bring in your own meal). Menu offerings are more vast nowadays, but still pretty small. Osterias are more casual than trattorias, and once served as a sort of inn where travelers could stop for a meal and a comfortable bed. Those days are pretty much gone, but you can still perch in an osteria for hours, sipping wine and eating simple food. But just like with trattorias, the word ‘osteria’ is sometimes used when it shouldn’t be.


4. Enoteca: Derived from the Greek word Οινοθήκη which literally means ”wine repository,” enotecas are wine bars that give visitors a chance to enjoy a glass of vino and purchase a bottle or two if they wish. They feature local wines, as opposed to mass produced bottles found in supermarkets. Enotecas sometimes serve local food or small snacks to accompany the wines.

5. Bar: This word is well known in most cultures, but it means more in Italy than anywhere else. While Italian bars do serve evening drinks like any other bar would, they’re also open in the morning for coffee and pastries. At lunchtime, bars are a great place to grab a cheap slice of pizza or a sandwich.

6. Paninoteca: Anyone somewhat familiar with the Italian language can probably gather that this is a sandwich shop, seeing as how the Italian word for sandwich is “panino.” Expect a good choice of meats for fillings, including delicious parma ham that would have a much higher price in any other country.

7. Piadineria: If you aren’t already familiar with the Italian piadina, familiarize yourself and prepare to be amazed. It’s Italy’s answer to a quesadilla, but less greasy and more delicious than its Mexican counterpart. Fillings are stuffed inside Italian flatbread.

8. Pizzeria: If you need an explanation for this one, we’re very disappointed in you.


9. Spagghetteria: See #8.

10. Gelateria: The perfect end to any day, gelaterias serve – you guessed it – gelato. Italian ice cream is a lot creamier than standard ice cream, and is presented gorgeously. Bonus: Gelato is usually lower in calories, fat, and sugar than regular ice cream…so get two scoops. Hint: Pistachio is a classic Italian flavor that never goes out of style.

You can find our ristorante, trattoria, and osteria suggestions here. Our favorite bars can be found here.

Lynsey Free

Lynsey Free is founder and editor of Postcards from Milan. As a freelance journalist and copywriter, her work has been published on RT.com, RT television, Sky News, News Corp sites, and MyFox channels. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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