The most FABULOUS food I ate while on my recent trip to Italy and Slovenia was at places recommended by friends and hosts. No surprise there. When visiting touristy places, know that all the “tourist” restaurants with their average to below-average food will be the ones with a front row seat to the tourist destinatons. Dinner in the shade of the Duomo sounds romantic, but know you’re paying for the view, not the flavor. Like every other aspect of travel, it’s best to go in with a game plan. Here, as per my experience, are the best places to eat while in Slovenia and Italy…
The BEST Places To Eat In Slovenia & Italy
SARAJEVO 84 – Ljubljana, Slovenia
Oh. Em. Gee. You guys.
This was hands-down my favorite meal on the entire trip. Maybe it was so damn delicious because we were starving. Doesn’t matter. WOW!
So what have we got here? Bosnian finger sausages, or cevapi, in a grilled bread pocket and served with a side of chopped onions, a queso fresco-eqsue cheese and a red bell pepper sauce called ajvar. We also ordered a side of cucumber and tomato salad and a side of prebranac. You better believe I learned the official name of these paprika baked beans. I can’t get them out of my head! I really wish I could be eating this dish again right now. This is pure torture.
VILA PRESEREN – Bled, Slovenia
Why not enjoy a picturesque dessert while relaxing in a picturesque lake town? If you ever find yourself at Vila Presen in Bled, then do yourself a massive favor and order this famous regional dessert, kremsnita. Or, if you’re feeling extra fancy, order the presernova kremsnita which has berries and chocolate syrup added! I enjoyed every bite along with a gorgeous view of Lake Bled. It was the best lunch ever.
OPEN KITCHEN – Ljubljana, Slovenia
So here’s something really cool. Every Friday from March to October, the city center of Ljubljana hosts what is called “Open Kitchen.” Many restaurants in town set up booths and serve a small sample menu. It’s street food at its best and the ambiance can’t be beat. What a great place to meet up with friends for food and drink after a long week. I had a hard time deciding but in the end went with a plate of Turkish food, Jack Daniels ribs and a dish of panna cotta. I might have also nibbled off other people’s plates. There wasn’t enough room in my belly to try all the magnificent fare offered.
BORDON WINERY – Dekani, Slovenia
Touring and tasting the delights of this winery was an experience I will never forget. We enjoyed a private tour that should have only last 1-1/2 hours but somehow turned into 4 hours. Our host, Moitza, greeted us with a glass of bubbly blush wine to sip while we walked the grounds. I lingered over clusters of grapes and plump, purple figs before we headed back for the tour. There we learned about the wine-making process and history of the buildings before heading inside to enjoy a sumptuous charcuterie board of prosciutto, cheese, olives, olive oil and bread–all items cured or prepared at the winery.
We laugh, we cried, we sipped and for the first time in my life, I was officially tipsy. Usually by 3 sips of wine, I pass out but there must be magic in Slovenian wines.
QUANTO BASTA – Venice, Italy
Lemme say this: Venice is not the best place to enjoy great food. The most expensive meal we had the whole trip was on the waterfront in Venice…and it was NOT anything special. It was barely even good. The really good food can be found at the bakeries and at bars (like Cantina do Spade) where you can select from a tasty range of cicchetti such as arancini, bruschetta, etc. However, these are best ordered at the counter and eaten at the bar or outside at one of the standing tables. Since we very much wanted to have a seat and relax, we missed out on the whole cicchetti experience.
We DID however enjoy a cheap, tasty and entertaining lunch at Quanto Basta down from the train station. The server behind the counter was quite the ham and offered me my pizza with flair. We also enjoyed our first cannoli of the trip along with a crispy, chocolatey fornarina pastry. This stop redeemed an otherwise disappointing food experience in Venice.
MERCATO CENTRALE – Florence, Italy
You just can’t go wrong with markets! This 3-story market is a foodie’s delight. The first floor of the market sells meat, cheese, pastas and produce and is open only during the morning and early afternoon. Then, in the afternoon and evening, the second floor opens up. This second floor is a food court of sorts with bars, sandwich stations, pizzerias, seafood counters, desserts, steak, vegetarian selections, truffles….basically, something to please every palate and for a great price.
Since Florence is known for their beef, I ordered the steak. Then, for lunch the next day I enjoyed my second favorite meal of the whole trip: piping hot roasted eggplant drenched in tomato sauce and served over a ball of buffalo mozzarella. Gah! My stomach is growling just thinking about it!
TRATTORIA ZA ZA – Florence, Italy
If you are looking for a luxurious place to sit down and enjoy delicious yet very inexpensive Tuscan fare, then you’ve gotta go to Za Za’s. We ordered the sampler to start which contained a truffled omelette, salami, olives, paté, goat cheese, fried meatballs, tomato and mushroom bruschetta, roasted eggplant. It was a meal in itself and absolutely fantastic! The paté might have even brought a tear to my eye. For our main dish, my sis-in-law ordered the truffled spaghetti carbonara while I got the tagliatelle in a truffle cream sauce. It was practically a religious experience.
WITHLOCALS FOOD TOUR – Rome, Italy
This 3-hour tour was my favorite experience in Rome. We got to take a break from the scads of tourists flocking the Colosseum and Vatican and go where the locals go. Our guide, Yanira, was not only warm and friendly but was a wealth of information! I learned so much about Italian history, culture and food I would not have otherwise captured on our quick 2-day stay.
STOP 1: Campo de’ Fiori Market
Oh, you bet I camped out here for a while after the tour! I was surprised to see prickly pears offered at the market and even more surprised to see slices of them in our fruit cup. Lots of seeds but very refreshing!
STOP 2: Forno Campo de’ Fiori
My favorite food on the tour came from the oldest bakery in Rome: red pizza. I’ve never tasted anything so simple, pure and fresh! I’m not usually into super-crispy bread, but the crunch on this pizza was indescribably perfect. It was a mixture between crisp and…angels wings. I’m guessing.
STOP 3: Pasto Italian Market
Here we sampled even more delicious salami, mortadello, prosciutto, gorgonzola, brie and percorino as well as white pizza or pizza bianca. Pizza bianca is simply pizza crust. Since I’m a sauce lover, I was grateful to have meat and cheese to eat along with this simple pizza. You can also find a range of Italian beers here!
STOP 4: Da Simo Pane e Vino
This charming sandwich shop let you look in on the chefs preparing all the lovely dishes. It was a hard choice, but in the end, we went with a lamb and chicken sandwich with roasted eggplant. YUM! Can I ever get enough roasted eggplant? NO. The owner was charming and friendly and always had a big smile on her face.
STOP 5: Il Fornaio Bakery (Via Dei Baullari, 5, 00186 Roma, Italy)
I’m always up for trying new desserts and this stop was no exception. Here we sampled the sfogliatelle napoletana which was essentially layers of phyllo dough folded over a filling of ricotta cheese, orange zest and a dash of cinnamon and baked until golden. Absolutely fabulous, so pretty and so unique!
STOP 6: Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe
Here, at the oldest coffee shop in Rome, we sipped our macchiatos at the counter in true Italian fashion. Unless you wish to pay extra for sitting at a table, don’t expect to curl up with a huge mug of coffee at a cafe in Italy. Instead, expect to spend a few minutes throwing back your itty bitty coffee and moving on with your life. (Not my preferred style, but it was fun to learn a new way of drinking coffee.)
STOP 7: Boccione L’antico Forno
If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d pass right by this no-frills Jewish bakery. Located in the Jewish ghetto of Rome, we sampled their world-famous “Jewish pizza” which is a buttery, rich dough chock-full of almonds, pine nuts, raisins, cranberries and other dried fruits (fresh from the oven, too!).
IS IT SUPPOSED TO BE CHARRED?
That’s what I asked myself, too. But since these ladies know what they’re doing and they sell a ton of these pizzas each day, I decided to try the blackened bits. YUM! Yes, it’s deliberate. The charred almonds didn’t taste burnt at all but rather added an amazing toasted flavor to the rich pastry and fruit. No wonder these things sell like hotcakes! All I needed was my macchiato.
STOP 8: Il Delfino Roma
By now we were getting pretty full, but not too full to enjoy our suppli. Suppli is rice mixed with tomato sauce that is packed around a mozzarella ball and fried. The end result is a crisp-on-the-outside, melty-cheesy-on-the-inside ball of heaven. Amazing! Two of these atop a bed of arugula would make a fabulous lunch. Business men line up at the counter to order from an assortment of handheld lunchables.
STOP 9: Gelateria Corona
This family-owned gelateria is known for their one-of-a-kind artisanal flavors such as persimmon and beer (the two flavors I enjoyed). And I’ll be damned! That gelato tasted exactly like beer and exactly like persimmon. Nice.
STOP 10: Venchi Chocolate
While the girls behind the counter scooped chocolate gelato with an artful flair, we got to sample from this magical selection of chocolates!
Would you like to book the host we had? Contact Yanira Fabbro via firstname.lastname@example.org.
LEMON TREATS GALORE – Amalfi Coast, Italy
It was hard to contain my excitement at all the lemon treats offered around the Amalfi Coast. We enjoyed lemon cream pasta, lemon pizza, the best lemon soda we’ve ever tasted, lemon cookies, lemon candy, limoncello…it was happy times for this lemon-fiend. Lemon trees abound as well, but I managed to contain myself and not pilfer any fruit. (It helped that they were still green.)
LATTERIA – Positano, Italy (Viale Pasitea, 84017 Positano SA, Italy)
If you’re looking for a delicious and cheap lunch or reasonably priced food souvenirs, this latteria will be your new best friend while in Positano. You can even have a seat an enjoy a charcuterie platter, sandwich or breakfast. I recommend the spinach quiche and eggplant parmesan. Wish I would have snapped a picture of the tall gentleman behind the counter. He was such a teddy bear and would look me warmly in the eyes any time he took my order.
FRESCO TRATTORIA – Naples, Italy
On the way back to Naples, our taxi driver encouraged us to visit Frescos for delicious food and a beautiful view. We received both. This was a spot the locals attended which is always a good sign for a restaurant! It was hard to decide on a pizza. Not only was the menu in Italian, there was so much to choose from! In the end, I told the waiter to bring me a pizza with red sauce and meat. He brought me just what I wanted.
THE CHECK & TIPPING
Here’s a valuable tip if you don’t want to sit and wait a looooong time at a restaurant: Ask for everything all at once the minute you have your waiter’s attention (because you will not have it often). This includes:
- All drinks
- Your meal (ask to bring later)
- The check
Do not expect the waiter to bring the check as you’re finishing up. They will only bring it once you ask.
As for tipping: I still haven’t figured this subject out. I was told not to tip; that doing so was an insult. Then I got there and was told to tip. Some places even included the tip on the ticket. So, uh, go with your gut on this one. If tip was included, I left it at that. If it wasn’t, then sometimes I left 10%. Damn tourist. I know.
Well, I am now officially hungry and tired. That was a lot of food! If you find yourself overwhelmed just remember: order the pizza and gelato. You can’t go wrong with either of those.
Happy & tasty travels!
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