Italy’s Best Places to Eat: What Do These Eatery Terms Mean?

My first thing I told my Italian students was that even if they didn’t know the language, they wouldn’t starve. Italian food words are those that have been most widely traveled outside of their country. You’ll likely recognize many items on a menu. You may not be aware of all the different words used to describe places to eat in Italy.

You can tell if you are hungry in Italy by the way it looks from the outside, or if you peek inside. See? Again, you won’t starve. Italy tells you that you should go home full. For a more detailed breakdown of terms used in restaurants, please click here.

Although this is not a comprehensive list of all the restaurants available, it covers most of what I have seen and heard about. The main thing is whether the place serves what you are looking for. You can often see a menu before you order. Many are displayed outside so you can check if it sounds appealing.


Let’s start with the basics. stoh While not all ristorante are expensive, they tend to be more expensive than those that offer sit-down dining and multi-course menus.


toh Although the menus may be only in Italian and there might also be communal seating, neither is certain. Simpler dishes are more common than at a restaurant or ristorante. A trattoria tends to be run by a family – it’s likely that mamma or papa will be in the kitchen and taking orders.


steh These are typically places where the menus focus on simple regional dishes. You may find communal seating. These places tend to have low prices and often only offer Italian menus (if any). These places are likely to be family-run.


You may be familiar with this Italian term, and rightfully so. VEHR Although the food and drink aren’t expensive, it may be a local spot where people visit after work to share a drink or snack.


Here’s a word that you might recognize. This doesn’t necessarily mean what you think. A bar in Italy is the place where you can get coffee and pastry in the morning. A bar may also offer wine and cocktails in the afternoons. They might have potato chips or nuts at the counter. However, they are often closed by noon. These are sometimes called caffe. Since it is not an Italian word, the plural is the same thing as the singular.


The Italian word for sandwich is panino, so you can probably guess what a paninoteca (pah|nee|noh|TEH|kah) sells. These informal sandwich shops are usually only open for lunch and take-out.

tavola calda

vol The tables are not heated. There aren’t even any tables. A tavola calda is like a local deli’s best friend. It comes with pre-made meals that you can take home and heat up for quick dinner. For a quick, inexpensive lunch, you can heat portions on-site. You can choose how much food you would like to purchase and the weight of your order.


Similar to a tavola calda, a rosticceria (roh|stee|cheh|REE|eh) is the kind of place where Italians go to get pre-made food to bring home. Although rosticcerias are known for their roasted meats, they also offer other types of food. You can also get a quick lunch here, as they will heat up your portion for you.


It is easy to see why eating establishments with -eria at their names are so self-explanatory. A gelateria sells gelato. A pizzeria sells pizza. These aren’t the only options for -eria. A bruscheteria sells only bruschetta. A polenteria sells mostly polenta dishes. A birreria, in essence, is a bar that focuses on beer. A spaghetteria sells pasta and other dishes. You get the idea. See how many -eria locations you can find.

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