A Local’s Guide to the Best Places to Eat and Drink in Venice

Instagram star and author Skye McAlpine has lived in Venice all her life. She shares her knowledge with us here and in her new cookbook, on shelves now.

A Local’s Guide to the Best Places to Eat and Drink in Venice

Author and Instagrammer Skye McAlpine is who we trust most for eating and drinking recommendations in Venice.

All photos by Skye McAlpine

If you’re anything like us and the 142,000 other people who follow Skye McAlpine on Instagram, you’re already familiar with her stylized shots of delicate rhubarb pavlov, countertops brimming with snowy white roses, and the dreamy canal views she sees when she steps out her front door. But did you know the Venice, Italy–based writer of the popular “From My Dining Table” blog is also a cookbook author?

McAlpine’s debut title, A Table in Venice: Recipes From My Home (Clarkson Potter), hit shelves on March 20. The 288-page book is a love letter to Venetian home-cooking and includes more than 100 of her favorite recipes, from rustic langoustine and fig salad to her friend Maria’s famous tiramisu. The book’s photography is just as enchanting as McAlpine’s Instagram feed, and we’re charmed by her heartfelt odes to local markets, cafés, and restaurants.

What follows is McAlpine’s cheat sheet for some of those favorites, from an opulent hotel bar to a mom-and-pop osteria with delightful pasta fagioli. Be sure to bookmark it for your next flight over.

Best pantry staples . . . Antica Drogheria Mascari

“This gorgeous, family-run shop is just behind the Rialto Market. They have spices in huge jars and piles, plus dried fruits and candied peels, jams, preserves, pickles, vinegars, and so on. When you buy your ground cinnamon or whatever, they scoop it from the jars, weigh it on scales, place it on a piece of printed paper, and fold it up so nicely—like a little present to go. And in the back room, you’ll find floor-to-ceiling Italian liqueurs in weird and wonderful flavors like rose and melon vodka. I love the proper labels with their traditional Italian packaging.”

Best cheese . . .
Aliani Casa del Parmigiano

“This is a really, really good cheese shop, also near the Rialto Market. It’s tiny and there’s always a queue of little old ladies outside. They do fantastic cheeses, but also fresh pasta and great hams.”

Best wine . . .Da Francesco

“To be honest, Italians are very unpretentious about their wine. Any corner food shop will sell a good table red, a good table white, and prosecco. We often buy our wine at this small, family-run shop in Campo San Martino in the Castello Quarter. It’s not glamorous but they have nice prosecco, fantastic tinned anchovies, and really great dried pasta. One thing to ask for is fragolino. It’s like a sweet dessert wine, served still or fizzy. It’s made with fragolino grapes, which taste kind of like strawberries. Because fragolino is made in small batches, regulators won’t recognize it as an ‘official’ wine. It’s never on show; you have to ask for it and they’ll bring it out from under the counter. It’s absolutely delicious.”

Best breakfast . . .Pasticceria alla Bragora

“I call this the Orange Café because there are orange banquettes inside. It’s not particularly stylish but it’s a super-friendly, family-run business. The smell inside is wonderful because they bake everything fresh each morning—different kinds of brioche, like wholemeal brioche with marmalade in the middle and traditional brioche with jam or custard, plus lovely almond paste croissants and apple pastries.”

Best coffee . . .Pasticceria Rosa Salva

“The farther you get from San Marco and the main city center, the better. But if you’re in a touristy area, look for Rosa Salva, a small coffee shop with three locations. The one near San Marco sits on a pretty square facing a beautiful old hospital. Rosa Salva makes lovely brioche and great coffee—just don’t order a milk coffee after midday. Italians believe there is a right way and a wrong way of eating and drinking, and if you try ordering a latte or cappuccino after midday, they get grumpy. Macchiatos are okay, because that’s basically strong black coffee with a tiny dash of milk.”

Best gifts . . .Pasticceria Italo Didovich“

They do fabulous pasticcini, which are bigger than a petit four but smaller than a cake. They’re perfect for afternoon tea or dessert, or to bring as a gift if you were invited over to someone’s house for dinner. Italo Didovich also does amazing focaccia Veneziana, which is a bit like panettone without the candied peels and raisins inside. It has a glistening sugar top—a bit like colomba di Pasqua, which we have at Easter. Oh, and at Christmas, Italo Didovich does this incredible panettone covered in chocolate and decorated with gold leaf. Inside, there are little drops of wild berry jam. I don’t know how you could ever attempt to make that at home.”

Best pizza . . .Birraria La Corte and Aciugheta

“The pizza at Birraria La Corte, a former brewery, is cooked in a wood-fired oven. They have popular toppings like gorgonzola and brie and it’s all delicious. The atmosphere is super informal, too; it’s a great place for kids. Aciugheta is closer to San Marco and not particularly good value, but the pizza is good. And they do fun Venetian flavors like anchovy, zucchini, and pine nut.”

Best pasta . . .al Covo

“This super-cozy osteria is run by a fantastic couple. He’s Venetian and she’s from Texas, and they’re always happy to talk to guests and explain the food. They make wonderful pasta fagioli in the winter and delicious spaghetti with pesto and bottarga in the summer.”

Best fish . . . da Celeste

“This family-run restaurant on the fishing island of Pellestrina is quite far out—probably 45 minutes by boat. But in the summer months, it’s a lovely ride, breezy and fresh. Once you’re at the restaurant, you sit on a pontoon and see nothing but the spread of la laguna and the occasional boat speeding past. They do wonderful fish here. It’s incredibly fresh and they’ll bring you an array of mixed antipasti to start. The oven-baked turbot on potatoes with baby artichokes and baby tomatoes is fantastic. So, so good.”

Best budget meal . . .All’arco

“Eating cicheti is a quite fun, inexpensive, and very local thing to do. Cicheti are like Venetian tapas. You eat them standing at the bar, a spritz in hand. All’arco is constantly changing their cicheti based on what’s available at the market. They might do a lardo, honey, and rosemary crostini one day and a scallop gratin the next.”

Best splurge meal . . . Ristorante da Ivo

“This is where George Clooney famously likes to dine, but it’s still completely charming. It’s a tiny trattoria and very expensive, but the food is stunning. The kitchen is still family-run and it feels very local, not at all pretentious. You can get dressed up or go in jeans and a jumper. Do try the baccala, which is salted dried cod that’s been soaked in milk and whipped up with olive oil. It’s creamy and delicious.”

Best vegetarian cuisine . . .La Zucca

“The name, La Zucca, means ‘the pumpkin.’ This tiny, tiny trattoria does all vegetarian food—which is unusual for Venice. Vegetarianism just isn’t a conscious thing here. On the flip side, the Italian diet has so many great vegetables, you’re spoiled for choice and it’s easy to find things to eat.”

Best destination meal . . .Trattoria Alla Maddalena

“If it’s summertime, go to the islands for the day! At Alla Maddalena on Mazzorbo, you can sit on the front patio under the shade of a pergola. They do the best fried fish, wonderful pasta, fantastic mussels and clams, and an amazing fig tart made with figs from their garden. Mazzorbo is a tiny island, about 45 minutes by boat from Venice, and it’s attached to Burano, which has all these colorful houses. It’s a charming place, and it’s nice to have the whole day to walk around, eat lunch, visit the winery next door, and just take it all in.”

Best gelato . . .La Mela Verde

“Venice goes to sleep at 9 o’clock, but a lot of gelaterias stay open late. What I love to do after dinner is have a gelato and go for a stroll when the streets are quiet. La Mela Verde, off San Marco, looks super-unchic and kind of dodgy, but there’s often a queue snaking down the block. It’s really, really good gelato and they’re quite adventurous with their flavors. Mela verde means ‘green apple’ and that’s their signature. I also like the pine nut ice cream.”

Best baked goods . . .Dal Nono Colussi

“This is easily recognized as the best bakery in Venice. I’ve been coming here since I was a child. Nono Colussi is very old now, so the bakery is mostly run by his daughter, who is also of a certain age. They don’t make very many things but what they do make, they make perfectly. The focaccia Veneziana is fantastic, and they do this wonderful panettone at Christmastime. Whenever I go here with my son, they give him a dove-shaped meringue—just like they gave me when I was a child. It’s sweet.”

Best cocktails . . .Aman HotelFor cocktails and glitz and glamour, I love the Aman Hotel. It’s located on this beautiful palazzo called Papadopoli and there are, like, frescoes on the ceiling. The setting is so opulent, you could get all dressed up, have a martini or a spritz, and it’d feel like this really special thing.”

Best canal view . . .Hotel Gritti Palace

“The hotel sits on an opulent but cozy palazzo. It has a beautiful old-fashioned bar and a lovely terrace, where you can sit and drink right on the Grand Canal, watching all the boats and the gondolas go by.”

Best people-watching . . .Harry’s Bar

“Harry’s Bar hasn’t changed in the 30 years we’ve been going here. I was reading Ernest Hemingway’s Across the River and Into the Trees recently, and there’s a wonderful description of Harry’s Bar. It was written just after the war, but he could have been describing today. It’s quite expensive, so what’s nice to do is go and have a bellini at the bar, order one of their insanely good ham-and-cheese sandwiches, and just people-watch. That’s real Italian glamour.”

>> Plan Your Trip with AFAR’s Guide to Venice

Ashlea Halpern is a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler and cofounder of Minnevangelist, a site dedicated to all things Minnesota. She’s on the road four to six months a year (sometimes with her toddler in tow) and contributes to AFAR, New York Magazine, TIME, the Wall Street Journal, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Bon Appétit, Oprah, Midwest Living, and more. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @ashleahalpern.
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