What We Look For in a Restaurant
(Part 1)

by Brian Alex | February 11, 2023


What does it take to find a really good restaurant in Italy?
Or a really good anything, for that matter…

You’d think it would be relatively easy to eat well in the Bel Paese. I mean, with all the abundant, “Zero Kilometer” produce, local “Bio” wines, and mom and pop shops treating you to their family recipes passed down for generations… how can you possibly go wrong?

But, here’s what you may not know about getting quality eats in Italy.

The other side of the coin, and more in line with the “Real Italy” that we’d like you to know and love, is that it’s actually quite complicated for restaurants to survive and make a living in Italy. Let alone provide a consistently “wow” experience for the occasional visitor. When that happens, we definitely take note!

From a struggling economy, perhaps the worst in the EU at the moment, to a booming but overtaxed and understaffed tourism industry, ridiculous energy costs, and criminal activities (yup, all that mafia stuff is for real), it’s tough for Italian restaurants to turn a profit, let alone stay afloat.

While the news isn’t all “doom and gloom”, there are plenty of restaurants that legitimately struggle to keep the lights on.

Add to the mix a severe shortage of competent, willing wait staff, an influx of ready but illegal foreign workers – unfamiliar with the culinary trade or Italian cuisine, and we’ve got a clearer picture. So, how do they do it? How are so many restaurants able to stick around and really surprise us?

That’s the more complicated part, and where it gets even more interesting!

A lot of restaurants, especially in densely populated, touristy cities rely heavily on the tourism industry. You’d be tempted to think, well that’s not so bad, right? After all, I’m a tourist and I get hungry too!

Yes and no. Ok, well, let’s just be honest… mostly no, it’s not so good. 

While it provides a surge to the local economy, it comes at a hefty cost. Catering to the palate of well-meaning, but grossly mistaken, “ketchup on pasta” tourists has shifted the emphasis from how “Nonna” used to make it, to what might sell the best, and at the cheapest price.

Nowadays, pop-up burger joints, kebab stands, and commercial KFCs are starting to outnumber traditional Italian trattorias. And it’s not just the fault of economics and foreigners. Italian teenagers would frequently rather grab a slider at the Mac (as McDonald’s is known on the street), than eat at the family lunch table.

Trends, trends, and more trends! In the end, home cooking is a diminishing and costly art. But, we will not go gentle into that good night! There are those who still practice the culinary arts! We’ve asked them what their secrets are, and we can’t wait to share those with you!

 

In this series, we’re going to dig into what it takes to find that ridiculously delicious restaurant (that you can go back to time and again), your new favorite boutique hotel, expert and precise car service, excellent tour guides, and even the uncrowded, nature panoramas. Yes, all in Italy too!

Stay tuned as we tune your palate towards the Real Italy. Hungry for more in the meantime? Check out our podcast below for more juicy insight into the food, wine, and travel that’s waiting for you to enjoy!