Venice might be among the most-visited city in Italy, but it doesn’t have to be the most expensive. For an authentic slice of the relaxed Venetian lifestyle, duck into one of the city’s cozy wine bars and sample the casual fare.
The famous canal city is home to hundreds of these tiny little wine bars, called bacari, where you’ll find an age-old traditional snack: cicchetti. These crostini-style bites come in dozens of variations and usually cost about a euro each, with house wine going for about 90 cents a glass.
“The typical thing to do is the giro d’ombra, which means to go to the bar, meet friends and drink a glass of the house wine,” says Andrea Oschetti, an Italian chef who helms Blueflower experiential travel company. “And the ombra [wine], of course, calls for a cicchetto. Years ago, a typical cicchetti would have consisted of half a boiled egg with an anchovy on top, a stuffed olive, or the Venetian salami on bread.”
In the past, these open-faced toasties and snacks were intended to accompany after-work drinks, to soak up the wine. But over time, the tradition has evolved into a full-on meal, with locals and travelers alike ordering five to 10 cicchetti instead of sitting down for a long, heavy dinner.
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“Culture is the start of things, but it is constantly changing – and cicchetti have evolved over time,” says Oschetti. “The choice of cicchetti has gotten more creative but my favorites are Venetian classics such as crostini with baccalà mantecato (creamed codfish), freshly fried calamari, or polpette di carne [meatballs].”
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You’ll find plenty of bacari along nearly every main drag in Venice. Of course, the farther you venture from Piazza San Marco, Via Rialto and the train station, the better – and more affordable – the experience gets.
“Allow yourself to get lost in the little calle [side streets] and experience the real Venice,” says Oschetti. “You will know that you’ve accessed it when you start hearing your footsteps echoing along the way.”
Looking for the tastiest cicchetti in Venice? Here are six of the best bacari for a week full of authentic and affordable feasts in the canal city.
Ca’ d’Oro detta Alla Vedova
One of the most historic addresses in Venice, Ca’ d’Ora – known locally as Alla Vedova (the widow) – dates back to 1891. The family-owned spot is located in the Cannaregio district, on the northern end of the Grand Canal. Inside, it feels as though it’s been locked in another era, thanks to warm wooden furniture, hanging copper pots and a convivial atmosphere. There are tables and a full menu of seafood-fueled dishes and pastas, but you don’t don’t have to sit down for a lengthy affair. You can choose from a comprehensive selection of seasonal cicchetti by the crowded bar, including Ca’ d’Ora’s famous meatballs for just a couple of euros a piece.
Calle Cà d'Oro, 30121, Venice, Italy, +39 041 528 5324
Just down the road from the Rialto Market, local mainstay All’Arco is usually standing-room-only, though you might find a couple of tiny tables set up outside when weather permits. Stop into the always-buzzing wine bar for a colorful and eclectic cicchetti spread. The options range from the traditional – smoked salmon with mozzarella or anchovies with egg – to the more experimental, such as courgette-flower rolls and fresh cheese.
Calle dell'Occhiale, San Polo 436, Venice, Italy, +39 049 887 1339
Cantinone già Schiavi
“There are some wonderful little places in Dorsoduro district (near San Trovaso church and the Gallerie dell'Accademia in southwestern Venice), and one of my favorites is Cantinone già Schiavi,” says Oschetti. Near one of the last gondola-repair workshops in Venice, this 19th-century wine bar provides a range of more than 50 types of tasty cicchetti for about €1 a piece alongside hundreds of wines. This is a casual and cozy place to enjoy great conversation and unconventional bites. The family recipes include the likes of smoked swordfish, tuna and leeks and cacao tuna tartare with capers and parsley.
Fondamenta Nani 992, Dorsoduro 30123, Venice, Italy, +39 041 523 0034
Osteria al Squero
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Zoom sur les cicchetti postés hier ! Je mangerais bien ça ce soir, plutôt que des haricots verts en boîte Vous pouvez distinguer mes deux cocktails vénitiens favoris, le Bellini à droite, à base de prosecco et jus de pêche blanche, et le Spritz à gauche, au Campari cette fois, histoire de changer de la traditionnelle combo Prosecco / Apérol Belle soirée à vous #aperitivo #osteria #cicchetti #apetizer #apero #aperotime #apéro #tapas #Dorsoduro #italy_vacations #thebestdestinations #italianholiday #framesofitaly #postcardfromitaly #iamatraveler #cityonwater #veneziagram #venicelife #lefooding @lefooding #italian_food @italian_food #cucinare_perverapassione #cucinaitaliana
Also near the squero (boatyard), Osteria al Squero is a hole-in-the-wall spot next to a quiet canal. There are a few seats inside, though most customers spill out onto the sidewalk to watch the craftsmen at work, just across the water. The delicious and inexpensive choices (starting from about €11.50 each) range from hard-boiled eggs and anchovies on bread, to artichoke with blue cheese, tuna salad and olive oil, plus larger sandwiches and boards full of cheese.
Fondamenta Nani, Dorsoduro, Venice, Italy, +39 335 6007513
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“This restaurant started operating in the 6th century! It’s a step into history,” says Oschetti. “If you want to try the cuisine of the Veneto, more generally, and not just of Venice, then this is the place. Offering rustic soups, osso buco and hearty gnocchi, La Bitta osteria is a warm and welcoming little restaurant with a full dinner menu, as well as a standing bar where you can enjoy little bites of cheese, chutney and fresh breads, not to mention a strong list of by-the-glass pours.
Calle Lunga San Barnaba, Dorsoduro 2753A, Venice, Italy, +39 041 5230531
Ostaria Dai Zemei
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these Cicchetti from Ostaria Dai Zemei in @veneziacityitaly. Last of the cicchetti and spritz, well full on prosecco to be precise. Purée of artichoke, gorgonzola, chilie jam, Serrano ham, pickled anchovies all on little rounds of bread. Totally delicious, perfect with prosecco and very Venetian. . . #cicchetti #ostariadaizemei #prosecco #crustini #spritz
Known for its refreshing prosecco and gourmet cicchetti, Ostaria Da Zemei is hardly bigger than a postage stamp, and yet, it’s one of those hidden gems that you can’t wait to return to the next day. The inventive crostini-style snacks revolve around addictive combinations, such as chili and gorgonzola and baccalà mantecato. These tasty morsels go down extra easy when paired with an effervescent prosecco.
Ruga Vecchia, San Giovanni 1045, Venice, Italy, +39 041 520 8596
“In Venice there is the craziest and most creative tavern keeper I know: Mauro Lorenzon. He calls himself a ‘missionary of hospitality’ and a ‘Bacchus’ cupid,” says Oschetti. “He runs Enoiteca Mascareta, which is known for the famous owner and his hand-picked wines.”
At this Venetian institution, tipplers and diners will enjoy front-row seats to the theatrics with a few nibbles and hundreds of wine bottles. Each has been selected by the mustacheod Mauro who’s impossible to miss in a signature bowtie as he moves around the restaurant, interacting with guests. Rather than traditional cicchetti, Enoiteca Mascareta serves appetizers such as prosciutto, cheese and olives, alongside larger sharing plates of burrata and homemade pasta.
Calle Lunga Santa Maria, Formosa, Venice, Italy, +39 041 5230744
*This article was originally published in October 2017.