Although I knew there would be plenty to keep us busy between meals, the number one reason I wanted to spend a few days in Bologna was to eat. I wanted to try all of the best restaurants in Bologna, I wanted to eat local Parmigiano-Reggiano, to try close to the source Balsamic Vinegar. I wanted to try fresh pasta with the original Bolognese sauce (they call it ragu and it is SO different to what you know Bolognese sauce to be).
Needless to say, Bologna delivered on all fronts. There are so many cool things to do in Bologna, so many porticos to keep you shaded from that hot Italian sun, and plenty of places to eat in Bologna.
I’ve separated the post into three main sections – my favorite trattorias, osterias, and restaurants in Bologna, my favorite fast-food style pasta places in Bologna, and my favorite aperitivo spots in Bologna. Let’s eat.
Best Restaurants in Bologna
According to my research and from talking to a few Italian experts on my travels, there is not really much of a difference between osterias, trattorias, and ristorantes these days. Historically, osterias were wine bars that served a few classic dishes, usually local to the area. Trattorias were family-run restaurants that usually served big portions and weren’t too expensive. Ristorantes were usually full-service restaurants that had servers and sommeliers. They were slightly fancier.
For the most part, I found these definitions to still ring pretty true in Bologna (more so than in Venice or Florence). We usually ended up at an Osteria or a Trattoria and found that was food was absolutely spectacular and the wine lists were more than good enough for our untrained palettes.
Osteria al 15
Via Mirasole 13, Bologna
This was one of my favorite restaurants that we went to in Bologna. It was down a little side street which I never, ever would have gone down if I hadn’t heard about this restaurant beforehand. I was drawn to it because I’d read that it did big portions of Bolognese-style foods at a reasonable price. All of that was correct.
We came here and each had a pasta dish. I had the green lasagna (lasagna verde) and it was so creamy and flavorful. Luke had the Spaghetti with pork cheek. The pasta was so perfectly al dente. It was a thickness that I’ve never seen on spaghetti before and with the light, buttery sauce, it was utter perfection.
Via Broccaindosso 7/A, Bologna
This is another great spot for big portions, reasonably priced food and wines, and really friendly staff. I really enjoyed our whole experience at Osteria Broccaindosso. This is another place that you would probably walk straight past if you didn’t know it was there. You have to be buzzed into the restaurant and once inside this cozy little osteria, you’ll receive excellent (English-speaking) service and seriously tasty food.
This is actually where we went on our first night in the city, so we tried one of the city’s best-known dishes – tortellini in broth. The broth was nice and salty – a perfect pair to the al dente pasta and creamy filling. We also ordered the tortelloni, which are larger than tortellini and these were filled with creamy ricotta and topped in a sage and butter sauce (another Bologna classic).
I wish we had shared one of their second dishes because the tables around us had lovely smelling and looking meat dishes. We were just so full from all of the aperitivos!
Trattoria del Rosso
Via Augusto Righi 30, Bologna
IF you have only one day in Bologna and you eat at only one restaurant in Bologna, it should be Trattoria del Rosso. Luke and I are both in agreement that this was the best meal we had during our 10 days in Italy. It was certainly the best meal we had in Bologna. We went for lunch and indulged in every course.
We started with tortellini in broth and Gramigna alla salsiccia (a macaroni-like pasta with sausage ragu, another Bologna specialty). Both were impeccable. The broth had an umami quality about it. The meat filling in the tortellini was savory, slightly spiced, and tender. Both plates of pasta were cooked perfectly al dente and the ragu sauce was well-seasoned and ever so lightly coating the noodles.
We shared the second course, a pork shank. It was falling off the bone. The little jus at the bottom of the plate was salty, the skin on the outside was like caramel. We scraped the bones clean.
We finished with a tiramisu each and of course, we shared a bottle of the house red wine to wash it all down with. I wish I could go back to Bologna right now just have this meal again.
Via del Pratello 31, Bologna
If you want some good pizza while you’re in Bologna, get yourself to the west side of the city to Zapap Pratello. It’s a craft beer bar that serves some of their own beers (I recommend the Zapap Pils, perfect on a hot summer evening) as well as a few other Italian craft beers all on draft.
The main event is their pizza menu, though. The pizza is Neapolitan style with a thick and crunchy crust, very little sauce, and toppings of exquisite quality. Definitely get yourself the buffalo margarita if you enjoy uniquely flavored cheese. Most pizzas are under €10 and beers were a reasonable price as well compared to other craft beer we found around Italy (but much more expensive than wine).
Fast Food Pasta
This seems to be a phenomenon that has taken over Italy. When I visited the country for the first time 10 years ago, I never saw one of these fast-food pasta places, but everywhere we went in Italy we found them.
The basic idea is that you choose your pasta then you choose your sauce and a small bowl costs about €5. Good places are using fresh pasta, so it only takes about two or three minutes before your order is ready. It tastes amazing and you can stand up eating it or some places have a few tables and chairs. It’s the perfect lunch option
Piazza di Porta Ravegnana 2, Bologna
Bottega Portici is the cheaper, equally delicious child of the city’s sole Michelin starred restaurant, I Portici. Think Michelin quality pasta and sauces except served in recyclable cardboard bowls with wooden sporks. There is plenty of seating inside and there’s even an outdoor patio upstairs where you can enjoy your meal and take in the view of the neighboring towers.
I ordered the tagliatelli in ragu (another Bologna staple that you’ll see on every menu) and Luke had the Tortelloni in sage and butter sauce. Both were absolutely outstanding, but the tortelloni stood out as some of the best pasta we ate in Bologna. It was soft around the edges but still had a slight bite around the fold. The ricotta filling was so creamy and salty. The butter and sage sauce was perfectly seasoned and the sage flavor was the most pronounced of any that I had in Bologna.
Pasta dishes ranged from €8-10, which is slightly more than you pay in other places like this, but the quality far surpasses any of them. It’s worth the extra Euros.
Mercato di Mezzo
Via Clavature 12, Bologna
This is a really great little market with tons of stalls inside, but at the far end nearest the Via Clavature entrance is a fast food pasta stand and a little bar that sells cheap glasses of wine. This is a great lunch option if you’re touring around the cathedral area because it’s right in the thick of all of the action. It’s also super quick and really tasty. Plus, you’re on vacation in Italy, you deserve a midday glass of wine.
I had the tagliatelle with ragu sauce and Luke had the tortellini with ragu sauce. It was our last day of fast food pasta in Bologna and we really wanted to enjoy some more Bolognese sauce. Theirs was packed with meat and was well flavored. I preferred it with the tortellini which was filled with ricotta cheese and went really well with the meaty ragu sauce.
Also inside the Mercato di Mezzo that’s worth trying is the craft beer bar, Birra Baladin. It’s a local Bologna brewery and they have four or five taps going at one time all with their own beers. It’s a little bit pricey, but the beers were really tasty and you can have that with your pasta meal if you’d prefer that.
Upstairs in this place is also a pizza place. I didn’t try the pizza, but it looked and smelled fantastic and seemed to be doing a roaring trade with families.
Aperitivo Bars (Meat and Cheese)
Before I got to Bologna, I did a lot of reading about all of the things that I should eat and the best places to have them. One of the things that kept coming up, again and again, were aperitivo buffets. Every website claimed that loads of bars would put on a buffet of meats, cheeses, and bread and that it would all be free as long as you kept buying drinks.
I did not see this ANYWHERE in Bologna, and I looked hard. What I did see were a few bars that put on a buffet and charged anywhere between €5 and €10 for you to have unlimited access to the buffet. This did not include a drink.
What I noticed most Italians were doing was not having the buffet. Instead, they were ordering meat and cheese platters and a few glasses of wine. It ended up costing about the same as the buffet and while you got less food, the quality of what you go on the meat and cheese boards was much higher.
These were my absolute favorite spots, but I really think you can’t go wrong in Bologna. If you see a busy place where people are drinking wine and the tables are covered with chopping boards piled high with mortadella, prosciutto, salami, and cheeses, you should go in.
Just note, most places don’t open until 6pm, Italians eat quite late and this is a pre-dinner snack.
Via Pescherie Vecchie 3/b, Bologna
There are a few shops around the city, but this is the address for the bar where you can not only buy things inside, but you can sit at a table outside with a glass of wine and tons of freshly sliced meat. I like this spot because it’s in a busy area with lots of other bars, so there’s always a great buzz in the evenings.
Via Caprarie 1, Bologna
If I had gone to Tamburini on my first night in Bologna, I would have gone here every night that we were in the city. The food was absolutely spectacular quality, the staff were super helpful with choosing local meats and cheeses, and the wine menu was enormous. We went for the Bologna local platter that came with mortadella (a locally made ham, the original Bologna meat, and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it), culatello, salami, salty and tangy Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a slightly softer cheese made locally.
La Baita Vecchia Malga
Via Pescherie Vecchie 3/A, Bologna
My second favorite aperitivo bar after Tamburini, La Baita Vecchia Malga is along the same street as Simoni (actually right next door), so it’s nice and busy at night. The quality of their meat and cheese platter was probably the best. There were slightly fewer wine options and the food overall was more expensive than the other two options, but it’s definitely worth your time if you enjoy cheese.
A nice touch that we didn’t get anywhere else was that they serve each of their platters with traditional Bolognese bread called tigelle. It is a flat, slightly crunchy bread that you slice open like a sandwich and fill with your meats and cheese. It was a perfect accompaniment to the platter.
A Few Places We Saved For Next Time
The only trouble with visiting Italy in August, besides the fact that it is absurdly hot, is that a lot of Italians go on vacation. This was especially true for the week surrounding August 15th, a Catholic holiday in Italy. There were a few restaurants that we really wanted to try, but we couldn’t because they were closed for the holiday week (or even month).
So keep that in mind when you plan your trip to Bologna, or to Italy in general (we had the same problem in Florence). Lots of restaurants tend to close for at least a few days surrounding the 15th, some close for the last two weeks of August, and other stay closed for the entire month.
Via Augusto Majani b/1, Bologna
This restaurant gets absolutely rave reviews. It’s a modern take on traditional Bolognese recipes, which is something that really intrigued me. It’s a little bit more stylish than some of the osterias and trattorias we frequented during our stay in Bologna, so if you do want to go to Oltre, definitely change out of your sneakers and shorts before heading inside.
I also recommend making a reservation, especially if you want to dine there on a weekend. You can reserve a table through their website here.
Restaurante Casa Monica
Via S. Rocco 16, Bologna
We were actually highly recommended this restaurant by a woman we met when we were in Berlin. She said she has been to Bologna a few times and her friend who lives in the city takes her there every time she comes. It’s her favorite restaurant and although it’s slightly more expensive than the average meal in Bologna, it’s worth every penny.
We were so excited to try it. I’d checked the menu and it sounded amazing. It’s run by a husband and wife duo and they have a daily specials menu that they write up on chalkboards around the restaurant. Unfortunately, on the night that we walked over to check it out, there was a sign on the door saying they were closed for the week.
If you go, let me know how it is!
Pasta Fresca Naldi
Via del Pratello 69, Bologna
Another place closed for the holiday, Pasta Fresca Naldi has a reputation as one of the best fresh pasta spots in the city. It’s a fast-food style take away place and it’s basically a one-woman operation. It’s very reasonably priced and the menu is full of classics like tagliatelle with ragu and tortelloni with sage and butter sauce.