Traveling through Northern Italy offers a captivating journey through a tapestry of historical richness, culinary delights, and breathtaking vistas. Beyond well-known cities like Milan and Turin, the region unveils hidden gems that enrich the traveler's experience. Venture into the serene scenery of the Italian lakes, where Lake Como's picturesque shores and charming villages provide a tranquil escape. The beauty of Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, offers a slower pace of life.
Throughout all of this, you will not go hungry. There are plenty of fantastic restaurants dotted throughout these landscapes if you know where to look, and we do. This is why we've compiled a list of great restaurants to seek out on your travels off the beaten path based on personal experience combined with the expert opinion of professional and amateur reviewers alike -- more on this at the end of the article. So take a carefree stroll through cobblestone streets, discover local markets, and indulge in exquisite regional dishes that highlight the authentic flavors of Northern Italy straight from the source of the ingredients that give them life. For instance, by savoring Alba white truffles in Alba or drinking Barbera d'Asti in Asti. Each destination boasts its own unique flavors and associated charm, adding layers to the narrative of Italy's cultural and historical evolution.
Any town on Lake Como, north of Milan, will have plenty to offer in terms of luxury and sophistication. This is a prime bolt-hole for the rich and famous, and grand hotels and high-end restaurants abound. One such eatery is Feel Como, in the eponymous town, headed by chef-owner Federico Bereta, who personally selected the team of small producers, local farmers, and fishermen who supply the restaurant.
The menu is equally well-curated. The lake trout with mountain pine is not just a delicious dish on the tasting menu but also a representation of the local flora and fauna in food form. The tempura of wild radicchio is a testament to the heights that can be reached by using local ingredients with foreign inspiration. The polenta canederli (dumplings) is proof that traditional home-cooked foods can be elevated to new heights without loss of charm. Expect the menu to change with each new season, as the kitchen only uses the freshest seasonal ingredients.
+39 334 726 4545
Via Armando Diaz, 54, 22100 Como CO, Italy
This fine dining establishment in Orta San Giulio, minutes away from Lake Orta, is headed by chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo, Italy's very own Gordon Ramsay. Like the Scottish chef, Cannavacciuolo has a colorful personality and hosted a show called "Cucine da Incubo," which is Italian for "Kitchen Nightmares."
But aside from the celebrity aspect, it's worth booking a table at this restaurant for the setting and food. Once home to a prominent Italian family, the villa dons a 19th-century Moorish revival style and is surrounded by impressive gardens, stunning architecture, and artwork. Meanwhile, the kitchen is the proud owner of three Michelin stars and does not shy away from using high-end ingredients from across the realm. Don't be surprised to find caviar or saffron on the menu, alongside sophisticated takes on ingredients that are not often found on menus like frog legs. Most of all, you'll see that many of these ingredients, local or not, come with a southern twist. Chef Cannavacciuolo may have adopted northern Italy as his place of residence, but he comes from the southern region of Campania, and it shows in his cooking.
+39 0322 911902
Via Giuseppe Fava, 18, 28016 Orta San Giulio NO, Italy
One of the finest ingredients anyone can use in their cooking is the white truffle of Alba, a prized fungus found in the hills around Alba in the Piedmont region, drawing thousands of aficionados to its annual truffle festival. And where there are good truffles, there are good restaurants, the foremost of which is Piazza Duomo, in the center of Alba.
Yet, truffles are not the only esteemed item on the menu. It also includes raw or fermented foods prepared on-site from the restaurant's organic and biodynamic gardens, while the cellar contains upward of 1,800 wines, many of which were created and aged in the vineyards just outside the city. Everything here will be prepared from the freshest ingredients available each season, but for the most authentic experience in this concept, opt for the "seasonal things" tasting menu, which is designed anew each day based on what "the garden, the sea, and the land offer."
+39 0173 366167
Piazza Risorgimento, 4, 12051 Alba CN, Italy
The inception of this restaurant, which in Italian means "the other Miramonti," occurred when the family that opened the original Miramonti in the 1950s decided to expand into the little town of Concesio in Brescia in the late 1970s. Since then, the cuisine shifted from traditional to contemporary with added sophistication at every turn, including the French flare of chef Philippe Léveillé.
This can be observed through the spare and elegant decor and innovative menu, which features combinations like prawn tartare with buffalo mozzarella and gazpacho and mushroom risotto with sweet mountain cheeses. The latter is particularly representative of this restaurant, as the chef excels at risotto, and this dish also happens to be one of the original recipes served in the first Miramonti restaurant. But don't let that steer you away from the other star dishes on the menu, like the farfalle with lamb offal and black truffle or any of the other lamb-based recipes.
+39 030 275 1063
Via Crosette, 34, 25062 Concesio BS, Italy
When in Alba for the truffle fair and in need of a yummy, quick bite to quiet the rumbles in your stomach before filling your lungs with the sweet, subtle scent of truffles, stop at Gastronomia Urbana. It's just a few minutes walk from the Cortile della Maddalena, where the main fair takes place. The beauty of the set-up here is that much of the menu has already been prepared and is on display at the counter, so to order, you can simply walk up and point at what you want.
What you want is any type of flan offered on that day. The pumpkin and ginger one is particularly delightful if you happen to pass by in autumn. Indeed, the restaurant takes special care to provide plenty of good vegetarian -- and even some vegan -- options. But the special format doesn't mean your food won't be fresh. Gastronomia Urbana wouldn't dream of cooking up your pasta ahead of time. Certain dishes, like the tajarin with ragu, do need to be ordered more traditionally.
+39 349 600 1111
Piazza Michele Ferrero, 11/A, 12051 Alba CN, Italy
Il Cavallo Scosso
Asti is one of the beating hearts of Piedmont's wine region, producing masterpieces such as Barbera d'Asti and Moscato d'Asti. One great place to sample these and other local wines, alongside some fantastic food, is Il Cavallo Scosso. The chef-owner provides three different tasting menus based on local ingredients, all of which are reasonably priced.
The restaurant describes its cuisine as "glocal," meaning that it uses local ingredients but takes inspiration from global cuisine, thereby creating new and unexpected flavor pairings with methods that marry the best of Italian cooking with other cultures. Examples of this philosophy are all over the menu, such as the tagliatelle with Berbere spices and beef tataki. Whatever you choose can be paired with one of the options on the long list of local or international wines or even a bottle of sake.
+39 366 975 8351
Via Al Duca, 23/D, 14100 Asti AT, Italy
One of the great joys of dining in the countryside in Italy is that there are plenty of spots in gorgeous historical villas. Another perk is that it sometimes comes with its own wine-producing vineyard. Da Vittorio in Brusaporto is one such establishment.
What makes this place stand out among the many beautiful and high-quality restaurants you can find pretty much anywhere in Italy is the kitchen's deep reverence for raw ingredients. Raw fish and various crustaceans -- think crab and lobster -- make frequent appearances on Da Vittorio's menu, though risotto, pasta, and other proteins, like rabbit, duck, and pigeon, are no strangers to its various menus either. The desserts are prepared daily by Enrico Cerea, who runs the kitchen alongside his brother Roberto, both of whom have been working in the restaurant -– a family business -– since they were children.
+39 035 681024
Via Cantalupa, 17, 24060 Brusaporto BG, Italy
Many fine dining establishments in Alba serve great food, but what sets n'Duma apart is its ability to provide high-quality meals in a relaxed but modern environment. The decor is simple but attractive, and the dining room is consistently filled with light, which helps set a bright and upbeat mood.
During the truffle season, be sure to order dishes that go well with a nice shaving of fresh truffles on top, like a simple homemade tagliatelle dish. Indeed, all the pasta and bread are made in-house every day, as proper Italian cuisine demands. Overall, the menu is based on traditional Italian ingredients and methods but with the occasional innovative twist, as in the gnocchi with melted castelmagno cheese, caramelized pears, and toasted hazelnuts, a local delicacy. If you're coming during the truffle festival, make reservations well in advance, as most of the town's restaurants are booked weeks or even months in advance.
+39 331 889 0433
Corso Italia, 6, 12051 Alba CN, Italy
If you're trying to get away from the crowds in Milan, you may as well steer clear of some of the major lakes, like Como and Maggiore, as they, too, can be mobbed during the summer months. Instead, head to Lake Orta, where you can make a pit stop for lunch at Omegna, the birthplace of celebrated Italian children's author Gianni Rodari.
You will also find Osteria Speranza here, an unassuming, reasonably-priced, casual restaurant that delivers fine food for lunch and dinner. This family-run venture serves delicious beef tartare, gnocchi, freshwater fish, and classic Piedmontese favorites. Try them all, as the Slow Food organization, which promotes local food and traditional cooking, was founded in Bra, a town in Piedmont. Today, it is still the hub for the movement. While you're trying all the delicacies, don't skip out on the wine.
+39 0323 61952
Via Giuseppe Verdi, 10, 28887 Omegna VB, Italy
When you're looking for a meal that is both satisfying and light, few things are better than fish and Ma.Ri.na in Olgiate Olona, near Malpensa Airport, excels at utilizing this ingredient. Indeed, the risotto alla marinara and shellfish spaghetti are just a few of its star dishes.
But Ma.Ri.na doesn't ride off its reputation as a top-notch restaurant and call it a day. It's always evolving and trying new ingredients in an effort to constantly learn and improve. The menu changes regularly to reflect the availability of seasonal ingredients but also to accommodate new dishes that the chef strikes up on a whim, which has happened in the past. As the story goes, the restaurant became a destination for raw fish dishes after a Japanese client requested it some time ago. It's also a great place to visit if you think you'll need to stop for dinner on your way to or from the airport.
+39 0331 640463
Piazza S. Gregorio, 11, 21057 Olgiate Olona VA, Italy
Pizza may seem like an easy thing to get, but there are plenty of failed attempts at it -- even in Italy. This is why it's important to recognize the truly exceptional efforts at making pizza, such as those made at Varese pizzeria: La Piedigrotta. The eatery specializes in crafting pizzas that are at once traditional and innovative, meaning pizza made with traditional Neapolitan methods but use unusual flavor combinations on top, such as pine nuts with local camembert instead of mozzarella or smoked buffalo mozzarella with sun-dried tomatoes.
But it's not just the ingredients themselves that make this place innovative. It's also the delivery method. Some pizza pairings, such as a glass of fresh cherry tomato sauce or a tin of Cantabrian anchovies, are meant to be added onto the pie only at the table. The drinks, too, stray from the norm -– the extensive and high-quality wine list flies in the face of the Italian tradition of only drinking beer with pizza.
+39 0332 287983
Via Giandomenico Romagnosi, 9, 21100 Varese VA, Italy
Osteria Da Gemma
Fine dining is an exciting experience -- especially for the taste buds -- but one that often lacks the heartiness and warmth of a home-cooked meal. If you're craving comfort food, head to Osteria da Gemma in Roddino, near Turin. It provides delicious food in a cozy atmosphere and delightful views of the windy roads that take you there.
The menu focuses on traditional Piedmontese cuisine in its most authentic and unspoiled state. If you haven't had vitello tonnato yet, a local specialty consisting of veal covered in tuna sauce, Osteria da Gemma will provide you with one of the best you can taste in the region. Another dish to highlight is the agnolotti del plin with ragu, which is stuffed ravioli that you'll find at practically every Piedmontese restaurant. However, it is made especially well at this eatery, where the pasta is homemade with plenty of egg yolks, as tradition would have it. Because the food here is so good, the views so beautiful, and the prices so fair, you'd be well advised to make a reservation before driving all the way out here.
+39 0173 794252
Via Guglielmo Marconi, 6, 12050 Roddino CN, Italy
La Cascina Dei Sapori
You can never have too many pizza spots on your list of restaurants to visit in Italy. After all, it's a good opportunity to eat as much as you can within such short distances -- one of the many highlights of the country. So we suggest you include La Cascina dei Sapori on your pizza tour if you happen to be passing through Rezzato on your way back to Milan from Lake Garda.
The decor should also satisfy all your wildest fantasies of dining in Italy. The setting is rustic, complete with dark wooden beams on the ceiling and exposed stonework. Its individual pizzas include some simple but unusual items, like the Cosacca, made with just tomato sauce, pecorino cheese, and basil, or Anguilla Laccata, which comes with Napa cabbage, eel, mozzarella, cashews, and bergamot. The pizzas for sharing tend to be more conservative with ingredient combinations, but they're just as tasty. And know that whichever option you go for, each pizza can also be made gluten-free or lactose-free.
+39 030 259 3557
Via Evaristo Almici, 1, 25086 Rezzato BS, Italy
The sustainable resort, Casa di Langa, in the Langhe-wine-producing region has a beautifully decorated restaurant that's the perfect accompaniment to the curated menu, packed with ingredients from the on-site organic garden. Indeed, vegetables take pride of place, sometimes even outshining the proteins on the plate. For instance, as delicious as your rabbit starter may be, you may find yourself enjoying the lettuce and bell pepper just as much if not more.
You can thank the property's biodynamic garden and adjacent greenhouses for that, while the pasta dishes excel because they glorify local cuisine. Order the perfectly creamy but al-dente risotto with red mullet or the agnolotti del plin with three roasted meats to see for yourself. And don't skip the Barolo or Alta Langa bubbly. These are the two main stars of the local wine region.
+39 0173 520520
Località Talloria 1, 12050 Cerreto Langhe CN, Italy
Locanda Del Sant'Uffizio
While you can sample the work of multi-Michelin-starred chef Enrico Bartolini at his establishments in Milan and Venice, you might also want to stop by his Locanda del Sant'Uffizio in Cioccaro di Penango, especially if you happen to get hungry while traversing between Milan and Turin.
Classic regional dishes like the agnolotti del plin find new forms at this 2-star Michelin restaurant located in a beautiful former monastery. Choose from an evergreen tasting menu that is always available, a surprise menu based on the whim of the chef and the best ingredients of the day, and a creative ensemble of dishes designed to showcase the best of the land, like the "At the Foot of the Alps Menu." As for the wine list, be forewarned –- it is extensive and exceptional, so if you have trouble choosing something on your own, opt for the wine pairings with dinner, and you'll be well cared for.
+39 0141 171 0098
Strada Sant Uffizio, 1, 14030 Cioccaro di Penango AT, Italy
The selection in this guide is based on personal experience combined with professional reviews from Italian and international guides and supported by positive Google reviews.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.