An Italian Local Picked 15 Restaurants In Bologna You Should Know About

Bologna city, dishes
Bologna city, dishes - Static Media / Shutterstock

Most tourists heading to Italy know about the country's strengths in the food department. While bad restaurants certainly abound, especially in heavily trafficked areas, there is no shortage of great food in Rome, Florence, and Venice, which tend to be among the top bucket list destinations for many visitors.

But there are some cities in Italy where you have to really struggle to get a bad meal. Where practically every restaurant -- with the possible exception of those harshly lit 24-hour joints with rotating mystery meats or sweaty day-old pizza slices -- can whip up satisfying, high-quality dishes made with excellent ingredients. One of those cities is Bologna, Italy's veritable foodie epicenter and the birthplace of tortellini, Bolognese sauce, mortadella, and true culinary grit.

Nestled in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region, the city also boasts an extensive array of shops and markets that sell some of the freshest and tastiest cheeses, cured meats (which you shouldn't store in the pantry), and produce you will ever encounter. So let's take a look at how you can sample these delights at some of the best restaurants in town. As a local living near Bologna, I personally selected these spots based on my experience and on careful consideration of Italian professional review sites.

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Via Con Me

Risotto with cotechino
Risotto with cotechino - viaconme_bologna / Instagram

The first thing you'll notice when you walk into this charming little bistro behind the bustling Mercato delle Erbe is the decor. The look is modern without being trendy and there are plenty of quirks to keep your eyes entertained throughout your meal, like oddly shaped mirrors and interesting tchotchkes on the shelves.

The menu is equally whimsical but not inconsistent, by any means. The zucchini flan available on a recent visit was bright green and as beautiful on the plate as it was tasty in the mouth. The dill risotto came in green and yellow hues dotted with pops of color and flavor courtesy of the cotechino, a traditional Italian sausage. The desserts make ample use of interesting and unusual ingredients, such as the meringue with black sesame, bergamot, tangerines, and tonka beans. Be sure to make a reservation as the space is not that large, especially in the winter when no outdoor seating is available.

+39 051 267420

Via S Gervasio, 5d, 40121 Bologna BO

Vicolo Colombina

Bowl of tortellini in broth
Bowl of tortellini in broth - vicolocolombina / Instagram

This is the ideal restaurant to visit if you're looking for traditional Bolognese cuisine, like tortellini in brodo di cappone, or tortellini in capon broth, in a more upscale environment. Tucked away in a charming alley behind the city's main square, Piazza Maggiore, this intimate spot boasts white tablecloths, attentive service, and an enviable wine list comprising local gems.

The menu, curated by chef Leonora Rinaldi, is characterized by traditional dishes combined with innovative touches. Take for example the beef cheek with celery root puree instead of a more typical potato side, or the potato and mortadella sformatino, which reimagines those ingredients into a flan-like creation. But at the same time, real tradition is not messed with here. The tortellini will come as advertised, with nothing by the classic broth, while the balsamic vinegar used on the salad is the real deal from nearby Modena -- not the pure grape must kind, which is not ideal for salads, but the high quality, protected geographical indication (PGI) version.

+39 051 233919

Vicolo Colombina, 5b, 40123 Bologna BO

Ristorante Matusel

buon pranzo dish
buon pranzo dish - matuselbologna / Instagram

For a good old-fashioned, hearty Bolognese with tagliatelle, go to Ristorante Matusel near the university campus, where you'll get that and several other classic Emilian dishes executed well and with no fuss. The decor, like the dishes, is spare but attractive, relying on the charm of the hardwood floors, plain wooden tables, and exposed wooden beams.

If you get only one pasta with Bolognese sauce while in Bologna, get this one. It hits all the right spots in terms of tradition, with no fancy distractions, and you can easily get it as a quick bite for lunch along with a decent glass of table wine. The price point is also decidedly favorable at only 9 euros for a good-sized portion. And if you're not in the mood for Bolognese, everything else is good here too, like the tortellini in broth and the seafood dishes like the fritturina di pesce del giorno, a traditional fried fish recipe.

+39 051 231718

Via delle Belle Arti, 20C, 40126 Bologna BO

Banco 32

Skewered prawns dish
Skewered prawns dish - ilbanco32 / Instagram

Bologna is not a port town, but that doesn't mean it can't get fresh, good-quality fish. Indeed, one of the best places to find this delicacy is at a restaurant that is also a fish market, which is the case with Banco 32, located inside the Mercato delle Erbe. This casual spot boasts an industrial chic look, which is brought together by the addition of plenty of plants.

The wine list is clearly designed for fish, as you will find a long list of white, rose, and sparkling wines, but only a few options for red. This is your chance to learn to enjoy a good white wine and fish pairing if you haven't already. As for the food, the menu is dictated by what is fresh that day. You may be lucky enough to find the cajun calamari with potato and leak cream or their amberjack carpaccio with black figs. It just depends on the day.

+39 051 269522

Via S Gervasio, 3a, 40121 Bologna BO


Zucchini pizza pie
Zucchini pizza pie - mozzabellaitalia / Instagram

For good quality pizza with interesting toppings, bring your friends to Mozzabella, a casual spot located in a food hall inside the Mercato delle Erbe. Large tables that can be pushed together and pulled apart make this spot ideal for large groups, and a few sharing plates with squares of pizza of varying flavors can be a great way to sample as much as possible.

In particular, don't miss out on the combination of ricotta, chopped pistachios, and mortadella, another Bolognese delicacy. Equally tasty is the vegetarian pizza with zucchini cream, ricotta, lemon-marinated shaved zucchini slices, mint, and wild fennel. Didn't get enough pizza on your first try? Don't worry, you can always go back for more until you're full, or you can wander around the shared seating area and pick up some other snacks or drinks available at some of the other food stands.

+39 051 550506

Via del Pratello, 65b, 40122 Bologna BO


Canederli at Oltre
Canederli at Oltre - oltre.bologna / Instagram

Traditional Emilian restaurants are a dime a dozen in Bologna, or whatever the Euro equivalent of that expression is. But Oltre, as the name suggests, goes beyond, which incidentally, is the English word for "oltre." In practice, this means that in addition to Bolognese tortellini in broth, this restaurant will also serve up plenty of dishes made with international techniques and ingredients, like the kiwi mascarpone or the reverse taco, with mackerel and a green puree that resembles guacamole but is actually made with peas.

In general, chef Daniele Bendanti has drawn heavily from his childhood repertoire when putting together the menu. A case in point is a Bolognese take on classic canederli, a South Tyrolean dish, made here with mortadella, ricotta, melted Stelvio cheese, and fermented cabbage, all presented in an impeccable fashion. Indeed, the decor is another thing about this restaurant that goes beyond tradition. Unlike many casual trattorias, this eatery is decked out in sleek accessories and fancy touches like cutlery rests.

+39 051 006 6049

Via Augusto Majani, 1/b, 40121 Bologna BO


Whole mortadella ball
Whole mortadella ball - Pigro dal 2013 Mortadelleria / Facebook

Sandwiches may be casual affairs, but that doesn't mean they're lesser foods than those fancy creations served on large round plates surrounded by pristine white tablecloths. Pigro, a sandwich shop proves this point, especially when it comes to anything involving its specialty meat, mortadella. Other great offerings include anchovies on toast with butter, a selection of prosciutto, and spicy pecorino Romano cheese.

As for the setting, don't expect one to speak of. This is some standing-only counter space, but this place is more about the takeaway vibe, where you can grab a quick lunch and walk with it, or bring it to Piazza Maggiore, find a seat on a step somewhere, and people-watch. That is not a bad deal. This is the city's main square, surrounded by the majestic Basilica di San Petronio, a 14th-century church dedicated to the city's patron saint, and Palazzo d'Accursio, which has been the equivalent of a town hall since the 1300s.

+39 366 508 9699

Via de' Pignattari, 1b, 40124 Bologna BO

Trattoria Serghei

lots of fresh tortellini
lots of fresh tortellini - trattoriaserghei / Instagram

Although the name of this restaurant doesn't sound particularly Italian, the food it serves is as local as you can get. Not only that, but it has been a longtime favorite among the Bolognese people, in part because of the old-timey charm it still exudes even as the world continues to turn. The decor, as much as the food, is a refuge from our fast-paced lives, though admittedly, the pace of life in Bologna is already several notches down from what you'd expect in an American city of similar size.

The tagliatelle is homemade by hand and provides the perfect canvas for the homemade bolognese sauce, which is thick and satisfying. Tortellini of various sizes, shapes, and styles are available, along with an excellent roasted rabbit. All of these dishes also make ideal accompaniments to the local wines available by the glass or bottle. The menu is generally kept short and sweet, which can only be a good thing -- too much choice would just leave you feeling overwhelmed.

+39 051 233533

Via Piella, 12, 40126 Bologna BO

Trattoria Di Via Serra

Plate of tortelloni
Plate of tortelloni - trattoriadiviaserra / Instagram

This is an ideal spot to dine if you need a good restaurant close to the train station or toward the other side of town, away from the madding crowd of the central streets. The food is no less delicious than what you would find in the more heavily trafficked areas, so don't hold back on the tortellini and tagliatelle.

But pasta isn't the only dish this restaurant serves up. If you've been in Bologna for a while and are starting to feel like you need to get some vegetables in you, you won't go wrong with the asparagus with hazelnut butter. For something heartier, try the gnocchi made with stone ground chestnut flour and flavored with a ragu sauce made with sausage and Savoy cabbage. Both of these dishes are dependent on the seasons, but you may be able to find the delicious ricotta cake with salted caramel any time of the year.

+39 051 631 2330

Via Luigi Serra, 9b, 40129 Bologna BO

Trattoria Da Me

Tortellini on a spoon
Tortellini on a spoon - trattoriadame / Instagram

The name of this restaurant is Italian for trattoria "at my place," and that's exactly what it feels like when you walk in -- like you're being welcomed as a friend into someone's home. The decor is homey and comfortable but not frumpy, with warm colors and soft lighting. The family who runs the place has owned it since 1937, and the original proprietors' granddaughter, Elisa Rusconi, now heads up the kitchen.

Likewise, the menu has kept things in the family, so to speak, with dishes like "tagliolini come piacciono a mio padre," which means "tagliolini as my father likes them," which is essentially pasta flavored with soft squacquerone cheese and friggione, a local sauce made with a base of onions, tomato, and lard. There are also less traditional items on the menu, and the chef is not afraid to branch out to other cultures, as with the fried chicken with coconut sauce.

+39 051 555486

Via S Felice, 50a, 40122 Bologna BO

Da Cesari

Da Cesari dining room
Da Cesari dining room - ristorante_da_cesari / Instagram

A restaurant that has been around for almost 70 years and is still going strong is definitely worthy of inclusion in this list, not just for its reputation, but also for the quality of the food. This comprises classical Bolognese dishes like tagliatelle al ragu or pasta and meat dishes embellished with sophisticated touches like shaved truffles.

The wine list is dominated by equally local and classical wines, but what sets it apart from those of other restaurants is that many of the bottles come courtesy of the family cellar, which is run by Da Cesare's owner's brother, Umberto Cesari, who is especially known for his Sangiovese wines. During winter to mid-spring, start your meal off with a scrumptious artichoke flan with Parmesan sauce accompanied by a fresh artichoke salad. End it with a stiff bite of zabaglione semifreddo, which is enriched with a generous amount of marsala.

+39 051 237710

Via de' Carbonesi, 8, 40123 Bologna BO

Ristorante Al Cambio

Lasagna on a plate
Lasagna on a plate - Ristorante Al Cambio / Facebook

For an extra special meal in Bologna, head slightly out of town to Ristorante Al Cambio, in the Dozza area. The decor is sophisticated but comfortable, with fine white tablecloths and padded chairs that resemble armchairs more than dining room seating. The menu strikes the same tone, offering classic dishes like lasagna and veal cutlets but executed in a way that goes above and beyond what most other restaurants can do in terms of quality.

And while Italian desserts can disappoint, especially if you compare them to the intricacies neighboring France can provide, that is not the case at Ristorante Al Cambio, where every dish is carefully considered. Thus, a simple cream-flavored ice cream with Fabbri amarena cherries hits the spot, providing the perfect balance between sweet, creamy, and acidity. All the while, you'll have access to one of the best wine lists in the area, which not only provides ample choice but also excellent quality selections. The best surprise, though, is that the bill isn't going to set you back as much as you would expect. Indeed, the restaurant has been recognized as one of the best value eateries in the whole country.

+39 051 328118

Via Stalingrado, 150, 40128 Bologna BO

All'Osteria Bottega

Plate of prosciutto
Plate of prosciutto - osteriabottega / Instagram

The recipes used in this restaurant are so traditional that chef Daniele Minarelli had to go and dig them out from the days of yore, in some cases recovering modes and methods that had fallen into disuse. The delivery system is just as traditional: You will start your meal with a charcuterie board of local cheeses and cured meats, followed by Bolognese tortellini or tagliatelle with ragu, and if you have room, you can even order a second course of breaded veal cutlet.

Finish it all off with a cake made with rice, straight from the kitchen of the chef's mother, figuratively speaking. Wash it all down with high-quality Emilian wines. Dining at this restaurant is all about traditional Italian dishes, so you're not going to find any interlopers in terms of ingredients. But that in itself is refreshing, as attempts at embellishing Italian cuisine go horribly wrong more often than not.

+39 051 585111

Via Santa Caterina, 51, 40123 Bologna BO


Crescentina with mortadella
Crescentina with mortadella - indegno_crescentine2.0 / Instagram

Most classic Bolognese food requires you to sit down at a table and use a fork and knife. No one wants to delve into a big plate of tagliatelle al ragu with nothing but their bare hands. But there is such a thing as Bolognese street food, no cutlery required, and Indegno can prove it in the form of the crescentina, which is essentially a fried bread made with flour, water, and lard, and then stuffed with cured meat and cheese, in the manner of a sandwich.

But while sandwiches, in general, aren't particularly special, the crescentina is the ideal way to sample Bolognese food products on the go. The carefully constructed bread, made with high-quality ingredients and proofed just enough to make this heavy fried food easily digestible, pairs beautifully with Bolognese mortadella or pecorino cheese. Other fried items here include various types of tortellini, which you can also eat with your hands out of paper folded into a conical shape for easy transport.

+39 051 014 3306

Via del Pratello, 84/A, 40122 Bologna BO


Neapolitan pizza pie
Neapolitan pizza pie - Span Bologna / Facebook

There is no shortage of pizza restaurants anywhere in Italy, which is why it can sometimes be hard to pick out the really good ones. As far as Bologna is concerned, one of those really good ones is Span, which boasts several central locations. The Neapolitan-style pizza is true to form, with a puffy, soft crust and a flat center packed with high-quality tomato sauce and mozzarella.

Especially flavorful are the mortadella, done in collaboration with Mortadella lab, a local deli that makes excellent cured meats, and the Coppa di Parma, made with prosciutto and artichoke hearts. These two have the added benefit of being made with hyper-local ingredients. This pizzeria also serves a number of classic red or white pizzas, along with calzones and fried pizzas. In other words, this place has something for everyone, including those who are just humoring their friends' pizza cravings and only want a nice, simple Caprese salad.

+39 051 281 5313

Via Laura Bassi Veratti, 1h, 40137 Bologna BO


pasta Bolognese sauce
pasta Bolognese sauce - David Silverman/Getty Images

I compiled this list of restaurants based on my knowledge of the city and its culinary scene, which I've experienced on each visit over the years from nearby cities where I've lived. I reviewed the first five restaurants on the list based on my personal experience of dining at these establishments, while the rest were gathered from recommendations from close friends who live in Bologna. I also included recommendations from professional Italian review sites like Gambero Rosso, which is the preeminent Italian guide to restaurants in the country.

The qualities I looked for in a restaurant were whether the website or a professional review site mentioned innovative ideas of the chef, attention to quality ingredients, the use of local products, or all of the above. I focused on restaurants that were mentioned multiple times across various reputable review sites and that also had good individual reviews on Google. Restaurants that were only mentioned once, or that had a bad overall score on Google were not included. I also considered where the restaurants are located in the city and what kind of food they serve, with a view to including a wider geographical area and a variety of budgets.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.