It’s hard for travelers to Italy to encounter the country they’ve dreamed of. Anyone can cruise the Colosseum or stroll the Spanish Steps. What’s tougher is accessing the cities that bustle beyond the main sights.  

When you travel with a local, you stop feeling (and eating) like a stranger. Discovering the nooks that locals love, you start to see the city with an insider’s eye. This is especially true when you visit a place, like Italy, that lure millions of tourists each year.

With this in mind, I want to share with you three local-approved lunch gems in Rome, Florence and Venice. No tourist menus here – just authentic eats and real Italian hospitality. Don’t be a stranger when you could feel at home in Italy.


Located in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, Da Enzo al 29 is a postcard-perfect Roman ristorante. Checked tablecloths drape the tables out front. To get here, you clamber over cobblestone streets — where laundry hangs to dry overhead. Roman recipes in all their humble glory reign in Enzo’s kitchen. Pasta specialties include carbonara (egg + cheese + pork), amatriciana (tomato + onion + pork), and cacio e pepe (pecorino cheese + black pepper). Do as the Romans do: order a liter of wine with your supper.


Whenever a friend asks me where to dine in Florence, my first answer always is: Gilda Bistrot. This trattoria is tucked on a side street in Florence’s Sant Ambrogio district – a quiet haven far from the crowds. Gilda, the owner, will welcome you with a kiss on each cheek. Honoring Tuscany’s seasonal bounty, Gilda personally writes a new menu by hand each day. Gilda’s food shows the same care — reassuringly rustic and yet refined.


Venice is a maze of streets, bridges and waterways. Untrained visitors often err by sticking to the Grand Canal. To find the best food, you need to head to Venice’s side streets and calmer canals. At L’Anice Stellato, you can savor the briny flavors of the sea surrounded by locals. Try the sublime squid ink spaghetti or lightly-fried softshell crab. In warmer months, you can sit by the quiet canal out front while enjoying your meal. 

Receive more stories like this in your inbox