Italy is famed for its superb cuisine, and Bologna is its foodie capital. The specialities of the city really do have the power to exhilarate, and food is taken so seriously here that the authentic versions of over 30 traditional recipes are registered at the Chamber of Commerce.
The first of these, tortellini (tiny pasta parcels filled with pork, prosciutto, mortadella and Parmigiano Reggiano) was supposedly inspired by the perfect beauty of Venus’s navel, while tagliatelle – typically served with meaty ragù as the real version of what the world has transformed into ‘spaghetti bolognese’ – was first created to resemble Renaissance noblewoman Lucrezia Borgia’s long, wavy golden hair.
Both dishes are evergreen favourites on menus at the city centre’s many typical trattorias, together with green lasagne, ricotta-filled tortelloni and platters of exquisite charcuterie served with baskets of traditional bakery specialities.
Bologna’s wines are finally gaining traction on wine lists too, especially the fruity white Pignoletto from the Colli Bolognesi hills – sparkling or still – and Romagna Sangiovese, but also some of the region’s lesser-known varieties alongside the many versions of Lambrusco.
Top restaurants and wine bars in Bologna
Stumbling across this traditional corner store-cum-wine bar among the colourful multicultural fast food outlets near the university district comes as a real surprise. There’s standing room only, and a jovial atmosphere where the many regulars, mostly local professionals, are always happy to chat in the compact interior among the Liberty-style wooden shelves that have furnished the place since it opened in the early 20th century. Owner Stefano Delfiore and his team supply a number of local restaurants and they’re pleased to advise on wines from their 2,000-strong selection; they’ll open anything, even just for a glass.
A meal of inspired, flavoursome and colourful dishes at this exceptional vegan restaurant makes a refreshing alternative to Bologna’s often rich and meat-heavy cuisine. Vintage tableware, marble-topped bistro tables and year-round outdoor seating set the scene for dishes combining organic produce like home-made pasta with a creamy filling of macadamia, cashew and artichoke in a smoky potato sauce, spinach and oat burgers, or cauliflower burritos. The wine list, largely from Emilia Romagna and Italy’s northeast, includes a choice selection that suits the menu perfectly, while the desserts, such as chocolate and berry cheesecake, are well worth leaving room for.
Michele Pettinicchio and partner Elisabetta have recently transferred the historic Al Pappagallo team from its central location to Bologna Golf Club restaurant and to this city-centre pasta store with tables, where all pasta is made by hand daily for both locations. They’ve succeeded in recreating an authentic feel thanks to the enticing aromas from the open kitchen. Come for a lunch of typical pasta dishes such as tagliatelle with friggione – a traditional onion and tomato sauce – or balanzoni – green pasta filled with mortadella and ricotta – served with pistachio and butter. Pair your lunch with one of the small but well chosen selection of local wines.
There’s a laid-back vibe at this popular wine bar/eatery furnished with mismatched sofas, tables and chairs, and shelves overflowing with books. The impressive and ever-changing wine list, sourced largely from small producers throughout Italy but also beyond, reflects the curiosity of owners Lorenzo and Roberta. Snacks such as erbazzone (spinach and chard pie) are available all day, while the mealtime menu includes regulars’ favourites, vegetarian couscous or lasagne, as well as daily specials. It’s worth trying the house cocktails, such as Milano-Bologna (Barbera chinato and Campari) or a spritz made with Pignoletto from the Bologna hills.
This being Bologna, even the city’s premier jazz venue – an atmospheric vaulted basement of a Renaissance palazzo where live jazz is held six nights a week – is well known for its pitch-perfect menu of traditional recipes including fresh egg pasta made by hand daily. The choice is seasonal and dishes can include pappardelle ribbon pasta with porcini mushrooms and chestnuts, or tortellini in a creamy sauce of Parmigiano Reggiano topped with black truffle. The impressive wine list of over 500 labels from Italy and beyond, including large formats, is curated by Yannis Xanthakis, one of the four partners running the show.
È cucina Leopardi
With décor as eccentric as the Tuscan chef-owner (Cesare Marretti, a former regular on television cookery shows) this restaurant in an anonymous city-centre side street with bicycles suspended from the ceiling and newsprint wallpaper, has a character all of its own. Dishes look as good as they taste, with the season’s best ingredients combined in imaginative ways, and own produce including olive oil from Sicily and flour for the homemade bread. The all-inclusive daily menu makes for a tasty lunchtime treat – be prepared to queue – while the evening tasting menu incorporates vegetarian, fish and meat dishes.
Having recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, Enoteca Italiana is one of the city’s deepest rooted and most highly respected addresses for wine lovers in Bologna. Located just off the main shopping street, Via dell’Indipendenza, it has a faithful following of regulars who come to seek out a particular wine to take home, or relax over a glass and a light snack, surrounded by bottles. Wines are arranged by region and there are some from outside Italy too. Speciality chocolates, olive oil and other foods are also sold, and tastings and themed events are held regularly.
The city’s only Michelin star restaurant, part of the exclusive I Portici hotel, is hosted in a former café-chantant decorated with Liberty-style frescoes. There are some tables available (on request) in the atmospheric surroundings of the domed 14th century ice-house, where part of the restaurant’s 900-plus collection of wines is stored. Chef Nicola Annunziata, here since January 2023, aims to convey simplicity in dishes which combine seafood and other flavours from his home near Salerno. Local traditions, such as linguine with clams and Parma ham consommé and beef tartare with eel form part of the Salerno/Bologna tasting menu with optional paired wines.
The atmosphere at Il Rovescio is warm and friendly, with country-kitchen style décor, coloured plates and cookery books. It features three separate dining rooms linked by an external portico at this characterful eatery near the heart of the buzzy though laid-back Via del Pratello nightlife. The monthly menu leans heavily towards the vegetarian, with suppliers – many of them organic – helpfully listed. There are daily specials and a handful of tasty meat-based dishes too, and the tagliatelle al ragù is a regular favourite. Sourdough pizzas, made with speciality flours that fully merit the description ‘scrumptious’, are available in the evenings only, and there’s an interesting selection of wines from small-scale Italian producers.
InCantina – Enoteca nel Ghetto
At the heart of Bologna’s 16th century ghetto district, this attractive wine bar is the perfect place to try a selection of the less common local wines, all sourced from those stocked by the Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna – the region’s wine collection housed in an atmospheric castle cellar at Dozza, a medieval village that makes for a great trip out of town. Try an Albana DOCG, a white with structure and tannins, or reds Centesimino – elegant and infused with liquorice and spice flavours – and Burson, a big, bold style. The small menu includes typical snacks and dishes such as Sangiovese-braised beef.
This covered produce market, here since 1910, is much frequented by locals who come to shop, eat and drink in the pedestrianised area behind. There’s an authentic marketplace atmosphere and a varied choice of informal eateries including Banco 32 – serving seafood with a different lunch menu daily and evening tapas-style snacks, tiny Sfarinà – for piadina, the region’s much-loved flatbread with seasonal gourmet fillings or classic combinations like prosciutto, rocket and soft squacquerone cheese, and NOI – run by the Cantina Bentivoglio team (see above) for traditional fresh pasta made by hand and platters with crescentine (fried doughy pillows), plus a great selection of wines.
Chef Daniele Bendanti provides a unique and refreshing mix of deep-rooted tradition and contemporary culinary culture at his city-centre restaurant. A dozen tables, contemporary art and a minimalist, hipster-chic vibe create an atmosphere conducive to dishes such as Bolognese Ramen or spaghetti with cashews, cod and carrot. This is also the place to savour typical and truly tasty tagliatelle or tortellini – as the Bologna-born chef says, he has ragù flowing through his veins. There are two seven-course tasting menus, one traditional and another representing ‘the journey of a chef’. Both have optional paired wines from a list that includes local and world wines.
It would be worth coming here just to enjoy the wide terrace garden where meals are served under a giant 280-year-old plane tree, but add to that a menu of simple, tasty seafood dishes and it’s a must. The Bartolini family is from Cesenatico, a lovely historic fishing town on the nearby Adriatic coast where its other restaurants include the Michelin star La Buca. The family has brought the area’s hospitable character and classic dishes, such as seafood risotto or mixed fried fish and veg, to the city. The wine list carries a number of interesting local labels, while the pasta, bread and desserts are all homemade.
This historic wine bar, dating from 1465, has been run by the Spolaore family since 1945. A very local institution, there’s no real sign outside, just a discreet ‘Vino’. Tables are communal and only wine and beer are served. You’re welcome to bring your own food though, and the position at the heart of the Quadrilatero, a knot of streets overflowing with food shops, is ideal for tasty purchases. Pick up mortadella at the Simoni deli and bakery specialities including crescente (ham-specked focaccia) and torta di riso (moist rice cake with citrus) at Paolo Atti then come here, order a Lambrusco and soak up the atmosphere.
If you’re looking for a truly traditional Bolognese dining experience, book a table in the cosy wood-panelled interior of this long-standing family-run trattoria. Enjoy authentic versions of celebrated local dishes such as tortellini in steaming broth, gramigna pasta with a sausage meat sauce, and juicy meat-filled zucchini with meatballs. Vegetarian options include potato gnocchi, sautéed greens and ricotta-filled tortelloni with gorgonzola. The trattoria shares a street with a curious window over an underground canal, brought into the centre in the Middle Ages, and a fortified gate that was once part of the city’s second circle of walls.
Prepare to be pampered at this locals’ favourite, where tables get booked up weeks in advance. The location behind the station is nothing special but the interior is cosy, and owners Flavio and Tommaso go out of their way to make guests feel at home with a warm welcome and tasty home cooking. Wines are sourced from the whole Emilia Romagna region while the seasonal menu focuses on flavours from the nearby Apennines. It includes rabbit with artichoke and potatoes, cheeses from Slow Food-protected Bianca Modenese cattle, and tasty cold cuts or pesto montanaro (creamy lard with garlic and rosemary) served with baked specialities.