Picking a good restaurant to eat at is normally hard enough, but when you are living in a country that is known for its food, it is even harder.
Luckily for me, the director of my program, Dr. Dawson, gave all of his students great advice on how to pick the perfect restaurant and avoid eating at tourist traps.
The first tip that Dr. Dawson told us was that if there was someone outside, a cat-caller, don’t eat there. For those of you who don’t know, a cat-caller will be a person standing outside the restaurant trying to get people to come in. They will say things such as, “You look hungry! We have a great special for groups tonight!,” or “We have the best pasta Bolognese in Rome! Come try it!” These cat-callers specifically target tourists because once they have you in the restaurant they charge out outlandish prices on everything from bread to going to the bathroom. If you see a cat-caller, avoid the restaurant, trust me the food won’t be very good and you’ll be paying a lot of money for it.
The second piece of advice that Dr. Dawson told the students was that if the menu outside has pictures of the food, don’t go there. Good Italian restaurants do not have to advertise their food to get people to eat there. Most likely, the pictures are from the Internet and the food is not nearly as appetizing.
There were numerous occasions when my friends liked the way the pasta looked in the picture, decided to eat at the restaurant, and discovered that the food was absolutely disgusting. The reality did not match with the fantasy in the picture.
The last piece of advice that Dr. Dawson told us was that if we were looking at the menu and there was BAD English then we shouldn’t eat there either. If there is bad English then that means that the restaurant most likely used Google Translate to translate their menus, which is never a good sign. If the restaurant’s menu translation is well done though, it is perfectly fine to eat there.
For the most part, these three pieces of advice, the cat-caller, the pictures, and the bad English will be found all together. Do not rule out the restaurants though that only have one of these items. These restaurants are designed to trap tourists and make them pay twice the normal amount for an abysmal meal.
Before my parents came to Italy, I passed on these three pieces of advice (and this was probably the only advice they listened to). After following this advice during their time, they decided to add a fourth restaurant tip. My parents said that there should be people in the restaurant.
It is up to you if you want to follow this piece of advice. I told Dr. Dawson and he disagreed. In some situations my parents were eating extremely early (the normal dinner time in Italy starts at about 7:30), but in other situations their advice seemed correct. When it came to this last piece of advice I saw both sides of it. In some cases having people in the restaurant makes you feel “rather safe, than sorry,” but I also ate at restaurants that had no one in them and really enjoyed the food.
If you follow the mantra, “rather safe, than sorry,” I suggest checking out this book on the best places to eat in Italy so you can have some restaurants in mind before you arrive. Check out the link below:
If you just want an idea of the different foods you can order at a restaurant, because there are so many different options to choose from, check out the link below:
My parents biggest fear about eating in restaurants in Italy is that they wouldn’t be able to order and communicate with their water. If you’re worried about this too, I suggest checking out my post Speaking Italian to THE Italians.