Cicchetti are Venetian tapas: bite-sized servings of fresh local ingredients, best accompanied by a glass of white wine or a Spritz. For locals, the traditional ‘bàcari’ wine bars that serve them are the center of social life. Here are ten spots that the Venetians don’t want tourists to know about.
When a Venetian invites you out for a drink, you may hear the delightfully evocative, centuries-old phrase, ‘Andémo béver un’ombra’ (literally, ‘let’s go drink a shadow’). It’s an image specific to Venice; a throwback to the days when wine traders sold their wares in the shade of the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica. And what accompanies this shadow? Cicchetti veneti, of course: the savory finger-food served in most traditional bàcari (wine bars) – fish, seafood, charcuterie or local vegetables assembled on crostini or a slice of grilled polenta.
The name cicchetti (pronounced chi-kett-y) dates from the 13th century and derives from the Latin ‘ciccus’, meaning a small quantity. It’s the ideal apertivo for canal-hopping and exploring the floating city. They’re cheap and chic. With most bàcari charging less than 2€ per cicchetto, it’s hard to resist ordering several and making a full meal of them. The best bàcari are the ones that welcome tourists without losing any of their authentic, old-world charm and local clientele. Here are ten of the best in which to chow down on your cicchetti like a local: seated at a table along the canals or stood in a crowded tavern, eyeing the 2€ treats behind the bar and knowing already that one is never enough.
Cantine del Vino già Schiavi
Situated on a ‘fondamenta’ at the foot of a little bridge in the Dorsoduro area, this 19th-century, family-run wine cellar is an institution, and among Venice’s most beloved bàcari. Bottles line every available wall and window. A small budget rewards a large appetite, as the high-quality cicchetti here can cost as little as €1.30, with wine from €1 a glass. No room inside? Load up a paper plate with the likes of ricotta and pumpkin or cheese and fennel and sit along the canal.
Fondamenta Nani, 992, 30123
Osteria al Cicheto
This intimate bar and restaurant is just a stone’s throw from the Lista di Spagna, the path from the railway station to the Rialto. Establish yourself at the counter for a whole banquet of cicchetti, or just grab one as a warm-up for the restaurant’s two or three-course dinner with set menu. Choose from a revolving selection of a dozen or so wines, mainly Venetian and Friulian, natural and biodynamic varieties.
Calle de la Misericordia 367/A, 30121
Matteo, his wife Mara and his brother Massimiliano founded Vino Vero in 2014, as the first bar in Venice dedicated to serving only natural wines – and it’s a dedication they take seriously; even the wifi password is ‘nospritz’! The cicchetti here are refined and varied: options might include anchovies on a bed of green pesto, or cheese, caremelized onions and edible flowers. Ask to accompany one with Campari, though, and you’ll be laughed out of the bar.
Fondamenta della Misericordia, Canneregio 2497 30121
Osteria alla Bifora
One of Venice’s few genuine late-night haunts (open until 2am), in the trendy Campo Santa Margherita area of Dorsoduro. Originally a butcher’s shop, Osteria alla Bifora fittingly specializes in salami and other Italian cured meats: order their generous affettati platter or a tagliere (meat with cheeses) or a plate with swordfish carpaccio and pomegranate seeds. You’ll also find traditional cicchetti favorites such as baccala montecato (salted creamed cod), and uove lavorate (hard-boiled eggs) draped with anchovy. The owner Franco is like that uncle who just keeps wanting to feed you. Let him. Wash it all down with a very reasonably priced glass of prosecco from Franco’s family’s wine estate in the Valdobbiadene region of Treviso.
Campo Santa Margherita, 2930, 30123
All Spritzed out? Head to H2NO for a refreshing selection six seasonal craft beers at the charming Campo San Silvestro square in the busy Rialto neighborhood. A mix of traditional and innovative cicchetti awaits on satisfyingly crusty, dark rye, along with other local finger-food treats such as polpetti meatballs, moeche fritte (soft shell crabs, straight from the lagoon) or tramezzini triangular sandwiches (a Venetian specialty that H2NO has adapted in several vegan versions, featuring tofu and zucchini, wasabi, eggplant and hummus).
Campo S.Silvestro, 1105, 30125
Il Grottino Vicenza
Located at the foot of the Basilica del Palladio, originally an artist’s bottega, this cavernous space is all stone and brick walls and feels lost in time. The affable owner Fabio proudly serves spunciotti: exactly the same as cicchetti but with a name derived from spunciar in the Venetian dialect (to ‘prick’ with a toothpick, the only cutlery admissible in any self-respecting bàcaro). As well as offering locally sourced fruits and jams, Fabio puts his own modern twist on the spunciotti his mother made when he was a child, such as herbed potatoes or cotechino pork sausage on polenta.
Piazza delle Erbe 2 36100
Osteria al Squero
As far as people-watching goes while downing a glass of wine, it would be hard to beat the view from the Squero di San Trovaso, the oldest gondola repair station in Venice. There are only a few seats in this charming osteria, but the best spot is right outside on the fondamenta, where you can enjoy plump, seafood-centric cicchetti with traditional toppings like sarde in saor (sardines marinated with caremelized onion and raisins) or smoked salmon and pink peppercorns.
I Compari Pulperia a Venezia
As one might expect from a bàcaro next to the Rialto fishmarket, the specialty here is seafood, and in particular polpo bollito: melt-in-the-mouth tender, boiled octopus bathed in olive oil and pesto. Try the moscardini (tiny octopus) while you’re at it. The cicchetti are well presented and inventive, service is rapid and the retro decor positively sings authenticity, right down to the jukebox at the entrance.
Campo de la Pescaria, 255/A, 30125
This spacious and unassuming osteria in the Cannaregio area boasts a seemingly endless selection of traditional cicchetti and antipasti, and also pasta, mains and desserts. Founder and chef Maurizio is particularly fond of seafood, with his menu changing almost daily according to the local catch and whatever’s fresh at the market. In this ‘paradise lost’, the house wine hails from an organic producer from Cividale del Friuli, and there’s also a monthly selection of bottles from other Italian regions. Most Mondays, the tavern transforms into a jazz club that’s attracted big names, from Chet Baker to Keith Richards, over the years.
della Misericordia, 2540, Fondamenta Cannaregio, 30100
Taverna al Remer
Hidden in a side street away from the tourist throngs at Rialto, this rustic tavern is often fully booked for the candlelit dinner service with live music, but the real event is its famed happy hours. Come for aperitivo from 5.30-7pm (try to make it before 6.30pm so as not to miss out on the best cicchetti), order a cocktail and marvel at the motherlode of the standing buffet, to be savored along with an unbeatable sunset view of the grand canal. Che cicchetti!
Cannaregio, 5701, 30121