It was completely by accident that I discovered how to find some of the best Italian restaurants while in Italy.
At the time, I was not even looking for a restaurant.
I was actually trying to obtain a street map for a small town in Central Italy. If you have been to Umbria, you know that it is a gloriously beautiful place in which to get lost in the splendid agrarian Italian countryside.
Well, I really was lost in the countryside. And that’s why I needed a map. Of course, this was before the era of cell phones, map apps and GPS navigation.
An Italian Vineyard With A Restaurant
In those days, the best option for getting a good local map was to locate the official tourist office. They always carried fully detailed up-to-date maps.
But, as with many things in Italy, timing is everything. And that day, the tourist office was inexplicably closed.
I circled back to a small bookstore that I had passed earlier, thinking they might have a book with maps of the smaller towns in Italy. A very warm-hearted store owner patiently worked her way through my fractured Italian and graciously showed me several books with maps of larger Italian cities. None included the smaller towns I was planning to visit. Seeing my disappointment, she mentioned that there was a restaurant guide – one written by sophisticated food reviewers – which also included lots of maps.
On her recommendation, I bought my first copy of the restaurant guide called “Ristoranti d’Italia” by Gambero Rosso. I soon discovered that I had found a goldmine. It was a fabulous book on Italy best restaurants written in Italian by Italians for Italians.
Gambero Rosso's Italy Best Restaurants Guide
Never mind that my Italian language skills were pretty weak, I was mostly interested in the maps. The book contained dozens of the detailed town maps for which I was looking, all sorted by Italian region and listed alphabetically by city or town within each region.
I later learned that Gambero Rosso’s Italian reviewers visit restaurants all over Italy every year. They evaluate only the small number of restaurants that they feel represent the best restaurants in Italy. The price level is irrelevant – the restaurant can be expensive, moderate or inexpensive – but the food must be superb and the service excellent.
Gamero Rosso uses a numeric restaurant rating scale which is based on three criteria:
Freshness and quality of the food according to demanding Italian standards,
Quality and depth of the wine list, and
Exceptional customer service.
In addition to providing restaurant telephone numbers, addresses and website addresses, Gambero Rosso also provides information on:
The restaurant ambience both inside and outside, noting for example, if they have a terrace or outside seating and the number of seats at the restaurant.
Whether the restaurant accepts credit cards and if so, what types of credit cards accepted (an important consideration, as not all restaurants do).
The specific days of the week or times of the year that they are closed.
Whether the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner or dinner only.
A measure of value that the diner receives for the cost of the meal indicated by a simple plus or minus sign.
The total price for an average meal.
Over the course of many years using the guide I realized that I am often the only foreigner -- or one of just a few foreigners -- enjoying a meal at a Gambero Rosso-rated restaurant.
Italian Vineyard In The Fall
One of my most memorable early meals in Italy occurred about 20 years ago in the less travelled region of the Marche. The restaurant was located in a small country farmhouse in the middle of a Verdicchio grape vineyard. On this sunny fall day, the restaurant had a fantastic view of the colorful grapevine leaves visible from my table on a lovely terrace. The restaurant offered diners the option to order from the “terra” menu which featured beef, chicken, lamb or the like, or from the “mare” menu featuring seafood. If so inclined you could order from both menus.
It was an unusually difficult place to find, located in the middle of nowhere. It required driving about 40 miles in the countryside via a small country roadway, far from the main road, and then continuing on about a quarter of mile down a nondescript narrow gravel road. Thanks to the very excellent map in the Gambero Rosso Italy best restaurants guide, getting there was a snap.
Immediately upon entering the restaurant, it was evident that this was where the locals go. One family seated at a large table was celebrating the 80th birthday of the family patriarch.
There was second long table with a young girl wearing a first communion dress. She was surrounded by a cluster of joyous family and friends gathered there to celebrate and enjoy lunch. Everyone there seemed to know each other. When one family offered a toast, all of the other tables would join in the celebrations.
My friends and I tried the seafood tasting menu which featured a five-course lunch. Every course was paired with a different white wine from the Marche wine growing region. Today, I don’t recall the names of seafood we enjoyed but all of the seafood was from the Adriatic Sea, and none are found in the U.S. The quality of the meal, the restaurant ambience, remarkable service – and the exuberant joy of the local diners -- from this authentic Italian family restaurant is still a fond memory.
Some Delicious Desserts Found In A Restaurant Featured In The Guide To
Italy Best Restaurants
In subsequent visits to Italy -- and now as a full-time resident of Italy -- I have had many remarkable restaurant experiences that are a happy result of using the latest editions of “Ristoranti d’Italia”.
I remain grateful to that kind and patient bookstore owner who opened up a whole new world to me. The recent Gambero Rosso guides no longer have maps (this being the digital age), but I continue to use this guide to find the best, most authentic of Italy best restaurants.
In fact, after using this guide hundreds of times, I estimate that the Italy best restaurants guide probably has cost me an 10 additional pounds in bodyweight, but it also has brought me tremendous satisfaction to be able to share my latest new “find” with friends and guests.
In 2020, Gambero Rosso celebrated their 30th anniversary producing restaurant guides in Italian. Today, they publish several different food and beverage guides including the the restaurant guide and others that review wine, pizzerias, street food, bars, bakeries, olive oil, and osterias. Gambero Rosso really knows their food and wine!
If you do use the Italy best restaurants guide on your visit in Italy, be careful. You might end up gaining a few extra pounds too!
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If you are interested, you can find a Kindle version or a printed version of the Gambero Rosso Italy best restaurants guide on the Amazon U.S. website HERE.
You can also find additional information on Gambero Rosso (in Italian only) at their corporate website.
Please note that using the link from these websites may result in Italy!Adventures receiving a nominal referral gratuity. We are proud to donate 50% of such payments to our local Italian charities.