You’ve been planning an Italian getaway for ages, and now that you are ready to land in the country of the “Bella Vita” and finally cross it off your bucket list you wonder how will you be able to choose where to eat, drink and snack during your stay in Milan.
If you consider that every nine months roughly 500 new bars and restaurants open in the city, you’ll easily realize how difficult can be to choose those two or three places that will inevitably turn your getaway into a disaster or an unforgettable experience.
First of all, avoid the tourist traps that fill up the city centre (especially the ones close to the Piazza del Duomo), the quality of the food is poor, and they will charge you more than you deserve to pay. If you fancy sitting down facing the Cathedral than consider having an espresso or a cappuccino but focus elsewhere for some quality food and you won’t regret it.
While you’re strolling around the most famous streets and attractions of the city, you’ll realise how fast time flies, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a bit of an appetite. Because you’ll not have much time to sit down and you’ll want to walk around the city a snack might be a good idea. Have a look at the top 5 snacks I usually get in Milan and treat your taste buddies like they deserve.
This chic bakery chain – an institution is its genre – was founded in 1986 by Rocco Princi and can now count on five stores (one of them is in London) dislocated around the city. All of them have been planned with a minimalist and modern design and diffused lighting warmly reflecting off wood, bronze and stone. Talking about the food, every product you’ll find here has been produced using the best organic ingredients and following some traditional recipes that result in incredibly tasty bread loaves, pizza, focaccia, grissini and sweets.
MY TIP: The shops can be extremely busy, especially around lunch time but don’t worry their opening hours will allow you to stop there basically anytime during the day, from breakfast till night-time. During the weekend, especially if you had one too many cocktails, right before going back to your hotel room visit the shop located in Piazza XXV Aprile (it’s open 24 hours), get a slice of focaccia and go to bed with your tummy happier than ever.
Piazza XXV Aprile, 5 (M2 Moscova or Porta Garibaldi)
Via Speronari, 6 (M3 Duomo)
Largo La Foppa, 2 (M2 Moscova)
Via Ponte Vetero, 10 (M1 Cairoli)
Can you imagine going to Italy and not getting an artisan ice cream cone? That sounds crazy, I know. To satisfy your ice cream desire, I recommend you a visit to Gelato Giusto, a small shop located in the central Buenos Aires area of the city. This ice cream shop doesn’t offer a never ending selection of flavors as you could find in many other stores around Milan, but be sure that the ice cream is daily made from fresh ingredients with no preservatives added.
MY TIP: If it’s summer indulge in fruit flavors to battle the heat and try some of their unusual flavors (e.g. cardamom, ricotta cheese with orange, pumpkin & amaretti biscuits, etc.). Don’t forget about the pistachio one, it’s a masterpiece!
Via S. Gregorio, 17 (M1 Lima or Porta Venezia)
There was a time (unfortunately quite a while ago) when I was studying at University, and at least once a week I was staying in Milan a bit longer to spend some additional time with my friends Francesca e Deborah. Lots of chit chats, some rare time spent preparing for exams and the American sweets tasted at a California’s Bakery table characterized those long afternoons.
I was normally going for classic pancakes with maple syrup or for a huge and filling slice of cheesecake (since then my absurd passion for this cake) while Deborah and Francesca were typically choosing the huge cookies or brownies with ice cream and whipped cream. But please don’t assume the sweets are the only special treats here because some of the best bagels, sandwiches and burgers I had in my life were enjoyed in one of the California Bakery’s shops. To create a relaxing and cosy atmosphere, the spaces are nicely decorated with baskets hanging from the ceiling, wooden chairs and tables, while the big fridge at the counter displays tempting New York-style cakes and pies.
MY TIP: This is a good option any time during the day. I had some beautiful breakfast filled with moist and delicious blueberry muffins, I had lunches and dinners where I could indulge in bagels and sandwiches but if I have to choose one moment to visit this place, then the weekend brunch is my favorite one. Please be aware that you’ll have to book your table in advance (I suggest a couple of days before your stay) and then enjoy one of the best brunches that Milan offered me over the years.
If you are visiting the city during summer opt for a picnic and taste every single element of the California Bakery’s brunch while relaxing in the shadow of a tree. Don’t worry, they won’t simply provide you with the food but with everything you’ll need to enjoy a sunny day in the park.
Last but not least, if you stick around Milan a bit longer than just a few days you might want to take one of their successful cooking class and learn how to prepare yummy sweets for your family.
Corso Como, 5 (M2 Porta Garibaldi or Moscova)
Via San Vittore, 2 (M2 Sant’Ambrogio)
Viale Premuda, 44 (Tram 9 or 23)
Via Larga, 19 (M1-M3 Duomo)
Piazza Sant’Eustorgio, 4 (Tram 3 or 9)
Corso Garibaldi, 89 (M2 Moscova)
It was 1953 when the Banti family’s Tuscan rotisserie, “Cibi Cotti”, was transformed into a pizzeria selling pizza by the slice, one of the first of its kind in Milan. This iconic small shop turned into a successful brand with more and more stores around Milan and the world (they just opened a few ones in Tokyo) and a recipe that didn’t change a bit in the last 60 years that includes the following ingredients: tomatoes from Piacenza, flour from the Certosa Mill in Pavia, mozzarella from Varzi or from the Lodi area, olive oil from Ravenna and anchovies from the Mediterranean Sea.
This is how it works; you get inside, order at the counter (the option are: traditional Margherita, Prosciutto and Marinara with no cheese), eat as fast as you can, get back to work/university/shopping. You can do it all in less than 15 minutes. I promise.
My TIP: This is quite a heavy slice of pizza; it’s big, it’s soft, it’s packed with tomato sauce, olive oil and cheese so don’t even think for a second that this is a healthy and light option because it’s not. But, on the other side, is a super yummy and fast solution that saved a few of my short lunch breaks and let me satisfied and happy for the rest of the day.
Via Spontini, 4 (M1 Lima or Buenos Aires)
Viale Papiniano, 43 (M2 Sant’Agostino)
Via Marghera, 3 (M1 Wagner)
Via Cenisio, 37 (M5 Cenisio)
Piazza V Giornate, 6 (Tram 9-23)
Via Santa Radegonda, 11 (M1 -M3 Duomo)
Piazza Duca D’Aosta, 8 (M1 Centrale)
Via Vigevano, 1 (M2 Sant’Agostino)
If you are in Milan just for the day, this is the one snack you should have. It doesn’t matter what time it is or how hungry you are, going to Milan without having at least one of Luini’s panzerotti is shameful. No, I’m not kidding.
This famous bakery opened its doors in 1888 but it’s with Giuseppina Luini, the smart woman who back in 1949 had the idea of taking panzerotti, a typical stuffed savoury pastry from Puglia, to the centre of Milan, that it turned into a phenomenon. It took a while before her idea conquered the heart of the people of Milan but today – after decades of success and appreciation by individuals and Institutions (in 1988 Milan city administration rewarded Luini with an Ambrogino award as a sign of “great appreciation, friendship and fondness.”) – no one can deny such an accomplishment.
Today the kids who used to come eat panzerotti after school return nostalgically with their own children. The tradition continues to be passed down to the new generations. – from Luini’s website
My TIP: How do you know you are in the right place? Just have a look at the long queue of people patiently waiting outside the bakery, and you’ll know you are heading in the right direction and don’t be scared about the line, the people working here are so efficient that you won’t wait more than 10-15 minutes to be served.
When you finally get inside forget about everything else shown at the counter, you are not there to get a slice of pizza, you are there for the panzerotto so go ahead and choose one (or maybe two). I highly suggest you take the traditional one filled with tomato sauce and mozzarella, but I also love the one with tomato sauce, onions and olives. Take your warm bag, lots of napkins and get out of the shop to find a comfy place for you to sit down or simply eat on the street enjoying the warmth and fragrance released by this treat.
Via Santa Radegonda, 16 (M1-M3 Duomo)
There are so many options that I don’t know where to start with this list. No, that’s not true, I do, I know which one is my favorite bar on this planet (yes, in the whole world). I’ve been there a dozen time, and I love it exactly like the first time I stepped in it. But before telling you more about this special bar (you’ll find it at the end of this list), let me tell you that if you visit Milan, you can’t avoid having an aperitivo.
Now let’s take a step back. If in your mind the Italian word aperitivo means a glass of wine/beer/cocktail and a few potato chips/nuts to match your drink, you are right, this comes into reality most of the time, but if you are in the cosmopolitan Milan than you’ll be surprised.
Milan has a bit of a different concept of aperitivo that turn the simple idea of a social and functional way of meeting up with friends and have a drink before dinner to something that most of the time turns into a “let’s get drunk and eat lots of crappy food for free” evening. What happens is that lots of bars in Milan organise big and fancy aperitivi where they charge 7/8 euros (and up to 15 euros) per cocktail/drink and give you the chance to get some food for free that you can take directly from the buffet as many times as you want. As you can imagine there are bars and clubs that raise the price of the cocktails to provide better quality food while many other ones focus on the quantity of the product offered rather than the quality. One thing is sure, going to Milan and not having an aperitivo that turns into a never-ending dinner sounds wrong to me.
Going back to the topic, here is a list of five of my beloved bars in Milan and obviously some of them are simply perfect for aperitivo.
Let’s start with this bar that can count on an extraordinary location because it overlooks Piazza del Duomo and Milan’s cathedral. It presents a wide assortment of cocktails and innovative solid cocktails as well as non-alcoholic versions of the traditional ones for people who prefer a light aperitif. Food-wise, the classic Milan aperitif has teamed up with a gourmet version of the tapas-bar tradition so that you won’t be disappointed.
MY TIP: Let’s say it’s summer time, around 8 pm and you head to the city centre when you realise wouldn’t mind having a drink with one of the nicest views you can get in the city. Find a table in the terrazza where you’ll be able to stare at the cathedral painted with sunset’s colours, order an Aperol Spritz and enjoy the moment.
This drink was created in the northeast of Italy but it found it’s success all around the country a decade ago. It consists of 3 parts of Prosecco, 2 parts of Aperol and 1 splash of seltz or soda. You either love it or hate it (I belong to the first category), but it’s definitely worth a try.
Piazza del Duomo (M1 – M3 Duomo)
N’OMBRA DE VIN
If after a few hours walking around the Brera district you can’t imagine moving to another area of the city then it’s time to indulge in an Aperitivo at N’Ombra de Vin.
This wine shop opened its doors back in 1973 and his owner and great connoisseur of wine – Giacomo Cora -transformed the old walls of these ancient cellars into a wine shop which boasted the very best oenological offerings from both France and Italy. Nowadays, it’s Cristiano, Giacomo’s son who runs the wine shop and transformed it into a venue for wine lovers of all ages while still maintaining the shop’s traditional appeal.
MY TIP: If you are planning a romantic date book a private tasting by candlelight in the cellar and try special pairings of food and wine as well as the more prestigious labels. You won’t regret it.
N’Ombra de Vin
Via San Marco, 2 (M3 Turati)
Another one of the most interesting of Milan’s districts, I Navigli is the location of Rebelot del Pont, a trendy bar that overlooks the big Naviglio and offers a great variety of classic mixed drinks together with an exclusive selection of cocktails created by Oscar Quagliarini, one of best European mixologists.
If wine is what you are after, you’ll find a good collection with a preference for wines from small winemakers, passionate for their territory, its characteristics and its history.
MY TIP: If you fancy a glass of wine you can either choose one from the list of wines by the glass (changed on a weekly basis) or select a bottle; in this case don’t forget Rebelot can count on a private cellar of wines acquired through the years which don’t appear in the wine list, but are offered by reservation. If you prefer to try one of Quagliarini’s cocktails, then forget the classics and have a look at the ones invented by him, they are all delicious.
Ripa di Porta Ticinese, 55 (M2 Porta Genova)
Once upon a time in via Piero della Francesca there was a church. From 2001 that church has been turned into a unique and very fascinating bar and club with a gigantic chandelier in the middle of it moving up and down following the rhythm of the music (don’t worry it’s not as scary as it might sound). I’ve been here just two times and although the food served for aperitivo was not the best one I had in Milan, the ambient is truly special and worth a visit.
MY TIP: If you are fed up with aperitifs and drinks before dinner, you might want to visit il Gattopardo at night when this deconsecrated church become one of the most popular disco in the city.
Via Piero della Francesca, 47 (M5 Gerusalemme)
Last but not least – let’s talk about my favourite bar (yes, the one I mentioned earlier). The Nottingham Forest is a small and truly special cocktail bar located a few minutes away from the central Piazza San Babila. As for Luini, you’ll recognize you are in the right spot for the queue of people waiting outside its door, and it doesn’t matter if it’s winter, it’s pouring rain, or it’s -5 degrees, you’ll always find people waiting to get in this lovely place.
I still remember the first time I got in and thought I just opened the Narnia’s wardrobe. If you expect a fancy place, you’ll be disappointed. But if you like characteristic bars, where you can read a story from each piece of furniture you’ll find inside, this is the one for you. The decor is a mixture of elements coming from the Far East, Caribbean and Africa with lots of funny souvenirs and memories that remind of exotic countries and magical drinks.
Speaking of the drinks, the Nottingham Forest cocktail bar is part of the 50 best bars in the world since 2007 thanks to its genius use of molecular mixology and Dario Comini, leader of the bar, is one of the pioneers of the mixology concept.
MY TIP: First of all forget about this place if you are in a group of more than 4 people as reservations are not possible. If you can, try to get there as early as possible when the majority of people is still enjoying dinner. Sit down, take the huge menu in your hands and start dreaming of the cocktails you are going to taste.
The first time I went there I spent at least 20 minutes reading through the menu, it’s normal, and they won’t judge you for that. Ask as many questions you have in mind and don’t be afraid to request a suggestion because you’ll easily get confused with such a variety of choices available. After you order, don’t forget to focus your attention on the real show, the one taking place behind the bar counter where filters, molecular essences and shakers are held. If you can, and it’s convenient for you, try to sit directly at the bar and enjoy the professionalism and ability of Dario and the other competent bar chefs. Trust me. And believe the Best Bars Europe when it says:
No visit to Milan is complete unless you’ve visited the Duomo, the Galleria, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and Dario Comini’s Nottingham Forest.
Viale Piave, 1 (M1 Palestro)
After walking around for hours, it’s finally dinner time, and you are looking for a nice restaurant to relax and eat something delicious. Choosing a restaurant in Milan can be a hell of a job, and you could easily feel overwhelmed by the many wonderful options available. The following ones are probably not the best restaurants in Milan (well some of them are), but they are the ones I visited more than once and never disappointed me, the ones I love to go back to when I’m around, and they all provide a valid and not too pricey option.
Let’s start with a classic. You are visiting Italy, and your mouth starts salivating every time you think about Italian pizza. Even though Naples is the hometown of this incredible dish, Milan like every other city in Italy has lots of Pizzerie for you to try. If you’d like a pizza Neapolitan style then this is my personal recommendation.
Originally there was just one Taverna located in the south of Milan and characterized by vaulted ceilings and a few paintings representing a few glimpses of Naples and the Amalfi coast. A few years ago the owners decided to open a second and bigger restaurant called L’Altra Taverna located just around the corner by the original one and characterized by a more modern touch. It doesn’t matter which one you’ll choose, the menu is more or less the same, and it includes an extensive list of traditional and more eclectic pizzas, together with a few other typical Neapolitan dishes.
MY TIP: If you super hungry or you’d like to share an appetizer with the other dining companions, il misto di mozzarella quella buona sempre fresca is what you should order to taste three different kinds of mozzarella: the traditional one, the buffalo one and the smoked one. Talking about pizza, I tried a few of them in the past years, but there is one that stands out for its simplicity and full taste, la Totonna, which is a white based pizza with buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil and lots of juicy cherry tomatoes on top. Add a few drops of the chili oil they will bring to the table, and you’ll have a taste of heaven.
Finally, if you have room for a dessert you can either opt for the Baba al rum, a mushroom shape leavened oven-baked sweet soaked in rum, or go for the Pastiera Napoletana (my favourite), a sweet wheat berry and ricotta pie.
N.B. I used to visit this restaurant quite a lot when I was a vegetarian but since I’m vegan I haven’t had the chance to give it another try. I’ll keep you posted on this.
Via Francesco Anzani, 3 (Tram 12 or 27)
I’m crazy about every single cuisine I tried during my trips around the world: Japanese, Greek, Thai, Lebanese, Mexican, Spanish, etc. but if you ask me which are the ones I cannot live without the answer is easy: homemade Italian cuisine and Indian food.
As I said here, I grew up in a small city where there were no Indian restaurants, therefore the first time I tried this spicy food was back in 2011 in Milan. After googling every single Indian restaurant in Milan, I choose Shiva, and it couldn’t have gone any better. Shiva will always have the credit of making me fall in love with curries, pakoras, samosas and co. This spacious restaurant has three rooms with colorful walls & ceiling murals, lots of incredibly kind and polite waiters and some fantastic traditional North Indian cooking.
MY TIP: Try to get there pretty hungry and choose one of their fixed menus that include a mixed appetizer, a main course and a dessert. I tried the fish menu (during my pescatarian period back in 2011) and had the vegetarian menu lots of time; it’s simply the best. Every single time I go to Shiva I leave the restaurant extremely satisfied and with the feeling I am about to explode because seriously I cannot leave anything on my plate, not a single bite of that delicious food.
Viale Gian Galeazzo, 7 (Tram 3)
Back in 2013, I came back from Australia being a vegetarian, and on the bucket list of the restaurants I wanted to visit Joia – the only vegetarian restaurant in Italy awarded with a Michelin star – was on top of the list. Heart and soul of this restaurant is Pietro Leeman, the Swiss-born chef that after travelling all around Asia and Europe, in 1989 decided to turn his philosophy of Alta Cucina Naturale (natural cuisine) into a vegetarian restaurant with a menu that doesn’t lack in creativity or taste.
The food served at this restaurant changes seasonally and depends on the fresh products available at the time. As for my personal experience I didn’t simply love the food, the atmosphere and the way the menu was structured – to turn the experience into an unforgettable evening – the chef came to take our order at the table and later on stopped twice to ask our opinion on the dishes. Pietro Leeman is an extremely inspiring, down to earth person that I truly enjoyed meeting him.
MY TIP: If you have time and money to afford it, try one of the three tasting menus available (for 90-100 and 120 euros according to the number of courses). If you are on a budget you can head there at lunchtime when a set two-course menu is offered at the very reasonable price of €12.
N.B. I’m not going to spoil them for you, but the name of the dishes are simply beautiful!
Via Panfilo Castaldi, 18 (M1 Porta Venezia)
As the name suggest, Poporoya is a Japanese “restaurant” but not like any other Japanese restaurants in Milan. Poporoya is a special place and Shiro – owner and chef – is a real character. I grew up watching a Japanese cartoon/manga called Kiss me Licia (Ai Shite Knight in English) and it’s at this anime, set in Osaka, that I thought every single time I stepped into this shop/sushi bar.
So take note of the address below but watch out when you get there because in Via Eustachi you’ll see a traditional restaurant called Shiro Poporoya (where you’ll probably head to) that is owned by Shiro but that is not where I want you to go. On the opposite side of the road, you’ll see a small Japanese grocery store that doesn’t look like a restaurant at all – that’s where I want you to go. Go inside, have a look around and then move to the counter to order your food. Yes, here there is no fancy service, there is not even a menu waiting for you at the table, you’ll have to decide beforehand what you wish to taste and then wait for an available table.
This sushi bar is incredibly small, and every time I stepped inside, I had the feeling I just entered a traditional restaurant in Tokio, and that’s exactly how I want to feel when I eat Japanese food. Every single dish tasted here is delicious, fresh and tasty, and Shiro will always greet you with a generous smile which makes the whole dining experience even nicer. Poporoya has been my first Japanese restaurant, first of many all around the world, and I still think about it as the best Japanese food I had in my life.
MY TIP: As I mentioned the place is small, very small and it gets very crowded. Thankfully the service is fast and you’ll see an incredible turnover of people while you are there. Get there early, don’t wait till it’s 8-8.30pm (common dinner time in the north of Italy) unless you want to spend half an hour waiting for a table to be free. And, if you are on a truly romantic date maybe opt for something else ’cause whenever you’ll be done with your food you’ll be kindly invited to leave your table to someone else who still has to eat. And forget about reservations, here you can’t reserve a table either.
Via Bartolomeo Eustachi, 17 (M1 Porta Venezia)
Let’s finish the list with another Italian restaurant but again, a unique one. D’O is a Michelin star restaurant and is the kind of restaurant that everyone with a bit of passion for high-level cuisine knows. Located in San Pietro all’Olmo, this restaurant is not in the city centre, (it’s more or less 20km away) but it’s definitely worth the time spent in the car. Davide Oldani is the young owner of this restaurant and ideator of the Cucina POP brand.
“My Cucina POP comes from the desire to blend the essential with the well-made, to create something good that is accessible, to combine tradition with innovation. I am convinced that the greatness of Italian cuisine lies – not only in the variety and flavours – but also because it is open to continuous reinterpretation: I have done this with simplicity, giving importance to each ingredient and having seasonal products and quality as the foundation of my cuisine.”
MY TIP: To reserve a table here can be a hassle and the first time I tried to book one they informed me about their six months waiting list and made me gave up on the idea of eating there. Ouch! But then I called again a few months later and asked if they had any last minute cancellation for that evening or the following ones and I was lucky enough to find a free table.
Don’t even bother searching the menu online because you won’t find it on their website but don’t worry, every single dish is more than affordable here (main courses are 15-16 Euros) and if you decide to lunch there during the week the cost of that paradisiac experience will be even cheaper.
Which one was my favourite dish? I have no doubt about it – I was stunned by one of Oldani’s signature’s dishes – the caramelised onion with Grana Padano mousse and ice cream – it’s a must here.
Piazza della Chiesa, 14 – Cornaredo
So now that your belly is full and satisfied it’s time to digest the food and what better way than taking a walking tour around Milan? Have a look here for my suggestion and…
… Buon Appetito!