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What is a Trattoria?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 16, 2024
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A trattoria is an Italian term for a fairly casual, mid-priced restaurant. Less formal than a ristorante and more formal than an osteria, the trattoria is traditionally a family-run establishment that offers simple fare and a relaxed atmosphere. Outside of Italy, the term can be applied to any type of Italian restaurant, which can lead to considerable confusion of expectations.

Restaurants in Italy focus on atmosphere nearly as much as food, providing the visitor or resident thousands of choices for every dining experience. At a trattoria, the mood is meant to be relaxed and fairly informal. While ristorantes may offer a wide range of antipasti and several courses of food, trattorias prefer to offer a few, well-executed entrees. Wine is often less expensive and served in a decanter, as opposed to by the bottle.

In terms of cuisine, a trattoria in Italy will frequently offer regional, local, and family specialties on the menu. The focus is generally on the best of local Italian food, rather than adopting a global cuisine. Wines and other drinks may be from local producers or even family vineyards. In family owned versions, recipes may be centuries old and be a tribute to the long history of great Italian food. Eating in this type of restaurant while traveling in Italy can give a tourist real insight into the neighborhood and region.

Foods commonly featured on the menu of a trattoria will vary based on the regional cuisine. In coastal areas, expect to find copious amounts of seafood, usually grilled or fried. Inland areas may focus on the wide variety of fresh vegetables and produce to create vegetable soup, homemade tomato sauce, and poultry or red meat dishes. Expect to find locally produced cheeses, wines, and herbs prominent on the menu.

The easy elegance of this type of restaurant makes it a great option for take-out or picnic fare. Many trattorias feature extensive take-away menus that provide restless travelers with great food on the road. Unfortunately, getting food to go does not allow the patron to enjoy the talk, mood, and atmosphere of the restaurant, which may be worth sitting down for.

Italian restaurants outside of Italy may designate themselves as trattorias to suggest a family-friendly style or relaxed atmosphere. The wise epicure may want to check out the reviews before assuming these establishments are true to their name; while some may indeed invoke the air of a traditional Italian cafe, others are simply chain restaurants masquerading under an Italian name.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis , Writer
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for DelightedCooking. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

Discussion Comments

By Azuza — On Sep 25, 2011

@indemnifyme - I actually have a restaurant near me that has trattoria in the name, and it is much like a traditional Italian trattoria.

It is very casual, and very friendly. The food is great, but not overly priced. And the wine is actually very affordable, and tasty too.

My favorite dish this restaurant serves is a pesto ravioli. I had never had pesto before I started eating there and now I'm hooked!

By indemnifyme — On Sep 24, 2011

I've noticed that most Italian restaurants in my city (I don't live in Italy!) are called the "Something Trattoria." But the type of restaurant it actually is varies-some of them are very fancy, some more casual.

I personally think that I would like an actual Italian style Trattoria. The atmosphere sounds nice! I do enjoy fine dining on occasion, but for an every day dinner I think a more casual atmosphere is much better.

By whiteplane — On Sep 24, 2011

I went to Italy and ate at this amazing trattoria. It was amazing for all the right reasons. The food was delicious but the atmosphere was incredible too, relaxed and very informal. We were very obviously American tourists but they made us feel right at home.

The restaurant kind of looked like an Italian restaurant from the movies. There were candles in wine bottles and checkered table clothes. All the waiters had big mustaches and they were very excited about drinking wine. But it all felt very real and authentic. We ate in nicer restaurants during that trip but I don't think I enjoyed any meal as much as that one.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Sep 23, 2011

It seems like in America the words Trattoria, Osteria and Ristorante get used pretty interchangeably. I don't think they are meant to imply anything about the restaurant except that they serve Italian food.

There are lots of American only variation like spaghetti house, pasta factory and tomato palace. And when I think about it the best Italian food I've ever head came from restaurants that didn't use any of these words.

Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis


With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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