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A Foodie’s Guide to Lucca, Italy

I’ll be honest and say the food wasn’t the primary reason we chose Lucca. I mean, it’s Italy, so I knew we couldn’t go too far wrong. But our main thinking behind Lucca was – believe it or not – its attitude towards dogs (you can read a whole article about dog-friendly Europe here). After spending three months in relatively dog-unfriendly countries, we wanted somewhere we could take our Yorkie everywhere – into restaurants and bars, to parks and public spaces. Lucca is an old walled city, surrounded by grass and with a tree-lined walkway ringing the city on top of its ancient walls. Coupled with a huge raft of Tuscan restaurants (that actually let dogs in!), Lucca sounded like paradise.

And we were not disappointed when we arrived. At least, not by the city’s food and greenery. (The weather left a little to be desired, but that’s another story!) As you’d expect in Tuscany, Lucca’s restaurants serve plenty of Tuscan food specialities including Fiorentina steak and pasta with gamey sauces like wild boar and rabbit. But Lucca has its own unique dishes, too. The favourite (to the point that almost every restaurant serves it) is tordelli Lucchesi: crescent-shaped stuffed pasta with a meat-based filling, topped with a beef ragu that’s variously spiced with nutmeg, clove or even juniper. In springtime, look out for garmugia: a soup of spring vegetables studded with pork. And after dinner, don’t forget a digestivo of Biadina Lucchese – a traditional aromatic liqueur that comes (somewhat bizarrely) with pine nuts floating in it.

Travel to, from and around Lucca

Before you can start eating, you’re going to need to get to Lucca! Your best bet is to fly into Pisa airport and take the train to Lucca. Alternatively, if you arrive in Florence there’s a bus from just outside the airport to the main bus terminal in Lucca. From Amsterdam, easyJet and Transavia both fly direct to Pisa, while KLM flies direct to Florence. You can compare times and prices among all airlines on sites like Skyscanner, Expedia and GoEuro. Once in Lucca, it’s easiest to get around on foot or by bike.

Lucca restaurants inside the city walls

If you’re visiting Lucca for a short break, you’ll likely spend the majority of your time within the city walls. And that’s understandable because the winding streets with their spice-coloured buildings and endless church towers provide a magical backdrop for a stroll. After that, you’ll probably be ready for some Tuscan food!

Osteria Miranda

Our first proper dinner in Lucca was at Osteria Miranda, which turned out to be an ideal way to start the trip. Perhaps one of the pricier restaurants in town (but not stuffy or pretentious), Osteria Miranda offers a lovely seven-course tasting menu if you feel like making a night of it – but you can also order a la carte if you prefer. We chose the “Earth” tasting menu (as opposed to “Sea”), of which my favourite dish was the “midnight spaghetti”: a very simple pasta dish but with bold umami flavours of garlic, chilli, parsley and perhaps a touch of anchovy, which went perfectly with a bottle of Sangiovese Riserva. The salted caramel panna cotta for dessert was equally dreamy. And I loved the interior, with its vintage signs for old-school drinks, too.

Osteria Miranda by night

L’Angolo Tondo

Sooner or later, you’ll come across Piazza dell’Anfiteatro: a beautiful, elliptical square that marks the former Roman amphitheatre of Lucca. While there are a lot of tourist traps on the square, one restaurant you mustn’t miss is L’Angolo Tondo: a trattoria  that blends traditional local specialities with a modern twist. Its cosy interior features mismatched plates that Nonna might have picked out in the 70s, but it still manages to exude a quiet elegance. More traditional dishes included a spring risotto and gnocchi with artichoke. But at the modern end of the spectrum, the menu featured amberjack ceviche with fennel and strawberries, as well as bao buns stuffed with North African-spiced lamb. An eclectic mix that worked surprisingly well!

Order the gnocchi at L’Angolo Tondo

Osteria dal Manzo

Equally cosy but sticking closer to its Tuscan roots is Osteria dal Manzo, with its rustic interior and diverse light fixtures. Mr Foodie still claims that the pici with rabbit ragu that he ate here was the best pasta he had on our entire (month-long) trip. And that’s saying something! It also paired perfectly with our Nebbiolo from Langhe in Piedmonte.

Pici with rabbit ragu at Osteria dal Manzo

Trattoria da Giulio

A local favourite for its very wallet-friendly prices, starched white tablecloths and traditional menu is Trattoria da Giulio. In warm weather, its terrace is also unbeatable: underneath the arches of the old wall, close to Porta San Donato. Of course, we had to try da Guilio’s tordelli Lucchesi (see intro), which stayed true to its roots. I also enjoyed my braised veal cheek with mustardy mashed potatoes. And at €70 for two course with wine for two people, it was good value.

Under the arches at Trattoria da Giulio

Cantine Bernadini

On our last night in Lucca, we came full circle: Cantine Bernadini is run by the same team as Osteria Miranda, which means that quality and creativity are high. I loved the testaroli – imagine a handkerchief-shaped cross between gnocchi and lasagne sheets – with pesto, green beans, tiny cubes of potato and strips of shrimp. The more well-known tomato tagliolini with burrata was also tasty. I was less impressed with the meaty mains: the lamb cutlets were a little overcooked, while the pork en croute with BBQ sauce felt like a bit of a non sequitur. Inside, be sure to check out the cavernous wine cellar.

Testaroli at Cantine Bernadini

Bonus gelato tip: No trip to Italy is complete without gelato! And the people who run Osteria Miranda and Cantine Bernadini also have their own gelateria. Stop by Momo Gelati for excellent, all-natural flavours like pear, almond and peach.

Where to eat in the Borgo Giannotti neighbourhood

We stayed in the Borgo Giannotti neighbourhood, just to the north of the city centre and accessible via Porta Santa Maria. We didn’t know it beforehand, but the neighbourhood is known for its little food shops selling everything from fruit and vegetables to bread and pastries to cheese and charcuterie. It’s where the locals go to buy their food (according to our landlady) so it was the perfect neighbourhood for us!

Artichokes were in season at Lucca market

I particularly liked Salumeria Pieretti (Via Borgo Giannotti 410) for their smoked ricotta, excellent mortadella and artisan crackers. We also had fun at Rugani & Co (Via Augusto Passaglia 86) – a bottle shop that offers wine tastings with snacks, so you can try before you buy. Plus, Lucca market is in the same neighbourhood on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. I suggest stocking up on all sorts of deliciousness and taking your haul to the city walls for a picnic. There are designated picnic spots all the way around, or you can just plonk down on the grass on a blanket. That said, we had a few favourite restaurants in Lucca’s Borgo Giannotti neighbourhood as well:

Osteria al Borgo

On the road towards Lucca market, you’ll stumble Osteria al Borgo whose unassuming terrace gives way to a warm and inviting restaurant inside. We went twice during our stay, which meant we tried two of the ravioli specials, the tordelli Lucchesi (of course), the Fiorentina steak and the rovelline Lucchesi (veal escalopes with a rich sauce of tomatoes, olives and capers). You can expect simple but well executed dishes at good prices – especially if you drink vino della casa by the carafe rather than ordering wine by the bottle.

The ubiquitous tordelli Lucchesi at Osteria al Borgo

Locanda Buatino

A little further up Via Borgo Giannotti, you’ll find Locanda Buatino – somewhat similar to Osteria al Borgo in its unassuming exterior yet convivial interior. Italian classics like Parmigiana di melanzane (baked aubergine, tomatoes and cheese) and controfiletto di manzo (sirloin steak) are the order of the day here. The house red wine was surprisingly good, while the focaccia seemed to have been topped with salt and pork fat (which was frankly inspired). My only complaint was that the service was rather surly.

Pergola

Open at lunchtime only, Pergola is a true local haunt – serving its menu del giorno for only €10 per person, or €13 if you choose a slightly pricier main. For that princely sum, you’ll get a primo (pasta, soup or beans), a secondi (we tried a braised pork dish known as brasato and a boiled beef dish called bollito di manzo), a small carafe of house wine, water and coffee. It might even have included dessert but we never quite got that far. I have no idea how people eat all that and then go back to work afterwards!

Gourmet panini at Ciacco

Ciacco al Borgo

Ciacco is a gourmet sandwich shop that has two locations: Da Ciacco is inside the walls on Piazza Napoleone, while Ciacco al Borgo is outside the walls in a small arcade in Borgo Giannotti. Their bread is yellow, which implies corn or turmeric is involved – either way, it’s delicious. Most of the panini fillings are some combination of meat, cheese and vegetables: porchetta, scamorza and roasted veg, for example, or finocchiona, pecorino, aubergine and rocket. For the ultimate indulgence, get the mortadella with stracciatella and caramelised onions.

Pizza in Lucca

While pizza is of course native to Naples, there’s good pizza to be found across Italy. We focused primarily on Tuscan food while we were in Lucca, so I didn’t eat a whole lot of pizza. But while this list may be small, all entrants get top marks.

Pizzeria SUD

Pizzeria SUD was recommended by our landlady, and I can understand why. I loved their spicy pizza with ‘nduja and salame piccante, and their decadent Parma ham and stracciatella pizza. Both with properly puffed-up, pillowy crusts, and all washed down with a full-bodied Tuscan Syrah.

Parma ham and straciatella pizza at SUD

Funiculì

Outside the walls to the southwest of the city (close to the train station), you’ll find Neapolitan-style pizza at Funiculì. The well-priced menu featured all the classics like the Margherita and Marinara, plus spicier numbers like the Calabresella. Meanwhile, the Pupetta came topped with tomato sauce and smoky scamorza in the centre, but the crust was stuffed with ricotta and salami. I didn’t think the Italians would stoop to a stuffed crust pizza, but it seems time have changed!

La Cranceria

For pizza al taglio (by the slice), stop by La Cranceria just inside the walls at Porta Santa Maria. Topped with everything from lardo and tomatoes to aubergine, mozzarella and basil to prosciutto cotto, zucchini and stracciatella, these cheap and cheerful slices of doughy deliciousness are perfect for lunch or on-the-go.

Pizza al taglio from La Cranceria

Aperitivo in Lucca

One of my favourite things about Italy is aperitivo o’clock: that moment at the end of the day when you sit down with a drink (preferably a cocktail) and perhaps a snack – ideally in the early evening sun. My favourite discovery during my stay in Lucca was the Negroni Sbagliato, which immediately became my signature drink of summer 2023. An alternative to the classic negroni or the Aperol spritz, a Negroni Sbagliato starts with Campari and sweet vermouth (just like a regular Negroni) but swaps out the gin for Prosecco. Inspired!

Bar L’Aurora

My favourite Negroni Sbagliato in Lucca came from Bar L’Aurora, where they garnished it with a slice of orange and a sprig of rosemary. Snacks are basic (salted crisps and peanuts) but the drinks are boozy and good value. Be warned: two of these before dinner and you can barely read the wine list!

My favourite Negroni Sbagliato (foreground) at Bar L’Aurora

Franklin ‘33

Prohibition-style cocktail bar Franklin ‘33 in Via San Giorgio evidently prides itself on its extensive (and informative) cocktail menu. I was duly impressed with their Negroni del Presidente: as well as being expertly prepared with top-notch spirits, it came with a small board of charcuterie, cheese and focaccia to stave off the alcohol effect.

Caffè Santa Zita

For upscale aperitivo, head to Caffè Santa Zita in Piazza San Frediano. During the day, they serve coffees, teas and fancy pastries from what looks like an old-school, Viennese-style café. But in the evening, Caffè Santa Zita will mix you up a refreshing spritz served with an assortment of posh snacks – think tiny choux buns filled with smoked salmon and caramelised onion, or creamy salted cod. In fact, lots of places seemed to serve coffee by day and aperitivo by night, so if you discover a favourite café for your morning cappuccino, it’s worth asking if and when they have a happy hour as well.

Chiosco al Ponte

Outside the walls, right by the Ponte San Quirico bridge and a park that appears to have no name, Chiosco al Ponte (no website, Via per Camaiore 125) has a pleasant terrace overlooking the Serchio river. When we ordered our Aperol spritz, it came with a moreish skewer of spicy pickles, a bowl of crisps and (bizarrely) a sample-sized portion of octopus rice! This all felt like very good value until we came back and got a craft beer – which was Amsterdam-expensive and came with no snacks at all.

Aperol spritz and aperitivo snacks at Chiosco at Ponte

Atelier Caffè

And finally, one of my favourite aperitivo spots close to home was the always-Christmassy Atelier Caffè (no website, Via Borgo Giannotti 404). As well as serving an extensive selection of cocktails and wine in its fairy-lit café, Atelier offers a happy hour buffet where you can help yourself to snacks from around 6 pm onwards. It’s an exercise in restraint!

Wine bars in Lucca

Tuscany is best known for its red wines made from the Sangiovese grape. But there’s of course much more variety than this once you start exploring local wines, with some interesting red blends to be found. I must admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of any of the Colline Lucchesi white wines we tried. They trended towards the aromatic and floral, which isn’t often to my taste but others might feel very differently. However, I absolutely loved the local spumante (bubbles), made from Pinot Nero and with a dry richness that was super satisfying.

Enoteca Vanni

By far the best wine bar in Lucca is the inimitable Enoteca Vanni. Not least because of its ginormous cellar stretching for what feels like miles in the basement underneath the bar and shop (it’s reputed to be the biggest and best in Italy and I can readily believe it). A rummage around the cellar, drinking in the scent of cork and gently fermenting grapes, is reason enough to visit – but I’d also recommend stopping for a glass of vino. Enoteca Vanni has a regularly changing list of wines by the glass, which is how I first came across the fabulous sparkling Pinot Nero. But we also tried a couple of different styles of Sangiovese – one fresh and fruit-forward, the other more complex – as well as some interesting whites: an aromatic Vermentino and a silkier Fiano. For a perfect pairing, be sure to order a platter of local cheeses and charcuterie.

Sparkling Pinot Nero with local cheese and charcuterie at Enoteca Vanni

The best of the rest: Vinaiolo, Vinarkia and Ciclo Divino

While Enoteca Vanni was hands-down our favourite, there are plenty of other wine bars in Lucca worth a visit. Vinaiolo (no website) offers lots of wines by the glass, including an interesting rosé Primitivo. Ciclo DiVino serves a range of wines and craft beers from its cycling-themed bar. Both are on the same square at the top of Via della Zecca and get very busy later in the evening – so head there early to grab a table and beat the crowds. And finally, Vinarkia della Pavona on shopping street Via Fillungo is a nice pit stop for a cool glass of bubbles between boutique shops.

Planning a trip to Italy? Check out my foodie guide to Rome as well!

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