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A Foodie’s Guide to Santa Teresa Gallura, Sardinia

The first thing you notice about Sardinia is that, while its inhabitants may speak Italian, the food and culture are distinctly different from mainland Italy. Of course, you will find generic pasta and pizza (it seems every Sardinian restaurant feels the inexplicable need for a pizza oven) but these primarily serve to put something familiar on the menu for tourists. Real Sardinian food features everything from culurgiones to chiusoni and from suckling pig to seadas. I’ll explain what all of these are when I come to describe what I ate at each of my Sardinian restaurant picks, but those who are curious can also read a soon-to-be-published article about Sardinian food specialities that I wrote for Devour.
  The second thing you notice is just how big Sardinia is. Driving from the north of the island to the south takes four hours, and even the destinations that are within day trip distance feel like they’re further away because of the windiness of the roads. Which is why this article focuses exclusively on the northernmost province of Gallura (I didn’t make it south of Olbia!) and heavily on the seaside town of Santa Teresa Gallura. Cagliari, I’m coming for you next time!

Transport to, and travel around, Sardinia

Before we get into where to eat in Gallura, you’re going to need to get there. The closest airport is in Olbia, which is served by several airlines, including easyJet, Transavia, Air France and Lufthansa. You can compare times and prices among all airlines on sites like Skyscanner, Expedia and GoEuro. From the airport, Santa Teresa Gallura is a little over an hour away by car. In high season, there are buses (which of course take longer as they stop along the way), but we found it helpful to rent a car so that we had more freedom to explore northern Sardinia’s rugged countryside as well.

Sardinia restaurants: Santa Teresa Gallura

One similarity you’ll find when comparing restaurants in Sardinia with the rest of Italy is the division of the menu into antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to order an entire four-course menu every time (although of course you can if you like!). Plenty of locals only order one or two courses, and you can always stop for gelato on the way home…

Gnochetti sardi at M ‘n M vineria & spaghetteria

M ‘n M vineria & spaghetteria

We went to M ‘n M vineria & spaghetteria a few times while in Santa Teresa because, honestly, wine and pasta – what’s not to like? Their gnocchetti sardi are excellent: by which I mean tiny, shell-shaped gnocchi (known locally as malloreddus) in a tomato-based sauce laced with pork sausage. If you prefer seafood with your pasta, their spaghetti with vongole (clams) and bottarga (dried mullet fish roe) are outstanding – and a local must-try. To pair with the latter, try a citrusy, floral Vermentino with a touch of saline minerality. With the gnocchetti sardi, we loved the Cannonau (Sardinia’s answer to Grenache) from Tenute Rossini Rolù: ripe red-fruited, full-bodied and gluggable.

Culurgiones at Pappa Ciccia

Pappa e Ciccia

Another must-eat while in Sardinia are culurgiones: hearty dumplings stuffed with potato, mint and pecorino. At friendly and informal Pappa e Ciccia, just off Santa Teresa’s main square, they serve them simply with melted butter and sage (my favourite) but in other places they come in a tomato sauce instead. Pescavores will love the grilled swordfish – another local speciality from Sardinia’s island oceans. And for dessert, try the seadas: they’re sort of like giant ravioli that have been stuffed with pecorino and lemon zest, deep fried and then drenched in local honey. Don’t order seadas expecting a “light” dessert!

Ristorante Da Thomas

A little more upscale in terms of décor and dishes, Ristorante Da Thomas specialises in seafood and has an impressively extensive wine list. We ordered a Cannonau that had been vinified as a white wine, which made for an interesting combo of toast, spice and something slightly oxidative. But there are plenty of classic white wines as well, which would probably pair better with the seafood. Speaking of which, the tonnarelli with red scorpionfish, chilli and tomato came top of my list in terms of depth of flavour and spicy goodness. My Foodie loved the chiusoni galluresi (yet another local version of gnocchi) with a rich wild boar sauce. (Side note: you see wild boar wandering all over the place at night, so I can only I assume that Da Thomas’s chiusoni galluresi are extremely local!)

Spicy tonnarelli at Ristorante Da Thomas

Millo Ristorante

I was debating whether to include Millo Ristorante in this guide, as the food we ate there – while perfectly good – was more expensive and less well executed than the same dishes we had elsewhere. But for decadent décor and a beguiling wine list, I decided to write it up anyway. We had a bottle Vermentino from a producer called Mira, which was beautifully structured: ripe pear, floral, mineral and a touch creamy. It also went very well with our starter of prawn carpaccio with turnip puree and mango. Less good, however, was the spaghetti with clams and bottarga: Millo’s chefs had been so generous with the bottarga that it overwhelmed the dish and made it far too salty. The culurgiones excelled on flavour but were a touch too starchy and chewy. Prices at Millo are on the high side (the restaurant is mentioned by the Michelin guide) but it’s an enjoyable first or last night experience.

Sardinia restaurants: further afield in Gallura

Venture into the Gallura countryside within 30 minutes of Santa Teresa and you’ll come across plenty of hiking trails among rocky outcrops and wind-swept scrubland. Afterwards, here are a few places to eat once you’ve worked up an appetite…

Saltara

A 15-minute drive from the centre of Santa Teresa, Saltara is not just a restaurant – it’s a ritzy agriturismo retreat that has some serious White Lotus vibes going on. (Actually, it looks like it would be gorgeous to stay at Saltara, if you have the money.) Sadly, copywriting doesn’t pay the big bucks, so I just went to Saltara’s restaurant for dinner – predominantly because of their famed porcheddu (roast suckling pig). Before we got to that, we had some immaculately presented antipasti (cheese, cured meats, fruit – but all served up like an oil painting) with a bottle of Saltara’s own-brand Cannonau, which was as juicy and delicious as the suckling pig later turned out to be. The piglets are roasting on spits over a wood fire at one end of the al fresco restaurant, but they come chopped up on a bed of myrtle leaves – whose fragrance is arguably the signature smell of Sardinia. Saltara is a must-visit experience (only slightly marred by the use of QR code menus), and definitely worth the price tag.

Suckling pig on a bed of myrtle leaves at Saltara

S’Historia, Rena Majore

We came across S’Historia by accident, after a prickly ramble near Rena Majore – just south of Santa Teresa Gallura. I was drawn by a dish on the menu that you’d certainly never see in Rome: carbonara di mare. In other words: spaghetti carbonara made with fish or seafood instead of guanciale. This particular pasta was turned blue by spirulina algae, and mixed with an egg-based carbonara sauce featuring fresh tuna and fish roe instead of the meaty element. It was less fishy than you might expect, as rich and creamy as you would imagine, and paired perfectly with a chilled glass of refreshing Vermentino. As that’s the only dish I ate, I can’t speak for the rest of the menu – but S’Historia is worth a trip for the carbonara alone!

Carbonara di mare at S’Historia

La Casetta di Iris, Palau

I ended up in Palau due to a broken phone, and I’m glad I visited this marine town with its boutique shops and multitude of enticing-looking restaurants. We loved Goblet Wine Bar for a sit-down meal with excellent wines (more on that in my wine lover’s guide to Gallura). But for a quick, simple and delicious lunch head to La Casetta di Iris. It’s more deli than restaurant, but there are seats outside on the leafy square where you can take your tray. I ordered the zuppa gallurese, which is essentially a savoury bread pudding that’s absolutely laden with cheese. Probably not something you should eat every day if your job involves sitting at a computer for hours on end…

International fusion restaurants in Santa Teresa Gallura

As fantastic as Sardinian food is, you might want a break from it after a few days. There’s always pizza, but to be honest I wasn’t too impressed by many of the pizzerias in Santa Teresa Gallura (my favourite for a cheap and cheerful pizza in the evening was Pizzeria da Flowers, but Neapolitan purists may well feel differently). However, I did discover a couple of other very good restaurants that are cooking either something entirely non-Italian or a kind of Sardinian-global fusion fare.

Horizon Alchimie di Gusto

With gorgeous views over the Tyrrhenian Sea and Torre di Longonsardo, Horizon does a lovely line in sushi, poké bowls and bao buns. We ordered the “medium box” of 48 pieces of sushi so that we didn’t have to make any decisions. It was all top-notch, but I particularly enjoyed the silky-fresh sashimi and the creamy salmon and Philly uramaki. I also loved the two wines we tried by I Giganti: the off-dry white was a blossom-scented blend of Vernaccio and Vermentino, while the rosé was a berry-forward mix of Cannonnau and Nieddera, briefly pressed for maximum sushi-pairing freshness.

Sushi at Horizon

PeMa

Perhaps the most creative restaurant in Santa Teresa Gallura, PeMa is all about reinventing Sardinian dishes with global flavours in a relaxed but elegant environment. Case in point: PeMa’s fregula (pellet-shaped pasta made from semolina flower and toasted) was swimming in a rich seafood broth, topped with squid ink and a giant prawn. Meanwhile, their pulpo (octopus) came with ‘nduja spiced oil and the most unctuous potato purée. I was also enthralled by their late-harvest Vermentino from Canayli: off-dry and equally unctuous.

Fregula with seafood at PeMa

Side note: almost every restaurant in Italy seems to be dog friendly, but when two enormous German shepherds walked into PeMa and sat with their owners throughout dinner, it was a surprise even to me!

Breakfast and lunch spots in Santa Teresa Gallura

If you’re looking for something a little lighter than pasta, pulpo or porcheddu during the daytime, that’s understandable. In those moments, there are plenty of cafés and street food trucks selling pastries, sandwiches or what we liked to call “lunch pizza” (aka pizza al taglio).

Central Bar 80

Handily located on the main square, Central Bar 80 catches the morning sun – making it an ideal spot for your cappuccino and cornetto (croissant) for breakfast. Order the “cornetto con crema” or “cornetto con marmellata” for sweetly stuffed fillings of cream or jam.

Pizzeria La Lucciola

For pizza by the slice, La Lucciola fits the bill on both flavour and affordability. Each slice costs somewhere between €2.20 and €3.50 (prices correct at the time of writing), depending on whether you get a simple margarita, veggie-topped pizza with courgette and aubergine, or meaty slices with sausage or salami.  A couple of those and you’re full till dinnertime!

Pizza al taglio from La Lucciola

Panineria Dal Re

Next to Santa Teresa Gallura’s weekly market, Panineria Dal Re is the perfect pick-me-up for hungry shoppers. Very hungry shoppers at that. On our second visit, we decided to split one of their giant sandwiches between us and were still more than sated afterwards. Of the couple that I tried, my favourite was the Sardinian roll filled with meatballs, tomato sauce, aubergine and cheese. But every sandwich I saw someone else holding looked pretty spectacular.

The Sunrise Street Food

On one of the roads leading down towards the beach, The Sunrise Street Food is rather confusingly named as it never seemed to be open anywhere near sunrise. That aside, the truck’s gyros-style wraps make an excellent lunch option on your way to or from the beach. My favourite was stuffed with sausage, caramelised red onions, fresh tomato and melted provolone. We ate outside in the shaded seating area next to the truck, but their wraps would work well to take away, too.

Gyros-style wraps at The Sunrise Street Food

Aperitivo in Santa Teresa Gallura

Aperitivo o’clock is perhaps my favourite moment of the day: work is done, it’s not yet time to make dinner, and the bar beckons… Whether your early evening tipple of choice is an Aperol Spritz, a Negroni or a simple glass of bubbles, it’s the snacks that come with it that are the best bit.

Da Mastrò Ristowine

Da Mastrò Ristowine was my favourite spot for aperitivo in Santa Teresa Gallura, and we found ourselves gravitating back there many times over the five weeks of our stay. There are plenty of wines by the glass (including several that are off menu), the staff are immediately friendly (they will even indulge your broken Italian), and they do the best snacks in town. Try the Oscarì: a traditional method Sardinian sparkling white made from the Torbato grape by the popular Sella & Mosca house.

Negronis and snacks at aperitivo hour in Da Mastrò Ristowine

Cocktail Bar 1861

Forget about the wine at 1861, but order an Aperol Spritz or a Negroni Sbagliato (red vermouth, Campari and prosecco instead of gin). The terrace on the main square catches the last of the evening sun, there’s often a live DJ playing, and abundant snacks come with drinks before 8 pm (or thereabouts).

Bar Caffè Conti

Also on the main square, Bar Caffè Conti is sort of a halfway house between the two bars I mentioned above: there’s wine, there’s cocktails, there’s beer (try the local Ichnusa unfiltered), there’s snacks. And the waiter is disarmingly twinkly-eyed…

Planning a trip to Sardinia? Read my wine lover’s guide to Gallura for more tips on wine, wineries and wine bars in Santa Teresa Gallura and the surrounding region!

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