A century-old restaurant for fine dining theatrics, a fast-casual bottega for handmade fresh pasta, a street food shop for fried crescentine stuffed with mortadella, and more of Bologna’s best meals
With the oldest university in Europe, stunning medieval towers, nearly 25 miles of porticos that hug the city, and various museums and music events, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region is a renowned cultural hub. But for a long time the food scene was underrated. People clung to the idea that Bologna was only worth a day trip for a bowl of tortellini in brodo, a plate of mortadella, or other classic dishes.
Today, Bologna bucks that reputation with some truly terrific meals, not just traditional cuisine but also newer concepts worth exploring. Food-loving travelers are finding their way to the city, which is rich with quality ingredients thanks to the nearby Po Valley, the area responsible for the bulk of central and northern Italian food production, including high-caliber foods known the world over like aged balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and various cold cuts. Bologna’s pride and joy is its mortadella, which you’ll see on every menu in town, alongside other hallmarks of the traditional dining scene like fried cotoletta (veal) cutlets in melted Parmigiano sauce and pasta freshly rolled by mattarello (rolling pin). The city is also the birthplace of lasagna, tagliatelle al ragù, tortelloni, and tortellini Bolognesi in broth (the way it should always be served, if you ask purists), as well as lesser-known specialties passatelli and gramigna.
Persnickety Bolognese diners tend to fill up the restaurants known to prepare the most noteworthy meals, so — aside from meals at casual eateries like cafes and bakeries — you’ll need to book at least a week in advance, if not more. The cost of living in Bologna is relatively high for Italy and restaurants’ raw materials (butter, cheese, labor-intensive fresh pasta), so be prepared to spend a little more on each meal; don’t worry — the top-tier food is entirely worth it.
Coral Sisk is a certified Italian sommelier and writer with Italian and Persian heritage. She parlayed her Florence-centered food blog Curious Appetite into food and drink tours in Italy, including Bologna. She moved to Florence via Seattle in 2012 after earning a B.A. in Italian Studies.