Spaghetti with eggplant, tomatoes, and fresh basil at Cantine Bernadini, Lucca, ITALY
During my Italy Retreats for Women, I choose restaurants that offer traditional Italian dishes of pastas, seafood and meats, but also healthy choices that include vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free meals to satisfy the needs of all the women in my group. In addition, as a self-subscribed foodie, I appreciate simple, creative, fresh and delicious choices that are bursting with flavors.
There are many excellent restaurants, trattorias, osterias and cafes in Lucca, but these are four of my favorites based on my own criteria. All restaurants in Italy charge a cover charge (coperto) which ranges from 1 to 3 euros for each person. This is not a tip, and tips are not expected as they are in the US. But it’s a nice gesture!
1. Cantine Bernardini Restaurant. Proprietor Allesandro offers gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian choices clearly marked on his menus, in addition to traditional meats and seafood. (Look for my video Interview in upcoming posts.)
Cantine Bernardini Ristorante is proof that it’s important to stroll into the back streets of Italy. There is a small sign in front of the grand Bernadini Palazzo, but you have to be looking for it to find it. Then walk through the building (palazzo) to the back. Here you will find outdoor tables, or you can often go downstairs into the vaulted red-bricked cantina. The palazzo (building) itself is huge located in the San Bernardini Piazza (square).
I asked Allesandro What inspired him to have more vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free (senza glutine) choices. He replied that he didn’t want customers to feel that they had to ask for special food. This way it’s obvious because it’s listed on the menu, and in English. He’s also listed in Germany’s Gluten-Free Restaurant Guide for Italy.
One dish that stands out, though there are many, is the cooked melanzane, zucchini, pomodori, formaggio (eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, cheese). It’s so creatively cooked and folded over the top like a gift package.
He usually has fresh cooked greens available such as chard or spinach. The friendly service is top-notch too and this is moderately priced.
2. Osteria San Giorgio Restaurant on Via San Giorgio is partly an outside patio, with tables also inside on a quiet street a few minute walk from Via Filungo, one of the main streets in Lucca. They serve traditional Lucchese plates but often with a creative twist such as saffron pasta or thin slices of zucchini wrapped around goat cheese, with basil and olive oil drizzle. Parts of the menu change each year I return, so this appetizer may not be on the menu again. Try their risotto with orange, fennel, celery root, and garlic.
Moderately priced menu and friendly service.
3. Ristorante Antico Caffe delle Mura is a lovely restaurant on top of the Renaissance Wall (le mura) that surrounds the town of Lucca. I’ve eaten outside three times under the trees or white canopy overlooking the hillside in the distance. Again, fresh simple plates with an elegant touch, and gourmet tastes, but reasonably priced. It’s fun to stop here after a bike ride around the wall that surrounds Lucca.
4. Ristorante Giglio. On the expensive side, with linen table cloths both inside and outside, in a frescoed 18th-century Palazzo Arnolfini. Meals are refined with a creative flair. It’s located next to Piazza Napoleone. My husband is convinced that it’s the best pasta he’s ever eaten, (I migliore ha mai mangiata)– Tagliette topped with shaved white truffles. For dessert, try the beet dessert or Lucchese buccellato (sweetbread) filled with ice cream and berries. Dine outside and people watch.
Tagliette topped with shaved white truffles.
View from Giglio Ristorante