Osteria vs Trattoria – How to Choose a Restaurant in Italy

Food is one of the main Italy attractions for sure, but finding the best places to eat leads to much confusion, especially in touristy areas. So much so that many wonder about the differences between osteria and trattoria and whether they are restaurants or they should expect something else.

This article was written with this confusion in mind to shed some clarity on the subject and the age-old osteria vs trattoria dilemma.

Prices, names, cheeky marketing moves, many are the factors to take into account if you want to grasp the differences between osteria and trattoria. But first of all, you need to keep in mind that this starts as a distinction steeped in history, and much has changed since the inception of both food and hospitality realities in Italy.

Ready to delve into the peculiarities of each term and find the perfect restaurant in Italy? Let’s dive in!

Image: Osteria in Rome.

Osteria vs trattoria – Which one to choose?

What is an osteria?

Sometimes written also “hostaria”, traditionally, an osteria was where travelers could have a warm meal and also stay overnight. The term “osteria”, in fact, comes from “oste”, meaning host.

In Italy, the first osterie started appearing already in the 14th century especially along the most traveled trading routes where traders and merchants needed a place to rest before resuming their long journeys.

Other names used in Italy to mean similar places were “locanda” and “taverna”, standing for “inn”, “tavern”. Nowadays, osteria is more of a modest eatery serving traditional Italian dishes and wines, often vino della casa (house wine).

Image: Cold cuts in Bologna.

What is a trattoria?

The etymology of the word “trattoria” comes from “trattore” and this from the French “traiteur”, widely meaning caterer. This, however, bears an older origin as it comes from the Latin “tractare”, standing for preparing, so cooking.

In the past as well as today, trattoria is a modest restaurant serving basic dishes from the local culinary tradition. So for example in Rome, a trattoria will have the big Roman pasta quaternity and mains like coda alla vaccinara and tripes on the menu.

Image: Osteria in Trentino, Italy.

Differences between osteria and trattoria

So, what is the difference between trattoria and osteria? How do we choose between osteria vs trattoria?

Historically, as we have seen, the main difference between osteria and trattoria was that osteria was both a place to eat and sleep, while trattoria was mainly offering basic food.

Today, they are often used as synonyms because they both offer exclusively food and not the option to book a room for the night. Only on some occasions, you will find places offering both food and rooms, but they are not necessarily called osteria.

Image: Restaurant café in Rome, Italy.

For example, we have recently tried a lovely restaurant in Rome’s city center, Ninù, and learned they also have a few rooms available for booking. Ninù leans more towards the high-end eatery and not the basic, popular idea we have of osteria.

However, Italy being Italy, offers a diverse range of options also speaking of osteria depending on where you are and which region you are visiting. Recently, I took a lovely food tour in Bologna and visited the last remaining glorious example of an old-style local osteria. This is Osteria del Sole and it only serves to drink, until recently strictly wine, recently opening up also to beer. They don’t serve any food and you can bring your own!

Image: Restaurants in Olbia, Sardinia.

Trattoria vs osteria vs restaurant today – What are the differences?

So strictly speaking, what is the difference between osteria, trattoria and restaurant today? It’s hard to say because even though the first difference that crosses my mind when asked is that osteria and trattoria are mainly family-run small eateries serving basic meals, while a restaurant offers a more sophisticated menu.

The difference between these three today, however, runs a bit thinner and is definitely fuzzier. In fact, often new restaurants use the words osteria and trattoria to convey a traditional, authentic feel, even though then their offer falls into the category of fine dining. I might add that when I see “antica osteria” located right in front of a famous landmark with the waiter calling passers-by in doesn’t really give me the hope for a truly authentic meal.

Generally speaking, these are the differences you should keep in mind when wondering about osteria vs trattoria vs restaurant, without forgetting that there will certainly be exceptions and marketing ruses. In fact, whenever you are looking for a good restaurant in a new city, I always suggest asking locals and checking out local websites rather than more tourist recommendations. Here are some of the main differences to consider.

Image: Restaurants in Rome, Italy.


The very first thing to consider is the price. Osteria and trattoria are traditionally more basic than restaurants so you can expect lower prices. Obviously, I don’t really suggest trusting restaurants offering full menus of starter + first course + main + side + drink + coffee for 10€ whatever the place is called!


Depending on where you are, expect a different quality. Usually, in the historic center of many cities, particularly the big tourist hubs such as Rome, Florence, Venice, Cinque Terre, and Amalfi Coast, it’s harder to find good and authentic restaurants.

The further you stray from the city center, the better chance you have to eat well.


Different regions, different dishes. So a trattoria in Bologna will hardly serve the same food as a trattoria in Calabria.

In large cities like Rome, you will find places serving local dishes as well as from other Italian regions, but in smaller towns, this is less frequent.


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