Italy’s capital of finance and fashion has experienced a startling transformation in the last decade, and nowhere is this more apparent than the bars and best restaurants in Milan. With the narrow streets, beautiful buildings and stately boulevards of the city’s more established neighbourhoods giving way to shiny new skyscrapers, it can feel as though everything old is getting tossed out for the new. Yet amidst all this change, quality is still important.
A number of places have popped up that put a thoughtful twist on the traditional and the familiar, like Pescaria, a seafood sandwich shop that uses the best ingredients to create unexpected flavour profiles; and Ratana, which makes slight tweaks to traditional Milanese recipes like risotto alla Milanese con ossobuco. The key to eating like a local in Milan is to search out those chefs who forgo the pomp and circumstance, and instead make it a practice to select the best ingredients and let them shine using traditional techniques.
Best restaurants in Milan
With its all-white interiors and fisherman-basket lampshades, seafood sandwich shop Pescaria is crammed with fashionable locals who are willing to brave the long lines for a bite of the restaurant’s transcendent sandwiches, which combine the freshest seafood with an array of unexpected ingredients, like pesto, fried turnip greens and crunchy artichokes. Go for their signature octopus sandwich—the lightly fried octopus is the right balance of crispy and juicy and pairs beautifully with a rich ricotta cheese.
The seasonal menu at Un Posto a Milano is simple, fresh and elegant, much like its digs in a restored 18th-century farmhouse. Chef Nicola Cavallaro sources produce from local farms and crafts dishes that ooze an understated excellence. In the summer, grab a table on the outdoor patio or in the front dining room, a vaulted space with exposed red brick walls. In the winter, hunker down in the back room, where the low ceilings and a massive fireplace, when combined with one of the restaurant’s homemade pastas, make you feel warm and snug.
This old fashioned trattoria in Porta Romana serves Calabrian dishes to a perennially packed dining room full of locals. The kitchen specialises in southern home cooking, like the restaurant’s signature dish, spaghettoni alla tamarro, fresh pasta with tomato sauce and n’duja sausage, a spicy spreadable sausage paste made of pig shoulder and belly, as well as organ meat. If you’re vegetarian, order their parmigiana di melanzane, the Italian precursor to the popular Italian-American dish eggplant Parmesan—it’s a gooey reminder that the original is almost always better.
Langosteria offers perhaps the city’s best fish and crustaceans in an upscale dining environment. But don’t expect stuffy formality here—the charming sea-inspired decorations give Langosteria a warmth not often found in high-end seafood restaurants. Try the Catalan-style main courses, out of which the Catalan-style king crab gets top marks. If you prefer your seafood raw, take your pick from their impressive oyster collection or order one of their raw-fish platters featuring delicacies like red shrimp fished from the deep Mediterranean waters off Sicily.
In Milan’s street food desert, Ravioleria Sarpi is an oasis. Owner Hujian Zouh, who partnered with local butcher Walter Sirtori to source high quality meat, oversees the minimal kitchen, which consists of three experienced home cooks. Their pork, beef and vegetable dumplings are delectable, but the large crepe is the standout dish. Made with organic white and wholewheat flour, the savory pancake is stuffed with either a mix of Piedmontese beef and pork, or a slew of vegetables, and rounded off with a slightly spicy sauce—you’ll see people munching on them as they walk up and down the pedestrian street.
Gino Sorbillo is a stone’s throw from the Duomo and one of the few places in the area where you’re guaranteed to get quality food at a good price. There are around a dozen pizzas on the menu, and all of them are crafted with carefully chosen ingredients. If you’re a pesto lover, be sure to order the Pesto di Basilico, a pie slathered in the bright green sauce. But be prepared to wait; the line for a table often stretches out the door, particularly during the lunch hour rush.
The best contemporary takes on traditional Milanese cuisine can be found at Ratanà, a restaurant in Isola owned by the imaginative chef Cesare Battisti. His version of the Milan classic risotto alla Milanese con ossobuco (saffron risotto with braised veal shank) is silky smooth and vivid in both colour and flavour. Battisti’s decision to use Lodigiano cheese, which is sweeter than Parmesean, gives the traditionally creamy dish an even richer taste.
This ramen joint in Isola is worth the inevitable wait if only to taste an Italian chef’s take on the Japanese noodle dish. While the rest of Milan is enamored with sushi, owner Luca Catalfamo fell in love with ramen; His broth is rich and certain versions, like Miso On Fire, have quite a kick to them. But ramen purists should be forewarned that Catalfamo likes to tinker with his ramen formula, evident in his decision to make his noodles with durum wheat flower, which is traditionally used to make pasta.
Erba Brusca is a rural retreat whose short and sweet menu features ingredients from the adjoining garden, bringing diners closer in tune with the land. This informal spot is particularly popular on weekends, when the Milanese escape to the countryside and mountains that ring the city. Although the menu changes regularly, a reliably delicious mainstay is the pasta with clams, truffles and wild sorrel (erba brusca). Pair it with a natural wine from their expertly curated wine list.
One of the most popular chefs in town, Diego Rossi has set out to honor offal, creating unfussy renditions of tripe, kidneys, liver, heart, lung and sweetbreads; the menu changes daily depending on what’s at the market. He does, however, also cater to less-adventurous diners and vegetarians with more standard dishes. Besides the bold interiors and flavours, what makes Trippa so special is the warm atmosphere, which is cultivated by Rossi’s business partner and front of the house expert Pietro Caroli.
Dig in like the locals do
The city’s restaurants are at their best when they embrace the local rustic fare of Lombardy, originally made for the region’s stolid, hard-working mountain folk. That’s why some of the city’s best food isn’t found in the most fashionable restaurants but rather in unpretentious trattorias that have perfected Milanese comfort food.