The trendy Milan area of Navigli boasts countless cafés, bars and eateries, which take full advantage of their picturesque canalside positions. Here, Culture Trip selects the best.
Restaurant, Italian, $
The charming decor of Trattoria Milanese is enough to tempt any visitor, with promises of hearty Italian cuisine beckoning all who wander past this Navigli staple – and its food truly inspires. The Lombardy region in Northern Italy differs quite significantly from its southern counterparts, in that meat and butter are preferred to the tomatoes and olive oil used in some more well-known Italian dishes. From its famous risotto with osso buco to its daily range of home-made desserts, Trattoria Milanese serves up some traditional Lombardy specialities and genuine Italian hospitality. Be sure to sample some of the excellent local wines on offer for the perfect relaxing evening or dinner date with friends.
Le Striatelle di Nonna Mafalda
Bistro, Sandwich Shop, Italian
Le Striatelle di Nonna Mafalda is a firm favourite among Milanese locals. Located on Via Vigevano, a short stroll from Naviglio Grande, this unassuming café’s casual theme belies the incredible food on offer. The geniuses behind Le Striatelle combine quintessential Milanese ingredients and modern, creative flair to produce some unique dishes. It specialises in seafood, with the octopus dishes particularly (such as the octopus with black rice) recommended. However, it also offers home-made pasta, a type of Italian flatbread sandwich called striatelle and delicious vegetarian options, including pumpkin or tomato and cheese gnocchi. Pair your meal with its locally made beers. Pro tip: If your Italian isn’t up to scratch, use the handy QR code located on the menu to launch an English version.
Restaurant, Italian, $$
If you’re in the mood for a contemporary feast, there’s no going past 28 Posti. Its historical location is a wonder in and of itself, having been restored by master craftsmen to create a romantic and dramatic old-world atmosphere. World-renowned chef Marco Ambrosino (previously of Copenhagen’s NOMA, the four-time winner of the ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ title) has created a delightfully modern menu, drawing inspiration from both local ingredients and more unusual and striking concoctions. For a decadent experience, opt for a tasting menu, available in five, eight or 10 courses. They change every two months but always feature some of the restaurant’s staple dishes, including the tagliolini with dark leek, caper powder and candied lemon. Book early to avoid disappointment.
Restaurant, Italian, $$
Offering inventive takes on classic Italian and Lombardian cuisines, tailored to international palates, El Brellin is another excellent high-end dining option in Navigli. This tavern-style restaurant is spread across two floors and five dining rooms and also features a charming back garden, perfect for making the most of warm spring and summer days. Its traditional risotto milanese with saffron is everything you’d expect from such an establishment, but also try some of its more original creations, such as the grilled goose salami with cabbage jam or purple potato gnocchi with sturgeon. The chef is also happy to cater to those with allergies or dietary restrictions. Top off your meal with a sampling of the exquisite local Lombardian wines or one of the whiskeys or champagnes on offer.
Restaurant, Seafood, $
Zio Pesce, or ‘Uncle Fish’, is the go-to for seafood in Navigli. The restaurant’s theme is casual, while the fare on offer is diverse and imaginative. The relaxed atmosphere and reasonable prices of this centrally located favourite make it a hotspot for residents and tourists alike. For a seafood feast, try the shellfish platter, or for something a little different, peruse the ‘Unusual Fish Menu’ for ostriche (oyster) delicacies and more. The restaurant takes large group bookings, so if you’re travelling with family or a band of friends, you’ll be happily catered to here.
The Brisket Smokehouse
Restaurant, BBQ, $
In the mood for something other than the Italian standards? For a taste of Texas in Navigli, you must try The Brisket Smokehouse. The meaty wonders within are nothing short of carnivorous hedonistic heaven. Lucas, partner and restaurant chef, spent some time perfecting the Texan smoking technique in the USA and brings his methods to the pulled pork, ribs, bone marrow, pico de gallo and more. The warm and welcoming atmosphere within will have you spending many a happy hour digesting with a few local beers.
Bistro, Restaurant, Italian, Seafood, $
Any night of the week, you’ll likely find this restaurant filled with diners, both inside and out. Located alongside the canal, Sabbia D’Oro specialises in authentic Italian cuisine within a charming, lively and stylish atmosphere. The friendly service keeps many a resident coming back each week to sample the crab linguine and other home-made pasta dishes on offer. Make a booking unless you plan to visit early, as you’re unlikely to find a spare table once the post-aperitivo crowd arrives.
Restaurant, Bar, Cocktail Bar, Italian, Seafood, $
Officina 12 is as much about the ambience as it is about the food. A mix of moody, warm vibes and industrial-chic brickwork, the interior contains a gallery-style dining room that glamorously overlooks the first floor. The restaurant specialises in charcoal-fired cooking, fresh-made pasta and freshly caught seafood. The venue also incorporates a gin bar – aptly named Gino 12 and boasting over 100 speciality gins – where patrons can retire for a nightcap or two after their meal or enjoy some antipasti right at the bar.
Restaurant, Italian, $
Perfect for a tranquil evening among nature, Erba Brusca is named after the fields of sorrel – a herb that would be referred to as erba brusca in the local dialect – that once filled its orchard. The decor (wood and natural materials) reflect the natural philosophy of the restaurant, and the menu showcases a classic choice of dishes, most of which feature herbs that are grown in its vegetable garden, including parsley, basil and camomile. While soaking up the sunshine under the back garden’s pergola, you can try many dishes featured in its four- and six-course evening menus. Erba Brusca lies at the far end of the Navigli Pavese, away from the chaos of the grand canal. On a warm day, cycle to the restaurant, or take the tram from Porta Genova.
Belé’s dimly lit dining room sets the mood for a special night, complete with exceptional Italian cuisine and an impressive drinks menu. The reviews of this restaurant are enough to make your mouth water, and there’s plenty to surprise even the most discerning foodie here. From the elegant antipasti, including prosciutto d’anatra, to the traditional risotto and tagliolini for which Milan is renowned, the menu is packed with playful interpretations of classic recipes. The sweet potato mousse is a must, as are the restaurant’s expertly crafted cocktails.
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