There’s no question about it: the Tuscan town of Lucca is a looker, from its defensive walls – now a pedestrian promenade – to its main square, Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. Given the sleepy, small-town vibe, you’d be forgiven for thinking Lucca’s appeal was mostly aesthetic and memorable meals in short supply. But the town has a surprising range of traditional and more contemporary eateries, drawing in gourmands, budget travellers and everyone in between.
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Housed in a historic dyeing plant and dry cleaners, Mecenate offers a solid introduction to the rustic elegance of Tuscan dining. Head chef Maria Sole and manager Stefano pride themselves on what they’ve termed cucina acustica, or “acoustic cuisine” – a poetic reference to the many local area producers whose ingredients “harmonise” on the menu. This spirit is strongest in the savory primi (first courses) like garmugia, a slow-cooked spring soup with locally sourced asparagus, peas, artichokes, spring onions and minced meat.
Awarded its first Michelin star in 2019, Ristorante Giglio is the culinary crown jewel of its namesake square, which is home to a historic theatre opposite the restaurant. The fusion of local standards with international flourishes is the name of the game here, with hints of Japanese and Indian influences. The crusty bread with tandoori smoked butter, for example, is a far cry from the salt-free pane toscano usually found in most regional bread baskets.
Gatta Ci Cova
Well outside the walled-in, postcard-ready centre of Lucca, this modestly priced, intimately sized eatery is in a residential area near the Porta Elisa stadium, and a particularly apt dinner choice if you’ve rented a car for a romantic Tuscan getaway. Post up with your partner at the cosiest table in the house, where the chairs hang suspended from the ceiling. The menu is colourful and contemporary, with intriguing yet unpretentious ingredient combinations: think strawberry-cashew risotto or green beans laced with pistachio and beet shavings.
Buca di Sant’Antonio
Back in the thick of downtown, Buca di Sant’Antonio is a Lucca institution. Given its old-school status and its location, sandwiched between Piazza dell’Anfiteatro and Piazza Napoleone, Buca di Sant’Antonio could easily have fallen the way of the tourist trap. Instead, well-turned-out locals continue to show up for the traditional meat dishes and the ambience. In winter, warm up on the wraparound leather bench beneath the copper pots adorning the ceiling; in sunnier months, snag a table on the patio.
This contemporary Michelin-star restaurant run by chef Cristiano Tomei is refreshing after a long day hitting the historical sights, with Tomei’s adventurous cuisine a welcome contrast to more traditional fare. The food is fanciful, but the ordering process is fuss-free: say how many courses you’d like, and Tomei will whip up an inspired surprise.
Trattoria da Giulio in Pelleria
Lucchese purists love Da Giulio for its uncompromising approach to local and regional classics. Don’t expect frills or added luxuries: here, it’s the tordelli (hand-rolled local ravioli stuffed with roasted meat and spices) that do the talking. While you’re there, ask about the daily specials (piatti del giorno), as it’s often the off-menu creations that take the cake here.
It’d be easy to miss this miniscule, softly lit locale on a side street of Via Nuova, but gluten-free diners in particular should take note of Canuleia. A fresh menu heavy on fish and veggies makes Canuleia a welcome counterpoint to the meat, carbs and red wine guzzling that often dominates Tuscan mealtimes. Spiky flavours like ginger, mustard seed and lime sneak their way into some of Canuleia’s standout dishes, and even the heartier options (like paccheri with sausage and tomatoes) go down easy.
Ristorante La Posta
This modest and convivial spot in Lucca’s Ponte San Pietro area pairs the homely charm of a red-sauce trattoria with the spirit of an English pub. No-frills fish dishes are the mainstays here – think baccalà with leeks or cuttlefish with chard – but an ample pizza menu should satisfy any seafood-averse palates in your party. Ask for a table in the covered outdoor garden to feel like you’re at a Lucchese friend’s backyard soirée.
This is an updated rewrite of an article by Courtney Stanley.
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