Italy is one of the most beautiful travel destinations in the world. It is also known for its delicious dishes. Quaint Italian cafés and beautiful restaurants offer the finest traditional cuisine. Knowing how to order food in Italian ensures a meal prepared to perfection. You can find a pizza napoletana on the go, or satisfy your sweet tooth with the richness of a gelato. No matter what you are craving, learning how to order the best Italian food will ensure you experience the heartiness, charisma, and authenticity of Italia.


What are the Best Italian Dishes?

  • Lasagna – Layers of pasta with ragù sauce, cheese and seasonings
  • Gnocchi – Little dumplings made from potatoes
  • Polenta – A comforting corn dish served with meats
  • Spaghetti alla carbonara – An authentic Italian pasta with a creamy sauce
  • Caponata – Chopped fried eggplant and other vegetables
  • Panzanella – Bread and tomato salad
  • Burrata – A soft fresh cheese
  • Bottarga – Mediterranean caviar
  • Focaccia – Flat bread
  • Pollo alla cacciatora – Stewed chicken
  • Ossobuco alla milanese – Tender veal shank
    Tiramisù – A coffee, cream, and cookie dessert

How to choose food from an Italian menu:

In Italy, traditional dishes are prepared with passion. If you travel to the cities of Naples, Rome, Florence or Milan, there is no better way to experience the country than with an authentic Italian menu. There is no doubt that Italians love food, so learning how to order the best Italian dishes can help you pick a meal to tantalize your taste buds. When you look at a traditional Italian menu you will notice that the dishes are categorized according to the following layout:

  • Antipasto – Appetizers
  • Primo – First Course
  • Secondo – Second Course
  • Contorno – Sides
  • Dolce – Desserts

When ordering in Italy, you can start with a primo which usually consists of a typical Italian pasta dish. A secondo will include meat or fish. Once the secondo is completed, a contorno is ordered, and in the end, a traditional dolce or a fruit salad. While this is a regular Italian way of ordering meals, you can choose from the different categories to appease your taste buds. On a restaurant menu in Italy, you will find the piatto di formaggi (cheese platter) as a popular option to start your meal. Depending on where you travel in Italy, different dishes that are native to that region will be apparent on the menu. For authentic dishes along with the primo, consider risotto, a northern Italian rice dish. For a seafood dish, risotto alla pescatora offers a variety of seafood such as mussels and shrimp. If you feel like meat, some delicious meat and pasta preparations include ragù and the popular bolognese.

In Italy, the contorno is always made fresh with a blend of flavorful herbs and spices. To accompany a secondo, an insalata (salad) is ordered after the main dish is served. An Italian menu is certainly incomplete without a dolce or dessert. A gelato, which is a sweet dish similar to an ice cream, is a good choice. In Italy you will find a variety of gelato. The best gelato flavors include:

  • Pistacchio – pistachio
  • Nocciola – hazelnut
  • Cioccolato – chocolate
  • Cioccolato fondente – dark chocolate
  • Stracciatella – milk-based ice cream with chocolate chips
  • Fragola – strawberry
  • Limone – lemon
  • Pesca - peach
  • Melone - melon

The sorbetto (sorbet) is another popular option especially during the heat of summer. The most common fruity sorbetto flavors are limone (lemon) and fragola (strawberry).

Now that you know of the variety of foods that you can order from an Italian menu, the next step is to learn how to order food in Italian. You can feel confident about the choices you make when you understand the options. When traveling through Italy, you can order food from every category of the menu. You can also order small dishes to complement your appetite. The best way to experience Italian food is to be adventurous and try everything the menu offers.

How to Order Food in Italian:

Learning Italian will help you feel more confident when you order some of the best Italian dishes. You will find that many traditional restaurants take pride in their Italian menu and their language. Whether you are ordering in or from an Italian menu at a restaurant, we look at how to order food in Italian.

First of all, remember that in Italy there are three important meals of the day:

  • Colazione - breakfast  
  • Pranzo - lunch  
  • Cena - dinner  

Smaller meals in Italian include:

  • Merenda - Afternoon snack
  • Aperitivo – A refreshing drink and an appetizer

Making a reservation at a restaurant:

When you are eating at a restaurant, understanding how to order food in Italian will help you. From making a booking to ordering a basic dish, it is important to feel confident. This will ensure you and your loved ones have a great experience.

If you would like to make a reservation you can ask: “Vorrei prenotare un tavolo.”
Your waiter or waitress will respond with: “Per quante persone?” which means “for how many people?”
Then you will be asked for a time with: “Per che ora?”

Once you are familiar with the terms to place your reservation at a restaurant, you can move on to ordering from the menu.

When you are seated your waiter or waitress will ask:

  • È pronto (sing) / Siete pronti (plur) per ordinare? – Are you ready to order?
  • Cosa vuole (sing) / volete (plur) ordinare? - What would you like to order?
  • Da bere cosa prende (sing) / prendete (plur)? - What would you like to drink?
  • Vuole (sing) / Volete (plur) qualcos’altro? – Would you like anything else?
  • Buon appetito! – Enjoy your meal!
  • Andava tutto bene? – Was everything alright?

Your response:  

  • Un momento, per favore - A moment, please
  • Quali sono le specialità della casa? – What are your specialities?
  • Vorrei/Vorremmo cominciare a ordinare da bere - I/We would like to start with a drink
  • Io prendo... – I will have…
  • Io vorrei… - I would like…
  • Posso/Possiamo avere il conto, per favore? – Can I/we have the bill, please?
  • Grazie – Thank you

When you look at the Italian menu and you are interested in a meat dish, you will look for carne. Popular food items that you will come across on an Italian menu include riso (rice), pesce (fish), sale (salt), olio (oil) and pane (bread).

How to order a drink in Italian:

Ordering a drink in Italian is fairly easy. There is also a great variety to choose from. Italy is known for its coffees, wines, and its range of dessert drinks. Most Italians will have a beverage before their meal. After dinner, drinks are also celebrated. To drink is bere. If you want to order a bottle of mineral water, you will ask, “Una bottiglia di acqua minerale, per favore.” You can also order un bicchiere di vino rosso o bianco (a glass of red or white wine) or you can have a beer or two. The Italian word for beer is birra.

A Few Italian Traditions when Ordering Food in Italy

Cappuccino is for mornings only!

For the most part, only tourists have cappuccino at the end of a meal in Italy, but remember that Italian people only have cappuccino in the morning, for breakfast. After lunch or dinner, they generally have an espresso or a macchiato.

The coffee or caffè is the most popular beverage. Whether you are in the city or in the country, there is no other place that makes coffee quite like Italy does!  In Italy you can find a great variety of coffees (macchiato, cappuccino, caffè latte, etc.)

When to tip:

Tipping is not mandatory in Italy, but it’s quite common to offer a gratuity in restaurants (usually 5% of the amount) when good service is provided. If you have breakfast or just a drink at a bar, you can leave some coins on the tray that is placed near the cash register. The Italian word for tip is mancia.

Eating like an Italian:

When eating like an Italian, there are a few customs that you should know. When Italians have breakfast, they will go to the local bar and order a cappuccino along with a light pastry. It is not a large meal but rather something quick and light to start the day. Lunch is another part of the day where Italians prefer a small meal. It can include a sandwich (panino), pasta, or a vegetable dish at a bar or a small restaurant. Dinner is usually celebrated with friends and family. To enjoy a pizza, you would visit a pizzeria. Another Italian food tradition is to have a large family lunch on Sundays. As part of Italian customs, everybody joins the Sunday lunch. Families and friends will bring food, and all will partake in the feast. It is a great way to bring family together.

Next time you visit il bel paese, try to remember our tips. Knowing how to order food in Italian can make it easier and more enjoyable when you visit a bar or a restaurant in Italy.

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