Somewhere in Italy

californians figuring out life in italy one day at a time

enoteca. osteria. trattoria. ristorante. what’s the difference?

Aug 10, 2019

We’d like to think we ate our fair share of Italian food in the states. San Diego had Italian restaurants all over the city with names like Davanti Enoteca, Osteria Panevino, Italianissimo Trattoria, and Sorrento Ristorante. We knew they were Italian restaurants, but that’s pretty much as far as our knowledge of Italian establishments went. Moving to Italy, we learned the words enoteca, osteria, trattoria, ristorante all serve a specific purpose in restaurant names. While the differentiations may not be as important today (because you’ll find restaurants labeled as osteria or trattoria), there are still places around Italy that follow the naming conventions.

It should be no surprise that this was the first one we learned and one that remains the favorite — enoteca literally translates to wine shop. In Italy, you won’t find the same drinking culture that exists in the US where you go to bars with the intention of having more than one drink, getting tipsy, hop to the next bar, etc. An enoteca was a pit stop where patrons would enjoy a glass of wine before heading to another spot for a full meal. These days, almost all serve wine with light appetizers. If you’re like us and always in search of a good glass of wine while exploring the town, search “enoteca” in Google Maps the next time you’re in Italy.

Both of these words translate to tavern and the type of establishments are not that different. Osteria is an evolved wine bar that also serve food. They serve wine and traditional, simple foods. You most likely won’t find extensive menus here and the dishes on the menu will have an emphasis on local specialties. 

Trattoria is an establishment between an osteria and a ristorante; more formal than an osteria, but more casual than a ristorante. Traditionally, they were small, family-run establishments that served a few specific regional dishes. A restaurant we like to frequent in our neighborhood, La Piccola Amatrice, is what I’d considered a trattoria even though trattoria doesn’t appear in the name. Mom runs the place, dad cooks in the back, and the son and daughter to run the front of the house. The prices are cheaper than a ristorante and the food is good.

No surprise with the last one, a ristorante is a restaurant. Here you’ll find the ambiance is a bit more formal in the decor, the menu, as well as the service. A ristorante is typically a full service restaurant where the host seats you, there’s a wait staff, a sommelier, and the menus tend to be more extensive, the food more inventive, and the prices more expensive.

Aside from an enoteca, an osteria or a trattoria is where you can usually find us. We enjoy the smaller establishments with good wine and local foods. What is your favorite?


  1. Alex Maldonado

    Good read!

  2. JC

    This whole time I thought Osteria meant it was an Italian restaurant that specialized in seafood 🥴🥴🤯🤯. This whole time I should’ve been at the Enoteca!


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