No matter how near or far you are from home, a recommendation for a good restaurant or bar is always nice to have. EATS is a collection of places that I’ve enjoyed during my travels.
Il Bellavista Pizzeria
If there’s one thing we learned about visiting Puglia in August, when seemingly half of Italy is also on holiday in the country’s boot heel region, it’s that making reservations in advance is essential. On our first night in the region we were beyond grateful to have reservations in Ostuni at Il Bellavista Pizzeria. Parking is also something that requires some extra planning as the small lots around the historic center tend to fill up quickly. After learning this the hard way we parked a little further out on the southern part of town and make our way to the top of the old town for dinner.
Weary after our long international flight and seemingly longer drive from Rome, we couldn’t have been happier to finally relax and settle in at Il Bellavista with an Italian beer and goblet-sized spritz. Tables were scattered along the whitewashed streets, bathed in the warm glow of overhead lights. The service remained constant, even as it got busier as the evening progressed with groups of people both passing by and waiting for tables to become available. Not quite adjusted to our new time zone and temperature of the summer heat and humidity, we decided to split a salad and pizza so we could call it a night a little earlier than usual. The insalata tonna (ordered without the tuna) was generous in size and our Margherita pizza was exactly what we needed. It was the first of many pizzas that we would eat in Puglia, and was quite perfect. We returned to Ostuni another night for dinner and had an underwhelming experience to say the least, which made our first impression of the city and meal at Il Bellavista even more memorable.
Il Bellavista Pizzeria & Bistro, Via Gaetano Tanzarella Vitale 43 (Ostuni), +39 0831 305869, bellavistapizzeriabistrot.it
Chi Se Ne Food
Before dinner in Martina Franca we had our sights on Chi Se Ne Food for aperitivo. Tables filled up quickly with an mixed crowd that included couples, friends and families all out for a casual drink. The service was no fuss and fast-paced as the staff delivered orders of soft drinks, beer, wine and a wide assortment of spirit-based cocktails. And despite the name, Chi Se Ne Food does have a small food menu of meat and cheese boards and bruschetta that you can also order from. We found this a great spot for a pre-dinner drink overlooking the lovely Piazza Maria Immacolata.
Chi Se Ne Food, Piazza Maria Immacolata 8 (Martina Franca), +39 366 592 8693, facebook.com/chisenefood2017
Martina Franca is one of the prettiest cities in Puglia and our dinner at Ristorante Garibaldi was perhaps one of our favorite dining experiences in the region. When we arrived the restaurant’s patio was set with pretty white tables and chairs and patterned blue and white plates in anticipation of the evening’s diners. It felt a little more upscale, but the staff couldn’t be more warm and welcoming, and we never felt bothered despite the constant flow of people coming and going from the neighboring Piazza Plebiscito.
We were presented with a complimentary bruschetta starter as we browsed the menu, a touchless experience thanks to the free wi-fi and QR code at the table that we scanned to view on our phone. Martina Franca is famous for its capocollo, so naturally we ordered this as our antipasto along with the soft and slightly salty caciocavallo cheese that’s also typical of the region, along with an insalata mista. The signature pasta shape in Puglia is orecchiette, so I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to order the orecchiette pomodoro e cacio at Ristorante Garibaldi. The sauce was incredible, smooth and rich with just the right amount of salt and acidity, and stood out as arguably one of the best-tasting sauces I’ve ever had. My husband’s paccheri bistrot with fried eggplant and smoky scamorza cheese was also delicious, or so I hear as I was preoccupied savoring my own dish. Wonderful food combined with the ambiance of the floodlit piazza and church, made for an all-around wonderful night.
Ristorante Garibaldi, Piazza Plebiscito 13 (Martina Franca), +39 080 483 7987, facebook.com/garibaldibistrot
Caffé della Villa
After falling in love with Locorotondo at the beginning of our trip, we returned early on another evening so we could experience the magic of the city during its golden hour and take in the views of the sun setting over the Valle d’Itria. The town is relatively small in size so after making a few laps around, browsing ceramic shops along the way, we grabbed a table at Caffé della Villa for our nightly ritual of a pre-dinner negroni and spritz. With tables located outside on the small Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, the area was perfect for people watching – a bridal party reveling in a celebratory drink, little old men relaxing casually on folding chairs outside of the tabaccheria and chit-chatting pairs of women going about their business – as we sat back to relax with our drinks and bowl of fresh taralli.
Caffé della Villa, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele (Locorotondo), +39 080 443 2157, no website
Ristorante Pizzeria Belvedere
Locorotondo was one of my favorite cities in Puglia, and our dinner at Ristorante Pizzeria Belvedere did not disappoint. We expected our table to be along the side of the main road Via Nardelli overlooking the valley below as its name “belvedere” implies, but instead we found a note on the door that directed us to another entrance on Via Aprile. Despite the lack of view, Via Aprile was a quiet and picturesque little street with tables lining one side and potted flowers and plants lining the other. We were lucky to get a table down little side alley, which provided a charming and even quieter spot away from people passing by.
Our meal began with a (COVID-safe) package of taralli and bowl of salty green olives to munch on as we browsed the menu. We decided on an insalata mista to share and 2 pizzas – a classic Margherita and a Franceschiello topped with prosciutto, mushrooms and oh-so-delicious stracciatella cheese – along with a bottle of the region’s trademark Verdeca white wine. What made the pizzas here especially enjoyable is not only was the crust airy and chewy but they were also very light and did not make us feel overly full, giving us permission to devour them in every last bite.
Ristorante Pizzeria Belvedere, Via Aprile 24 (Locorotondo), +39 349 492 4492, ristorantebelvederelocorotondo.it
I’ve been following 00 Doppiozero in Lecce on Instagram since I first started planning my Puglia trip before the pandemic, so we were excited to finally be able to experience the restaurant in person after nearly 2 years. We arrived around 5:30pm but missed the opportunity to order its Aperitif Doppiozero consisting of an assortment of pre-dinner snacks by a few minutes, so instead settled in with a sunset-hued spritz along with a bowl of olives and crunchy taralli. 00 Doppiozero offers both indoor and outdoor seating, but those in the know reserve a table outside on the atmospheric side street. I later realized our table backed up to the south transept of Lecce’s cathedral, which only added to the charm of the location.
We weren’t terribly hungry so ordered some lighter dishes, including the Contadina salad of greens topped with tomatoes, avocado and a reasonably-sized bundle of burrata (when in Puglia…) and the Fava e Cicoria, a pureed dish topped with greens and served with crusty bread for scooping. The latter was a bit on the warm side for a summer evening, but it was nice to try another traditional Pugliese dish. The vibe at 00 Doppiozero is cool and its menu of charcuterie boards, salads and pasta dishes were definitely worth the wait, plus it’s also a great spot for breakfast or beverages throughout the day.
00 Doppiozero, Via Guglielmo Paladini 2 (Lecce), +39 0832 521052, facebook.com/doppiozerolecce
There’s something to be said about saving the best for last, which was quite possibly the case for our last night in Lecce. We had our sights set on 400 Gradi for weeks leading up to our trip but were worried about getting in during the busy summer season since the restaurant does not take reservations. We tried our luck by dropping by the day before and were fortunate to get our name on the list for the following night. A few minutes before 7pm we lined up outside the restaurant, waiting for the doors to open along with a growing group of other, green passes in hand. On the hour the doors swung open and we were greeted by the warm smiles of 400 Gradi’s staff, who ushered us to a large palm-lined outdoor courtyard in the back.
After reading through the paper menus on the table we decided to start with an order of polpette fritti (fried meatballs), followed by the Filetto pizza and bottle of white wine. The tables around us filled up quickly with multi-generational Italian families, couples out for a casual dinner and others who were presumably locals as the restaurant is located outside of the historic center of Lecce in a more commercial part of town. Our meatballs arrived promptly, which were crispy and flavorful without feeling heavy or oily, followed by a gorgeous Neapolitan-style pizza topped with big slices of San Marzano tomatoes and a crust that was chewy and airy with just the right amount of char. I hate to make statements like this, but it was quite possibly some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. Throughout the entire experience the staff was warm, friendly and professional in both dress (coordinating black outfits and face masks) and level of service, and we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect ambiance for the evening.
400 Gradi, Viale Porta d’Europa 65 (Lecce), +39 391 331 8359, pizzeria400gradi.it
For more recommendations on where to enjoy aperitivo or gelato, plus other things to see and do in Puglia, check out my week-long itinerary here.