At first glance, Modena may appear as an ancient and sleepy Italian village, with its easy cobble-stone streets and cosy trattorias, but it is actually one of Italy’s most important gastronomic hubs. Nestled in the middle of Emilia Romagna, the strong agricultural region which brought us Parmigiano Reggiano, Bolognese sauce, Parma ham, tortellini and Balsamic Vinegar, Modena has become one of Italy’s top culinary destinations. It is no surprise that it’s also home to Massimo Bottura, currently dubbed the world’s best chef, and his 3-Michelin starred restaurant Osteria Francescana, whose coveted restaurant reservations are nearly impossible to book.
I recently had the privilege to spend 10 days in this splendid city and the surrounding hillsides, shooting a documentary about Balsamic Vinegar with the Culinary Institute of America. Between long days of filming grape harvests, peeking inside vinegar barrels and encumbering restaurant kitchens, the troupe and I had the immense pleasure of eating much of the delicious food the city has to offer. Unfortunately we did not have the pleasure of dining at Osteria Francescana (even with a 6-month advance notice and some powerful connections we couldn’t get a reservation), but we did interview Massimo Bottura and shoot in his world-famous, staff-packed kitchen. And Bottura did feed me a forkful of the balsamic glazed short ribs he prepared for our cameras, so I guess I did technically eat at Osteria Francescana, just not in the dining room.
Another great thing about this region is that you can eat really well without breaking the bank. Sure, there are several pricier eateries and Michelin-starred restaurants if you’re feeling spendy, but there are a lot of budget-friendly trattorias that are worth exploring. Here are some of my favorite places from my recent visit:
Not a restaurant or trattoria, this bustling market is on the top of my list because it is the the pulsating heart of the city. Renowned as one of the most beautiful covered markets in Europe, Albinelli’s stands overflow with the best produce, cured meats, fresh fish, cheeses and foodstuffs the region has to offer. Hungry shoppers will also be delighted by a large deli section with freshly prepared dishes that can be purchased and eaten on the small tables outside the market.
Indirizzo: Via Luigi Albinelli, 13
41100 Modena MO
Telefono: 059 211218
Impeccable service in a warm, welcoming atmosphere and delicious food, dinner at Trattoria Bianca was one of my favorite meals in Modena. The gnocco fritto was something special.
Trattoria Il Fantino
I loved this tiny, busy and cosy little trattoria in downtown Modena with its informal and friendly atmosphere and good food. Reservations are necessary.
Via Donzi, 7, 41121 Modena MO
Telefono: 059 223646
When you walk in to Da Oreste, you feel as if you’ve entered a time machine or a movie set. The furniture, table settings, decorations, even the bathrooms are taken directly from the 1950s and maintained with great care. The menu is extensive and I was sorry to only have been once as there were many dishes I wanted to try. It’s no wonder that both Enzo Ferrari and Pavarotti were regular patrons here. The food is lovely, and the service is efficient but (in my experience) unfriendly.
Piazza Roma, 31
41121 Modena MO
Telefono: +39 059 243324
If you’re looking for a bargain, Il Giardinetto is your best bet. Centrally located in downtown Modena, we had a solid meal of no-nonsense traditional local dishes and Lambrusco wine, and only spent about 20 euros a person. It wasn’t the most memorable meal of the trip, but the central location, cosy atmosphere, friendly staff and a check that didn’t break the bank made for a great overall experience.
Piazzale Paolo Boschetti, 1
Telefono +39 059 234448
The “little sister” to Osteria Francescana has little in common with her older sibling, but the eclectic and youthful ambiance and creative yet simple dishes make for a memorable meal. Under the immense wing of Massimo Bottura, Chef Bernardo Paladini directs an enthusiastic and dedicated young staff, and offers a unique and enjoyable culinary experience. Service is efficient and friendly and all waitstaff speaks excellent English.
I didn’t get a chance to eat here personally, and I’m very sad about it. Hidden on an upstairs floor of an apartment building overlooking Mercato Albinelli, I love the secretive charm and have heard the food is excellent. They don’t take credit cards though, which is why we ended up choosing a different spot.
Via Luigi Albinelli, 40
41121 Modena MO
Telefono: 059 236106
I unfortunately didn’t have the chance to eat here either, but it’s on the top of my list for my next visit. This historic trattoria in the center of town is as famous for its food as it is for its eccentric and expansive owner. They are only open at lunch and don’t take reservations, which is why I couldn’t fit it into our rigid production schedule.
Via Ganaceto, 89, 41121 Modena MO
Telefono: 059 867 8070
In the mood to spend some real money? Here are the Michelin-starred and more expensive restaurants in town: