Restaurants in Lucca Update

I just returned from a couple of weeks in Lucca and made a point of visiting as many restaurants as possible.The restaurant scene in Lucca continues to expand and improve every year.  It used to be that the problem was finding a new place to eat, now the problem is finding a chance to try them all. Here are some new ones which will be added to our restaurant list.

Osteria dal Manzo     Via Cesare Battista, 28, on the corner of Via degli Angeli, close to San Frediano and Palazzo Pfanner.
I’ve eaten here for years while it has gone through several owners and name changes. It used to be more of a workingman’s trattoría and I always enjoyed the informality and prices. The new owners have upgraded the menu but it is still an intimate and friendly place, just the kind of small restaurant with a good chef we always hope to find, and often do in Italy. An affettati with crostini of funghi, tomatoes, and peppers followed by  pappardelle al coniglio with obviously fresh pasta was as good as it gets. There is a small outdoor dining area in the street during the warmer weather. 

La Pecora Nera     Piazza San Francesco, 4
Truly a unique restaurant. It is a renovated medieval room decorated in the fashion of a grammar school classroom. The waiters are disabled young adults, directed by expert management. It’s an open space well suited for friendly gatherings. The night I was there a group of eight young women were having a night out, several with the kids along. I was alone but found it delightful. Both the service and the food were excellent. I started with acciughe alla povera (anchovies marinated in vinegar mixed with red onion on a bed of arugala) which was as fresh and ample as could be and makes me salivate just thinking about it. For the secondo I had coniglio fritto, a local specialty but surprisingly hard to find, and it was done perfectly. And of course the requisite Tuscans beans, this time brown, which were also done just right. If rabbit isn’t quite to your taste, I’m sure the pollo fritto is just as good. A perfect place for good dining in a carefree setting.  Check out their website.  http://www.lapecoraneralucca.it

Cantina Bernardini     Via del Suffragio, 7
A welcome addition to local dining. A great subterranean space; for years it housed the local discothèque. Wonderful ceilings, well restored. A local menu with reasonable prices. The restaurant is a little hard to find. It’s in the grand Palazzo Bernardini, which is very easy to find, but the restaurant is entered from the rear, opposite the church of Suffragio. The staff and management are friendly and competent. They have a good wine selection; the Villa Sardini I had showed how far Lucchese wine production has come in the past 10 years. I haven’t found any Colline Lucchese wines in the U.S. They just don’t produce enough. At the very least you should stop in for an aperitivo; you’ll probably stay for dinner.  Although their website doesn’t mention it they also offer half-day cooking classes (which includes shopping) and wine and olive oil tastings.  http://www.cantinebernardini.com

Locanda S. Andrea     Via S. Andrea, 8
Between the Guinigi tower and Via Fillungo, along one of the most evocative medieval streets in Lucca, occupying a corner of the wonderful Palazzo Franciotti. The restaurant is about five years old, which is new in Lucca. It has a modernist décor which comes as a surprise given its ancient environs but it works. It has a remarkably high arched ceiling. I stopped in for lunch on a rainy quiet Tuesday, and it was all I could ask for. Comfortable, friendly, the food and wine just right.  A good example of how the restaurant scene in Lucca has expanded in recent years, which has been to the benefit of the general quality. The competition keeps the restaurateurs on their toes. No website.

Right next door is my favorite print and framing shop in Lucca, Spinelli Silvano. You should stop in. The prints are on display in the window across the street and there are many more inside. The proprietor is a gentleman and an artisan. The website www.spinelliprints.com has an English version which does convey the essentials in the translated-by-my-cousin Italian kind of way.

Da Nonna Clara     Via S. Croce, 71. (Piazza Santa Maria Forisportam.)
I confess I never had a chance to eat here, but I wish I had. It’s another example of how restaurants keep sprouting up in Lucca. I was so surprised by it in this piazza that I was momentarily disoriented, thinking I was in another city, probably Florence. It seemed quite bustling, inviting, and the menu looks good. Most of the reviews confirm my impression. No website.

I also ate at some old favorites, and was not disappointed. Da Giulio was its welcome self, though it is now being maintained by the second generation. I had their marinated anchovies, which are my favorite anywhere (garlic, parsley, and pepperoncini)  and the classic pollo al mottone (chicken under a brick). I have never been disappointed at Da Giulio.

I had a couple of lunches at Rusticanello 2 and here too things were just the same. The roisterous, impossibly good natured staff (family) having more fun than seems appropriate while working. Reliable food, more like home cooking than a restaurant. I’m partial to the salsicce e fagioli and the tortelli Lucchesi.

Ristorante Ammodonostro  and Gli Orti di Via Elisa are both maintaining their standards. I can recommend either one without hesitation. My Italian friends gravitate to them.

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