At Casa Vissani, between Todi and Orvieto, Umbria boasts one of Italy’s most celebrated restaurants, but its rarified Michelin-starred cooking and €130-plus (£112) per person price tag are very much the exception.
Instead, the region’s culinary strengths are its many well-established old-school trattorias – small, homey and often family-run places that have been producing simple food for locals for decades – and its abundance of robust ingredients such as truffles, mushrooms, lentils, hams, spelled and mountain cheeses.
Redibis has a remarkable setting – the three dining rooms are part of the ambulatory of the city’s former Roman amphitheater and present an elegant and stylish mix of the historic and the modern. Many of the seasonal dishes rework venerable recipes, with the original date recorded on the menu. This may sound difficult, but it always works: that is strappatelle al rancetto al profumo d’erba bona (handmade pasta with tomato and bacon and marjoram sauce) is from 1935 and dolce dell’attesa (dried fruit compote with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce) from 1925.
This is a wonderfully intimate, pretty and comfortable place to eat, a (small) part of a former monastery with rough stone walls and wooden beams. The simple things like homemade pasta are well made, but most dishes have a creative (but never over the top) twist. The caramella antipasto puff pastry, filled with melted cacciatina cheese, Parmesan and truffle, is outstanding – you eat one and want one immediately. It has been a regular on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1991, as have some of the delicious puddings, especially the ice cream-like semifreddo made with fresh peaches.
Reservations: Essential for lunch and dinner
Norcia is a no-nonsense mountain town with an excellent gastronomic tradition, one that has found a refined expression in the one Michelin star and Relais & Chateaux-listed Vespasia. The dining room is bright and clean, with modern art on the walls, but it occupies part of the stables of a Renaissance palace, so it has retained some pleasant period details. Neapolitan chef Valentino Palmisano spent time in Asia, adding the occasional Asian twist to some dishes without straying too far from his Italian roots. Menus change regularly, but in this part of the world anything with truffle should be high on the wish list.
La Palomba, Orvieto
This inviting, no-nonsense, old-school family-run trattoria has been offering rustic but well-prepared Umbrian and Orvieto specialties since 1965, including pigeon and venison, local cold cuts and more unusual specialties such as spaghetti all’Ascaro (a version of carbonara with black truffles). The service is personal and professional, both for visitors and the many locals who make this a popular meeting place in the city centre.
Taverna del Lupo, Gubbio
The ‘Wolf’s Taverna’ has been operating for more than 30 years in a fine 14th century building full of columns, wide vaults and arches of old stone – try to get a table in one of the more intimate vaulted nooks. Go ahead and overspend for one of the many excellent truffles (tartufo) dishes on a menu that can be described as “Umbria revisted” – although there are many other choices, with homemade pastas always a good option. Don’t overdo the antipasti and starters, because millefoglie al caramello is a must for pudding.
Reservations: Recommended at weekends, in the summer and around public holidays
Prices: ££, £££ with truffle dishes
Thriving for decades, Coccorone has updated its decor from time to time – warm reds and creams and dark woods in the current incarnation (with unchanging medieval arches, large fireplace and solid wood ceiling) – while maintaining its high standards of polite, restrained service and food that always has the capacity to surprise. Usually you’ll be looking for a standout dish – and the grilled meats are always convincing – but here’s a must-try wine: the local Sagrantino red, along with the sweet dessert version, Sagrantino Passito. Both have a prominent place on the wine list, but also in cooking as part of sauces for pappardelle pasta and meat.
Eating in the tourist town of Assisi can be tough, but the Balducci family, owners of this humble but reliable trattoria, ensure consistent standards, with Margherita in the kitchen producing Umbrian classics such as stringhozzi alla Pallotta (pasta with mushrooms and olives), zuppa di fagiolina (soup with sweet green beans from nearby Lake Trasimeno), or piccione alla ghiotta (pigeon) and a chunky coniglio alla cacciatore (rabbit stew). The two dining rooms are simple: plain white walls, tiled floors and a hint of beamed ceilings, but an open fire adds warmth and atmosphere in season.
Al Mangiar Bene, Perugia
Al Mangiar Bene (‘Where you eat well’) occupies part of a memorable medieval building, characterized by venerable stone walls and huge brick vaults. The decor is simple – simple wooden tables and wooden chairs – but the food is prepared carefully and skilfully. They pride themselves on their local wines and microbrewery beers (including organic and biodynamic options), and on their (listed) local ingredients. The cooking is mostly classic umbric, so go for the classic option umbricelli, a thick, chewy pasta made from just water and flour (no eggs). Combine with a selection of sauces, the heartier the better – wild boar, say or guanciale (pig cheek) and tomato.
Reservations: Recommended for dinner
Pane e Vino, Todi
Guidebooks to Todi direct visitors to Ristorante Umbria, off the town’s picture-perfect piazza: nothing wrong with that (although the food can vary) as long as you’re sure to eat on the terrace, which overlooks half of Umbria. But for honest food at honest prices, Pane e Vino is casual, family-run and has cozy, rustic dining rooms and an attached wine bar. For great variety, the house appetizer (antipasto della casa) offers a large selection of cured meats (including wild boar, venison and goose), cheeses, crostini and more. Pasta can include tagliarini with lemon and fresh tomatoes, with more ambitious game and truffle mains available in season.
Reservations: Recommended for dinner
Il Giardino da Giovanni, Orvieto
This little spot wins no awards for decor, which could be called a trattoria convent, with a few tables, the odd painting and an unforgiving tiled floor. But it offers very good, local, seasonal food and a small garden for outdoor dining; be sure to leave room for puddings, which are small, works of presentation, and change from day to day.
Reservations: Recommended for lunch and dinner
L’Acquario, Castiglione del Lago
You may not spend the night in Castiglione, but it’s worth a day trip because of the charming little medieval center, the time on the town’s small beaches and swimming in the hot springs. Lunch or dinner should be at L’Acquario, a long-established favorite on the pretty main street (which has outside tables in summer) and a menu that mixes fish from the lake and traditional Umbrian dishes such as grilled wild boar skewers with more creative modern offerings such as duck fillet with orange and chocolate .