If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that we’re fans of street food and eating like a local. So, for the next #MondaysinMilan instalment, we share the best trattoria (traditional local eateries) in Milan, where you are sure to leave with a full belly, without breaking the bank!
What is a ‘trattoria’?
First things first. What am I talking about? A trattoria is a typical Italian eating establishment, usually family-run, offering tasty, filling food at bargain prices. Trattorie are cheap and cheerful; sometimes they have shared tables and no printed menus, other times they are a bit fancier. In an expensive city such as Milan, trattorie offer a great chance to try authentic local food sometimes for as little as €10… yes, I’m not joking.
Trattorie became popular in post-war times, when half of Italy moved from south to north to find work. They offered a cheap alternative to home-cooked food, as men usually emigrated first, and more often than not they didn’t know how to cook.
My mum told me that in the mid-sixties there were trattorie on every street corner, packed to the rafters at lunchtime with workers digging into plates of pasta. They started disappearing from the streets in the Eighties, with the arrival of fast food joints.
I have seen many trattorie close, in my lifetime. Some were replaced by kebab shops and Chinese takeaways, others became banks, others are still standing empty more than 20 years later. But the trattorie haven’t disappeared altogether.
There are still many, some hidden in the backstreets of the centre, others a bit more out of the way. You just need to find them – and here are (in my opinion) the 5 best trattoria in Milan.
#1 Trattoria al Castello – aka ‘Arioli’
Via Giovanni Pascoli, 2, Linate MI – closed Saturday dinner and Sunday all day
Get there with Bus 66
Just around the corner from the airport in the old village of Linate, this is by far and away my favourite place to eat in the whole world. I’ve been eating there since I was a child and in 20-odd years, I have not seen the place change at all. Groups of elderly men play cards in the front room, airport workers have lunch under faded pictures of vintage planes while owners Luigi and Lino cook up amazing Milanese dishes. We usually refer to this trattoria as ‘Arioli’, after the owners’ surname. Whenever I come to ‘Arioli’, I always order the same things. Mixed antipasti (especially delicious in winter, when the selection includes cotechino, a kind of boiled sausage), gnocchi al ragù (bolognese sauce, the most delicious I’ve ever had), cotoletta alla milanese with delicious garlicky potatoes and my fave dessert, meringue cake with melted chocolate. You can’t NOT like this place. Tell them Margherita sends you and they’ll look after you, but don’t order the risotto. It’s not their forte! To get to ‘Arioli’, grab a taxi from Linate Airport or get bus number 66 from the centre of Milan. Read our public transport post for extra info!
#2 L’Albero Fiorito
Via Privata Andrea Pellizzone, 14 – open lunch only, Mon-Sat Get there with Bus 54 or Trolleybus 90, 91 or 93
I was in two minds on whether or not to include this place. The owners are on the gruff side and don’t want publicity – in fact, if you take your phone out to take a picture of the wonderfully retro dining room, you’re likely to be kicked out.
So why go there, you might ask? Because as soon as you step in, you’re transported back to the Sixties. From the handwritten menu copied with carbon-paper, to the wobbly chairs and dusty tumblers, L’Albero Fiorito is a veritable time machine.
Not to mention that this place is probably the cheapest trattoria in Milan. First courses (pasta or soup) are only €2, and main courses are €5. Bread costs 60 cent per piece and wine (delicious!) is only €1.20 for a half-litre jug. The liver and onions and the fried cheese are delicious options. So, get there before it closes for good but be warned – don’t turn up after 12.15, or else (yes, you guessed it) you’ll be kicked out.
#3 Da Tomaso
Via Gaetano de Castillia, 20 – open for lunch Mon-Fri, for dinner by reservation
Get there with Metro 2 Garibaldi FS or Metro 5 Isola
One of the Expo hotspots will be the Isola/Garibaldi neighbourhood, where the new skyscrapers of Porta Nuova are just next door to a wonderful local neighbourhood, Isola. And there, under the famous Bosco Verticale building, you find Da Tomaso. It’s a great local trattoria serving delicious Milanese dishes, from risotto with ossobuco to polenta with brasato (beef stew), rabbit and sausages with beans. Delicious and great value for money for lunch, wonderfully atmospheric at dinner time, when you’re able to book the whole restaurant for your group.
#4 Trattoria da Pino
Via Cerva, 14 – open for lunch Mon-Sat Get there with Metro 1 San Babila
Didn’t I say you can also find one of the best trattoria in Milan in the backstreets of the centre? 5 mins from uber-central Piazza San Babila you’ll find Da Pino, a great trattoria, perhaps a bit fancier than the other options, but still great!
Service is fast and efficient; you’ll find no grumpy waiters or owners here, and a crowd of curious tourists and well-heeled city types on their lunchbreak. The menu is quite eclectic, offering traditional favourites such as risotto and tagliata (a kind of steak) but also creative dishes such as sesame-seared tuna. Prices are higher than other trattorie, but you’ll still be able to have an amazing meal under €20!
#5 La Balera dell’Ortica
Via Amadeo, 78 – open for lunch Tue-Sun
Get there with Bus 54
This is not just a trattoria, it’s a destination of its own right. Part bocce club, part ballroom disco and part pop-up market, this place is an example of how tradition and innovation coexist. In summer, hipsters slide their brogues on the ballroom floor with local folk, and in winter people flock in droves for their ‘trippa‘ sunday lunches. Come during the week for a round of bocce or two, and an aperitivo at the bar, or on Sunday in summer for the craft market. But whatever you do, don’t miss having a meal here. Tasty arrosticini (chargrilled kebabs), good pasta and passable wine, but the atmosphere is what makes this place!
Some of these places are a bit out of the centre. You’ll need buses or trams to get there – check our guide to Milan public transport post for all you need to know to navigate Milan!