8 Best Cortona Restaurants to Try

We went to Cortona for the first time in 2021, and it was one of my most favorite surprises.  I figured that it would be overrated because of the popularity of Under the Tuscan Sun. I was dead wrong.  Cortona is incredible, and it’s my favorite Italian hill town to stay a few nights in.  (Skip the day trip.  Cortona deserves time, if not just because of the restaurants.)  We loved it so much that we’ve been 4 times in the last year, and I’m trying to figure out how to squeeze in another trip. 

I think the best part of Cortona is the food.  The best Cortona restaurants are next level.  I’ve never had a bad meal in Cortona.  The trick to eating well in Cortona is planning ahead and making reservations.  I highly recommend that you make reservations in advance.  Trust.  No matter when you visit Cortona, you need restaurant reservations.  Restaurants are small, they fill up, and there’s no way to squeeze in when that happens.      

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Best Cortona Restaurant for a Splurge

La Bucaccia

Our hands-down favorite restaurant in Cortona is La Bucaccia.  La Bucaccia is a Michelin-recognized restaurant serving creative Tuscan cuisine.  You’ll find traditional Tuscan dishes, but you will find Romano’s innovative recipes using traditional ingredients.  There is an extensive wine list, and Romano is happy to make recommendations based on what you order and your price range.  He never steers us wrong.  You will absolutely need a reservation for this restaurant.

Service is friendly and verges on dinner theater.  Romano peacocks around the restaurant with an air of seeming stressed and harassed, but he is happy to help with choosing the best wines for your meal, menu recommendations, and he is justifiably proud of his food.  He makes me laugh.  At the end of every meal, he tries to get us to enjoy a grappa with him.

We’ve eaten here on every single trip to Cortona.  While we try to order a few different things each time we go, there are some things that we always come back to because they are so tasty.  Here are the things I would absolutely order at La Bucaccia. 

What to Order

Antipasti:  Antipasto Toscano – This platter includes various freshly-sliced salamis and cheeses.  

Primi: Storici Quadrotti con petali di pregiato Tartufo Fresco di stagione – Filled with Chianina beef, Quadrotti are small ravioli in a light sauce with fresh truffles.  I would eat this for every meal if I could.  It is one of my favorite dishes in all of Italy. 

Primi:  Pici con crema di pomodoro, Aglione della Valdichiana e Peperoncino – Made of flour and water, Pici are a traditional Tuscan pasta.  The aglione is a large garlic that is specific to this region of Tuscany.  Peperoncino is a small red pepper.  When you put all of these ingredients together, you end up with a thick pasta with a red sauce that has a nice spice to it. 

Secondi:  Tagliata di Bistecca – I had never tried tagliata (sliced beef) until we came to Cortona.  Served with olive oil, rosemary, and green pepper, the flavors are absolutely incredible. 

Contorni:  Fagioli Bianchi – The white beans of Tuscany are my favorite side dish.  Served with olive oil, they pair perfectly with a delicious meat dish.  If fagioli are on the menu, I’m ordering them. 

Dolci:  I famosi Cantucci della Bucaccia con Vin Santo – This is a traditional Tuscan dessert.  Traditionally served with a sweet wine, Cantucci are almond biscotti.  What makes Bucaccia better?  They serve it fresh from the oven and cut it table-side.  It is unreal.  We’ve tried several other desserts, but this ultimately my favorite dessert at La Bucaccia.  If I had to choose one dessert to have at every meal in Tuscany, this would be it.       

One thing I just noticed is that Romano is now offering a cooking school, as well as a cheese course, in Cortona.  That is absolutely on my list of things to do in Cortona.       

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Best Restaurants in Cortona for a Traditional Tuscan Meal

Locanda al Pozzo Antico

It took 3 trips for us to get a reservation at Locanda al Pozzo Antico.  This simple Tuscan restaurant in the heart of Cortona is absolutely delicious, and we had an incredible meal here.  The Locanda al Pozzo Antico menu is extensive, it was difficult to choose between all the traditional Tuscan dishes.  Everything was tasty, and we’re excited to go back and dive further into the menu.  The service was very friendly.     

We found out while we were at Pozzo Antico that they also offer cooking classes in Cortona.  I would absolutely recommend booking this to learn more Tuscan recipes.  I think it would be a great use of time during a trip to Tuscany.  The cook came out to check on us during our meal, and she was very warm and friendly.  

What to Order

Antipasti: Selezione di Affettati Toscani – The affettati is a plate of Tuscan salamis and cold cuts.  It’s one of my favorite ways to start a meal.  Next time, I’ll order the affettati with meat and cheese.  

Primi: Pici al Fumo – Pici al fumo is a traditional Tuscan pasta that you will find at many Cortona restaurants, as it was invented here.  Fumo is a smoked tomato and garlic cream sauce.  Sometimes you’ll find it with smoked pancetta, which gives it a great flavor. 

Primi: Tagliatelle al ragu di cinghiale – Cinghiale is wild boar, and I think it has an excellent flavor.  Tagliatelle is a flat pasta similar to fettuccine.  The ragu di cinghiale is similar to a Bolognese sauce, but it is made with wild boar instead. 

Secondi: Salsiccia alla Brace con Pomodorini Ciliegini Dolci – The house-made sausage is very tasty.  It had an excellent flavor and complements the contorini really well. 

Contorni: Fagioli all’Uccelletto – Pozzo Antico has a different take on the fagioli bianchi (white beans).  They serve their beans with tomato and rosemary.  I love this contorni with the sausage at Pozzo Antico.

Dolci: Cantucci con Vin Santo – I really enjoyed the cantucci at Pozzo Antico.  I think it was my favorite vin santo, too.     

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Trattoria Etrusca

Be forewarned: Trattoria Etrusca is place is tiny and very local.  This is another restaurant that took us 3 trips to get into.  The only reason we got in for lunch is because a couple offered to finish their coffee so we could have a table.  There are very few tables and they fill up for both lunch and dinner.  The Trattoria Etrusca menu is limited and it varies from day to day and what is on offer.  Mario usually posts a hand-written menu outside.  

We opted for the Tuscan misto, pappa al pomodoro (tomato bread soup – one of my favorite Tuscan primi dishes!), pici aglione, and tortellini al fumo.  Everything was tasty, however my favorites were the pappa al pomodro and tortellini al fumo.

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Best Pasta in Cortona

Trattoria La Grotta Cortona

If I’m being completely honest, everything at Trattoria La Grotta is tasty.  However, their pasta menu was so extensive that we ordered three different pastas to try, and they were all amazing.  We couldn’t get a reservation on our last trip to Cortona, and we were definitely sad to miss out on trying more of their pastas.  This is one of the larger restaurants that we’ve visited in Cortona, so it just underlines how important it is to have restaurant reservations in Cortona. 

Because we ordered three primi pastas, we opted to skip the antipasti course.  

What to Order

Primi: Pici alla contadina – This tomato sauce with parsley, garlic, olive oil, and red pepper is very similar to my arrabbiata recipe.  It has a very delicate flavor with a nice spicy kick to it.    

Primi: Tagliatelle al ragù bianco di Cinta senese – This tagliatelle is served with a white pork sauce.  It is not as heavy as a cinghiale sauce, but is very flavorful.  Both Tom and I really enjoyed this.  

Primi: Pici al fumo – The pici al fumo at La Grotta has a bit of red pepper and pancetta in it.  It was very flavorful without being overpowering from a single ingredient.  10/10 would recommend.  

Secondi:  Tagliata al rosmarino e pepe verde – Every time I see the photo of this tagliata, my mouth waters.  It is by far the best sliced beef I have ever had in my life.  The olive oil and rosemary were both SO fresh and the green pepper added a subtle flavor.  I think this is what convinced me to order it at La Bucaccia.  

Dolci:  Zuccotto toscano – This is a traditional Tuscan sponge cake served with cream, chocolate chips and fresh fruit.  I enjoyed it, but I wish I had gotten the chocolate cake with pears.  I was really torn trying to make this decision.  

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Best Cortona Restaurant for Creative Cuisine

Cortona Bistrot

Why oh why did it take 4 trips to Cortona for us to make our way to Cortona Bistrot for dinner when it was one of the first restaurants I saved?  Sometimes I’m just foolish.  After checking into the Monastero di Cortona after a red-eye flight to Rome and a leisurely (and robust) wine tasting in Umbria, Iulia provided a list of 3 new-to-us restaurants that she highly recommended that we try.  After a short nap and a delightful shower, we headed out to enjoy the evening and decide on dinner. 

Cortona Bistrot is slightly off the beaten path in Cortona, meaning it isn’t on a main square.  It’s a few steps uphill from the Piazza Garibaldi with a few outdoor tables that overlook the Piazza Garibaldi and the San Domenico church.  Since we didn’t have a reservation, we opted for any table they would give us and settled into the modern and stylish dining room that feels anything but traditional Tuscan. 

The creative menu is what convinced me to try Cortona Bistrot.  Intigued by a pesto lasagna with pistachios, various Tuscan-Roman pastas, and even a side dish of patatas bravas (my favorite tapas from Barcelona), I wanted to try everything.  However, due to the wine tasting, there wasn’t enough space in my stomach.  We settled on primi courses, much to the chagrin of our waiter – who did advise us (kindly and correctly) to split them between courses.

What to Order

We had the spaghettoni alla Gricia and the pistachio lasagna as our first course.  Spaghettoni is a thicker spaghetti pasta, which was served with a sauce of pecorino cheese, black pepper, and guanciale.  It was delicious and the quality of the guanciale was exceptional.  This is a dish where the various flavors could be overpowered by one ingredient, but they weren’t.  For me, however, the pistachio pesto lasagne with sausage stole the show of the first courses.  The more I ate, the more I tasted.  The complex flavors worked well together.  It tasted both rich and delicate, which is a difficult combination to pull off. 

Our second course was one of the daily specials, which we split between the two of us.  We ordered the tagliatelle al ragu bianco di chianina, which is a white meat sauce from Chianina beef.  Oh my.  We both rated it as an 11 on a scale of 1-10, though I think my lasagna was also an 11.  (It is impossible to choose.  Everything was delicious.)  This is not your US meat sauce.  It is the epitome of an Italian meat sauce – flavorful, delicate, and perfect.  My mouth is watering as I write about it. 

Bistrot Cortona offers a carefully curated wine list from numerous Italian regions, offered by both the bottle and by the glass.  We opted for a Cortona rosso by the glass.  It was easy to drink and paired well with the food, especially the tagliatelle.  In retrospect, I would have asked our waiter what he recommended based on our meal, but we really wanted to try a Cortonese wine. 

Davide, the owner, did come by to ask us how our meal was and let us known that his wife was the chef.  It is clear that Anita’s recipes are inspired, creative, and we enjoyed watching her work, as the kitchen is open.  Everything was made fresh and as it was ordered.  This is a place to savor and enjoy your meal, and we were not disappointed at all.  The only disappointment is that we don’t have more days in Cortona to come back and further explore the menu.  Next time!          

Best Cortona Restaurant for an Easy Lunch or Dinner

Trattoria Dardano

I hate to classify Trattoria Dardano as a standby restaurant because it is so tasty. However, it always serves us well when we go – and it’s been the most accommodating with last minute reservations for lunch and dinner.  It does fill up, but it opens earlier than most restaurants, so it can be possible to get in when everyone else is fully booked.  We tend to default to Dardano on our travel days – it is perfect for a late lunch or an early dinner, especially if you are fighting jet lag. 

The staff is very laidback, warm, and very friendly.  We’ve found they are always happy to make recommendations, and they definitely don’t judge us when we want to try multiple primi pastas.  They are willing to split them “bis” for us, too.  The other great thing about Dardano?  It probably the best of the Cortona restaurants if you are on a budget.  You can get quality food and a low price point, and the portions are quite sizable.  

What to Order

Antipasti – Affettati misti – We always start with the meat and cheese mixed platter at Dardano.  I love their pecorino.  Tom loves the savory torte they serve with it.  

Primi – Tortellini alla Norcina – This was a recommendation from our waiter.  It’s a tortellini with a porcini mushroom and sausage cream sauce.  It’s what got us excited to stay in Norcia last year and encouraged us to try more of the regional specialties.  

Primi – Pici all’aglione  – The pici all’aglione at Dardano is one of my favorite pastas in Cortona.  It’s a garlic tomato sauce with a rich flavor.  I love it with the thicker pasta.  Now that I think about it… I need to learn to make this!   

Primi – Pici al Fum– The pici al fumo here is solid.  You won’t be disappointed.

Secondi – Braciola di maiale – House-made pork sausage is always a win.  

It’s hard to believe that we haven’t ordered a dessert here, but I definitely tend to overeat on the primi courses.  I love the pastas.  The house wine is also very good.  

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Best Apertivo in Cortona for People Watching

Caffe Tuscher

On our first trip to Cortona, we stopped at a couple of bars in and around the main squares of Cortona for apertivo.  They were fine, but one place stood out the most.  Caffe Tuscher, located in the heart of Via Nazionale, had an extensive cocktail menu, with both creative and classic cocktails, traditional Italian beers, and a good selection of wine.  On future trips to Cortona, we would grab an outside table before our dinner reservations and enjoy cocktails and people watching.

Apertivo is an art in Italy, and in many ways, I feel like we are still learning to enjoy it.  Drinks are served with snacks and they are meant to be savored.  I feel like these moments are particularly special in Cortona as many people are out for a walk.  You’ll see locals greet each other, plenty of dogs, and it just feels good. 

My favorite creative cocktail is the Vaniglia, but Tom will tell you that you can’t go wrong with an Italian Moretti.       

Journey of Doing - Apertivo in Cortona Tuscany

Best Place for a Picnic Lunch in Cortona

Molesini Market

In the main square of Cortona, you will see Molesini Market and Molesini Enoteca.  Within the Molesini market, you can order a 4 euro panino that will satiate you and provide a quick lunch in Cortona.  They have a list with the options at the meat counter and they are made fresh to order. (I think the best panini are in Florence, but this will do.)  

ORDER PANINI 7 OR 8:  I love the panini with the fennel salumi and aged pecorino, as well as the panini with proscuitto and young pecorino.

We grabbed our sandwiches and headed down to Piazza Garibaldi to enjoy our lunch with a view of Cortona. 

I find the wines at Molesini Enoteca to be very fairly priced.  We checked a couple of bottles that we have purchased directly from a winery and other sources in the United States, and their prices were on par and lower.  I definitely recommend stopping in to buy wine if you aren’t going to have the opportunity to visit wineries during your trip to Tuscany, or if you want to try a few different wines.  They have an extensive selection!   

Best Gelato in Cortona

Gelateria Snoopy

No matter how much I eat in Cortona, I can always seem to find room for gelato.  It may take me a few laps around town, but I find a way to make room for gelato.  My favorite gelato in Cortona is Gelateria Snoopy.  While it’s not my favorite gelato in Tuscany, it’s definitely in the top 3 for me.    

All the flavors I’ve had there are delicious.  I’m partial to a sorbetto when I’m really full.  I think it makes a good digestif… or maybe that’s just what I tell myself.  I love pairing a sweet fruit with a more acidic flavor, like raspberry and lemon.  If I want something sweet, I will default to my favorite hazelnut and chocolate.

Best gelato in Cortona Italy

Final Thoughts on Cortona Restaurants

If I can convince you of anything, I hope that you understand how important reservations are in Cortona.  All of these restaurants are very small and it is not uncommon for them to be completely full at the start of the day.  You will see a lot of signs reading COMPLETO as you walk around town, and the number of signs only increases as the day goes on.  I think the Cortona restaurants are some of the best in Tuscany, particularly in the well-known towns.  We’ve really struggled with Siena and Montepulciano restaurants, though we do have some favorites in and around Montepulciano.  Every single meal we’ve had in Cortona has been memorable.   

As a reminder, eating in Italy is best experienced when you eat and drink with the region and the season.  Try the pici pasta, eat the cinghiale, order a dish that includes the aglione, and enjoy the fumo when you are in Cortona.  If you want to try everything and don’t have a lot of time, consider taking a cooking class in Cortona.  Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations.  I found the people in Cortona to be some of the most friendly and willing to make recommendations on everything from food to wine, though the house wines in Cortona are very good, too.      

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