Everything you want to have the perfect foodie vacation in Modena!
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If you’re like me and love to eat well while traveling, Modena should be at the top of your list!
Bologna is a major player in the Emilia Romagna food experience, and rightly so! It has so much to offer in terms of restaurants as well as history, architecture, and beauty.
But just 45 minutes’ drive away, Modena quietly offers a more refined version of it all. The small town has its own specialties and tricks up its sleeves. It also feels far more local and less touristy than Bologna.
While you could technically explore Modena in a day, I highly recommend staying for a night or two. If only for the food! There are so many great restaurants in Modena that you can’t possibly squeeze into one day.
Consider this a foodie’s guide to Modena!
Modena & Balsamic Vinegar
If you’ve heard of Modena, it’s most likely because of balsamic vinegar. The traditional method of making balsamic vinegar takes years – minimum 12, but I’ve tried one that’s over 100 years old! The taste is sweeter and more complex than the usual version we buy in supermarkets.
You can’t say you’ve visited Modena without trying some of the good stuff. For that, I recommend visiting an acetaia, or vinegar house! There are tons in the area; in fact, they can’t be classified as traditional balsamic vinegar unless they come from here.
I have a full guide to where to go for an amazing tour & tasting already put together! But if you’re in today and need a spot to try, you can always head to La Consorteria 1966. It’s in the heart of the city and has traditional balsamic vinegar for tasting and purchasing.
Odds are, if you’re in Modena, you’re in it for the food. Here are a few of my favorite Modena restaurants!
Ristorante da Danilo
Ristorante da Danilo gets mentioned first because it’s the perfect balance of amazing food, local ambiance, and reasonable prices. Their menu is classic Emilia Romagna food, and the star is the ever-popular tortellini in brodo. A clear broth with meat tortellini sounds simple, but the flavors will blow you away. It’s always a favorite of mine, but the one at Ristorante da Danilo tops my list.
Salumeria Hosteria Giusti
If you want one elegant meal, my choice is easily Hosteria Giusti. This tiny restaurant only has four tables nestled behind the counter of the salami shop, creating an intimate dining experience. The service is incredible, and the staff have excellent recommendations on their menu.
The biggest shock of this place? It wasn’t that expensive! For a restaurant with four tables in a country that doesn’t do multiple seatings for meals, I expected the menu to be easily three times more. Primi (pasta dishes) are around 18€ and secondi (meat courses) were in the 20-26€ range. Not cheap, but for an elegant Michelin-starred meal it was crazy reasonable.
My advice is to book this first and then plan your trip around it.
If we’re talking about restaurants in Modena, we can’t skip over Osteria Francescana. Considered one of the best restaurants in the world, it’s a Michelin meal you won’t soon forget. You may recognize it from Netflix’s very first episode of Chef’s Table, but it offers modern presentations of classic Italian flavors.
The caveat is, of course, the price tag. The 12-course tasting menu is 320€ each, with an optional wine pairing for another 210€. You can order a la carte, but each dish is usually in the 90+€ range.
I haven’t eaten there – it’s hard for me to justify that on one meal when I can eat like a king at a place like Hosteria Giusti for a quarter that price. But friends who have been have loved every bite!
So if Osteria Francescana appeals but you don’t love the price tag, it’s also worth looking at its sister restaurant, Franceschetta58. Chef Massimo Bottura also designed the menu, but with the tasting menu in the 55-75€ range, it’s much more my speed for an amazing upscale meal.
Both require reservations, often months in advance, so keep an eye on it if you’re dreaming of eating here!
Trattoria Del Giardinetto
On the opposite end of the fancy spectrum is Trattoria Del Giardinetto. A tucked-away spot that’s positively packed with locals, it’s unassuming but crazy delicious.
Definitely order the gnocco. Gnocco is a fried bread, puffed up and delicate. You can get a massive platter of appetizer bites with it (the completo), but it’s also excellent with the more reasonably-sized mixed meat antipasto – a selection of local salami, prosciutto, and other cured meats.
Another favorite here was the risotto all’aceto balsamico, a great example of how delicious balsamic vinegar is with just about anything.
Antica Trattoria Cervetta
One more restaurant to round out a weekend of great eating. Antica Trattoria Cervetta is a more modern vibe serving a mix of classic Italian food with international influences. You’re equally likely to order a classic antipasti plate as you are grilled octopus with a kimchi garnish!
My favorite thing: the tortelloni cervetta, which was stuffed with gorgonzola, mascarpone cheese, asparagus and edamame. An unusual filling but so irresistible! Served with a drizzle of balsamic and crumbles of crispy guanciale, because this is Italy and garnishes should add flavor.
Hear me out: if you get one gelato in Modena, you need to go to Bloom and get it with balsamic vinegar. They offer the good stuff drizzled over a bowl of gelato, and it is life-changing. The sweet tang with the creamy gelato is just heaven! Try this, even if it’s freezing outside. You won’t regret it.
Craving more gelato? Try Gioelia! From the artisanal flavors to the beautifully painted displays, it’s a feast. My favorite was their signature flavor, which is salted caramel with white chocolate, crunchy bits, pistachio, and pine nuts.
Modena is small enough that it’s great to just wander. The picturesque streets and piazzas mimic the architecture of Bologna. The Modena Duomo is a little unusual for Italian cathedrals and worth taking a minute to look inside. The Mercato Albinelli is a wonderful permanent market, and may inspire you to try your hand making all the delicious things you’ve been eating!
Want a walking tour of Modena? I’ve put together a mini-guide to show you all the sights you’ll want to see as you explore the city! I offer it over on Thatch, which is the app I use for all my own travel planning. It’s essentially a better version of Google maps, with the option to make itineraries right in the app – perfect for using while on the go!