For some, the highlight of a trip to Milan is viewing Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. But for the food-obsessed, a visit here revolves around eating supper (and breakfast and lunch, too). In a country revered for gastronomic treasures, Milan's culinary abundance stands tall. Best known for fashion and finance, this chic, sleek, and efficient Northern Italian city will tantalize your taste buds at every turn. History and geography are on its side. Milan is located in the Po Valley, surrounded by fertile pastures and prolific rice fields, which translates to your plate with luxuriously rich cheese and butter, plus the risotto of your dreams. Centuries of foreign conquerors have left their mark with an open-minded food scene and authentic ethnic cuisine.
While posh Milan isn't exactly known for bargains, you won't need to break the bank to eat like a king. Here are nine tasty ways to indulge your appetite on a budget.
Best place to try it: Radetsky, Corso Garibaldi 105
Sipping a pre-dinner drink is popular with Milan's trendsetters. Many bars offer a plentiful buffet included in the price of your drink for around 8 euros. You'll spy tables laden with pizza, pasta, rice salad, roasted veggies, sausage, and cheese. While residents tend to nibble daintily, forge ahead and fill your plate with prime morsels that can substitute for a light dinner.
Eat in a Neighborhood Trattoria
Best place to try it: Il Caminetto, Via Felice Casati 22
Milan's Northern agricultural traditions have little in common with Southern Italy's red sauces and olive oil. If you don't have an Italian Mama, eating in a neighborhood trattoria is the next best thing. These frugal, family-run establishments make everything from scratch, which translates into low prices and home-cooked flavors. You'll sample rich traditional dishes and receive a warm welcome from owner Clara when you dine at Il Caminetto. The Cotoletta alla Milanese, a breaded bone-in veal cutlet cooked in butter, is crisp and greaseless. Boldly yellow Risotto alla Milanese stars short-grained carnaroli rice cooked with precious saffron threads and enriched with butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Best place to try it: Motta Caffe, Piazza Duomo
In Italy, coffee is not just a beverage, it's a way of life. Savor a morning cappuccino under the shadow of the freshly restored Gothic Duomo at Motta. Pair it with a fortifying brioche filled with jam or chocolate, perfect for dunking in your foamy beverage. You'll have a breakfast bargain for a few euros, with the most dazzling view in town.
Best place to try it: Quality Beef, Trattoria Della Carne, Viale Pasubio 8
We're not suggesting fast food when you're in the Slow Food capital of the world. Burgers are trendy in Milan and there's nothing fast about the way this lean and luscious source of protein is eaten. Quality Beef, Trattoria Della Carne turns a simple burger into an elevated dining experience. This bastion of beef serves a dressed-up hamburger with pitch-perfect sides that will satisfy your carnivore cravings without making a big dent in your wallet.
Pack a Picnic
Best place to purchase yummy supplies: Peck, Via Spadari 9
Peck is a Milan institution and a temple of edible treats. Gourmets will go gaga for its three floors of elegantly presented cheese, charcuterie and eye-catching prepared foods. Select regal eats for an al fresco picnic in nearby Parco Sempione. Choose a leafy spot in the shadow of Milan's imposing castle, Castello Sforzesco and nosh away.
Best place to try it: La Balena, Via Borsieri 28
Naples is the undisputed king of pizza, but Milan makes a noble effort. At La Balena in the Isola neighborhood, you'll enjoy a no-nonsense individual pie accompanied by an icy draught beer (birra alla spina). If you want a quick slice on the go, try the small chain Princi's delicate zucchini blossom variety. The pizza isn't pre-sliced, so you can ask for just the right size to tide you over until the next meal.
Best place to try it: Il Massimo Del Gelato, Via Lodovico Castelvetro 18
Italians are passionate when it comes to this frozen treat and the Milanese are no exception. Chocoholics should try a refreshing scoop at Il Massimo Del Gelato, where ten variations of chocolate are served. This city has no shortage of gelaterie, just be sure and look for the words prodotto artigianale and you'll know that it's freshly made.
Sandwich or Panino
Best place to try it: Panino Giusto, multiple locations
Don't think we're suggesting you eat peanut butter and jelly. Milan takes it up a notch with photo-worthy sandwiches filled with quality cheeses, meats and salads piled on crusty bread and eaten hot off the press. Give one of Panino Giusto's outposts a try. One bite and you'll understand why this small chain is packing them in at lunchtime.
Best place to try it: Jubin, Via Paolo Sarpi 11
While Italians may have the cultural claim on pasta, most food historians believe it was actually brought to Italy from Asia by Marco Polo. It seems fitting that Asian eateries are flooding this city and savvy foodies head straight to Chinatown. It's main thoroughfare, Via Paolo Sarpi, is car-free, so you can hop on your BikeMi bike share and pedal over to your feast. You can choose from dozens of authentic Chinese options, but unassuming Jubin is a top pick thanks to its quality ingredients and low prices.
This article was written by Allison Tibaldi, a native New Yorker who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto, and Los Angeles. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. When she's not traveling, she's scouring NYC for delectable eats. As a freelance travel writer, she focuses on family, culinary, and car-free travel. She's also a senior travel writer at offMetro.com.