Every two years almost everyone I know heads to Venice. I used to be more involved in the art world and so most of my closest friends are art historians, art dealers, professors or artists. And almost all of them go to the opening of the Biennale which takes place—as the name implies—every two years.
Countries from all over the world exhibit contemporary art in their own pavilions that are located at Venice's most eastern tip. While I usually don't head up for the opening events (too crowded for me, I go later on in the summer), I content myself with the fact that most of my friends usually end up making it down to Rome too.
And of course they all ask me where to eat while in Venice. Up until now I would send them a rag tag list that I'd compiled over the years. But finally, this year, I can just tell them to download my app Eat Venice. (You're welcome.)
But if I know my friends, they are still going to ask me things like "Do I need to reserve?," "but which ones are your favorites?," and "are there some places you like near the fair grounds?"
And so, to answer at least one of your question, here are a handful of places that I like. These are all very simple places, within a very short walk to the Biennale, and a good stop for lunch:
Trattoria alla Rampa (Via Garibaldi). The holy grail in Venice—at least for foodies—is finding that little hidden away place where locals go. In a city like Venice—which makes its living from the hoards of tourists who come here each year—these simple places are a dying breed.
But Trattoria alla Rampa is the exception. The small restaurant, with a hand painted sign outside, is located in an area of Venice where few tourists venture. Just north of the Biennale gardens, the small streets leading off of the wide Via Garibaldi are hung with laundry belonging to the mostly working class families that live here. La Rampa opens its doors at 5 a.m. Yes. You read that right They open that early because that is when the men who live in this neighborhood—policemen, firemen, garbage men, and other workers—head off for the day. They stop by La Rampa for a quick breakfast and the place remains open for the rest of the day until just after lunch.
A ramp (where the place get's it's name) leads into the restaurant. There's usually a few men lined up at the bancone, enjoying a coffee or a glass of wine, and maybe a sandwich. A low doorway at the back leads to the dining room, where a dozen tables are set for lunch.
The menu changes daily. The day we were there most people were ordering spaghetti all' nero di seppie, thick strands of spaghetti coated in inky sauce.
Caffe la Serra (Viale Garibaldi). Serra dei Giardini is a very new arrival in Venice. Well, actually, like everything else in Venice, it's very old. But it does have a new use. The Serra, or Greenhouse, was built in 1894, just around the corner from the Biennale gardens. It was used (like greenhouses are) to store delicate plants. In the 1990's it was abandoned and it started to slowly decay. Until the city of Venice realized what it was losing, restored it, and has rented out to various activities.
Including a very cute little cafe. A dozen tables are scattered in the garden, and a few more are inside, within the sun-soaked greenhouse itself. A limited—but healthy—menu features natural juices, organic salads, and sandwiches as well as tarts (both savory and sweet). They even have a list of organic wines.
It's not a typical Venetian experience, but it is pretty magical. Either in the shade of the garden, or within the antique greenhouse.
Refolo (Via Garibaldi). I love Via Garibaldi. It's one of the widest "streets" in Venice, and so is never that crowded. Which makes it the perfect place for a passeggiata.
El Refola is the perfect place to stop for a glass of wine and one of their excellent panini. This tiny spot usually has about 20 bottles open at any one time. And to pair, their sandwiches which change daily and are true works of art. Speck con Pate di Noci combines smoked prosciutto with walnut pate'. Provola e Melanzane combined provola cheese with grilled eggplant for a vegetarian option. The meats and cheeses are all specially sourced, crafted by artisans in small quantities.
And if you feel like a spritz, this is the place to have one since they are one of the few places that still use the local and very hard to find Select bitter, instead of the more modern Aperol or Campari.
Spighe (Via Garibaldi). Cute little no-frills place that serves healthy, organic, vegetarian and vegan food. The small shop is set up with a display case at the back, and a long communal counter in the front. Choose your dish by pointing out what you'd like. You can mix and match, since everything is sold by the weight.
The menu changes every day, and they have an 11-euro fixed lunch menu that includes a first course, second course, two side dishes. Dishes include pastas, grain salads, vegetables, and usually things like hummus and savory tarts.
If you don't feel like eating in, they also serve take out, so you can head a block away to the benches along Viale Garibaldi to have a picnic.