Ristorante Mazzalasino, Mazzalasino (Emilia Romagna): We list this as a 'destination restaurant' on our website because it's a very local-approved, very low-key, inexpensive, traditional place. The decor is outdated, the toilets are old-fashioned holes with ceramic feet, and when you drive up, it feels like you are driving up to an old American Legion hall. That said, they make everything by hand, are passionate about food, and want you to feel welcome and cared for. There are only two or three items for each course, and there are no menus, so they just come to the table and tell you what they have. If you order the antipasti plate of local salumi and parmigiano reggiano, be prepared to receive a gigantic platter. Because it's a small restaurant, and everything is made by hand, plan to spend some time in between courses. The house lambrusco (local, fizzy, chilled red wine) is excellent and comes in an unmarked wine bottle. They always offer a 'bis' or 'tris' of pasta, meaning instead of having just one style of pasta, you can order two or all three they have that day (in tasting portions). Try to save room for the meat course (secondi), as many of them are local cuts roasted in the wood oven. After dinner, be sure to ask for the nocino (walnut liqueur), they usually have one that is made in-house, in an unmarked bottle of course. Prices here are low, so don't worry that you can't see prices on the (nonexistent) menu. Giovanna is an incredibly warm and lovely host who treats you like family. They will not bring a bill to your table; you need to go up to the till to pay when you are ready to leave. They will seriously sit there after the entire restaurant has evacuated, patiently waiting for you to pay—we, of course, learned this the hard way, as we spent 45 minutes waiting for a bill, only to discover that they were politely waiting for us to settle up. A lovely restaurant for a truly authentic, old world experience.
Courtesy Zeneba Bowers and Matt Walker