I recently spent ten days in Modena working on Master of None with my food-obsessed friends whose appetite for immersing themselves in Italian regional cuisine may very well surpass my own. I admit that a few days in, I was desperate for dumplings, a craving that was left sadly unquenched. This is an ongoing personal issue. Digressions aside, many visitors only visit Modena to eat at Osteria Francescana, but I urge you to spend a few days in this charming, pastel-hued town. Shop the stalls of Mercato Albinelli, queue for panini at Bar Schiavoni, sip sparkling wine at Archer, and twirl tagliatelle at Hosteria Giusti. I present my guide to Modena:
Archer: This natural wine bar pours amazing vino from Italy, France, and Slovenia alongside delicious cheese, cured meats, and other gourmet treats. I love the hard boiled eggs with tuna sauce and Cantabrian anchovies with butter and toast. I could eat and drink here every day of my life and when I’m in Modena, I do.
Osteria Francescana: Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore’s three-Michelin starred restaurant is currently number 1 on the planet according to the somewhat controversial San Pellegrino rankings. This, coupled with the fact that the Francescana epoisode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table was the most compelling of Season 1, means a table is pretty hard to come by (though if you can’t snag a reservation, it doesn’t hurt to put your name on the waiting list via the website; they get cancellations every day). Based on a few visits, I recommend skipping the tasting menu and going a la carte: foie gras “magnum”, eel swimming up the Po River, Culatello di Zibello with mostarda, tortellini in capon broth, tagliatelle al ragù (if this doesn’t change your life you are dead inside), and suckling pig.
Franceschetta 58: The Osteria Francescana-affiliated brasserie helmed by Marta Pulini serves exceptionally good cured meats and tortellini with Parmigiano Reggiano cream.
Hosteria Giusti: Accessed via an alley off Via Emilia, Hosteria Giusti is a 4-table institution serving traditional modenese fare like tagliatelle and tortellini and a range of meaty mains like braised veal cheek and cotechino. Start with a round of minestrone fritters and gnocco fritto. Book well in advance. Lunch only. Don’t miss Giusti’s salami, cheese, and pasta shop, which is attached to the restaurant via a narrow corridor and accessed from Via Farini.
For more modenese classics visit Da Enzo.
Bar Schiavoni: This sandwich shop in the historic Mercato Alibnelli is open from early morning–swing by for a breakfast of gnocco fritto and coffee–until the early afternoon. There are simple focaccia sandwiches served from the counter before noon, but from mid-day until closing (around 3:30pm) sisters Sara and Chiara Fantoni serve five sandwiches (for €5 each) and they are awesome (both the sandwiches and the sisters). The menu changes daily but you might find panini such as: smoked swordfish with white peaches, capers, olives, and onions; crispy pancetta with arugula and truffle sauce; eggplant, roasted tomatoes, and goat ricotta.
Da Panino: If the mortadella-themed logo of this sandwich shop isn’t enough to win you over immediately, then may I suggest ordering a #7: coppa with burrata and strawberry jam? The sandwiches at this place are ridiculously delicious and they aren’t huge (by US standards, anyway), so order lots. And while the menu is pretty pork-heavy, there are veggie options, too.
Swing by Menomoka for serious coffee. Actually don’t just swing by. Stay all day. The wine and beer selection is fantastic and they serve delicious pastries in the morning and nice cheeses and cured meats in the evening. About 100 yards away, Mon Cafe does a good sweet and savory breakfast and tasty little sandwiches; I’m not a huge fan of their dinner menu, but the wine list is awesome, so it’s worth a stop for a drink.
Erasmo on Via Taglio is a great place for a pizza washed down with a chilled bottle of Lambrusco.
In the market for traditional balsamic vinegar? Visit Consorteria 1966 Spilamberto in Piazza Mazzini.
If you’re mobile (or don’t mind springing for taxis), be sure to check out Hombre, an excellent Parmigiano Reggiano producer (and owner of a vast Maserati collection), which provides cheese–and car museum–tours upon request. For a memorable meal outside Modena, it’s hard to beat La Lanterna di Diogene. Not only are the owners of this agriturismo the nicest people with the most sensational Lambrusco list, the restaurant and farm also provide employment and professional training to people with special needs. Northeast of Modena in Finale Emilia, Entra is an excellent trattoria, while southeast of the city, Amerigo dal 1934 is a beautiful bastion of traditional regional flavors. Antica Osteria del Mirasole east of Modena does delicous grilled meats.
Special thanks to Alessandro Laganà and Enrico Vignoli for their exquisite culinary guidance.