In Italy you will come across many types of restaurants.
A Ristorante is the Italian word for “restaurant.” It is where you can expect perhaps the most full-service eating, although there are different levels of ristorante. So just because the name of the establishment includes the word “ristorante,” it doesn’t automatically imply that it’s going to be the most expensive option.
A Trattoria is more or less the same as a ristorante. The differences are likely to come in the form of location and formality. Although many food establishments in Italy are family-run, a trattoria is where you’re most likely to find the family matriarch or patriarch in the kitchen actually cooking what’s on the menu that night. A trattoria is also likely to be a smaller establishment than a ristorante.
An Osteria is one step down from a trattoria. And that’s not “down” in a judgment sense – it’s “down” in a formality/price sense. An osteria is most often going to be a neighborhood eatery rather than a place people would travel to visit or a place tourists would stop. It will have elements of a bar, but will have more restaurant-style services than a typical bar.
A Taverna is a small eatery that may focus more on the stuff behind the bar than a ristorante or a trattoria, and is more likely to be rustic in its interior. Since the focus of the taverna is the bar, the menu offerings aren’t extensive, but they’re likely to be inexpensive.
A Tavola Calda is the closest thing there is to Italian fast food. In a tavola calda, you’ll find a counter full of pre-made dishes which you order by the piece or by weight and which are re-heated for you. They’re popular with business people who don’t have the luxury of a long lunch break, and are also an option for bringing home dinner when you don’t want to cook. If you eat your food at the tavola calda, chances are good you’ll be doing it standing up.
A Pizzeria is a pizza place, but quite often in an Italian pizzeria, you’re likely to find many other things on the menu besides pizza. If though, you like a pizza, this is the best place to go for an authentic Italian pizza.
A Rosticceria will usually have roast chicken or other meats available, but these places usually also have a pretty good selection of all kinds of other pre-made meals and are popular with Italians as the place to stop en route from work to home when you don’t want to cook dinner that night. For lunchtime, there are often smaller portions you can buy and have re-heated to eat on the premises for a quick but tasty meal.
It is usual to have three daily meals in Italy, starting with breakfast, or colazione. Traditional Italian breakfasts are continental-style, similar to those of France, Greece or Spain. The traditional breakfast in Italy is simply coffee with bread or rolls, butter, and jam. If breakfast is eaten in a bar (coffee shop), it is composed of cappuccino or espresso with pastry. Other products such as breakfast cereals, fruit compote (Macedonia), muesli and yogurt are becoming increasingly common as part of the meal.
Pranzo or lunch traditionally used to be the heartiest and most important Italian meal, although shorter work breaks are significantly changing this lifestyle. Lunch is taken between 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm although people from Southern Italian regions start lunch slightly later. Traditional formal Italian lunches are a lengthy affair, which usually involves an appetizer, aperitif, or antipasto as starter. This is usually followed by a first course (primo), such as various kinds of pasta, soup, ravioli, or risotto. The main course (secondo) is usually meat or fish, with a vegetable garnish. The meal is rounded up by a dessert or fresh fruit. Most families still usually tend to have a traditional lunch on Sundays.
The Italian dinner structure is very similar to that of lunch, but Italians tend to have lighter meals at dinner-time. This usually consists of perhaps a salad, soup, risotto or the left-overs of lunch-time. Dinner is called cena in Italian, and is usually consumed later than in Northern Europe but earlier than in Spain and other Mediterranean countries, usually starting from 7.30 pm to 9pm.