Top 10 NON-Italian Cuisines in Milano

By: JL Walker

In an episode of Portlandia, two people stumble upon an unusual restaurant called Around the World in 80 Plates. The menu is oversized, both in its actual physical size and in terms of how many dishes are included, and the hungry couple can’t make sense of it. They eventually leave, still famished, overwhelmed by all the choices they have to make before ordering. This funny sketch pokes fun at the excessive focus on the individual and choice that is often found at US restaurants.

One of the great things about living in a city is actually a lot like what Around the World in 80 Plates offers: choice. There are so many options, and there is often a melting pot of co-existing cultures. That's why I've put together a list of the best kinds of international cuisine you can find in the city I call home, Milano.

I know what you're thinking: Why would anyone with access to one of the world's best cuisines , Italian, be interested in anything other than risotto, pizza, pasta, gelato and the wide variety of regional dishes available throughout the peninsula?

Here’s my answer. I’m lucky enough to have close friends who are great cooks, a husband who has been trained in the fine art of Italian primi and secondi, in-laws who are masters of Milanese and Napolitano staples and my own personal curiosity to learn a few things around the kitchen from all these wonderful people. The result is that when I go out to eat, I don’t usually choose Italian food. Why go to a restaurant when I can produce a similar kind of meal at home?

And because Milano is considered one of Italy’s most international cities, there are indeed lots of options for anyone who tires of pizza, pasta and risotto (even if that might take weeks, if not months). So, if you’re a visitor or an expat, here’s my take on taking your taste buds on a round-the-world voyage – without leaving town.

Piazza del Duomo at sunrise
Piazza del Duomo at sunrise

  1. Tex-Mex. Don’t expect to find cheap and consistently excellent Tex-Mex restaurants in Milano similar to what is available around most of the US. Most places with a Tex-Mex influence are mid-range to expensive, but you can get a decent plate of fajitas or burritos. My top picks are the Mexicali and Dixieland chains.

  2. Irish. Replicas of the original pubs on the Emerald Isle, there are a few classic wood-paneled drinking holes around the city. You can usually find a nice pint of Guinness, and maybe another stout, a good selection of Irish whiskey and some hearty bar food. And you can usually catch a rugby or soccer game. Classic locales are Bar Magenta, near the Cadorna train station, and Pogue Mahone’s, near Porta Romana.

  3. Brazilian. Churrasco, anyone? Meat-lovers will be happy to hear that there are a few options where the typical rodìzio of all-you-can-eat meat meal, often with some sides or a buffet of veggies, is available. I’ve never been to the country of the Verde-Amarela so I’m not sure how authentic it is, but in terms of food quality and taste the Brazilian restaurant Picanha’s is pretty good. Be beware that it’s not a good choice for anyone on a budget.

  4. German. Bavarian cuisine is pretty popular among the Milanese. Since it’s only a short train or car ride away, lots of Northern Italians have taken a trip up to Munich for Oktoberfest or just to be a tourist in Germany. So why not reminisce about those beer halls in a German restaurant closer to home? And, if you go to Kapuziner Platz, you can have Kapuziner Weisse beer served to you by a staff dressed in traditional Bavarian outfits!

  5. Eritrea or Ethiopia. Because of Italy’s colonial ties with the Horn of Africa before World War II, there is now a community of people with Eritrean and Ethiopian origins in Milano, which is also represented by several restaurants. Most are located in the same area, near the Porta Venezia and Loreto subway stops. I’ve tried out one so far, Ristorante Asmara, which was inexpensive, down-to-earth, delicious, and a nice change from what my American-girl palate usually tastes.

  6. Thai. I’m not an expert on Thai food, but I love a good spicy curry with lots of coconut milk. So I’ve been to a few Thai places around Milano and would recommend two that seem to serve more than just a slightly Thai version of a Chinese restaurant in Milano: Thai Square, near Cimitero Monumentale, and Blue Ginger, closer to the Navigli area.

  7. American. I’ve been an “expat” for almost a decade now. But that doesn’t change the fact that I grew up on big breakfasts, American sandwiches, bagels and Sunday chicken dinners. My comfort food, like most people’s, is what I ate as a youngster. Fortunately, Milano’s anglophile community usually doesn’t disappoint. So when I’m yearning for a taste of home, I seek out places like the Bagel Factory chain, or a burger joint like Tizzy’s Bar and Grill.

    Bagel Factory
    Bagel Factory

  8. Chinese. The most ubiquitous of the world cuisines, Milano is no exception when it comes to Chinese food. There are dozens of Chinese restaurants in the city, of all shapes and sizes, ranging from cheap, crowded dives to higher quality, elegant locales. Milano even has its very own Chinatown, near Cimitero Monumentale and the Arena, where the various restaurants and shops are filled with Chinese customers, owners and managers. The three consistently good Chinese restaurants I would recommend are Jubin, located in Chinatown and boasting a large menu, including century eggs, Giardino Nuovo, near Corso Sempione, and Città del Drago, near Porta Romana.

  9. Japanese. One Japanese dish is probably Milano’s – and maybe the world’s – trendiest international food. Sushi can be found on practically every street in this city. An all-you-can-eat fad has even started popping up around the city at restaurants serving both Chinese and Japanese food, including sushi. However, maki, sushi and sashimi are not the only foods from the land of the rising sun. So whether you’re craving some excellent raw fish or something more hearty and authentic, there are two Japanese restaurants that have some of the best around, and both are run by Japanese personnel: Oasi Giapponese, in the Western part of the city, and J’s Hiro, near Porta Romana.

    Inside Oasi Giapponese
    Inside Oasi Giapponese

  10. Turkish kebab. Europe’s cheap and pervasive fast food, the Turkish kebab. This cuisine plays the same role that Tex-Mex food plays in many parts of the US: it’s filling, inexpensive, there’s a standard mid-level quality and it can be found just about everywhere. The trick is to find your favorite little shop in your neighborhood and keep going back. There’s a wide range of choices, so as long as the place is clean and the food tastes good, the deciding factors are usually simply location and convenience.

There you have it, the top 10 international cuisines in Milano. Due to a lack of personal experience or a lack of space, there are some international regions that do have a hefty in presence in Milano but that didn’t make it on my list. Honorable mention goes to: Indian, Sri Lankan, Swedish, Greek and Argentine.

And if you're only going to be in Italy for a short period of time, do taste some of the excellent Italian cuisine – and save your trip around the world in 80 plates for another time!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingJL Walker is an American expat living in Italy. Blog description: Why Italian bureaucracy is like being the hero in your very own role playing game
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Contest Comments » There is 1 comment

Leaba Garcia wrote 10 years ago:

It would appear that you hit 'hit the nail on the head' so to speak.I must say that I was very impress and cant wait to pay a visit to Milano!

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