Sicily – Ragusa Ibla – good places to eat and drink

As a popular tourist destination, Ragusa has plenty of great places to eat. In October 2023 I spent three nights in Ragusa Ibla, the oldest part of town, so this post is about places to eat there. For restaurants in the more modern part, Ragusa Superiore, there are lots of good suggestions on my map.

All of the eleven restaurants, cafes, pubs, gelaterias and cake shops mentioned below serve quality food and drink, but see also my previous posts on the Slow Food option Ristorante Cucina & Vino, apparently still good since my 2009 visit (post here) and Michelin-starred Ciccio Sultano Duomo Ristorante (post here). Where possible I’ve added links to authentic recipes and ingredients (which you may have to run through a translation app).

This first place in particular is really good value and has lots of character…

Trattoria La Bettola, 7 Largo Camerina,

I came here for Sunday lunch after my long walk to Ragusa Superiore and back (post here). Recommended by one of my favourite food writers Marina O’Loughlin, ‘The Tavern’ is a family-run 1940s-style trattoria with a big terrace and pretty tables with red-checked tablecloths.

The menu features simple homemade Sicilian classics such as Caponata, Pasta alla Norma and Pasta al Pistacchio. I went the full four courses starting with their Parmigiana, following up with Cavatelli al Sugo di Maiale for the pasta course, Polpette al Sugo e Caciocavallo for the main and Crema di Ricotta to finish. I enjoyed everything, especially the meatballs with the cheese sauce, but I think the Sugo di Maiale should have some additional pork meat in it rather than just sausage, but as this is classic ‘cucina povera’, who am I to argue.

With cover, water, two quartinos of house red and white and a double limoncello the bill came to a mere €51. Service was lovely except for one unfriendly young waitress with resting bitch face. Despite this, highly recommended.

For an ever cheaper lunch, perhaps after a walk around the Giardini Iblei…

Cantunera Ibla, 18 Largo San Domenico, 4 Via Giardino,

I adore arancini and have eaten a lot so I feel qualified to say this place makes some of the best I’ve ever eaten, due to the fact they’re made to order and deep-fried to non-greasy perfection. I went for a classic Arancina di Riso al Ragù but I’d love to have had the time to work through their extensive range. A craft beer from the local Bruno Ribadi brewery makes the perfect accompaniment.

Arancini (from east Sicily) differ from arancine (round rice balls from Palermo) in that they’re pointed at one end, to resemble Mount Etna it’s said. The spherical shape makes it harder to eat an arancina without it falling apart, whereas an arancino can be turned upside down and held at the thin end, much more elegant.

This next place is more upmarket but still good value…

I Banchi, 39 Via Orfanotrofio,

‘The Desks’ is the bistro of Ciccio Sultano, the Michelin-starred chef who also owns Michelin-starred Duomo around the corner (my post here). It also operates as a shop and bakery, and is a good place to eat breakfast as well as lunch and dinner.

I came twice, the first time for lunch when I had an excellent Insalata Mista di Stagione, a seasonal salad made with local mozzarella and tuna from Marzamemi.

I also took home a bottle of the excellent Re Olio extra virgin olive oil from the Monti Iblei DOP that I’d first been served at Duomo.

Encouraged by this I returned one evening for dinner and had their ‘San Giorgio’ tasting menu with a wine matching. This began with some assorted seafood (oyster, scampi, Mazara red prawn) and a glass of local fizz made with Blanc des Blanc grapes. After a couple of plates of pasta, the dish that had swayed me to come here in the first place arrived; Polpo alla Brace Insalata di Patate e Salsa Messinese; grilled octopus (my favourite) with potato salad and Messina-style sauce. Another standout was the meat course, Coppa di Maiale Glassata con Pure di Patate; glazed Nebrodi pork neck with potato purée. Finally I had a Tiramisu in a cup and a class of the fantastic Sole D’Agosto passito sweet wine from Bukkuram (€10 a shot!).

The final bill came to just over €100 but as well as eating and drinking well, I gleaned some top restaurant suggestions from the friendly server.

This next spot is a good place to come to taste the local cheeses, for which Ragusa is famous…

Risìu, Via dei Normanni,

I had their ‘Saporito’ tasting board which features the aged cheeses (as opposed to their ‘Delicato’ menu which has fresh ricotta, mozzarella and stracciatella). Down the centre we have; Cosacavaddu Semistagionato (semi-hard, semi-aged made with Modicana cow’s milk, aka Ragusano aka Caciocavallo) and Cosacavaddu Stagionato (aged Ragusano), Tumazzu (ewes’ milk cheese, made here ‘ccu pipi’, with black peppercorns), and Provola Ragusana (semi-hard, stretched ‘pasta filata’ cheese made with Modicana cow’s milk).

Down the right after the watermelon we have Salsiccia Affumicata (smoked sausage), a slice of Scaccia Ragusana (local stuffed focaccia), Bruschetta di Pomodoro e Ricotta Salata (bread with tomato and salted ricotta). On the left; Capocollo (dry-cured pork neck), olives with local Capuliato di Pomodoro (minced sun-dried tomatoes), grilled aubergine and pepper and Ricotta Infornata (baked ricotta).

And a semi-recommend…

Semplice Bistrobottega, 6 Via dei Normanni,

I was intrigued to come to this restaurant because it’s predecessor, Ristorante Ferdinand II, was mentioned in 1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before
You Die, due to it’s proximity to the Giardino Iblei, but in reality you could live quite happily without coming here. Expecting a view of the park gardens, I was a little disappointed to find a large outdoor terrace with an irregular floor of crazy paving and nothing of note to see. Perhaps it’s more atmospheric in the evenings.

There is however an interesting collection of fruit trees. The pomegranate tree was quite impressive as I’d never seen them growing before.

I found the owner to be rather overbearing and pretentious (eg ‘We don’t have a menu, we have a list of choices’…so that would be a menu then…) but I couldn’t fault the food and wine I was given. The rigatoni tossed in ricotta with a rich tomato sauce was great with a glass of Grillo white wine made with grapes from her own vines, although I got told off for not trying other local white wines (even though I do).

I didn’t have anything else as I only wanted a quick lunch to view the space but I spent just as much time again having to listen to the owner talk about her philosophical approach which is to tell stories with the dishes being served. It’s an interesting idea which I’m sure works very well when the audience is not held captive (she occasionally delivers organised group talks). However, she did make me realise how inauthentic most of the restaurants in Ibla are with their tourist-pleasing seafood-based menus. Due to Ragusa’s distance from the coast, fish just wasn’t part of the traditional local diet.

I’m an early bird so I tried most of the cafes in Piazza Duomo that were open first thing. This one was the best…

Caffetteria Donnafugata, 29 Corso XXV Aprile,

As well as good coffee and all the usual cakes and sweets, they serve fresh brioches with a variety of cheese, ham and salad fillings. My Airbnb also recommended them for a traditional breakfast.

And for an ice cream…

Gelati Divini, 20 Piazza Duomo,

Recommended by just about everyone, Gelati Divini is known for inventive flavors such as Planeta Rosé which is made with a local wine (the sommelier at Ciccio Sultano’s favourite). I can vouch for the pistachio which is greyish in colour, not bright green, a sign that it’s the good stuff.

For traditional cakes and biscuits…

Pasticceria Iudice, 23 Via Giardino,

I got some ‘Mpanatigghi; traditional local cookies filled with a mixture of sugar, chocolate, almonds, lemon peel, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla and minced beef! The name derives from the Spanish word empanada (the Spanish ruled Sicily for a while), a similar crescent-shaped pastry. They were interesting, if a bit dry, and the meat was virtually undetectable.

For sandwiches and general groceries…

Heraia Market, 45 Via Camerina

Run by a nice helpful man, this is a small supermarket and salumeria that also sells panini to takeaway. If you want some of the famous local cheese to take home, I’d guess that this place is probably the best place to get it in Ragusa Ibla. That’s if you can’t make it to Casa Del Formaggio in Ragusa Superiore.

And for an evening alcoholic beverage…

Lucernaio Pub, 20 Via Orfanotrofio

This small divey bar also describes itself as a craft ale gastropub. I only came for a nightcap, sitting outside on their small street terrace after my evening meal at I Banchi. The generous owner gave me a double French brandy for only €5, so it’s a good place in my book!

Next, walking around Ragusa Ibla…

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