Upon arriving in Alba, the sleepy provincial capital of the Langhe region in Piedmont, Italy, the first-time visitor might find herself puzzled by a hallucination of the olfactory system. A subtle scent of toasted hazelnuts and cocoa fills the air. Follow the whiff and it will lead you to the Ferrero factory, located just outside the city center. Since 1964, Ferrero has been producing Nutella, the chocolate spread that has somewhat of a cult following in the world. Back then, hazelnut paste was used as a chocolate alternative because of the scarcity — and much higher price — of cocoa. Today, the plains are still full with hazelnut trees, while the slopes are planted with Nebbiolo vineyards (recently included on the Unesco World Heritage list), which give us some of the best reds in the world, Barolo and Barbaresco. But it does not end with hazelnuts. Deep in the woods around Alba are buried one of the food world’s most beloved treasures: the wonderful (and expensive) Alba white truffles, whose high season falls in the crisp autumn (October to early November).
So it figures that people living in the Langhe are accustomed to eating well: The produce is spectacular, and a daily visit to the market is still very much in fashion with the locals. Therefore, the region has some of the most exciting restaurants in Italy, along with countless trattorias, serving great and relatively inexpensive food. Here are some of our favorites.
1. Piazza Duomo
A Gualtiero Marchesi alum, chef Enrico Crippa spent years in Japan before heading back to open Piazza Duomo in partnership with the Ceretto family, one of the region’s most renowned wine families. In just a few years, the restaurant achieved three Michelin stars and is considered solidly among the best in Europe. During his stint in Japan, Crippa had developed an East-meets-West approach that combines local produce with exotic ingredients and techniques, along with a work ethic focused on the pursuit of perfection. Most of the ingredients he uses come from a five-hectare biodynamic vegetable garden supervised by the chef himself: One of his signature dishes is Insalata 21, 31, 41, 51…, a salad with 21 to 51 freshly picked vegetables and leaves, depending on the season. Piazza Risorgimento, 4, 12051 Alba; piazzaduomoalba.it
2. Antica Corona Reale
In 1815, a coaching inn opened in Cervere, then a remote rural village in the plain between Langhe and Monviso. Since the mid-19th century, the place has belonged to the same Vivalda family, and for the past 20 years, Gian Piero Vivalda has been serving flawless local cuisine to his guests, making the Antica Corona Reale one of the best traditional restaurants in Italy. His signature dish in late autumn is a Raschera cheese fondue with raw egg yolk and cardoon, generously coated with thin slices of Alba white truffle. The restaurant also gives snails the gourmet treatment with leeks from Cervere, pippin and wild rose jam. Via Fossano, 13, Cervere; anticacoronareale.
3. La Repubblica di Perno
The Langhe region deserves all the attention it’s been getting. The downside of an increased presence of tourists, though, is that authentic trattorias are becoming harder to find. La Repubblica di Perno is a welcome exception: Chef Marco Forneris left the Michelin-starred restaurant La Rej to open his own tiny place, enlisting the help of his wife. He makes a top-notch finanziera, which — despite the name, vaguely reminding one of “finance” — is a humble dish, whose recipe dates back to the Middle Ages, made with offal, mostly sweetbreads, chicken livers and roosters’ crests. Perched atop a hill, the village of Monforte d’Alba overlooks the Langhe. Ask to be seated outside, in the lovely terrace, when the season allows it. In colder months, find warmth in the very reasonably priced Barolos in the wine list. Vicolo Cavour 5, frazione Perno, Monforte d’Alba; repubblicadiperno.it
4. Ristorante All’Enoteca di Canale
Roero sits on the opposite bank of the river Tanaro from the Langhe; while the Langhe features mostly gentle slopes, the Roero landscape is more varied, from its Rocche (badlands) to forests and peach orchards. The building with the regional enoteca also houses a restaurant on the first floor, where chef Davide Palluda approaches the outstanding culinary tradition of the region without reverential terror. So he ends up improving (gasp!) on virtually perfect dishes, such as agnolotti with roast sauce, or battuta al coltello. That is, chunks of raw Fassone beef divided into tiny little pieces by using only a knife. Via Roma 57, Canale; davidepalluda.it
5. Il Centro
Open since the mid-1950s, this restaurant takes particular pride in having weathered countless passing food trends without giving up its integrity. Here, the proprietors keep the old ways alive, and there’s a scornful look on maître Enrico Cordero’s usually smiley face when he ponders the atrocities of low-cal cooking. This revered institution is practically synonymous with its specialty, fritto misto: a platter of all things fried, which is traditionally served as a feast on the day following the slaughter of the animals. We’re not talking fried prawns, but kidneys, sweetbreads, testicles, brain, liver (also called fricassà neira in Piedmontese dialect) and lungs (or fricassà bianca); then bits of meat, pieces of sausage, slices of sirloin and black pudding; then vegetables, apple slices and sweet polenta. All of this is meticulously cut into small pieces, each separately deep-fried in olive oil and butter and served very hot. It’s only served in the winter months, when there’s usually a waiting list. Book your table on the website. Via Umberto I, 5, Priocca d’Alba; ristoranteilcentro.com
6. Da Felicin
Felice Rocca, affectionately known by the pet name Felicin, founded this lovely restaurant in Monforte d’Alba almost a century ago, and today — as is almost the norm in Langhe — his grandson Nino and his wife are still operating it. The restaurant looks and feel like a luxurious dining room from a well-off family of yore: antique cupboards filled with enameled plates and bowls, soft rugs on the floors, silver cutlery. The restaurant’s tajarin —Piedmontese dialect for the thin egg pasta known elsewhere in the country as tagliolini — are hand-cut and made daily in the kitchen. As soon as the weather allows it, ask to be seated in the beautiful garden, overlooking the woods. Via Vallada 18, Monforte d’Alba; felicin.it
7. Trattoria La Coccinella
In ancient times, many “salt roads” used to connect Piedmont with the Ligurian Sea. The name comes from the fact that salt, used for preserving food, was the most precious among the goods carried by mules. Not the only one, though: Anchovies — the easiest fish to conserve, along with cod — were also making the trip from the sea toward the Alta Langa plains, which explains why one of landlocked Piedmont’s most famous gastronomic specialties is bagna cauda, a sauce made with anchovies, butter and garlic and served with raw vegetables. Since the town of Serravalle Langhe was the first stop for the fishermen traveling on this salt road, it is unsurprising that the quality of the fish prepared in this little old family-style trattoria is pristine. Fall, when the foliage peaks and fires start burning in the great fireplace in the main dining room, is an ideal time to visit. Via Provinciale 5, Serravalle Langhe; trattoriacoccinella.
8. Filippo Giaccone
Filippo Giaccone is the son of Cesare, a sort of patron saint (despite being alive and kicking!) of Langhe cuisine. Following in his father’s footsteps, Filippo has worked for years as a cook all around Italy and elsewhere in the world. But he kept missing his home in the Langhe, so five years ago he decided to go back to open this tiny restaurant with just 25 seats. It doesn’t get more family-style than this: The restaurant’s website updates its clientele both on the daily menu (which features perfectly executed Langhe classics, such as insalata russa and rabbit cooked on a spit with roasted potatoes) along with news about the passing of a beloved family pet. The restaurant is normally closed for lunch, but the operators might make an exception if you ask nicely. Ask to be seated in the garden! Via Umberto 12, Albaretto della Torre; filippogiaccone.com
9. La Ciau del Tornavento
Housed in an imposing — to the point of being slightly intimidating — Fascist-era building that used to be the village’s kindergarten, the Ciau del Tornavento is one of the most solid high-end restaurants in Langhe, with a menu that combines Piedmont classics with a touch of French cooking, plus stunning fish dishes, such as shrimp from Sanremo coated in chopped hazelnuts and bread crumbs: comfort food at its best. In a region where even simple restaurants tend to have an interesting wine list, the Ciau del Tornavento goes overboard with its award-winning wine cellar, containing more than 60,000 perfectly kept bottles, across all price ranges; a guided tour with a sommelier will be one of the highlights of your meal. Amazing views of the vines below the dining room make for the perfect farm-to-table experience. Piazza Baracco 7, Treiso (CN); laciaudeltornavento.
10. Massimo Camia Ristorante
Almost all restaurants in the Langhe opt for a classic look. This one, instead, is modernist bordering on eccentric, with a lot of (surprisingly eye-pleasing) Batman-themed art. Experienced chef Massimo Camia recently opened this sleek place in partnership with the winery Damilano, housed in the same complex. Here, he serves a cuisine made with the aim of pleasing the customers rather than the chef’s ego, ranging from flawlessly executed classics such as vitello tonnato to more personal dishes — his red tuna from Liguria done three ways is always on the menu. The always rotating choice of Barolo by the glass includes older vintages. One of the most prestigious cru in Barolo, Cannubi, is basically at your feet outside of the restaurant. Strada Provinciale Alba-Barolo 122, La Morra (CN); massimocamia.it