The 5 best Italian restaurants in York

La Vecchia Scuola: a source of divided opinion ©Laura Reynolds; Image credit: Laura Reynolds

So it's that time of year again, I'm told, when couples enjoy romance and have a meal together. And though the world is modern, and people don't feel obliged to follow traditions, I'm told that many or most couples still enjoy romantic meals together for Valentine's Day. Whilst I am of the opinion that a home-cooked meal is more romantic, others disagree - but who would disagree that Italian restaurants are more romantic than Indian or Chinese restaurants*?

*French restaurants are romantic but terrible.

So allow me to discuss five of the best Italian restaurants - ranked by price - in York, and explain when best to use them - though they might be a little booked at this time of year.

Bella Italia

As said above, these are ranked by price - and you can't say "let's have a cheap Valentine meal" like going a day early just to enjoy the 50% student discount. The prices are great for what they are, I've never had a bad meal there and finishing the meal off with the £8 sharer Godfather dessert is possibly the only time I'd spend more than £4 for pudding.

What it says to your date: I wanted to be romantic but a) don't like the corporatism of overcharging restaurants or b) don't value our relationship very much. It's a thin line.

Better than: Strada. The restaurant, owned by the same company (Tragus) and five doors down the road, is pretty nice - and I still go there on occasion - but even with the 20% student discount for non-Mondays, you're paying more for exactly the same thing.

La Vecchia Scuola

Despite the dubious ramblings of my colleague, I have more than just a soft place in my heart for La Vecchia Scuola. Very few establishments try to market themselves at both ends of the spectrum, but Scuola manages it. Their website allows you to view the flash intro or not, and that sums up the place: if you ever splash out on one of their £7 starters or £17 chef specialities, I'm sure you'll be amazed - but some main courses are below £7 every day with their specials, and they're almost as good as the expensive stuff.

What it says to your date: This completely depends on which menu you both choose from. If you both feel forced to go with cheap options, it won't be amazing.

Better than: Mamma Mia. The local York restaurant is perfectly fine, and has great online reviews across the board, but fails to offer the breadth of food quality and price that makes Scuola stand out.


Sat on Lendal, the restaurant gets a lot less attention than rivals Bella Italia and Pizza Hut, but has the same quality of food. A margherita pizza is seven quid but I'd recommend stretching upwards for the £11 rustica 'bufala' pizza. It is easily the best pizza that I have bought from a restaurant chain and could be split between two without any fuss.

What it says to your date: Steady and reliable, good value for money, and not too shabby - but not amazing. Much more suitable for a different time of the year.

Better than: Pizza Express, also owned by 'Gondola', sits just around the corner. The building is beautiful, but the restaurant is named after a type of food that is cheaper and better one of its own other restaurants. Shabby in comparison.

Little Italy

When I came to York as a teenager in 2002, ten years ago, we dropped in on a café on the very edge of the city and I had a home-made pizza so amazing that I remember the occasion a decade later. As good as those that I ate in Rome, but on the edge of York. Sadly, they didn't do pizzas any more, but this little place - next to the city walls on Micklegate, is a great place to get excellent pasta for under a tenner. Local, reliable and impeccable.

What it says to your date: I know York, I know food and I know what's good. The best option on the list and it would take a rare set of circumstances to have bad food there.

Better than: Caesar's, further up on Goodramgate, is a more noticeable and publicised restaurant - but, even with minutely cheaper food prices, it simply doesn't match up to the quality of cooking at Little Italy.


I know what you're thinking. Jason, didn't you just say that the last one was the best option on the list? Yes, I did, and for this one simple reason: Piccolino is too expensive. It's a posh place, with a good reputation, and is a notch above the requirements for a decent student date venue. If you try to impress your boy/girlfriend by throwing money, this is the place to do it. I've seen a few students go here for a social, but I personally think it's not worth the money unless you think that your partner can be bribed into liking you more.

What it says to your date: Look at me! I don't care about money! £20 for a ribeye steak? Why, of course! £7.50 for an egg and some asparagus? A bargain! Wheee!

Better than: Ask. I'd tell you the tale of Silvanos, a restaurant that sold great food but eventually crumbled and still charged £15-20, but they were replaced by "Caesars at Silvanos" and eventually became an Italian. Instead I'll simply say that Ask wish they were Piccolino, but are actually much more like Pizza Express, who coincidentally sell the same food from the same company for a lower price.

Disclaimer: I've also been told that Totos is great, but I haven't been there. It's the only place on my list of Italian "want to visit" restaurants, and I'm certain would make the list otherwise. Similarly, and contrarily, I am yet to visit Prezzo and hear (and suspect) that it's pretty terrible.

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