I spent one week eating out at next-level incredible Italian restaurants in Puglia with healthy, plant-based, vegan and vegetarian menu options. While Puglia is known for its butcher shops and red meat dishes, the region is very vegan-friendly. You just have to go prepared with a list of restaurants; think bookmark & print out this article!
The restaurants featured in this article are located in or near central Puglia and are vegetarian or vegan, or offer separate vegetarian or vegan menus. You’ll also find a list of additional vegan and vegetarian places to eat throughout the region.
Be sure to check out my complete guide to central Puglia for must-do activities and suggestions for sustainble places to stay!
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La Calce at Borgo Egnazia
Strada Comunale Egnazia, Savelletri BR
I had an other-wordly, sublime dining experience at this gorgeous all vegetarian restaurant located in the ultra-upscale Borgo Egnazia Resort. The experience of visiting Borgo Egnazia is incredible on its own. Located on the coast near the UNESCO Heritage site by the same name, the resort is grand, luxurious and magical. We arrived in the evening as the sun was setting.
The lobby and ground floor common areas of the main hotel were filled with plush pillows, glowing candles and low lighting. We followed the maze of low lit, white washed hallways to the back exit, where the resort’s pool area is located.
As we wandered around, we stumbled upon La Calce, the vegetarian restaurant where I had made a dinner reservation in advance. It’s composed of two spaces—a cozy outdoor seating area and the main dining room, located outside al fresco style.
The meal began with small bites served outside. We had the option of sitting on high top seats with a bar-like table, or a narrow cushioned seating area with two tiers of small circular rustic tables. The chefs had an outdoor vegetable grilling station set up next to us. We chose the cushioned seating area. We ordered drinks and nibb;ed on melon and grilled peppers.
Then, we headed to the spacious main dining area, which features a low-slope roof smothered in vines, warm, honey-colored seating and copious amounts of candles placed throughout the space, both on the tables and tower-like wrought iron stands. The entire effect of the lush vines, soothing earth tones and inviting candle light was captivating and romantic.
The menu is available a la carte. Several more small bites came with the table—fresh tri-colored vegetable chips and an eclectic bread basket.
I ordered lentils and the vegan chickpea pasta topped with crispy zucchini chips. At the end of the meal, we were given a trio of chocolates for the table, one of which was vegan and came presented with a touch of gold leaf.
All the food was beautifully presented, flavorful and thoughtfully composed. The atmosphere of visiting and dining at Borgo Egnazia is next-level special.
Via Narciso, 59, Bari, Polignano al Mare
As I mentioned in my travel guide to central Pugia, Grotta Palazzese is a wow-factor restaurant that will check the box for the area’s most visually memorable dining experience. The restaurant and eponymous hotel are built within a rugged natural limestone cave overlooking the glittering azure waters of the Adriatic Sea.
The restaurant features several dining areas–balcony areas tucked away at the far edges of the cave with unobstructed views of the sea, and the main dining area, open-air seating located in the main section of the cave.
Like many traditional Italian restaurants, Grotta Palazzese has a prix fixe-only menu. This one came with a hefty price tag, a worthwhile splurge for an unforgettable visual and culinary experience.
The menu had five prix-fixe options, including a total vegan menu. The vegan meal began with an impressive bread basket that included breadsticks, flat bread and ever popular focaccia.
Eggplant parmigiana was served next. The indulgent dish came presented in the shape of an oversized mozzarella stick, covered in crispy fried bread crumbs with a warm center of melted vegan cheese. Then I was served a dish of orecchiette, the regional pasta speciality, served with a slightly bitter sauce made of basil-turnip puree. The final savory dish was a gorgeously-presented plate of grilled tofu on a bed of fava e cicoria, or fava bean puree, topped with a lavender flower.
We were seated at a prime table facing the sea with views of the grotto’s jagged facades and the vast stretch of glittering water. Tourists taking boat tours of the surrounding grottos passed by below us. As we were eating, several of them jumped out of the boats, climbed up to a cliff jumping spot, and pludged back into the sea.
We were in a rush to get to our boat tour of the nearby grottos so we had to leave before dessert was served. But limited time didn’t stop me from taking a few photos.
Before leaving, I took one last, deep breath of the caressing sea air and lingering look at the stunning views. I sensed that I was positivily glowing.
Contrada Spennati – SS 16, Fasano-Ostuni KM
This vegetarian restaurant shares the same name with the hotel in which it’s located. I had found the restaurant from a Facebook group recommendation and had made the reservation not knowing anything about the quality of the food or atmosphere.
I was transported to an ethereal wonderland by the gorgeous setting, stellar service and elevated cuisine. While I enjoyed my experience at La Calce, dining at Masseria Le Carrube remains in my mind as possibly the best vegan dining experience of my life.
The hotel itself evokes an upscale spa, with white-washed archways and cave-like corners donned with flickering candles. The indoor section of the restaurant, which isn’t used during the summer months, was rustic and warm, with many dozens of candles hanging from the ceiling and placed throughout the room.
The outdoor seating area features a square plaza-like space that included black wicker tables spaced far apart from one another, and streaming, hanging vines.
The menu is prix fix and is presented on a piece of root-toned papyrus rolled into a scroll and tied with twine.
The vegetarian meal that can be made vegan with little change from the print menu includes five courses. To start, the bread basket came filled with a variety of colorful traditional Italian biscuits and breads including foccocia, panzerotti, cazateddi, and two types of taralli, traditional Puglian twisted crackers.
The other courses included zucchini flan with mint cream, braised egglant with green tomato sauce, spagetti with string beans, tomato and basil and toasted chicory and potato tidbit with white turnip puree.
As course after course arrived, I thought I couldn’t enjoy each course more than the previous one. All the food evoked the experience of a walk in the woods with complex, herbacious, floral flavors.
Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, the a ha moment arrived: a decadent, yet light dessert of sugar-crusted marshmallow-like clouds served with coffee sauce, caramel and almond mouse silk.
The hotel is surrounded by lush bougainvillea, plump cacti and olive tree groves beyond. As the sun set and low flood lights clicked on, the glowing made the dreamy mood even more beautiful. I am still reeling from the sublime experience of dining at Masseria Le Carrube.
Via Santa Lucia, 53, 72014 Cisternino
This tiny all vegan café located in the center of old town Cisternino is a special find. The micro-sized space is tucked into a corner as you pass through an archway leading to the pedestrian-only old town. The indoor area is take-out only, while the outdoor area fits a few small tables.
Despite its unassuming size, the permanent menu at Micro is lengthy and creative. In addition, the kitchen offers daily specials. The food is Italian inspired, with Japanese and California cuisine influences.
We ordered a bunch of appetizers, including two types of bruschetta, one with vegan tuna, and avocado toast with vegan salmon made of pea protein. We also ordered tofu noodles, a vegetable maki roll, and vegan salmon sushi that looked just like the real thing.
I also ordered an incredible burrata salad that had a huge piece of vegan mozzarella that resembled in appearance, texture and taste just like fresh cow’s milk burrata. While the vegan burrata was produced by a local vegan cheese company, the owner of Mirco makes the vegan salmon and tuna in house.
The food was fresh and delicious, and the setting was cozy and homey. Micro is a quintessential gem hidden within a quaint hillside town of the Itria Valley of Puglia.
Via Duca D’Aosta, 29, 72014 Cisternino BR, Cisternino
This award-winning Italian restaurant is arguably the most popular in Cisternino. There is even a sign post for the restaurant on the main road leading in and out of the center town. Osteria dell Italia has gained a stellar reputation for a reason.
The private setting on a small side street in the walking-only section of the old town feels discrete and inviting. The entranceway of the restaurant and the narrow row of outdoor tables are framed with trailing verdant vines, similar to the atmosphere at La Calce and Masseria Le Carrube.
As I approached Osteria Bell’Italia, I was immediately struck by the cozy and rustic ambiance. Inside, The walls are adorned with beautiful photographs and traditional artwork.
The outdoor seating area fills tables during the summer months. There really is something to be said about vines creating a magical setting for outdoor dining in Puglia.
I was impressed by the fact that the restaurant serves a prix-fixe menu with vegetarian, fish and meat versions. Additional vegan menu items are also available a la carte.
The vegetarian prix-fixe menu included mashed potato flan, which you can request without cheese. Then I was served vegan fêfë e fôugghië, a dish of pureed fava beans with chicory and olive oil, a common Puglian specialty.
The a la carte options included a vegan burger, grilled vegetables and eggplant with garlic mashed potatoes. The veggie burger wasn’t exactly as juicy and succulent as an Impossible burger, but was tasty, and came with French fries.
The service lasted for hours as night fell around me. The evening crowds picked up and the bustle of activity added an energetic sparkle to the glowing white lime washed surroundings. Fashionable locals of all ages strolled past my table, turning the sharp corners of the restuarant’s narrow walking path. I pinched myself as I ate my way through another indulgent evening of delicious, healthy food surrounded by la dolce vita.
If dining for dinner, be sure to make reservations in advance on the restaurant web sites. If you plan to visit Puglia during the summer, plan far ahead and make your reservations even months before your trip. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on eating at these special establishements.
Worth noting, poultry is not served at all in Puglia, so those who do not eat red meat will by default be pescetarian or vegetarian during your visit.
Check back for an upcoming article with 20 travel tips for exploring Puglia, I’ll provide a list of regional vegan dishes found on many menus throughout Puglia, and some useful common food terms when asking for plant-based dishes off menu.
Other Vegan & Vegetarian Restaurants in Central Puglia
Piazza S. Oronzo, 16, Ostuni
Via Principe Amedeo 121, Bari
13 Strada delle Crociate, Bari
Via Cimino 33, Monopoli
Via Giambattista Tiepolo, 11 Trani