A List Of Terms That You Might See On An Italian Menu

Hmmm, should you order the antipasto or the dolce? Do you want noodles that are served al dente? What the heck is a macchiato? Should you ask for a freddo beverage or request something lesso?  

Do the sentences above describe how you feel every time you order Italian food? You're not alone. Many folks struggle to translate Italian terms into common American words, but it's easy to familiarize yourself with a few key phrases before you visit an Italian restaurant. To avoid confusion, review this handy list of Italian terms before you place your next order.


If the waiter asks if you want a complimentary order of pane while you wait for your meal, say yes -- unless you're on a gluten-free diet. Pane is the Italian term for bread, and it generally refers to bread made from whole wheat. You may receive slices of bread in a basket, or the waiter might carry out a cutting board with a small loaf of bread so that you can slice your own pieces.


Feeling a bit hungry after chowing down on your pane? Request an antipasto from the menu while you wait for the chefs to finish your main dish. Antipasto is the Italian version of an appetizer and can consist of anything from smoked salmon to sliced cheese. You generally eat the antipasto before anything else at a traditional Italian restaurant, but an Italian-American restaurant might start diners off with an order of pane.


Insalata is a popular Italian antipasto. It refers to a blend of leafy greens and is similar to an American salad. There are different types of insalata, including Caprese salad, which includes basil and mozzarella, and insalata mista, which is a mixed salad with veggies. Insalata is usually topped with an oil-based dressing rather than a milk-based dressing.

Al Dente

This term refers to the texture of a dish rather than the dish itself. You will probably see "al dente" listed beside some of the menu's noodle dishes, such as penne, when you visit an Italian restaurant in your city. When a dish is cooked in this manner, it is firm and slightly chewy.

Fun fact: Al dente pasta often has a lower Glycemic Index value than mushy pasta, so some diabetics can tolerate it better.


Freddo is the Italian word for cold. If you order a coffee with your meal, then the server might ask whether you want it served freddo or lesso. Lesso means that you want your coffee served hot, rather than on ice. It means "boiled" in Italian and may also be used to describe food dishes.


A macchiato is a strong cup of espresso lightly topped with a milky foam. This drink can be enjoyed any time of the day, as opposed to a creamy cappuccino, which Italians prefer with their breakfast.

Not a coffee drinker? Scan the menu for a succo di frutta, which is what Americans commonly refer to as fruit juice. The server can also bring you un bicchiere d'acqua, which is a glass of water that may or may not be topped with a lemon wedge.


Make sure to save room for dessert after filling up on pasta and insalata. Dolce is used to describe sweet Italian desserts, such as gelato. You may also find cheesecake and tiramisu on the menu, as well as Italian cookies or cake.

Italian restaurants serve tons of tasty dishes, from simple spaghetti dishes to decadent desserts. Increase your chances of ordering exactly what you want by brushing up on more info about the basic Italian terms above before your next meal out.