Sardinian cuisine lives up to the expectations that visitors may have when approaching an Italian restaurant. Despite its openness and general hospitality, the island remains tightly rooted to its social and cultural traditions and food is no exception. Sardinians are jealously bound to the old recipes, passed on generation after generation. Even if Sardinian cities are by all means modern and European, inland it remains essentially rural and represents a culinary goldmine. Restaurants in Cagliari have access to an official and unofficial market of fresh goods, coming from the countryside, the hills and mountains. Often city chefs rely on a thick network of small farmers, butchers, fishermen and hunters from whom they get the freshest vegetables, traditionally made cheeses, hams and sausages, but also game, such as wild boar, hare, deer and different types of birds.
Cagliari is also a port city and is therefore blessed by the constant inflow of fresh seafood, both in markets and in restaurants. This tradition has been enhanced by top restaurants and chefs, which often blend the classic local dishes with more modern and sophisticated cooking techniques and tastes.
Cagliari's restaurants generally serve ample portions throughout all the courses. The typical meal is made of hors d’oeuvres, consisting of different small plates, designed to whet your appetite, but are often so generous that they represent a whole meal. The first course is mostly based on pasta or rice, in a virtually countless variety of shapes, sizes and condiments. Second courses are usually meat or fish, and maybe a vegetable-based side dish. Therefore the concept itself of a main course doesn't really exist in Sardinia, so forget those large plates with a mixture of rice, meat and vegetables, which are typical of Northern European cuisine. Having said this, when ordering food in a Cagliari restaurant do not in any way feel obliged to go for the whole shebang. You can browse through the menu and carefully select your options, especially when you have company to share your meal with.
Sardinians eat quite late, even for continental Italian standards. Lunch won't be much before 13:00 and can go on until 16:00, depending where you are and how much you're prepared to eat. Dinner is not before 20:00, but is often much later. Most restaurants open for both lunch and dinner and therefore close until about 19:00 so kitchen staff can have a few hours break in the afternoon. There are no rigid closing times so restaurants usually stay open until customers leave, which can be around midnight or later.
€ expect to have more than enough to eat and not spend more than €12 - 15
€€ a two course-meal and some table wine could cost you between €20 - 25
€€€ a full three-course meal won't cost you less than €35
€€€€ you're in a top-end restaurant and be prepared to spend over €50