Was in Venice for a week--early June 2013--and I will remark on a few places while they're fresh in my memory. I was there for work reasons, but also took along my 13-year-old son and built in some extra days for exploration. My son, I should add, is probably the most intrepid kid I've ever known regarding new foods and tastes, so this review is not about "kid-friendly" Venice restaurants. Also, I will include remarks on atmosphere, which in Venice seems unusually inseparable from the the actual eats.
Without doubt, the most memorable and excellent meal we had at Venice was at La Zucca, a place which starts from a basis in Italian cooking but incorporates other ingredients and also a larger array of vegetarian dishes than most Italian restaurants. It is in the Santa Croce district and rather removed from tourist Venice, but that's a plus for me, and it is near a genuinely lovely piazza with trees and Venetian family life abounding. Every one of the dishes we tried was a hit. The menu changes regularly, and I cannot recall exactly the Italian-only names of most dishes. So I'll just say what I can. For starters, I had tastes of two dishes. First, a very good, if mildly seasoned, baked pasta with cheese and zucchini, which I think the menu called a lasagne, although the pasta shape was what Americans would call penne. Second, I also tried their signature Flan di zucca (pumpkin flan) which was terrific. For the main course, I had lamb chops with a middle-eastern spin, accompanied by the best tzatziki I've ever had and some precisely cut and tasty cucumbers and carrot. My son loved his duck confit with pears and other veggies. My other companion raved about his veal dish, which was rather like a stew, but of thick enough consistency that it came on a plate with some accompanying veggies. An additional side of braised fennel with touches of olive and herbs was great. For desserts, everyone loved their respective cheesecake, panna cotta, and chocolate mousse. This was our last night in Venice. If I'd had the opportunity, I would have eaten here a few times in the week.
The next most memorable place was I Figlie delle Stelle, with very solid food, but perhaps made more memorable for its astounding outdoor dining with views across the water to the main Venetian islands--this place is on Giudecca island very nearby--and its general elegance. The menu is well-prepared pan-Italian. Most costly place we tried, no doubt due to the view. But unlike, say, the pricey waterside restaurants near the Rialto bridge and other such tourist centers, the food here is very fine.
In the Ghetto district of Cannaregio, we tried Il Paradiso Perduto, which specializes in fish. Like the above two places, reservations are advisable here, although we managed to come as walk-ins (two of us) around 7pm. I had a terrific fish and shellfish soup with a broth made brown and rich by I don't know what means. My son had a fresh-pasta pesto, which he loved. Our main was a house specialty grilled fish assortment, arriving on a platter. The platter can be ordered for one or two persons. I ordered for two, but there was way too much for us two to eat. We should have ordered the single to share. All fish and shellfish are whole with heads, shells, whatever, intact. There was a tasty gar-fish (Aguglie), enormous shrimps, clams, various fish segments, and small fish to be eaten whole. You will get messy hands eating here as you tear at the shrimps and other items. The fish was acceptably but not conspicuously fresh. I would go back if I could, and would want to try some of their plainer dishes, such as the spaghetti with clams that I saw other people having. This place was notably more busy than the other restaurants lining the little canal there.
The final place I tried and would mention here is Taverna San Trovaso in Dorsoduro. This place is inconspicuous on the outside, but a really warm and delightful experience inside. Every dish was very satisfying, although I frankly cannot recall exactly what we had. That's not meant as a diminishment of the place, but simply reflects that we tried so many places that week.
But the other places didn't rise above the norm enough to record here. In sum: I agree with those who feel that it is some work to find great food in Venice, but it can be found, and Venice itself makes almost anything else worthwhile. I mean, how many cities that stink routinely can pack in the crowds?
in response to Elizabeth and just a little additional info.
We ate at Figlie. It is a Pugliaese (sp?) place. A Venetian friend recommended it to us and we loved it! Not only is the view abosolutely perfection, the food was really good. Maybe the portions were a bit too big but the fava puree was really memorable!
Giudecca is a worth while day trip from Venice!