Just thinking about eating the Tuscan food found in Florence, Italy gets my mouth watering. The regional dishes served there are worth replacing my fitted wardrobe with sweatpants and oversized shirts. Florence is—without a doubt—my favorite food city in the world!
Since I was a child, Italian cuisine has been my favorite and no matter where I roam I seek out that style of cuisine. In the States, I look for the green, white, and red flag of Italy to indicate a potential dining spot. Italian food in the US (with its cheese-laden pizzas, cream and butter sauces, and meat-heavy pasta dishes) though is far different from authentic Italian cuisine. Although quite regional, good Italian dishes are generally comprised of only a few exquisite ingredients, pasta and meat are served as separate courses, and balance is the name of the game—pizzas aren’t dripping with cheese, pasta is not drenched in sauce, and dishes capitalize on fresh, seasonal ingredients. There are many wonderful places to eat in Florence that practice that food ethic.
In Florence, you will find ancient dishes connected to the rich land of Tuscany. Bistecca alla Fiorentina (from Chianina cows who grazed on the nutrient-rich grasses of the region that produces Chianti wine) perfumes the city as grills heat up around dinner-time. It is served medium-rare, dressed simply with salt and olive oil, and melts in your mouth like beefy butter. Bread-based hearty soups like pappa al pomodoro or ribollita are Florentine favorites. Boars (cinghiale) roam the Tuscan countryside and are porky perfection in pasta dishes featuring cinghiale ragu. Make sure you fare la scarpetta—scoop up the leftover sauce with Tuscan bread. The salt-free slices are a perfect vehicle for wiping your plate clean.
You can get a great sandwich (panino) at stands across the city. Lampredotto (the fourth stomach—presumably because the others aren’t as good) is a local favorite. The sandwiches (panini) are served on crusty, chewy rolls with a parsley sauce and chili oil. Have the vendor dunk the top of the roll in the broth for you. I find lampredotto okay, but prefer my panino with boiled beef roast (panino con bollito). This sandwich is served on the same hearty roll as lampredotto with the same sauces. But unlike its offal cousin, it occupies my dreams and is one of the first things I eat when I get to Florence and one of the last (I’ve even had it for breakfast when travel plans necessitated).
No meal would be complete without stopping off for the dessert the city is known for—gelato. With less air than its American counterpart, it’s remarkably creamy and rich yet lower in fat than ice cream…so you can feel good eating it.
Although I’m always finding new favorites, here are a few of the places that I think are the best restaurants in Florence. Many of these places are old favorites that consistently serve up the best food in Florence, whereas some of them just made the list for the first time this year.
Cafes: Caffe Gilli and Caffe Rivoire are all elegance and history personified. The gilded (and sometimes frescoed) interiors boast marble floors and beautiful cases. Stand at the counter to enjoy your morning espresso and pastry and you will find that the duo only costs a few euro. It’s remarkable considering these richly-designed places occupy some of the best real estate in town on two of the city’s most prominent squares. Gilli has great cappucino and perfect pastries. The thick and rich hot chocolate at Rivoire can’t be missed (see the picture). Not as stately as the first two, but just as delicious is La Loggia degli Albizzi. This café has great pastries at good prices.
Florence Restaurants (all are in the center or within a 15-minute walking distance from it):
- La Fiaschetteria: My husband found this restaurant years ago. We were looking for a place that wasn’t touristy, had good prices, and served pasta (for me) and pizza (for him). We’ve been going back ever since. It’s a small little gem that we keep revisiting. I enjoy their cinghiale pasta and Jon loves their pizza. Both of us usually start the meal with bruschetta al pomodoro (toasted bread topped with tomatoes). The service is always warm and welcoming and we feel like family there.
- Osteria Buongustai: This female-run restaurant serves some of the best pasta in Florence. They also have a nice selection of bruschetta. My favorite is lardo di Colonnata (thinly sliced ribbons of lard on toasted bread). Who knew fat could be this good?!?
- Trattoria Enzo e Piero: This restaurant is known for their lasagne, but go early as they sell out quickly. I’ve enjoyed other pasta dishes there, too, as well as good wine. The prices are moderate.
- Pizza Napoli: Serving Napoli-style pizza, I think they serve some of the best pizza in Florence. My favorite is the Margherita with fresh mozzarella, piquant tomato sauce, a drizzle of fine olive oil, and a sprig of basil. Last time we were there, the owner had one made in the shape of a heart for me. Very romantic! As an added bonus, they have outdoor seating and a prime location on lively via de’ Neri.
- Trattoria Sergio Gozzi: This restaurant is open for lunch-only, sadly depriving the city of its immense talents at all other times. I adore the pappa al pomodoro soup here. Although the menu changes daily, I have never had a pasta dish that I didn’t enjoy. The chicken salad gives a lite diversion from carbohydrate-heavy fare. If they have peposo on the menu–a peppery stewed beef–you should probably order it. This would also be a great place to sample the city’s famous bistecca alla Fiorentina. If you can only come here once, I would come hungry and sample a lot of dishes with your dining companions.
- Trattoria Sabatino: This family-run restaurant right outside the San Frediano gate serves home-cooked food that is so low-priced it makes me wonder how they do it. The low prices don’t mean low flavor though. We dine there several times a year.
- Budellino—This little wine bar is great for a pre-dinner glass of vino and some charcuterie. Although there are only a few seats up front, don’t let that deter you, there is more seating in the back.
- Impressione Chongqing—This place is intense and crowded, but serves up the best Chinese food I’ve had in Florence (or anywhere for that matter). The menu is expansive and prices are moderate; I would suggest getting a bunch of dishes and sharing, but definitely get the dumplings and some fried rice.
- Osteria Pepo—this restaurant is in the touristy Mercato Centrale neighborhood, but has traditional Tuscan food at decent prices. Jon loves the lasagne and I could sing praises about their meatballs (polpette) all day long.
- Fiaschetteria Nuvoli—located not far from Piazza del Duomo, this wine bar serves a limited, seasonal menu in its basement. The prices are good, especially considering the area. I like a tender slice of porchetta with a side of roasted potatoes or pappardelle al cinghiale (wild boar pasta).
Gelato: The places that I think serve the best gelato in Florence are (in order of my favorites): Gelateria dei Neri, Perche No!, Gelateria la Carraia, Vivoli, La Strega Nocciola, and Cono Gelato. All of these places serve up creamy, rich gelato in small batches. They know what they are doing and their flavors explode. You really can’t go wrong with any of them, but the fondente (dark chocolate) at Gelateria dei Neri makes the price of the flight worth it for me.
Panino: I don’t know the name of my favorite sandwich stand, but it is easy to find. It is a red stand (there are generally two women working) located on a corner within the San Lorenzo market outside of the Mercato Centrale. Inside of the market is Nerbone–a restaurant famed for their sandwiches–which is good, but not as good as the red sandwich stand outside. The prices are great, the service is quick, and the food is amazing. Get the beef sandwich (panino con bollito) with both the green and the red sauce (verde and piccante). Fabulous!
If you’re looking for wine and a sandwich, try I Fratellini. This restaurant is literally a hole in the wall, but serves cheap wine and tasty low-priced sandwiches filled with good charcuterie. Hang your wine glass up on the rack on the outside wall when you leave.
Notably, I’m leaving out Al Antico Vanaio, which is a very popular sandwich shop on via dei Neri. They are known for large sandwiches at reasonable prices. Generally, they have lines out the door (there are at least two locations now across from each other) and people clog the streets Instagramming their sandwiches or vlogging about them. Perhaps it is their social media fame that deters me from going…or maybe it is the endless lines, but I can’t report back on that sandwich. For years, I have passed right by (on pretty much a daily basis) and not felt compelled to stop. If you want a report, there are numerous vloggers on YouTube who rave about their sandwiches.
To try truffles (the city is known for its truffle dishes) at a reasonable price, I recommend the dainty, finger-sized truffle cream panini at Procacci. Located on the most expensive shopping street in town, via de’ Tuornabuoni, the interior is as sumptuous as the sandwiches. The panini won’t fill you up, but make a lovely complement to their vast wine selection. Have a couple before dinner as an aperitivo. There are only a few tables though, so space is limited.
I hope that you are able to try out some of these eateries the next time you are in Florence. I’m always on the look-out for new Florence restaurants to try so please leave your favorites in the comment section. Buon appetito!
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