Florence, unlike Rome or Venice, is a fairly easy place to find a good meal. When in doubt, however, I have three rules for selecting restaurants that I give Americans when they are traveling to Italy:
- Never eat at a restaurant with pictures on the menu.
- Avoid restaurants that sit on main piazzas or next to major attractions (I have one exception here).
- Unlike at home, look for places with smaller, less complicated menus (this will ensure they are cooking fresh seasonal meals, and have to change their menu often).
If you follow these rules you are pretty much guaranteed a good meal anywhere in Italy! After years of eating my way through Florence, however, I thought I would share some of my favorite places, should you ever find yourself here.
- The Central Market (il Mercato Centrale) – From the amazing sandwich shops (you must try the centuries-old recipe for the “boiled beef panino” at Nerbone), to the fresh fruits and veggies, traditional meats and cheeses, and newly opened fancy food court upstairs, I find myself eating and grocery shopping at the Mercato multiple times a week. You won’t find fresher or more delicious items at a better price!
- Kitsch – Tuscany has a wonderful tradition of “aperativi.” Basically you pay for your alcoholic drink and they provide a buffet of Tuscan delights. Kitsch has one of the most elaborate and delicious spreads in Florence and you will be hard pressed to find an equally delicious and extravagant meal for just 10 euro. It is also a great way to try new things!
- Birreria Centrale – This little restaurant comes highly recommended by locals and serves traditional Tuscan dishes. It has a quaint atmosphere with reasonable prices and a great location in the center of the city!
- Alle Murate – The history nerd in me loves this restaurant for its location – you dine in a 14th century palazzo with original frescos! It’s pricier, and should be saved for a special occasion, but is definitely worth visiting once.
- Brunori Salvatore – This local favorite serves fresh baked breads, pastries, and focaccia. They also make delicious and made-to-order panini for a steal (starting at 3.50 euros). But be warned, this place is so local they speak very little English. Think of it as a great way to practice your Italian!
- Il Teatro – This warm and friendly traditional Italian eatery is one of my students’ favorites. They make the best fried balls in Florence (also known as cocoli)! Cocoli are basically fried dough you lather with the most delicious cheese (called stracchino) and then wrap in fresh prosciutto. Like all Tuscan food, it’s simple yet amazing! Besides this incredible antipasto, they also serve a great selection of traditional dishes (I really like the prosciutto and panna tortellini).
- Cantina Gelato – What Italian food list would be complete without gelato? My absolute favorite in Florence is Cantina Gelato. It is a tiny shop just south of the river. But don’t let its size fool you, they have a great selection of interesting and delicious gelato (you must try the “cookies” and marscapone and nutella, the cinnamon and whisky is another crowd pleaser).
- Gusta Pizza – The best pizza in town, hands down. I have blogged about them before and I will do it again, it is that good! But get there early, it gets crazy. My favorite is their signature “Gusta” pizza, which if you are lucky, they will make in the shape of a heart.
- Caffe Giacosa – My one and only love in Florence. Caffe Giacosa makes the creamiest, frothiest cappuccinos (ever!). I will travel 15 minutes out of my way just to have one. The caffe itself is very chic and fashionable, I mean it was once owned by Roberto Cavalli! The caffe is also historic. Founded in 1815, it was a popular salon for intellectuals, and fun fact, the famous negroni was invented there!
- Antellesi – Another traditional Tuscan trattoria, Antellesi serves a great Florentine steak (called the bistecca Fiorentina) at an even greater price. I also highly recommend the truffle pasta, delicious!