Of course, I wanted to go to Florence for the art, the architecture, and the Renaissance history. But I can’t deny that I was looking forward to eating all the food. I mean, it’s Italy, right? Give me Italian pasta and gelato, and I’m a happy girl.
Despite all my excitement though, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to find really good Florentine food among all the tourist traps with multilingual menus. When I visited Rome last year, I realized that you just can’t just find the good places by accident. If it hadn’t been for my Walks of Italy food tour in Rome, I probably would have been disappointed by food in Rome.
That’s why I put a bit of effort into researching where to eat this time in Italy. In Florence, I really wanted to find the best artisanal gelato in town and have my mind blown by homemade pasta.
I looked for restaurants serving Florentine cuisine without really knowing what it was though. For me, Italian food is pizza, flavorful olive oil, and pasta like spaghetti with clams and fresh parsley.
In Florence however, I got to know a different culinary side of Italy: Florentine cuisine is mainly meat-centered comfort food. The city is surrounded by forests and thus local boar is served in almost all restaurants. Seafood is almost never found on an authentic Florentine menu, but instead there are hearty soups, stews, and sides of marinated white beans.
As a pescetarian, I usually opt for trying vegetarian and seafood dishes abroad, but since the latter was rarely an option in Florence, I could explore the best veggie foods and go a little (okay, way) overboard with buffalo mozzarella. But since I was traveling with my mom (who eats meat and has a reliably good palate!) I can even recommend a great Bistecca fiorentina. I really hope this guide to eating in Florence helps you plan your trip to Italy.
Full disclosure: From my personal experience, it’s pretty much impossible to find a tourist-free restaurant in the center of Florence, but I felt like you can choose which kind of tourists you want: American study-abroad kids eating greasy pre-pregaming pizza, or couples who spent some amount of time researching restaurants.
Caffè cornetto breakfast: All the cafés
Finding good coffee and something sweet for breakfast is relatively easy in Florence: Look out for little corner-cafés that seem a little unspectacular: See very little chairs but a long counter, lottery tickets on the wall, panini on display in a glass cabinet? Spot old men drinking espressi like a shot standing on the counter? Women with little dogs, all dressed in black? Perfect, try the coffee here!
Italians know that coffee is always better when prepared in a professional machine so most of them will grab their morning coffee on the way to work in their local café. So, if a little café/lottery shop/bakery has a lot of people walking in and out that’s most likely a good sign, because drinking coffee is a quick affair in Italy. Plus: Having your coffee/breakfast on the counter like Italians is always way cheaper!
Bakes Goods Lunch: Forno Sartoni
This little bakery was a lucky find while museum hopping near Piazza della Signoria. There are tons of different kinds of breads and baked goods on display, and I wanted to try them all. And as this bakery weighs their goods it is even possible to ask for little pieces of everything. I couldn’t even name half of the things we tried, but it was all delicious and perfect for a lunch break while sightseeing.
Panino Lunch: ‘Ino
I had no idea something like an artisanal panino actually existed, but it does and it is glorious. The little panini shop right in-between Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery has received awards from all over the world for their outstanding panini and paying a little more (around 8 Euros per panino) is absolutely justified. I tried the most basic version with pesto, tomatoes, and buffalo mozzarella, and loved it — especially since not only the ingredients but also the bread is insanely good. Well, and eating it in the sun with a view of the Ponte Vecchio didn’t hurt either.
Aperitivo: Il Santino
I adore the idea of the aperitivo culture in Italy: Pre-dinner drinking combined with pre-dinner snacking is pretty much the best invention ever. Despite several trips to Italy, I had never tried a proper aperitivo before though. Il Santino is a tiny wine shop close to Ponte alla Carraia and it was a great spot for my first aperitivo introduction — even if it was more like a tapas version of an aperitivo: You order a drink (for around 6 Euros), get a little surprise snack for free. The bruschetta looks a little unexciting in the photo, but the toasted dark bread sprinkled with fresh tomatoes, herbs, and truffle oil was actually mind-blowing.
Traditional with a modern twist: Tamerò
After watching too many cheesy movies taking place in Italy, you’d expect an Italian restaurant to have red and white checked table cloths, bulky wine bottles in every corner, lit by candles. And surprisingly, reality often comes really close. But at Tamerò traditional food is served with a unique twist in a super stylish environment. This restaurant/bar/dance club might have been the most hipster thing I’ve seen in Florence, but I loved it: The cheese platter and the homemade pasta (especially the one with the sage sauce!) here were so good, I can honestly advise you to eat here if you plan to visit only one restaurant in Florence.
Traditional and affordable: Trattoria Anita
Speaking of what a cliche restaurant experience in Italy looks like, Trattoria Anita comes pretty close: Old-fashioned interior charm, elderly but weirdly flirty waiters, and honest, uncomplicated food. Because the prices were rather cheap compared to other restaurants in Florence, my mom tried the obligatory Bistecca alla fiorentina (for less than 20 Euros) here and absolutely loved it. My asparagus risotto was nice, but judging from my mom’s expression when she had her first bite of that steak, my veggie meal could not keep up with the non-veggie dish.
Traditional: Pensavo Peggio
This was the only time my mom and I just walked by a restaurant in Via del Moro and decided to eat there. Judging on the outward appearance of a restaurant and its menu in a touristy city is often dangerous, but this time we lucked out: The food was amazing — only two words: truffle sauce! Plus, the waiter even insisted that we drink a limoncello by the bar with him before we left.
I really wanted to find the best gelato in Florence, but after trying the three following ice cream shops, I really can’t decide which one I liked best. The one thing I learned about gelato in Florence though: The good stuff is never on the main streets. And: Artisanal gelato is kept cool and never colorfully displayed in the sunlight! So if you find a tiny shop in a somewhat tourist-free street where you pick the your gelato just based on the name not on the look of it, it will most likely be amazing. I can vouch for the three gelato shops below, but I’m sure there are many more. (Also please, don’t go to Grom — they totally fake making fresh gelato in the shop.)
Gelateria della Passera
Gelateria La Sorbettiera
Cheese, sausages, fresh produce: The Markets
Florence has several markets halls which are great for exploring the local food as well as buying souvenirs. I always love exploring markets even if it can sometimes be a little tough for my stomach to see so much raw meat at once — in case you’ve heard about Florence’s most famous street food, lampredotto, you know what I’m talking about.
My mom and I spent most of our money at Mercato di San Lorenzo, which luckily wasn’t too touristy early in the morning. We literally carried an entire suitcase full of cheese, bread, truffle oil, and spices home with us. (Luckily there was a little dog making a scene at customs so no one paid attention to our suitcase full of “illegal” dairy products.) And even if you’re not planning to buy all the foods at the market (you should though), they are a great place to learn more about the local cuisine — and they are obviously fun to photograph too!
My trip to Florence reaffirmed my belief in Italian food, even though it was a little different from what I expected. It’s just so good to know that the effort of researching restaurant options before traveling to a new city is absolutely worth it!