Like most destinations, Florence, Italy has numerous restaurants of varying quality and authenticity. However, with a little effort and patience, it is possible to have an authentic Italian experience and find great value for exceptional food.
Famous for its bustling street market, the area around San Lorenzo overflows with eateries just waiting to rip off unsuspecting tourists. Instead, head for the Mercato Centrale (website), the splendid covered market designed by Giuseppe Mengoni in 1874. A paradise for food lovers, the ground floor contains an impressive market consisting of butchers, delicatessens, fishmongers and a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables. Look out for Nerbone, a stall which specializes in sandwiches stuffed with local delicacies, including, for the courageous, tripe and lampredotto (the fourth stomach of the cow).
The first floor of the Mercato Centrale has recently been converted into a modern food court in fine Italian style. There are 12 different stalls serving a variety of goodies including sandwiches, cheese, vegetables, fresh pasta, meat products, pizza, chocolate, ice cream and beer. Here you can watch your food being prepared while you wait. All the dishes are made from ingredients from within the market itself. Prices vary but sandwiches are available from €4, pasta dishes start from around €5, and pizzas from €6. There is also an impressive enoteca (wine bar) featuring a fine range of wines starting at €4 per glass. The food court is open from 10am until midnight and has seating for 500 people.
If you are looking for a more intimate experience, you should head for the Casa Del Vino (Via dell’ Ariento 16, website) just a few steps away from the entrance to the Mercato Centrale. This snug little place has been run by the same family for over 80 years. The unassuming menu features sandwiches made from quality ingredients including thick slices of delectable ham and cheese starting at just €3.50 and taglieri (platters) of cold cuts and cheeses. Hundreds of bottles of fine wines line the walls and the owner is quite happy to help you find one to suit your tastes. Glasses start at €3. Get there early as Casa Del Vino gets extremely crowded at lunchtime and seating is very limited.
On the corner of Piazza del Mercato Centrale, you can find ZA-ZA (Piazza del Mercato Centrale 26, website), a typical rustic trattoria serving Tuscan specialities. There is plenty of outside seating, with heating in the winter. Specialities include truffles, pasta with walnut sauce and Florentine steak. Leave some room for the excellent tiramisu. Pasta is available from €7 and second courses start at €9. The house red is good value. Za-Za’s is always busy, so book in advance, which can be done online.
A wild boar head sporting a pair of shades sums up the atmosphere of La Prosciutteria (Via dei Neri, 54, website), just a short walk from the Uffizi. The counter displays a fabulous range of cheeses and meats, while pig legs dangle from the ceiling. Delicious sandwiches are crafted from a wide range of ingredients starting from €3.50, with platters of meat and cheeses from €7. Water is free and excellent wines cost around €2.50 a glass. There is limited seating outside and a cluster of small tables and stools inside contributing to the friendly laid back atmosphere.
The marvelous, simply decorated Trattoria Anita (Via del Parlascio 2) is a real gem hidden away on a side street. Tables are crammed in so don’t be surprised if you make friends with your neighbors. Portions are huge so do not over-order. The meat is of excellent quality and both the pork and steak are highly recommended. But don’t skip your veggies, particularly the spinach. The house wine is serviceable but here it’s better to order a bottle. Starters begin at €4, pasta and first courses from €6.50 and second courses from €6.50.
Once you have tried owner Pino’s sandwiches at the Salumeria Verdi (Via Verdi 36, website) near Santa Croce, you will probably never want to go elsewhere. Fresh toasty bread is stuffed with a huge variety of top quality ingredients including cheeses, cold cuts, vegetables and sauces. Choose from the menu, or invent your own combination. Pasta dishes are available for a mere €3.50 and a full menu (first course, second course and side dish) costs €8. Pino, who also organizes wine tastings at the nearby Enoteca Pozzo Divine, has an excellent range of wines on offer from €2.50 for a generous glass. Décor here is simple, and there is plenty of seating, which makes a comfortable change in central Florence. Service is super-friendly and efficient and Pino always makes times to chat with his customers.
Crossing the Ponte Vecchio, you find yourself in the peaceful area known as the Oltrarno (beyond the Arno), characterized by crafts and antique shops. The elegant Le Volpi e L’Uva wine bar (Piazza de’ Rossi 1, website) attracts a mixture of locals and visitors alike. There is pleasant seating outdoors and wooden stools line the long bar inside. A wide variety of red and white wines start at €4 a glass. Sandwiches (€4.50 and up) and various platters are also on offer. The Parma ham is highly recommended.
For street food in the Locarno, try GustaPizza for take-away pizza and GustaPanino for sandwiches, both with reasonable prices (€4+) just off Piazza Santo Spirito.
Of course no trip to Florence would be complete without tasting some delicious gelato. With an abundance of shops, it can be difficult to choose. Look out for the words “artiginale” or “produzione propia” indicating that the ice cream is homemade and avoid places with piles of fluorescent colored ice creams. Three of the best gelaterias include Grom (Via delle Ochre 24, website), which also specializes in ice-cream for celiacs and people with food intolerances, Gelateria Santa Trinity (Piazza Frescobaldi 11-12, website), which offers 38 flavors, while La Carraia (Piazza Nazario Sauro 25, website) has cones for as little as €1.
Service, unfortunately, tends to be quite erratic by American standards and can range from brusque to overly enthusiastic. Also, you may need a little patience while waiting to be served, but if you choose the right place it is well worth the wait.
Tipping in Florence
At most restaurants, you pay a coperto meaning service is included so tipping is not expected. If you receive exceptional service, feel free to leave a Euro or two or simply round-up the bill, depending on the type of establishment.