Feasting in Florence: A Guide on Where and What to Eat
Only visiting for a couple of days? Here’s where you need to go.
By Sarah Bennett, Muhlenberg College
I just got back from an amazing trip to Florence, where I spent my time wandering around the winding, picturesque, little side streets, viewing stunning artwork and architecture that took my breath away, and simply soaking up the warm, sunny weather that was such a wonderful, welcome change from the
bitterly freezing cold somewhat chillier London climate.
While everything about my visit is still vivid in my memory, the one thing I cannot stop thinking about is the food. The second my feet touched Italian ground, I was on the lookout for real gelato. …And gnocchi, spaghetti, and carbs in general. Once I returned to London, I probably described ribbolita to my friends and family – and the random person I met at the supermarket buying canned soup – about a million times, yet I still can’t stop talking about it. Clearly, the only thing left to do is blog.
If you’re already feeling hungry, I apologize.
Anything you eat in Florence is going to be good. But, if you’re only visiting for a couple of days, you want to make sure you have the best. There’s no time to waste at subpar restaurants – there’s good food at stake here.
Thanks to advice from friends who have previously visited or studied abroad in Florence, as well as help from my friend-turned-tour-guide, Rachel, who is currently studying there, I was able to visit some of the finest (and the cheapest!) restaurants Florence has to offer. If you’re heading to Florence, these are the places where you need to eat:
Osteria Santo Spirito
This was the most popular recommendation among friends, and for good reason. It was so good that I went twice. Usually when traveling, I make it a rule to only try new places… but I figured as long as I ordered something different, it wouldn’t completely be cheating. Besides, Osteria Santo Spirito is perfect for the college traveler because it offers half-sized, half-priced portions. This means you can either A.) save money, or B.) spend just as much but order two different things. I went with option B.
The first time I went, I ordered half-sized portions of tortellini and ribbolita, a Tuscan vegetable and bread soup made with cabbage, spinach, carrots, and cannellini beans. It was unlike any soup I’d ever had, and so good. There’s bread baked right into the soup, making it extra creamy and thick. And, with all of the seasonings and different vegetables, a half-portion was more than enough.
But, since I’d already ordered a half-portion of tortellini, I wasn’t about to let it go to waste…
Or, if you’re in the mood for something else, one of their most famous dishes is gnocchi in a creamy cheese sauce.
Take a five minute walk away from Osteria Santo Spirito and you’ll read my second favorite restaurant, Gusta Pizza. For five euros you can get a personal margarita pizza that’s easily big enough to share – but why would you want to? Sometimes, the chefs surprise customers by making them special heart-shaped pizzas. I’m convinced the shape makes them taste all the better.
If you want to eat like the locals, take your pizza to go, buy a bottle of wine, and sit on the steps of the nearby St. Spirito Basilica. Go once on a weeknight to enjoy a relaxing, outdoor dinner, and once on a weekend to see the entire piazza fill up with people.
You’ve tried pasta, you’ve tried the pizza… now it’s time for paninis. This little gem is a panini shop run by Pino, the nicest man you’ll ever meet. He’s on a first name basis with my friend Rachel, and knew to make her “fantasy” order the second she walked in. The shop has every ingredient you could ask for in a panini, from meats to cheeses to vegetables. I ordered one with tomatoes, mozzarella, pesto, eggplant and spinach. The focaccia bread alone was delicious. I don’t usually like eggplant, but this one was soft and flavorful, and somehow seemed to melt in your mouth. Eggplant isn’t even supposed to do that. If you’re feeling risky, you can ask Pino to surprise you with his own combination. As far as I know, he hasn’t let anyone down. For the best experience, take your panini to go and sit on the steps of the nearby Piazza Santa Croce.
This restaurant is in a residential area, and the only way you can get to it is by passing through small side streets. Although it’s only a street away from the crowded leather market, you’d never stumble upon it unless you were looking for it. If the weather’s nice, sit in the adorable outdoor seating area, where the restaurant’s colorful chairs and bright twinkle lights, combined with the relaxing ambience of a quieter piazza, will form the perfect setting for a great meal. My recommendation is for the gnocchi with pesto sauce. It’s not listed on the menu, but my friend knew to ask for it. For wine, ask for the house red or white. It’s cheap, and it still tastes wonderful.
How could I write a guide on Florence’s food without mentioning gelato? While my friend and I went to an
embarrassingly large amount of gelaterias during our short stay, we agreed that La Carraia and Eduardo’s were the best. My personal favorite was La Carraia, where a huge scoop only costs €1.50. The gelato was the richest and the creamiest of all of the places we went, and the flavor lingered long after you finished. Also, La Carraia is located right near the water. Take your gelato and sit on the bridge, where you’ll have a beautiful view of the Ponte Vecchio.
My second favorite gelateria is in the perfect location, right next to the Duomo. I loved the pistachio flavor, but if you like cinnamon, everyone raved about the cannella. Usually, any sort of restaurant in this touristy area will be pretty pricey. However, Eduardo’s is extremely reasonable. Take your gelato and sit outside the steps of the massive Duomo. When you’re done, you can burn off those calories by hiking up the cathedral’s 400+ steps… or you could just go back to Eduardo’s for another scoop.
The Central Market
No matter where you eat, you cannot leave the city without visiting the Central Market. Before you buy anything, take a few minutes to wander around the stalls, looking at the decorative displays and sampling delicious bites of biscotti, cheeses, vinegars, and limoncello. All of the fruits and vegetables here are fresh and in season. You won’t find anything frozen or shipped from another country.
One of my favorite stalls was I’ Panaio, which sold unique pastries and fresh sandwiches. My tip is to buy anything with tomatoes and mozzarella. You’ll never find anything fresher or more flavorful. If you’re staying in a hostel with a kitchen, you can also buy fresh ingredients and make your own meals. This is a great option if you’re trying to save money while still eating authentic Italian food.
And finally, find your own place.
If you make it to all of my recommendations, it’s time to start venturing out on your own. While you’re guaranteed to have amazing, authentic Italian food at the places mentioned above, you should also try to discover at least one of your own personal favorites. Florence is a small city that’s perfect for wandering. Whether you travel on the main roads or the little side streets, you’ll walk on ancient grounds that are surrounded by historic architecture and artwork. You can’t take a wrong turn. Try starting the morning by wandering in a new direction, and when you start to get hungry, stop into any little café that captures your attention. Order a cappuccino. You won’t be disappointed.
Florence, I miss you already.