After six months of living in Europe for a semester abroad and five weeks of traveling through the Mediterranean, I thought I had seen – and eaten – it all. Then I landed Florence – the last city on my adventure – and it paid testament to the expression “save the best for last”. Though I might not be an expert on packing light or navigating a map, one thing I’ve learned throughout my travels is how to find the most delectable food without breaking the bank. Florence is an ideal place to do just that.
My first piece of advice for navigating the food scene in Florence: if the menu is in any language but Italian, move on. The city is a tourist’s Mecca and there are restaurants everywhere. Veer off the tourist trail and away from the main squares if you want to find the most authentic, cheapest and most delicious eats. True, it’s hard to find a bad meal anywhere in Italy; however, if you’re only going for a short trip, it’s worth the extra mile to find the very best!
A second piece of advice: nothing in Florence is free! Don’t be fooled by the bread on the table or even the glass of water – if you eat it or drink it, you will be paying for it. Certainly, if you’re really hungry or in the mood, go for it; it’s important to remember, though, that everything adds up. Don’t waste your appetite.
“…one thing I’ve learned throughout my travels is how to find the most delectable food without breaking the bank. Florence is an ideal place to do just that.”
Now lets get down to food specifics. When in Florence, you obviously have to try the classics: pizza, pasta and mouth-watering paninis. I recommend having pizza and sandwiches for lunch and saving pasta for dinner. Pasta in Florence can be quite heavy and, therefore, not ideal to devour before climbing the Duomo during your afternoon of touring.
My favorite place to grab a panini is at the Anticoe Noe, found on Volta di San Piero in the arched alleyway. I feel confident in saying that this will likely be the best panini you have ever had. The prosciutto sandwich with veggies and a combination of the rosé and spicy sauces will have you licking your lips for the rest of the day. Plus, the prices range from just 3-5 euro!
For pizza, you don’t need to look any further than Gusta Pizza, a little eat-and-run restaurant just past the Ponte Vecchio. Whether you go for the traditional margherita, the spicy salami, or the cherry tomato and parmesan, Gusta is an experience like no other that will change everything you thought you knew about good eats. The wood fired oven gives the crust an authentic, rustic taste and the fresh ingredients feel like they were grown in noni’s garden. (Disclaimer: every Italian chef has an Italian noni (grandmother) whose recipes have been “passed down for generations”). I basically had to crawl back to the hostel after this meal. Although you can certainly get away with sharing the pizza, I think it’s worth getting your own. Bonus: the place is filled with lots of college students making it a fun atmosphere and, as a charming extra touch, diners can stick signed dollar bills underneath the tables to leave their mark in this most adorable and scrumptious restaurant.
For a little pick me up, combine two Italian classics – coffee and gelato – at Perche No; their coffee crunch gelato will rock your world. If coffee’s not your thing, go for the vanilla gelato drizzled with Nutella!
For dinner, La Giostra is an absolute must! This was my favorite meal in all of Florence, and who could blame me – the waiters give you a free appetizer platter and glass of champagne as soon as you’re seated (so maybe some things are free in Florence, after all!). At La Giostra, you must try the pear ravioli! It is the most creative and delicious combination that will leave you salivating for more.
Another great dinner option is Osterio Santo Spirito. They offer an incredible truffle gnocchi and Aqua al 2 where you can get an appetizer of pasta samplers (five small pasta dishes that the waiters randomly select from the menu). It gives you a chance to sample different flavors while still leaving room for dessert!
Oh, and you want to tour Florence, in addition to eating your way through it? As far as attractions go, any travel book will tell you to visit the Duomo, Uffizi, statue of David, Ponte Vecchio, and Boboli Gardens. Two additional day-trips that I embarked and recommend are the Chianti vineyards for a wine and balsamic vinegar tasting and tour, and beautiful Cinque Terre, where you can hike the five towns, cool off on the gorgeous beaches and be back in Florence by nightfall – just in time for a late dinner!
Words and photos: Michele Rabinovitch