There is an Italian proverb that goes “A tavola non si invecchia”. Translated this means, at the table you don’t become old.
Restaurant and food culture is incomparably strong in Italy. In fact, most days revolve around lunch and dinner. What does change from region to region in Italy, though, is the type of food. When you’re visiting different parts of this country, you’re not eating Italian food, you’re eating Tuscan food, Sicilian food, Roman food etc.
It’s important to know where you can find not only the best quality of local cuisine, but also the most comfortable environments where you can relax with your friends and family over a great meal and drink. That’s what la dolce vita is all about. Here is my comprehensive list of the 5 best places to eat in Florence.
1. Ará é Sud
This is the perfect solution if you’re taste buds are craving Sicily, but your itinerary just can’t find the time. Chef Carmelo Pannocchietti uses the rainbow of Sicily to create contemporary meals of the region- vibrant vegetables, carefully presented fish, and bright interior décor to give that lively island effect.
Honestly, I would order one of everything, but if you’re trying to save room for a gelato later, there are some musts on the menu. For starters I love the caponata (a blend of eggplant, carrots, tomatoes, celery, olives, capers, raisins, pine nuts, and mint) and the typical Sicilian sarde beccafico al forno (oven-baked sardines with breadcrumbs, wild fennel, and spices). Next, go for the rigatoni all norma (rigatoni with eggplant, tomato, ricotta, and basil) and the grilled mixed seafood. Perhaps the most important things on the menu, though, are the desserts. Sicilian desserts make the world go round. So take a vow right now to order (at least) one cannolo and cassatina– a small dome of marzipan over layers of sponge cake and sweet ricotta.
Like all regions of Italy, Tuscany has famous and historical cuisine- food that describes the agriculture and spirit of the area. One such all-star in Florence is a thick, juicy bistecca, steak. There are three important facts about the bistecca Fiorentina– its 20-day drying period, the 2-inch thickness, and it’s made with tenderloin and sirloin. This is the place to go for one of the best ones served in Florence. Word to the wise- don’t ask for your steak “well done”, just order it and eat it as it comes.
Walking in, you feel as if you’re in somebody’s dining room- the walls are covered with photographs and jerseys of the local football team- Fiorentina. Aside from the steak, I’d recommend the crostini starters, toasted break with various savory spreads. If you’re a vegetarian, or simply not in the mood for steak, try the minestrone Toscana or pasta with truffles.
3. Il Carduccio
The new farm-to-table hotspot in Florence, the two owners have their fresh fruit and veggies delivered straight from a farm every morning. Which, as you can imagine, translates into a varying menu. Although the specifics are created every day, you’ll see juices, soups, vegetable patés, oven-baked dishes, and cakes. Together with their farmers and producers, Carduccio brings in eco-friendly practices to their business so you can eat food that is good for your body and environment. Particularly good for the vegans and vegetarians out there, this is the place for fresh and healthy meals.
4. Antica Trattoria da Tito
A typical old school trattoria means simple décor, traditional methods of cooking, and classic recipes (often handed down through families). That’s what you get here. Serving loyal Tuscan’s since 1913, it has some of the most famous fresh pasta and meat/cheese platers in the city. The chef’s use many recipes that were once used by their grandmothers. As they try to recreate that cozy, comforting environment of eating a family meal together.
For starters, try the fried polenta and a selection of the meat/cheese platters. Try a typical Tuscan soup called ribollita, a hearty vegetable delight, or another typical dish of pappardelle with wild boar. They are also known for the tripe and Fiorentina steak. Be sure to order at least one of these specialities.
5. Il Teatro del Sale
For a bit of a livelier dining experience, head to this food + theater, former convent, cafeteria. As the food is served only buffet-style with the wait staff and chefs yelling out which dish is ready to be swarmed, it’s worth it just for the people watching alone.
Diners are required to become a member- €7 for non-resident foreigners and you pay on arrival. The lunch/brunch buffet prices are set at €15/person during the week and €20 at the weekends. The theatrical experience is during the evening where you pay €35 for food + the show. The show varies from select musicians to theater performances. The endless rounds of the buffet will last until you are in a deep food coma, but fight through the pain of your tightening waste band. No set menu for the buffet exists, but some of my favorite dishes in the past have been gnocchi, crispy fried anchovies, eggplant, swiss chard, and grilled peppers.
Learn more about the culture, traditions, and insider secrets of the Florentine food scene on our food tour.
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