Food Quest: Florence
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll have a bad meal in Florence, but because of the incredible number of tourists who crush restaurants on a nightly basis, it’s often hard to get a really outstanding meal. And prices, can be on the high side as well. Some of the best food at a reasonable price in Tuscany will be in small villages, outside of metropolitan areas. Here, a few great finds in Florence and surrounding areas.
L’ Osteria di Giovanni
Via del Moro, 22
Wonderful spot for lunch specials. Go early if possible, because it will be packed with locals from noon on. Located on a tiny side street in the Santa Maria Novella neighborhood, L’ Osteria di Giovanni provides delicious, traditional pastas and exceptional pizza – thin, crispy crusts with house made cheeses. A wine cellar below the restaurant provides a wide range of choices. And everything is deliciously affordable.
Cuculia Ristorante Libreria
Via dei Serragli, 3r
For tasty versions of creative, updated Italian cuisine, try Cuculia Ristorante Libreria. And yes! The restaurant is filled with books, along with original and decorative art pieces. Cuculia also offers a vegetarian and vegan menu, almost impossible to find in Florence.
Trattoria Da Burde
Via Pistoiese, 154
Good Tuscan cooking at outstanding prices, Trattoria Da Burde offers a simple menu with all the staples. Start with a bean soup like the Farro e Fagioli or Zuppa Lombarda.
For your Primo Piatto, try Pasta alla Carrettiera (Cart-Driver’s Sauce) – a basic tomato pasta with a dash of peperoncino to spice it up. You have a number of choices for the Secundo Piatto: Fresh fish, roast-beef, chicken dishes or the house specialty – Bollito Misto, a traditional Italian stew with several meats, including veal and chicken. Finish off with a coffee and cognac. Then savor your bill which won’t be much over $30.00!
Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina
Piazza Pitti, 16
Situated at the southern end of the Ponte Vecchio and directly across from the Palazzo Pitti, the Enoteca is an oasis in a sea of mediocre trattorias near the Ponte Vecchio. The small restaurant/wine bar serves an outstanding selection of top-flight wines by the bottle or glass: Chianti Classico Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, Verdicchio and Vermentino.
Shelves of select wines accompanied by books about their winemakers and actual samples of the winery terroir line the walls. Staff are knowledgeable about the wine list and Italian wine culture and can offer wine flights to your taste.
Italian specialties are house made and taste like it. Be sure to try the Ravioli filled with Burrata Cheese in Ragu. Or order the Maltaglliati al Ragu con Agnello, (large flat pasta with lamb, fava beans and Pecorino) either dish will have you swooning.
The Enoteca is quite small, so be sure to reserve well in advance, as both locals and tourists are drawn to this quality establishment.
La Taverna di San Giuseppe
Via Giovanni Dupré 132
Located a short walk from the Piazza del Campo, La Taverna di San Giuseppe is in an ancient Etruscan house, dating back to 1100. The food is authentic and all freshly made on premise, from the ravioli, pici, pappardelle to the green gnocchi with fresh mint and tarragon.
More options: Truffle gnocchi, wild boar stew, risotto with melon, quail on polenta, or enormous steaks (Bistecca alla Fiorentina). For dessert, sample house specialties: Tiramisu, Cannoli and Gelato. The cheese course is outstanding as well.
The wine list offers more than 500 different Italian and Tuscan vintages, from the Brunellos of Montalcino to the reds of Montepulciano. Be sure to visit the cellar, once a small church, sculpted and carved by hand. Best of all, this wonderful meal is so affordable, you can easily splurge on the wine.
Ristorante da Padellina
Corso del Popolo, 54
You know you’ve FINALLY found someplace truly authentic when the menu is entirely in Italian and almost no one in the restaurant speaks English. Ristorante da Padellina is that place. Located just outside Greve, the capital of Chianti, the restaurant is still only an hour from Florence. If you can manage, this is the place to go for the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a five-finger-high steak that – when done right – simply melts in your mouth. You barely need to chew. The steak preparation is unbelievably simple, using only olive oil, salt and pepper.
The pasta and side dishes on the menu are also quite simple, but incredibly well made and fresh. The wine menu, on the other hand, is quite sophisticated, but this is the heart of Chianti, after all.
Chances are you’ll have the pleasure of meeting Alvaro Parenti, the restaurant manager. Parenti is not only a charming host but a Dante aficionado. He will happily recite long passages from the Divine Comedy and show off his impressive collection of translations – many first editions – of Dante Alighieri’s masterpiece.
Ristorante da Padellina is precisely the kind of place you hope to experience on a trip to Italy. And it’s a place you want to go back to and share with friends – you only hope that not too many others will have discovered it before you have a chance to return.