I often tell people that I chose to live in Italy to eat, and now that I’ve returned I have no problem bragging about how I ate my way through Italy (I also mention that I did this without gaining weight because I had to walk everywhere).
Finding amazing hole-in-the-wall and reasonably priced restaurants became a hobby of mine when I moved to Italy. The most important thing that I learned was to stray off the beaten path and away from tourist traps. A few ways to find these legitimate places to eat are to notice who is there, if majority of the people are local Italians, you should be good to go. If the menu is limited or there is no menu, and it’s not in English, stop by. This usually means that this restaurant frequently changes their menu, and that they always keep it fresh. Last but not least, ask the locals.
After eating my way through Florence, here is a list of my absolute favorites:
1) MERCATO CENTRALE OR MERCATO DI SAN LORENZO
After spending the morning shopping at Florence’s leather market (so many purses, jackets, and other goodies/souveniers), head over to Mercato Centrale for a bite to eat, or numerous bites to eat. The crowds are full of both tourists and locals, which only means that this place is great. Located in a giant warehouse-like building, Mercato Centrale is full of delicious food vendors and fresh produce, olive oils, breads, meats, cheeses, wine, all available for tasting and purchasing. Yum! I especially enjoyed all of the olive oils and wines. I visited on vendor that had olive oils stacked from the floor to the ceiling and I was in taste-test heaven.
We found this eatery by mistake, getting lost in the little nooks and crannies throughout Florence, we stumbled into this family style restaurant. Like many family style Italian restaurants, this place was tiny compared to American standard, but this just means that it will most likely be delicious.
Here, I ate their boar pici, a Tuscan specialty, and Boy, was it to die for/basically heaven in my mouth, hands down one of the best meals I ever had. Pici is a thick spaghetti noodle, and wild boar is Tuscany’s closest thing to a national dish. It is known for its rich and gamey flavors which add to the boar pici’s sauce. My love for pici has only grown since I moved to Italy, and after learning how to make it myself, I only get more excited to be able to eat it all the time.
3) GELATERIA SANTA TRINITA
After any meal, get gelato. Heck, get gelato whenever you possibly can. You can’t really go wrong with gelato, but this place stands out to me for a few reasons: 1) It was real gelato (read on to learn how to differentiate between real and fake gelato); 2) I came here with my parents after a delicious meal and the straciatella here was the cherry on top to a perfect day; 3) This shop also has wine available for purchase (wine and gelato in the same place = winning at life).
*Sidenote: most of us are lulled into the gelaterias because of its huge, colorful mounds of gelato on display. This is a no-no. Gelato should never be florescent colors nor in mounds. It should be displayed flat, and in sync with the color of the flavor. For example, mint flavored gelato shouldn’t be bright green, it should be white because that is the color of the mint extract used to make gelato.
4) RISTORANTE DEL FAGIOLI
We found this place on a whim, my dad actually found it in a Rick Steves book. I was a little skeptical because of its name “Fagioli,” meaning beans, and I didn’t want beans! But we walked on over – it’s about a 10 minute walk from Ponte Vecchio – and almost got turned down because it’s a restaurant which requires reservations. Fear no more, my dad’s charm and witty remark, “we came all the way from Hawaii to eat here,” got us a table.
They’re known for the bistecca fiorentina, so of course, we ordered that. Honestly, one of the best steaks I ever had (close second to Mario’s, mentioned next), and I’ve become quite the steak connoisseur over the years – I’ve been ordering filet since I was about 9 years old due to my expensive taste and curiosity. However, if you’re used to well-done steaks, Italy keeps it between rare and medium-rare, so be ready for some red meat! This place also only accepts cash and takes about 45 mins to prepare the steak.
If you’re looking for a true, authentic, and delicious Italian meal, head to Trattoria Mario. Mmm this has got to be probably my favorite restaurant in all of Italy. It is a hole-in-the-wall, and always has a pretty long wait, but it is completely worth it. The restaurant itself is tiny, so don’t be surprised if you’re seated elbow to elbow with a random stranger.
Mario’s is also cheap! The first time I ate there, I went with my two girlfriends, and we were able to split a savory and heaven-sent beef pasta, a glass of red wine each, bread, and the biggest and best filet, all for under 30€! I swore I would always return to this goldmine whenever I’m in Florence (so far, I’ve held up that promise because I took my parents when they visited me, and they loved it too!).
Have you been to Florence? Did I miss any must-eat places? Let me know!