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May 6, 2009 05:10 AM

My favorite restaurants in Florence. Enjoy!!

I am just about to return from a 5-week trip to Florence, and I wanted to share my restaurant experiences. I did my research carefully before I left (and while I was there), so I can't say that I had any affirmatively bad meals. However, I definitely recommend certain places above others. Below I have listed those places I highly recommend (i.e., that I would return to) and then those places that I ate at and thought were good but not exceptional (I would not necessarily return to these). I have also noted in parentheses any special features or notable things about each restaurant (i.e., what to order, if it's primarily a lunch spot, etc.):

Highly recommended:

-Za-Za (touristy but still good and worth a visit; anything with truffle sauce is good)

-Il Pizzaiuolo (fabulous pizza; reservations required)

-Cibreino (they do not take reservations; get there are 7 to avoid a wait; order the yellow pepper soup, the polenta, the chicken meatballs, the raw branzino (AMAZING!), and the chocolate cake--although I think everything here is fantastic)

-Baldovino (another great pizza spot; this one is less touristy and regarded for some reason, but I thought it was just as good)

-Sant'Agostino 23 (authentic; few tourists; Oltranrno)

-Trattoria Quattro Leoni (the pear pasta probably has a million calories, but it is divine; make a reservation and try to sit outside if it's nice; Oltrarno)

-Fuori Porta (light meal/lunch; great wine enoteca; Oltrarno)

-La Casalinga (inexpensive; authentic; not much atmosphere-wise; make a reservation or get there early; Oltrarno)

-I Fratellini (my go-to lunch spot; great, inexpensive panino and wine served from (literally) a hole in the wall; you have to eat standing up outside or sitting in a nearby doorway)

-Munaciello (pizza; very trendy (but not in an annoying way), not in any of the guidebooks; younger crowd; reservations required; highly recommended; Oltrarno)

-Borgo Antica (for a casual meal on a Piazza; not mind-blowing food, but decent and fun; Oltrarno)

-Il Rufrillo (my favorite caffe in Florence; panino and pasta at lunchtime)

-Cantinetta dei Verranzzano (lunch; fabulous focaccia bread; amazing little focaccia sandwiches and pizza with sit-down place attached)

Other restaurants:

-Trattoria Sostanza (the bistecca and the meringue dessert are amazing and probably worth a visit alone, but the pastas were really not good; reservations required for one of two seatings: 7:30 and 9)

-Coquinarius (one of the few good places near the Duomo; if you can walk further, I think there are better places, but the pastas are healthy and creative, and they have salads!!)

-Da Mario (rustic lunch spot; shared tables, brisk service; worth going once if you're in the area; the bistecca is supposedly very good here; I had a good pasta with wild boar sauce)

-Del Fagioli (traditional Florentine dishes; no tourists)

-Al Tranvai (inexpensive, traditional; no tourists)

-I'Toscana (this is actually the one place I had a semi-negative experience; the entree I was served came with a side salad that was literally days old and disgusting; the ravioli with sage butter was delicious, though; ambiance here is lacking; not worth the money overall)

-Moyo (aperitivi*; the best aperitivi selection of the three I went to while in Florence; crowd is young (lots of college students); ~6-8 euro)

-Noir (aperitivi; older (30's), trendy crowd; great view if you get a table outside; ~10 euro)

-Slowly (aperitivi; trendy; ~10 euro)

-Il Cantadino (lunch; fixed price menu for lunch (~10 euro with wine) and dinner (~11 euro with wine); no ambiance; no tourists)

-FrancescoVini (pizza; cute place but lots of tourists and much better pizza at Pizzauiolo and Baldovino (and others))

* Aperitivi is when a bar offers free food (usually from about 7-9 p.m.) if you buy a cocktail (which is usually more expensive than it otherwise would be). It's a good deal as long as you only order one drink.

Finally, as far as gelato, I think I became somewhat of a snob because I only ended up liking Vivoli and Gelateria dei Neri (Vivoli was my favorite). All of the other places just didn't compare.

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  1. A post worthy of bookmarking. Fabulous list. You should spend 5 weeks there every year so you can do the research for the whole team.

    I, too, loved Fuori Porta. The off-the-beaten-path location really makes it just that bit more relaxing and enjoyable.

    1. Great post, thanks! I had heard Il Pizzaiuolo had changed hands and gone downhill - I am glad to hear it is still good, because I love that place.

      1. Thanks from me too, especially for the apertivo recs-- I plan to do a good sampling of same on my next long visit and will add to your list.

        1. Thanks for the great list. I am currently in Florence until the end of May. I have been sampling gelato including Vivoli and Grom, this last recommended to me by several different people. I agree with you that Vivoli is the best (altho' there is one--Badiano--or some such a little out of the way, that NY Times raved about a few years ago). Haven't tried it yet though. Am finally getting a little sick of gelato actually.

          I want to add to the list a really nice little restaurant I tried tonight that has really stood out for me after 6 days in Rome, 3 in Pienza/Montalcino and now almost a week here in Florence--called "I Raddi"--in the Oltrarno off Via dei Seragli on a small street. They do have all the typical Tuscan dishes including bistecca by the kilo (which looked very good) but also some interesting dishes from other parts of Italy. I had a "zuppetta" from Sardinia with mussels, octopus and calamari and a little bread at the bottom of the bowl, in a very nice soup that was perfectly spiced and not too salty, and it was a nice-sized portion and reasonable IMO at 13 euro. As a first I had a salad with buffala mozzarella and lovely small tomatoes. Some of the best buffala I have ever had--really soft and creamy. For dessert a lovely mascarpone cream with strawberries. Good service. The name has been there for 15 years or so they told me but this chef has only owned it a year and a half. I think it's the meal I have enjoyed the most in Florence, and that includes the night before where I had the pear stuffed pasta dish at I Quattro Leoni--which was not hot enough and a veal stew that was just...veal stew, nothing special--and I have to stay as a woman alone, I was slightly turned off by the waiter there. He was okay, but maybe overworked--anyway, I was not at all blown away by Quattro Leoni.

          Anyway, once again, I Raddi is worth crossing the Arno for IMHO.

          1. Great post, arooks! Where are Al Tranvai and Del Fagioli? Are they in the center with no tourists or in the Oltrano, as most of the non-touristy places often are.

            5 Replies
            1. re: roxlet

              I'm really glad that you all found my post helpful. I must say I enjoyed doing the research (and, quite ironically, I even lost weight!). Roxlet, Al Tranvai is in Oltrarno, but Del Fagioli is near Santa Croce (it's just a few streets south of the Piazza). Both are worth a visit if you are looking for something rustic and traditional with few to no tourists.

              1. re: arooks

                my 3 favourite dining experiences in Florence.

                Il Santo Bevitore, just over the river, is a lovely atmospheric room serving great traditional food with a contemporary slant, an interesting wine list, sophisticated and hip without an Italian cliche in sight. Worth booking as it seems to fill up for every service.
                Pane e Vino - Modern Italian, the Food was faultless when we ate here.
                These are some but not all of the dishes we loved.
                Sardines with liquorice, blood orange and fennel. Baked artichoke inside a soft artichoke cream casing. Broad bean soup with sauté chicory and chicory cream. Pasta ‘purse’ filled with burrata cheese and dried tomatoes, chlorophyll oil. Cardoon timbale with mozzarella and Ragusano cheese mousse. Braised beef cheek, oxtail, white beans and black cabbage. Someone really knows how to cook here.

                Teatro del Sale
                Mentioned often on these boards for good reason , coming here on your first night in Florence is a bit like getting on a topless bus on your first day so you can get an overview of the area. Eating here gives you a chance to try up to 25 different and authentic Tuscan dishes and soak up some proper Italian atmosphere. You can interact with other customers and chefs as you serve yourself from the big Table or the kitchen hatch.
                More Info on the meals on my blog -

                1. re: loudjazz

                  You don't mention here or on your blog what you were served at Teatro del Sale. Can you elaborate or did you not take notes? Also, the expression "topless bus" conjures up for an American something entirely different from what we refer to as a "doubledecker bus", but I'm sure there was no nudity intended.

                  1. re: CJT

                    Salve CJT,
                    This is from last years visit
                    TEATRO DEL SALE.

                    Fabio Picchi, the maestro behind Cibrèo (the celebrated and expensive landmark restaurant in Florence) seems to be colonizing the whole street. We arrived at Via dei Macchi to dine in the ‘Teatro del Sale’, his members club/co-operative, and passed the great Chefs’ other establishments, Cibrèo, Trattoria Cibrèo and Café Cibrèo, all serving true tastes of the region at various price levels but, apparently, the same quality. Well, if the food in those places are of the same standard as the meal we enjoyed at the ‘Teatro del Sale’ I shall look forward to returning to this magical street, though how I will be able to resist the charms of the ‘Teatro’ again I do not know.
                    Not so much of a meal as an experience.

                    The place seems to be this socialist chefs’ attempt at creating his utopian ideal of a space for relaxation, contemplation, socialization, education, entertainment, dining and general enjoyment of life.

                    I was knocked out by this place.

                    He looks like a crazy culinary alchemist with his shock of white hair and intense demeanor as he patrolled the kitchen and dining room.

                    His wife has been described as Italy’s answer to Robin Williams! Her theatre company, ‘Compagnia Maria Cassi’ often performs here after dinner but sells out quickly when she performs, often a weeks engagement at a time.
                    To dine you must become a member and agree to abide by the co-op rules which are sometimes tongue in cheek -you can have membership revoked for not letting others know of any newly discovered great dining experience- and are mostly centre on good manners, tolerance and self discipline.
                    Reserve a table, only 99 people allowed in nightly. As a member you can also visit for an amazing value for money breakfast or lunch.
                    The velvet curtains are drawn at 7.30 and we all walked through to a large room with an open kitchen, chefs preparing dinner, open fire pits, hanging copper pans and wood burning ovens.
                    Help yourself to the dishes on a serving table, chef shouts out the dishes as they are prepared for you to go over a help yourself.
                    ‘Lampredotto with much chilli and salt, 4 minutes, eat it with bread on its own. Fish soup made with fish heads still available, come to the kitchen hatch. Orecchiette with black cabbage, 6 minutes.’
                    You are encouraged to clear your own plates, waste is rightly frowned upon, help yourself to the wine and water.
                    I won’t bore you with the dishes, you know them already. Simple homestyle family food with the emphasis on territory, provenance, simplicity, seasonality and culinary Knowledge.

                    From polenta with butter and cinnamon to casareccie pasta with dogfish, chilli clams, tripe or boiled beans with olive oil, everything was simple yet special. Broccoli puree with anchovies, stewed runner beans and white bean mash were mopped up with Focaccia made with lardo and ‘bones of the dead’- fat soft breadsticks shaped like bones- all baked in the wood burning oven. The spits gave us rabbit, sausage, chicken and roasted chunks of bread that had soaked up the meat juices.
                    On one visit here my brother was gently chided by the great man himself when he asked for an extra chicken meatball with capers.

                    ‘Only one per member’ growled a twinkly eyed Mr Picchi at the kitchen hatch.
                    ‘Can I get one for my brother, he’s just there?’ said John pointing to me sat at the table directly in front of the hatch, I could hear his reply clearly.
                    ‘It’s like a church; tell him to come here to be annointed’
                    Livornese fish soup, a rich but plain risotto, misticanza salad, boiled greens with olive oil were also enjoyed before a piece of fruit crostata and coffee from the communal urns.

                    A couple of members who lived around the corner gave me the recipe for the castaniacco we had tasted, a traditional sweet made with chestnut flour, pine nuts, raisins, rosemary and olive oil but no sugar. Earthy and unusual yet familiar, it reminded me that Christmas was approaching.

                    At 9.30 the tables disappear and an hour of live entertainment follows. It could be jazz, satire, folk, poetry or anything to finish off a most memorable evening.

                    The price of 30 euros was all inclusive.

                    1. re: loudjazz

                      Thanks for responding with your report. Remembering what we were served in December 2007 and reading your listing again re-inforces my recommendation to anyone looking for an unforgettable dining experience in Florence that Teatro del Sale is not to be missed! And at 20 Euros for lunch, 30 for dinner with show after, this is a real bargain. You can't eat this much good food anywhere else in Florence for such a low price.