For some of you, it is the entire reason you’ve come to Italy, and believe me, we don’t blame you. In fact, we’re here to help. While it is relatively hard to eat badly in Italy, that’s no reason to throw caution to the wind. Come prepared, come with some basic eating/food ordering know-how, and get ready to find out how good Italian food can really be. We’ll start with some really important tips (to save you headache, heartache, and hard earned cash) then we’ll get on with the list of some of our favorite places in Florence from cheap eats to super fancy (want to skip to the list?).
This is by no means our first time diving into eating tips. We feel rather strongly about the subject. If you want some classic dos and don’t as well as some basic restaurant vocabulary check out our popular Top Ten Tips blog section on eating. For some even more specific tips, check out our list of American-Italian foods that don’t actually exist in Italy, along with, of course, a list of little known wonders that do and are very worth trying.
Ok. Onto some of the classic eating-in-Italy etiquette foibles…
Breakfast on your feet vs. sitting
Italians tend to stand and eat for breakfast and often lunch as well. This can be a little off putting, even unpleasant, for Americans who are used to sitting for every meal, but for Italians it is quite normal and natural. I would say to simply do what you like if it were not for one key detail: If you sit at a table in a Bar (not the beer kind, the coffee kind) they will charge you more money than if you stand. Yes, even if you are eating and drinking the same exact thing as the people standing. It is not a scam (at least not really); it’s just how it’s done. The only “scammy” part about it is perhaps that they know non-Italians tend to be the ones that sit and then they conveniently don’t mention to these “sitters” that the prices will to be much higher (by “much” I mean a 1.20Euro cappuccino becomes 3Euro or more in some cases). So be aware, they will see that you are American and try to get you to sit. Just kindly say no thank you and stand like the Italians. Besides, eating pastry and an espresso takes very little time.
However, there are benefits to sitting and paying the extra dough. When you pay the premium price, you can sit there ALL DAY. Literally. They will never make you leave. The joke in Italy is that once you DO sit down, it’s impossible to get your check and go. Keep this in mind if you are in a rush! Italians do not understand the concept of eating fast and do not tend to be super supportive if you try and do it (with the exception of pizza, which can be made and eaten relatively fast without causing a scandal). Their feeling is that the food is worth enjoying, so make the time. I happen to agree.
Paying before or after
In most places where standing is the name of the game you usually pay first, THEN eat. So, if you go to a coffee bar and want a juice and a pastry, you go to the register FIRST (called the cassa), tell them what you are having, pay, then take your receipt over to the bar, tell the person over there what you ordered and (after checking you receipt) they will bring it to you. It is a little silly to have to tell two people, but this way you can eat and leave at your leisure. Just remember, DON’T LOSE THAT RECEIPT. It seems funny at first, but after a day or two you get the idea and it feels normal.
How much to pay
In general, even in small cities like Florence, the closer you are to the “attractions” the more you will pay for food. If you are next to a big fancy piazza, wander off and find a hidden spot. This could mean walking as little as a block away! Chances are the food will be better AND cheaper. This also goes for little snacks like gelato. Stores right next to say, the Duomo of Florence, will hide their prices so that you think you are ordering a 2 Euro cup, but when you walk up to pay it suddenly costs 8 Euro. Why? Because they can. If you don’t see prices, walk away.
In general, they do not tip in Italy. I say “in general” because on your bill you will see an extra charge called either pane (meaning “bread”) or coperto (meaning a “cover”). It is usually 1 or 2 Euro per person and that is your tip. You don’t have leave anything else. However, if you had great service and you want to, a tip is ALWAYS appreciated. Now, sometimes they will do this annoying thing where they leave the coperto off the bill because they think, being foreigners, you will leave more. Feel free to leave exactly what you would have, had there been a coperto, roughly 2 Euro a head.
Ok. Onto the food!
There are a ton of cheap eats in Florence that could keep you happy for a long long time. There are also some really expensive places. It’s really up to you and your budget. I always think it’s nice to splurge on one nice meal if you save up with lots of low cost pizzas! As if that is so bad.
The Sandwich Craze
I say this ironically, because in Italy, sandwiches – aka panini – have always been “in.” Here are some of the best of the best (for a fun contest we had between the many well-known panini spots, see our blog series, The Sandwich Wars).
All’Antico Vinaio, Via dei Neri, 74, Florence, Italy
Of the many places to eat sandwiches all over Florence, this little hole-in-the-wall has risen to the top. It actually just joined forces with the forno across the street so that it has a bit more room to serve the now non-stop line of people (yes, mostly tourists) waiting for their huge and affordable panini. We can’t blame them, and luckily the line goes rather fast. The guys that serve the panini are also very friendly and will happily make you one of the pre-set sandwiches or one of your own creations. Our recommendation is to just let them make you what they think is good. Best part, their huge 6 Euro sandwiches could feed a family of 5 (slight exaggeration, but at least two medium hungry people). It’s also in an ideal location right behind the Uffizi so it’s a perfect place to eat before or after tackling that massive museum.
Da’ Vinattieri, Via Santa Margherita (a little alleyway of the Corso), Florence, Italy (by the so-called Dante church and behind his supposed house)
This is another great little sandwich place, a little more hidden and a bit more popular with Italians. They have a great and unique list of simple Italian panini on schiacciata (salty flat bread) and some other snacks, like my favorite, coccoli (little fried dough balls) and panzarotti (fried dough balls filled with yummy stuff). For those with adventurous taste buds, they also serve lampredotto and trippa (I would look those up before eating them but Italians swear by them so, um…God speed).
Gustapanino, WAS: Via dei Michelozzi 13r but now it is right around the corner, directly on Piazza Santo Spirito (just follow the American students).
This is another little hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop on the other side of the river. Three or four Euros will buy you a delicious panino or piadina (one is a sandwich the other more of a wrap) full of fresh, traditional Italian ingredients like olive pesto, pecorino, truffle cream, sun-dried tomatoes and a variety of cured meats. Not a ton of seating but a gorgeous, sunny piazza (complete with gurgling fountain) awaits you right outside.
Pazzo per Pizza
One step up from the panino price-wise is the classic Italian personal pizza. It has so much going for it – it’s a ton of food for in many cases under 8 euro (and with a drink make it a 10 euro dinner packed with flavor), you can eat it fast, and it’s a super no fuss, casual meal. So you can go out, not get dressed up, and not break the bank. Oh and did we mention they’re delicious? Here are some of our favorite spots to enjoy this Italian staple.
Pugi, Piazza S. Marco, 10 Florence, Italy
This is technically a panino and a pizza place (oh and also a cookie place). It’s the best “to go” pizza in the city for lunch if you ask me and, understandably, it is always packed. You go in (there is no seating), take a number (there is a little number dispenser to the left when you walk in), when it’s your turn just point at what you want (ideally the thing that just came out of the oven), and they will cut it right there and weigh it. It is really worth braving the crowd, I promise. After you pay, take it out to one of the benches in the piazza and eat in the sun. Try the “schiaciata” (said skia-chata). It is like focaccia but specific to Florence. Amazing!
Osteria del Caffè Italiano, Pizza Tavern, Via Isola delle Stinche, 11R-13R 50122 Firenze Italy Phone: +39 055 289080
This is one of my favorite places to grab a quick pizza in the city (dinner only). It is technically the pizza oven for a fancy restaurant called Osteria del Caffè Italiano that they converted into a kind of quick, mini pizzeria. There are about 5 tables, the menu has three pizzas on it, you can get water, coke, wine or beer, and that’s it. Ordering is a snap, the pizza is made right there by the pizza artist (yes, he is an artist), and you’re out of there in under an hour with an amazing meal in your belly and your wallet only about 10euro lighter. I always get the marinara because it is so simple and garlic-y and amazing. Make sure you ask for the spicy olive oil. It makes everything better.
Note: They knock of a euro if you get it to go.
Pizzaiuolo, Via dè Macci, 113, 50122 Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 241171
This place has been around for a long time and draws a lot of the tourists, but the locals keep coming all the same. The pizza has a more southern “puffy” crust and a long list of exciting combinations. Prices are reasonable and there are also a lot of other fun sides to try if someone in your group is sick of pizza (sick of pizza? That’s crazy talk). I am a big fan of ordering a ball of their burrata (cheese heaven) and then keeping some to eat with my pizza.
Pizzeria Antica Porta, Via Senese, 23, 50124 Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 220527
This place is outside one of the doors of the city, so it is not so much “central,” but the walk will cultivate your hunger and I promise, you’ll be happy you made the hike. All the ingredients are brought up from the south, including all the mouth-watering cheese (have you identified my kryptonite yet?). They also have a wide selection of pastas and amazing desserts with a daily menu packed with the freshest ingredients. Try the antipasto sampler if you’re feeling really hungry, including the ball of fresh mozzarella (yep, there it is again).
‘O Munaciello, Via Maffia, 31, 50125 Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 287198
This place is just fun. On a very unexpected back street on the other side of the Arno, the unsuspecting entryway opens up into a huge pizzeria serving traditional Napolitano pizza. On certain nights they have live music and its always pretty lively and loud. The décor is awesome and the pizzas are also great, so it’s a win-win.
Eataly Florence, Via de’ Martelli, 22 R 50129 Firenze Phone: +39 055 0153610
Want a little of everything? This place has just opened right in the center of Florence and is getting quite a bit of attention. The supermarket-restaurant has some quick snack stations, including a panino/pizza counter with some scrumptious options for very reasonable prices. Grab it to go and enjoy it right on the steps of the Duomo.
What if you don’t want a panino or a pizza? What if you don’t want a casual fast dinner? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
Trattoria Anita, Via del Parlascio, 2, 50122 Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 218698
One of my go-to spots for as long as I have lived in Florence. It’s run by three brothers, some of the friendliest restaurant owners in Florence. They always make an effort to remember you and make you feel at home. They have a ton of options all for amazingly reasonable prices so you can feel free to try out a proper three-course meal (antipasto, primo piato, secondo piato, and then maybe a dessert and a coffee) without feeling guilty afterwards. I highly recommend the tortellini alla norcina (sausage and truffle sauce on little tortelli) and their carbonara is quite good too. They even have a very affordable bistecca alla Fiorentina, a classic item to try while in Florence but often not in the budget. Well grab some friends and try it here where they won’t ask for your first-born.
Osteria Santo Spirito, Piazza Santo Spirito, 19 r, Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 238 2383
Another one of my favorite spots in Florence is located on the lovely and (slightly) less touristic, Santo Spirito. They have wonderful outdoor seating and a nice menu that is a little different from your run of the mill Italian trattoria (I highly highly recommend the gnocchi in truffle oil. It may change your life.) They also uniquely offer their primi (pasta courses) in small or large portions, have huge dinner salads (rare in Italy), and are open at times that other places are not. If you are eating at an odd hour, try this place first. (**TIP** Anything before 8pm is a bit early for Italians.)
Del Fagioli Corso dei Tintori, 47-r, 50122 Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 244285
This is a local favorite for sure. It is good, honest Italian cooking for reasonable prices – a sure winner in Florence. So, they pack in the crowds into a smallish space where the tables are packed to maximum capacity. But the atmosphere is fun and friendly. More importantly, the food is always as authentic as the experience. My one complaint is that they are only open on the weekdays!
Trattoria Cesarino, Via Giovan Battista Niccolini, 16, 50121 Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 247 9169
If you want the real Florentine experience, you’ll have to leave the center at some point. If you do, we recommend you go here. It’s an affordable and welcoming trattoria run by husband and wife. They are beyond friendly and love sharing their passion for food with newcomers. Let them tell you what to get from their menu that changes daily as there will always be a mix of traditional and not-so-traditional to choose from. It’s a home away from home for us and many in the neighborhood.
Trattoria ZàZà , Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 26, 50123 Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 215411
This place looks like a big tourist trap, but it is actually really good and still pulls a lot of local eaters. Found right behind the central market, this huge restaurant has expanded something like three times over the years. Luckily, it hasn’t lost its quality. It still has an awesome selection of primi and secondi and one of my favorite antipasto plates in Florence (see main photo above). Yes, it is a bit gimmicky (they now walk around and ask if you want to buy their products which bugs me), but when I have a group of 8 or more or have jetlagged friends hungry at odd hours, they are welcoming and always impress.
Brac, Via dei Vagellai, 18, 50122 Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 094 4877
This is as close as it gets to hipster eating here in Florence, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s a restaurant in a bookstore, win. It is totally hidden, win. It has great brunch and dinner and a menu with lots of healthy, vegetarian (and even vegan) options, win, win, win. The only downside is that many people have heard and it is now very popular. Reservations are a must for dinner and probably for brunch too. If you can make it, go! It is a really lovely change of pace.
Trattoria Quattro (4) Leoni, Via dè Vellutini, 1r, 50125 Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 218562
Very delicious, but also very popular. They recently expanded but you will have to make a reservation anyway. It’s not too pricey, but perhaps on the upper end of medium price range. It has lots of very traditional Italian and Florentine specialties as well as some unusual items. Try their artichoke antipasto (when in season) and the pear ravioli with pomegranates and asparagus. Then follow it with the cheesecake! YUM!
Sadly, being a poor student has not helped me explore this category as much as I would like. However, on the rare occasion that I have been able to splurge, this is where I had some really memorable meals.
Buca Lapi, Via del Trebbio, 1-r, 50123 Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 213768
A classic Florentine cellar restaurant that serves top-notch bistecca (steak) and some of the best primi (pasta dishes) I have had in Florence, but for a price. It’s the kind of place you get a little dressed up for (since your waiter is wearing a bow tie!) and you try not to look at the bill if you can, but you will also leave smiling.
Café Cibreo, Via Andrea del Verrocchio, 5r, 50122 Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 234 5853
This is the smaller, less expensive version of Cibreo the restaurant, which made us nervous about ever eating at the “more expensive” version, but did not disappoint. They serve a kind of prefix menu that includes an array of classic Italian antipasti made with the freshest ingredients in town. I can honestly say that their crostini Toscane (liver pate on toasted bread) changed my world and made me a true believer in this Florentine classic (after all these years!). The wine is excellent, the desserts are divine, and you sit in red plush theater chairs, which is always fun. It’s a splurge, but taking up to three hours, it’s also an event worth experiencing.
Buca Dell’Orafo, Via dei Girolami, 28, Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 213619
A little hidden but literally right near the Ponte Vecchio. Reservations are a must. Expensive but maybe one of the best meals I have had in Florence. You must get (if they have it) the ravioli with cream and prosciutto. Mmmmmm
Ristorante Caffè Pitti , Piazza de Pitti, 9, 50125 Firenze, Italy Phone:+39 055 239 9863
This is a rather unique Florentine experience, so I thought I would mention it. What’s their gimmick you ask? Well…everything is cooked with fresh truffle!! Antipasto, primo, secondo…they even have ice cream with truffle! So as you can imagine, the prices can be a bit high. If you want fresh white truffle, you’ll have to ask for the market price that day. Conveniently they also have a nice tasting lunch menu that is “slightly” more affordable. They also have nice outdoor seating so you can sit and enjoy Piazza Pitti in the nice weather.
This is an ever growing and changing list but we tried to include places we have consistently enjoyed. If you find something that deserves to be on this list, let us know!! We can only eat so much… Ok that is a complete lie. We can eat a lot more! Bring it on!!