After spending a month in Florence living near San Lorenzo, I can officially say I feel like a local. And you know you’re a local when you’ve frequented spots several times and can happily endorse them to others.
I’ve solicited Matt’s help with this post so we can share and save all the food and drink establishments we’ve come to know and love. In no particular order, here are our neighborhood go-to’s:
- BEST STEAK: Trattoria Mario
- BEST CAFE: Menagerie
- BEST APERITIVO: Kitsch Deux
- BEST WINE EXPERIENCE: Casa del Vino
- BEST PIZZA: Fuoco Matto
- BEST PASTA: Trattoria Tza Tza
- BEST ALL DAY DINING: Mercato Centrale
- BEST GELATO: My Sugar Gelateria
- BEST PANINI: Sandwichic
- BEST BRUNCH: Caffe Rosano
BEST STEAK: Trattoria Mario
An institution since 1953, Trattoria Mario is a modern classic with a Bistecca Fiorentina worthy of Cosimo Medici himself. Due to its proximity to the Mercato Centrale, we were always careful to arrive at Mario shortly after noon, knowing full well that the communal seating would quickly fill up with locals and tourists alike. Trattoria Mario is in the middle of everything, though somehow keeps its local charm.
The menu is written each day on a piece of brown construction paper, but the staff knows why you came: To order the magnificent Florentine steak “il sangue” (bloody) and wash it down with the house wine (fairly good) or the $7.50 barolo. (Unbelievable).
We made it a point to always order a side salad, and as a bonus ordered an extra side of pomodori con pepe and olio. This is a meal you shouldn’t sleep on in Florence, though you’ll absolutely be napping afterward.
Matt’s Twitter Review: The kind of place that makes you protective of how their perfect steak is cooked, even when it isn’t your order. Get there early and pair with barolo.
Alexa’s Twitter Review: Best steak ever and worth the wait. Get there when they open, get the T-bone, and go home very, very happy.
BEST CAFE: Menagerie
I have a soft spot for Le Menagere, a trendy coffee shop in the middle of Via de Ginori. I spent a week in Florence a couple of years ago after we lost a close friend of mine, and it was here I began writing again. This wasn’t an accident – it’s a place that uses nature (there’s a florist directly in the middle of the shop), color, architecture, and – of course – coffee to inspire anyone that wanders in.
A predominantly Florentine customer base toasted glasses of wine to each other in the bar the first time I went in, however, its proximity to the tourist center of Florence is drawing in an increasing number of Americans. (This would make an absolute killing in Brooklyn or Austin.)
Prepare for a fantastic cup of coffee and solid vino bianco selection on a hot summer day. And don’t be surprised when you look up from your notebook and three hours passed by. It’s a perfect place to take a break and curl up on the easy chairs with friends.
Matt’s Twitter Review: A perfect blend of modern and traditional, which probably describes the coffee as well. Enjoy the company of yourself, a new friend, or an old flame.
Alexa’s Twitter Review: The prettiest cafe in all of Florence. It looks like the interior of an Anthropologie and is perfect for reading or writing with any beverage of your choice.
BEST WINE EXPERIENCE: Casa del Vino
We had to check out this enoteca because of the tourist reviews on TripAdvisor: They weren’t great. Many of the people were complaining that the owner wouldn’t speak to them in English so they took their businesses elsewhere.
We walked in and immediately knew this would be the place for us. Gianni, the owner, speaks Italian and was happy to see us attempt to order our drinks in his native language, as well as have a host of Florentine loya
lists come in and out of the shop to pick up difficult-to-find bottles and/or their favorite table wine.
Casa Del Vino also has small sandwiches and antipasto ready to go at lunchtime, so it’s an assuming place to wash down your panini with two more glasses of wine than you should. (One of those should be orange wine, which you can order by the glass and goes down well in the summer.)
Matt’s Twitter Review: Unapologetically Italian – down to your order. Impressive list of wines by the glass, and the heart of the Florentine lunch culture might beat here, despite it being hidden in the middle of a tourist destination.
Alexa’s Twitter Review: The owner will not speak to you in English, but just roll with it. Wine selection is killer and the locals come here for lunch. Great respite away from market crowds.
BEST APERITIVO: Kitsch Deux
If there were one Italian custom I’d bring back to the states, it would be “aperitivo” and it isn’t close. While it is perfected in Northern Italy, Tuscany isn’t far behind. And in Florence, Kitsch has no equal.
For 10 Euro, you pre-pay for a drink and an entire spread of food that looks more like your Thanksgiving dinner table than a traditional aperitivo. Italians don’t treat this as dinner, but rather a light place to pick at vegetables, flat breads, cured meats, and more. The spread at Kitsch is so elaborate you have to go back in twice simply to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
The bartender can make drinks well beyond an Aperol Spritz (though…you should order that) and they have both indoor and outdoor seating to enjoy a long, relaxing evening with friends and family.
Matt’s Twitter Review: The only thing more impressive than the quantity of this aperitivo is the quality. The drink it also accompanies for $12 will need to be nursed to wash this entire spread down.
Alexa’s Twitter Review: The best value, most extensive aperitivo in all of Florence. $12 euro gets you a drink of your choice and unlimited plates of lasagna, salads, grilled veggies, meat, and seafood.
BEST PIZZA: Fuoco Matto
Fuoco Matto – despite being an actual stop on the 23 bus route that opens directly in front of its doors – remains the best-kept secret on the Florence pizza scene. The menu emphasizes the freshest ingredients, and the massive clay oven cooks up the best margarita pizza in Florence, with the perfect amount of cheese, salt, and ripe tomato sauce to round out the satisfying crunch. Gustapizza gets the accolades, but this is the pizza to beat.
The moment we first sat down for dinner, the waitress dropped three glasses of wine on our table. “Is this water?” one of us asked. “No.”
The experience is meant to elicit a higher class food experience with reasonable prices, and also somehow feel like you’re making the piz
za at home. It does this well, and they’ll sometimes throw in a limoncello at the end to help you digest the three specialty pies you’ve managed to order before you can stop yourself.
Make a reservation or call ahead if your party is larger than two, and you might be lucky enough to be sat in the communal table in the back room.
Matt’s Twitter Review: A hidden gem jus
t east of the Piazza Independenzia, it somehow stays under the radar despite having the best margarita pie…and a bus stop named after the restaurant.
Alexa’s Twitter Review: Best pizza in Florence and maybe all of Italy? Great for lunch or dinner, Fuoco Matto will appeal to any diner.
BEST PASTA: Trattoria Tza Tza
We walked by Trattoria Za Za almost daily. It’s just across the street from Mercato Central and a few feet next door to Trattoria Mario, another local fave. From the outside it easily looks like a tourist trap. Groups congregate in the front on any given evening waiting to be seated. What we found is lunch time or really any time between lunch and dinner is prime for a visit.
The interior is deceivingly large from the outside. The ambiance is a combination of large format steak house, Italian diner, Grandma’s house, and Times Square. There’s a bottle of house chianti waiting for you on the table, which can be purchased for $14 euros. It’s placed right next to your paper placemat, which reminds you to find the restaurant on social media and use the QR code to download the menu in multiple languages.
Although it clearly caters to droves of tourists, the food stands up to its reputation as old school Italian cooking. There’s a bottle of house chianti waiting for you on the table, which can be purchased for $14 euros. Skip it and jump to the wine list, which offers a range of glasses and bottles from Tuscany and beyond (hello Lambursco, Brunello, and Barbarasco!).
We opted for salad and prosciutto and melon to start followed by 2 pastas – spaghetti carbonara with truffle and gnocchi with crab. The service was hit or miss with multiple waiters tending to us and odd gaps in between courses. What the service lacked, the food made up for in comfort and flavor.
The prosciutto was reminiscent of the delicate, salty ribbons we tasted in parma. The carbonara sauce generously coating every strand of spaghetti with healthy bits of pancetta for every bite. And last but not least, the gnocchi with crab was unexpected to say the least. What I thought would be a very simple, cream based sauce with a sprinkling of fresh crab turned out to be an umami bomb of seafood tomato sauce and half a crab. This last dish will go down as one of the more memorable plates of food we’ve eaten all summer. You’d think there was crab marinating in that sauce for weeks it was so dense with flavor.
The total bill was $80 and included 2 appetizers, 2 pastas, a bottle of water, and 4 glasses of wine.
Matt’s Twitter Review: So many dishes, but the best is the crab gnocchi. It requires work to get the crab meat, but the mess is worth it!
Alexa’s Twitter Review: Extensive menu with something for everyone. The pastas are a standout. Beware of tourists who complain their steaks are rare!
BEST ALL DAY DINING: Mercato Centrale
You can’t go to Florence without visiting Mercato Centrale or Mercato di San Lorenzo. It’s the largest market in town and also one of the oldest. The first floor consists of independent vendors selling fresh produce, seafood, meats and cheeses, and a few restaurants. Pasta fresca is popular with tourists and just around the corner is a cafe we like to frequent for morning cappuccinos. The bar is always bustling with locals looking to get their caffeine fix and the staff couldn’t be nicer. If feeling adventurous, the opposite stand serves lamprodotto, tripe sandwiches, which is what I usually see the bartenders and locals slouched over at lunch time.
I much prefer Sant’Ambrosio near Santa Croce when it comes to shopping, but the not so hidden secret about Mercato Centrale is its second floor. I’d like to think of it as Florence’s Chelsea Market, but far more accessible. The food hall is conveniently open til midnight 7 days a week and has vendors serving every type of Italian food you could possibly want. This served as my local cafeteria many days during our stay.
There was something indulgent about being able to grab an Aperol Spritz or glass of wine at the bar and walk around choosing between eggplant parmigiana sandwiches, anchovy crostinis, freshly fried seafood, or sicilian arancini balls. I frequented many of the vendors, but a few highlights for me include:
- Gnocchi pasta for $7
- Stuffed chicken with salad and potatoes for $12
- Truffle carbonara for $20
Lunch on the weekends is a nightmare, but go off hours and it’s a foodie paradise.
Matt’s Twitter Review: The downstairs and the upstairs have two different experiences, but are both quintessentially Florence. Visit the cafe on the south side for near-perfect specialty coffees.
Alexa’s Twitter Review: The 2nd floor is where it’s at! Amazing food hall serving tasty Italian treats and drinks. Avoid lunch on weekends. Bonus: open til midnight 7 days/week!
BEST GELATO: My Sugar Gelateria – Alexa
After eating at dozens of gelato spots this summer, My Sugar remains one of my all-time favorites, if not the #1 gelato spot on my list. There aren’t as many flavors as other spots like Vivoli, but the flavors change regularly and include some unique “gusti” like Black Sesame. The owner prides himself on studying from the best gelato makers in Italy and winning major gelato contests in recent years. It’s hard to walk by without grabbing a cone or cup of Mango and Sesame. These 2 flavors together are magic in your mouth.
Matt’s Twitter Review: I don’t even love mango, and I think about the mango gelato at night sometimes.
Alexa’s Twitter Review: Mango and black sesame are two of the best gelatos I’ve had all summer. Worth a visit, even if it’s out of your way.
BEST PANINI: Sandwichic
Frequented by students, tourists, and locals alike, Sandwichic is one of the best value and best quality lunches you can find in all of Florence. The shop is just a narrow aisle that can probably fit 5 people standing and 8 people sitting up against the walls and back corner. It gets busy, but it’s worth the wait.
Walk in and you’ll be immediately smacked in the face with the small of truffle, melted cheese, and salumi. Look up and you’ll instantly be overwhelmed by the chalkboards that list out dozens of flavor combinations all for $4-$5 per pannino.
There are 3 things that make sandwichic a standout: the staff’s hospitality, the quality and care of the ingredients, and the consistency. It doesn’t matter what time of day you go into Sandwichic, what day of the week, the weather, the business, etc. You’re always guaranteed an amazing panino with perfectly toasted focaccia, clever flavor combinations like mortadella, melted taleggio cheese, and caramelized onion, and friendly faces who always want to help panini newbies decipher their menu.
If I could bring back one business to New York with me from Florence, this would be it.
Matt’s Twitter Review: Much Better than all’Antico Vinaio. But 1/20th of the size. Don’t tell anyone about this place.
Alexa’s Twitter Review: My favorite panini shop in Florence. Don’t get overwhelmed by all the choices – you can’t go wrong. Get ready for the best $4 sammy of your life.
BEST BRUNCH: Caffe Rosano
Italians aren’t really big breakfast people. Most days breakfast consists of an espresso or cappuccino standing at the bar and maybe a croissant or pastry. As an American, finding Caffe Rosanna was a breath of fresh air. They have omelettes- big 3 or 4 egg omelettes – and even better, bigger coffee!
If you’ve ever traveled throughout Europe, you know that American sized coffee is tough to find. All the servings are small and god forbid you actually want a cup of coffee to go. I have no idea if the owners just know there’s a gap in the market to fill or they really just love serving loads of caffeine, but Caffe Rosana is home to the largest cappuccino I’ve ever seen.
When we first went, the waitress asked us if we wanted grande, or large. For me, grande is usually somewhere between a small and a medium in the United States. When she arrived with a cappuccino two-thirds the size of my face I was stunned. My guess is if you poured it into a Starbucks sized-cup it would be the equivalent of 2 grandes.
If you’re craving an American style breakfast or coffee, look no further than Caffe Rosana. Just be aware that it’s popular and fills up quickly most mornings and early afternoons. And while they have an American menu, they keep very Italian hours: they’re closed Saturdays and Sundays.
Matt’s Twitter Review: You won’t have to worry about falling asleep after one of the cappuccinos. Wash one of the pastries down with it, and then prepare to have enough energy to construct a second Duomo yourself.
Alexa’s Twitter Review: American breakfast in Florence! Large omelettes, giant cappuccinos, and a brother/sister team running the place make it feel like a home away from home.