Wife and I just spent 6 days in Florence. This report tells where we ate and assessments of nearly a dozen restaurants and other venues. Bear in mind we were there Dec.6-12 (excellent weather, fewer tourists, no long lines at museums). We made no reservations, but that might be necessary at other times of the year.
The focus here is on eating food of the area in places frequented by locals. A well-known Chicago Italian-born chef said it best when he recommended a few places to eat: When I go to Florence, I want to taste the food, not to see beautiful presentation or haute-cuisine service. We followed his approach and opted for moderately priced places with authentic Tuscan food where the clientele was mainly local folks. Heres our report, in sequential order of our visits:
1. TRATTORIA SOSTANZA-TROIA (its full name on the bill receipt), Via del Porcellana, 25r After so many Chowhound postings about this place, we had to try it. Décor is not the least bit fancy, but it is neat and functional. Guidebooks say they have 2 seatings 7:30 and 9 PM, but we walked in at 7:30 with no reservation and had a table to ourselves. Started with shared portion of tortellini en burro: tortellini in nothing more than butter, but very delicious. Main courses were bistecca fiorentina and petti di pollo en burro. The steak (done al sangue) was a good as everyone said flavorful, tender, cooked to perfection. The chicken in butter 2 breasts swimming in an extraordinary butter sauce was on a par with the steak for flavor. Great to dip your bread in the sauce! For contorni, we chose bietole lesse (chard in oil and garlic). With bottle of water and a pitcher of vino della casa, price was 44 (at $1.34 = $59).
Overall rating: wonderful food, fast and pleasant service. Worth visiting on every trip to Florence.
2. NERBONE, Mercato Centrale Always great to visit the markets of an Italian or French city/town and see whats available. Although there are other food places within the Mercato Centrale, the best is Nerbone, a food stand about 25-30 long facing one wall of the market. There are some tables and chairs opposite the stand on a first-come basis, no table service offered. You select what you want and pay for it at the cash register. There you can order from their daily menu of hot dishes, or pay for a bollito sandwich, then stand in line at the other end of the counter with your receipt waiting to get your sandwich of sliced boiled beef on a panini roll. The meat carver wants to know if you want him to dip the roll in broth (bagna) and if you want salt, salsa verde (mostly parley in olive oil), or hot peppers on top of the meat. Your sandwich is handed to you in a piece of waxed paper and you leave the line. Sandwich is quite good and reasonably prices (2.30 = $3.08) I also ordered a bowl or ribollita, the great Tuscan bean and cabbage soup, at the counter and it was one of the best we ever ate in Florence, certainly the least expensive. This place was full of local workmen having their lunches and friendly bantering with the counter staff.
Overall rating: dont miss the experience. Bollito and soup great! The scene is real and down-to-earth. Everybody wears a smile.
Before or after you eat at Nerbone, visit a market stand just 1 row up and 1 over from Nerbone: PERINI. This is a meat/cheese/salad purveyor of high quality products. They regularly put plates of food to sample on the counter and you can help yourself: slices of prosciutto on bread crisps, olive spread, marinated tomato spread, marinated garlic cloves, cheese, etc. In fact, it the food makes you thirsty, just ask for some wine and they will pour you a cup or white or red. But remember they are there to sell products, so taste and buy parmigiana or boar salami to eat later.
3. GIGLIO ROSSO RISTORANTE, via Panzini 35r/via del Giglio 13r (either entrance can be used this is near Santa Maria Novella church) Very pleasant atmosphere and dining room with good service. Shared an order of garganelli con calamari e gamberetti, pasta in a light tomato sauce with pieces of squid and baby shrimp. Secondi: piccatina de vitello (veal cutlet in lemon sauce) and cinghale alla maremma (boar meat in a wine and tomato sauce)which came with polenta fries (polenta cut into strips, then deep-fried). Contorni: rape (broccoli rabe) Excellent flavors in all dishes eaten. With ½ pitcher of house wine and ½ bottle of water 40 ($53.60)
Overall rating: very pleasant dining room, quality food with interesting flavors and preparation.
4. TRATTORIA CIBREO, Visa dei Macci 118/r This is not the main Cibreo restaurant but its connected trattoria, just off the Piazza San Ambrogio. We ate lunch here. Menu is limited but comes from the same kitchen as the main restaurant, yet is much lower in price. Primi included our favorite dish at this place: polenta. We have never tasted one so creamy and rich in taste. Portion is not enormous, but exquisite in flavor. Secondi: cold breast of chicken with mayonnaise, potatoes, and cippolini; palombo salsa livornese species of dogfish in a spicy tomatoey sauce in the style of Livorno. Drank house wine by the glass: Antinori chardonnay 41 ($55)
Overall rating: this is still one of our favorites in Florence. Food is always at a high level (but about 40% lower in price than the Cibreo restaurant next door). Cold chicken was not as good as other dishes, but satisfied nonetheless. Trattoria is more intimate and often crowded, but always excellent food. Highly recommended. We prefer going here at night, as they frequently offer a glass of prosecco to diners before dinner.
5. LE MOSSACCE Via Proconsolo 55/r (about 3 doors north of Via Corso on west side of Proconsolo) Another favorite with local clients. Primi: penne in fresh tomato sauce with chucks of pumpkin (great combination), canneloni with spinach and cheese in a meat sauce (thin sheets of pasta wrapped around the filling). Contorni fagiolini (beans) with oli and garlic, spinach. Just a light lunch at 20 ($26.80) with a ¼ carafe of house wine + water
Overall rating: if you want to mix with local diners, this is the place. Small quarters, but excellent basic Tuscan fare at low prices. Great for lunch because its only a few blocks from Duomo.
6. TRATTORIA MARIONE Via della Spada 27r ( not far from S. Maria Novella) Ate lunch here in 2001, went for dinner this time. Primi: pappardelle salsa coniglio (ribbon pasta with rabbit sauce) and raviolone (3 large pieces flat squares of thin pasta wrapped around filling of mushrooms and truffles). These dishes were both excellent and very flavorful. But this restaurant fell down on the secondo: tagliati, which is slice grilled beef over a bed of arugula, was virtually thrown together by the kitchen and apparently waited a while there before arriving at our table. Arugula was chopped pieces of almost dry leaves with somewhat tough slices of mediocre beef. Potatoes served with it were tepid. Would not recommend this dish. Also a lot of non-Italians that night. Saving grace: excellent pasta dishes at low price (6 each).
Overall rating: good place for a lunch when in the Tornabuoni (Strozzi Palace) area. Stick with the pasta, ignore the rest.
7. TRATTORIA LA CASALINGA Via del Michelozzi 9r (Oltrarno, short walk from Pitti Palace). Another good local restaurant with real home cooking, few non-Italians. Man seated next to us was eating a half chicken (stewed in a clay pot) and stalks of celery nothing else and the chicken was enormous. Primi: we shared a rigatoni-type pasta dish with sauce of tomato, sausage, onion. Secondi: arrista (roast pork but on the bone) and coniglio (roasted rabbit). Very satisfying lunch at moderate prices (28 = $37.50)
Overall rating: an excellent choice for lunch after a mornings visit to the Pitti Palace or Boboli Gardens. To find it: from sidewalk front of Pitti Palace look for Banca Toscana across the street; narrow street next to bank leads 1 short block to Via Maggio; cross Maggio and Casalinga is on your left a few doors down.
8. TRATTORIA IL CONTADINO Via Palazzuolo 69-71r (just around the corner from Sostanza) Passed this place many times but didnt go in because it advertised Prezzo Fisso: we thought that might not lead to good food. But finding it listed in the ACCESS Florence & Venice guide gave us hope it might be worth trying. What a great find! Two rooms fill up with local workmen at lunch and dinner. We expected a fixed-price meal would have maybe 2 selections, but there were 6 choices for primi and secondi and 4 for contorni. Primi: riso con salmone e crema (not risotto, but rice with smoked salmon, parsley, and cream which was very good and almost a creamy as risotto), farfalle (bow-tie pasta) in a cream-based tomato sauce with ground veal. Secondi: stracotto (beef stew made with wine, tomato, carrots). Contorni: spinach and a green salad with thin slices of fennel included. Fixed price of 10 per person includes primo, secondo, contorni, vino, and acqua (plus caffe if you want).
Overall rating: best quality/price value we found. Dont go for price alone, go for the great home-cooked food with wide variety of choices. Fresh fennel in the green salad was something we never saw in more expensive restaurants. Highly recommended for the food, but it is not Michelin star quality if thats what you want.
9. VINI DEL CHIANTI Via del Cimatori 38r (3 narrow doors in from east side of Via dei Calzaiuoli) This is not a sit-down restaurant, but a sidewalk sandwich/wine booth where people stop for a quick panini at lunch or in early evening. Theres a list of the ingredients available for the sandwiches and you can order a glass of wine to go with it. You just stand in the street and eat/drink what you bought. Panini can be had with meat, tuna, veggies, etc., and cost 230 each.
10. TRATTORIA ANTICO FATTORE Via Lambertesca 1/3r (100 feet from Uffizi through archway on west side of museum courtyard). Second time we ate dinner here and will return again! Primi: tagliatelle sul daina (ribbon pasta with deer sauce) a wonderful taste and their best dish: gnocchi tartufo nero (gnocchi in black truffle sauce). This Gnocchi dish is the best I have ever eaten anywhere! Secondi: scalopini de vitello (veal with mushroom sauce) and osso buco (good sized portion with marvelous flavor). Only time we ate a dessert: torta della nonna: pie with cream filling topped with pignoli (pine nuts). Drank Ruffino Torgaio, a Tuscan wine similar to chianti. Excellent service, a few non-Italians (given is proximity to Uffizi and Pazza della Signoria, this is understandable, but the food is very good.
Overall rating: this ranks at the top of our choices for restaurants to visit on any trip to Florence.
A side note: if you go to www.anticofattore.com and search it, you will find an offer of a free gift. Print the page and show it when you enter the restaurant. You will receive a free dish with the restaurants name and a free bottle of Ruffino wine to take with you when you leave.
Sorry the above is so lengthy, but this is to repay others who have contributed similar reports which were so helpful to us on our trips.