Modern Florence

FOOD is one of the most—if not the most—important topics of conversation in Italy. People may have no idea how to cook, but they can talk for an hour about where to find the best prosciutto.

Each region of the country has its own cuisine, and in Tuscany, the fare is meat-centric, rustic, and simple. Wild boar and big, juicy steaks are served with roasted potatoes. You’ll find porcini mushrooms and cannellini beans on nearly every menu. Although Florence is not known for its pasta, you will find great versions here. Less so pizza. There are delicious salads, panini (sandwiches), and focaccie to be had, too. You just have to know where to look.

Below are the best restaurants at which we’ve eaten, organized by Day and Night. Not only are some of the daytime establishments not open at night, but also like Americans, Florentines tend to eat a lighter midday meal than dinner. You may want to do the same.

Colazione, or breakfast, is typically small and simple, made up of an espresso drink (latte, cappuccino) and a cornetto (croissant). Lunch is usually pasta or a panino. Nobody would even think about entering a restaurant before 7 p.m., much less eating before 8 p.m. When ordering dinner, you’ll be offered choices for antipasti, or appetizers, which may include crostini (see Tuscan Dishes) or mixed cured meats; primi, or first courses, which are generally pasta; secondi, the main courses, which are your big protein dishes; and dolci, desserts, which won’t be sugar-laden but more likely something along the lines of nut-studded cookies with fortified wine, cantucci con vin santo. Don’t feel obligated to order every course—Italians certainly don’t. But portions are smaller than what you’re probably used to, no more than six to eight ounces of pasta as your primo. Main courses are usually served à la carte. If you want sides, or contorni (things like spinach, beans, or roasted potatoes), you’ll have to order them separately.

Day

OSTERIA BELLE DONNE

Via delle Belle Donne, 16r
Tel. 055 2382609
€€
Locals and a thicket of fake foliage crowd this tiny osteria. But it’s worth toughing it out for fresh, seasonal salads and delicious daily pastas. Be sure to show your enthusiasm—the owner may hover and watch your facial expressions. In spring and summer, outdoor seating and the restaurant’s location next to a popular shopping street make Osteria Belle Donne perfect for a midday repast.

CANTINETTA ANTINORI

Piazza degli Antinori, 3r
Tel. 055 292234
€€€
Businessmen in suits do power lunches at this highbrow wine bar. But don’t let the buttoned-up service and white-tablecloth ambiance turn you off, or you’ll miss the chance to try some of the best (and most expensive) wines in Italy at reasonable prices by the glass—while partaking of elegant salads, pasta, and carpaccio.

ENOTECA CANTINETTA DEI VERRAZZANO

Via dei Tavolini, 18r
Tel. 055 268590
€€
In the city center, where mediocre eateries abound, Enoteca Cantinetta dei Verrazzano is exactly what you want. Besides serving great (and often high-end) vino, this wine bar makes fresh sandwiches featuring mind-bendingly good focaccia. You can also build a salumi plate from an entire counter of cured meats, and select from many good cheeses. If you’re too hungry to wait in the usually long line, buy some bread to go at the counter up front.

TRATTORIA 4 LEONI

Via de Vellutini, 1r
Piazza della Passera
Tel. 055 218562
€€
Located on a piazza that was once the site of a brothel, Trattoria 4 Leoni serves what some consider to be the best bistecca fiorentina (see Tuscan Dishes) in Florence (one of the restaurant owners is also a meat purveyor). If you forgo steak, it’s still a great place to hang out on warm days, with a giant outdoor seating area that’s usually packed.

ENOTECA FUORI PORTA

Via Monte alle Croci, 10r
Tel. 055 2342483

Located alongside eclectic boutiques and quirky eateries, Enoteca Fuori Porta is a relaxed, young people’s hangout. Since there are only three tables, you quickly become best friends with the approachable servers. The food—small sandwiches, and straightforward pastas—is consistently good. During winter months Fuori Porta offers great versions of stick-to-your-ribs local specialties like ribollita (see Tuscan Dishes).

ZOE

Via dei Renai, 13r
Tel. 055 243111

The glamorous crowd at Zoe probably came to make the scene, but you will want to go for the big, fresh salads featuring hearty ingredients like avocado, arugula, tomato, and nice-quality hard cheese. The carpaccio and panini are also excellent. The piazza on which Zoe sits is home to several popular bars. During aperitivo, twentysomethings pack in for a few drinks before the night gets started.

I FRATELLINI

Via dei Cimatori, 38r
Tel. 055 2396096

The White Castle of panini bars—but only in terms of size, not quality—I Fratellini serves sandwiches so small they fit in the palm of a woman’s hand. They come with a wide range of fillings, the most popular being soft, creamy goat cheese, prosciutto, and arugula. Located in a small, nondescript storefront in a crowded, touristy part of the city, I Fratellini would be easy to miss if there weren’t throngs of locals spilling out onto the street in front. Don’t feel like a glutton if you’re not satisfied with just one panino: Most women eat three to four in a sitting, most guys five to six.

PRICE LEGEND

(based on average price without wine for one person)
= less than €25
€€ = €25–€35
€€€ = €35+

Address Note: The r refers to the red color of the address number, which designates businesses. Residences may have the same number, but theirs will be blue.

Phone Number Note: To reach Italy from the United States, dial 011 39 before all phone numbers listed.

Night

TRATTORIA GARGA

Via del Moro, 48r
Tel: 055 2398898
€€€
If you’re ready to drop coin for a good fancy-restaurant experience, this is the place to do it. In Trattoria Garga’s 28 years, the restaurant has come in and out of fashion. After becoming popular with locals in the ’80s, it was overrun with tourists in the ’90s and quality declined. Now it’s back with superb food and service, and a renewed local following. Its most famous dish is scaloppine all’avocado, veal scaloppine in a light avocado cream sauce. Also try the pastas, such as spaghettini alla Donna Karan, pasta in a tomato sauce with calamari, or tagliatelle del Magnifico, pasta in a lemon cream sauce. Among Florence foodies, it’s debated as to whether Trattoria Garga or Ristorante La Giostra (see next entry) has better bistecca fiorentina; decide for yourself by trying both. Save room for dessert, because the fondente al cioccolato, chocolate tart, is decadent, and the cheesecake is possibly the best New York cheesecake ever made by Italians.

RISTORANTE LA GIOSTRA

Via Borgo Pinti, 12r
Tel. 055 241341
€€€
The chef-owner of Ristorante La Giostra is an Austrian prince (he and his son, who manages the dining room, are descended from the Hapsburgs). But he’s mastered classic Tuscan fare. The ravioli di Pecorino toscano e pere William’s, ravioli with pecorino and pear, is so ridiculously good that you may want to order a double portion right from the get-go (the kitchen is used to the request). For your main, try bistecca fiorentina or filetto di Chianina alla normanna, fillet of beef with reduced balsamic vinegar. For dessert, pay your respects to the princely heritage and order the Sachertorte, an Austrian chocolate cake enrobed in chocolate ganache.

TRATTORIA PIZZERIA NAPOLEONE

Piazza del Carmine, 24r
Tel. 055 281015

Dining at Trattoria Pizzeria Napoleone, a former monastery with a warren of small, eclectically furnished rooms, is like entering a cozy hunting lodge, sans kitsch. While you wait for the famous crispy Neapolitan-style pizza (try the simple caprese), the servers often treat you to little glasses of Prosecco (sparkling wine). The best nonpizza options include orata all’isolana, sea bream with grilled vegetables; scallopine di vitello al vino bianco, veal scallop in white wine; and omlette ai tartufi, truffle omelet. On weekends, you’ll have to wait up to an hour for a table without a reservation. Better to cross the piazza and get a drink at Dolce Vita (see Bars) until a table’s free.

IL SANTO BEVITORE

Via Santo Spirito, 64/66r
Tel. 055 211264
€€
If you can only eat one dinner out in Florence, go here. Located in an old carriage house, it’s known among its younger, cosmopolitan clientele for its relaxed atmosphere and its use of local, seasonal produce (you won’t find tomatoes on the menu in the middle of winter). Regional dishes from all over Italy are given a fresh spin. The menu changes frequently, but past hits have included involtini di spada, a traditional Southern Italian dish featuring swordfish stuffed with tomatoes and tapenade; risotto con vin santo, pere, e gorgonzola, risotto with vin santo (fortified wine), pears, and Gorgonzola cheese; and passata di ceci, garbanzo bean purée with shrimp. The secondi are a welcome departure from bistecca fiorentina and cinghale (wild boar) with dishes like filetto brasato col miele, beef fillet braised with honey. You’ll also find top-notch, house-made charcuterie, cut to order on an antique meat slicer.

OSTERIA DE’ BENCI

Via de’ Benci, 13r
Tel. 055 2344923
€€
Extreme eaters, this is for you. On a busy thoroughfare next to a kebab shop, Osteria de’ Benci offers traditional Tuscan offal dishes that other restaurants have dropped from their menus due to changing (finicky) palates. These include fried tongue, ox testicles, and tripe. Everything else is good too, if you’re feeling less adventurous.

RISTORANTE DA ALBERTO

Piazza del Cestello, 8r
Tel. 055 2645364
€€
When it originally opened a few years ago, this restaurant failed in its overreaching attempts to be an ultrachic, modern dining destination. Now, Ristorante da Alberto has reinvented itself as a traditional Tuscan eatery with a somber, dark-wood interior your parents will love. That said, you and your parents will love the menu, which includes an exceptional wine list and excellent homemade charcuterie among the well-made standards.

FUOR D’ACQUA

Via Pisana, 37r
Tel. 055 222299
€€€
Florence is more than 50 miles from the ocean, but you’d never know it at this excellent fish restaurant. Try the crudo appetizers like carpaccio and marinated fish; the perfect, simple pasta; or the branzino (a type of bass) baked in salt, served tableside, and about as close to the Platonic ideal of baked fish as you can get. Fuor d’Acqua is the priciest restaurant on this list (and you’ll want to dress up a little when you go here), but its relaxed, professional service will make you forget how much you’re about to spend.

RISTORANTE BECCOFINO

Piazza degli Scarlatti, 1r
Tel. 055 290076
€€€
In traditional Florence, where dishes like bistecca fiorentina are served the same way from restaurant to restaurant, Ristorante Beccofino broke the mold by creating innovative versions of the classics. The gnudi, or dumplings stuffed with ricotta, pancetta, and a leafy winter green, are not to be missed, and the wine list is one of the most expansive in the city. During the warmer months, it’s lovely to eat on the patio before events at the Boboli Gardens.