In the heart of Florence, the pursuit of exquisite dining experiences at a reasonable cost has become a luxurious endeavour. A mere fifteen years ago, one could leisurely stroll into a quaint osteria in the city centre, indulging in a no-frills “piatto di pasta” that exuded the freshness of a home-cooked meal, and all for little more than 10 euros. An extension of Florence’s reputation as the Renaissance’s jewel, renowned for its breathtaking architecture and unparalleled artistry, the city has garnered global acclaim as among the world’s premier culinary destinations, and such simple pleasures are increasingly elusive.
Foreigners stand in line under the blazing Tuscan sun, patiently queuing for hours for a schiacciata ripiena from l’Antico Vinaio – because, alongside visiting the Medici Chapels, walking through the Uffizi Galleries and seeing the David, eating is now among the “must do” activities in the city.
While Florence’s culinary panorama has undergone a remarkable evolution over the years, embracing experimental fusions (something Italians have historically resisted) and riding the wave of the natural wines phenomenon (which even conservatives have started to react positively to), the essence of Florentine cuisine endures as “cucina povera” — a celebration of simplicity and resourcefulness, crafting dishes with a handful of humble ingredients and a dash of creativity. And despite the shifts in gastronomic trends, my culinary cravings persist as shaped by an innate desire for the ancestral, the uncomplicated, and the timeless. Perhaps, living in London has transformed me into a tourist in my own city, intensifying my yearning for the nostalgic flavours reminiscent of my grandmother’s kitchen.
This is a small, curated list of my favourite culinary havens in Florence, each embodying the charm of traditional, classic, and heartwarming Italian fare.
Vini e Vecchi Sapori
This trattoria tucked away behind Piazza della Signoria is one of my favourite dining spots in the city, one I try to visit every time I’m back in Tuscany. It’s the place I take whoever I want to impress. This family-run gem, with simple decor and only a handful of tables, founded by the father Mario and now masterfully helmed by his son Tommaso (the nicest maitre), is a cherished spot for both locals and global visitors. A haven untouched by tourist clichés, Vini & Vecchi Sapori stands firm with its uncompromising stance: “no pizza, no ice, no spritz, no cappuccino” reprimands a warning on the menu. We went again last summer and Tommaso told us, somewhat proudly, that Kanye West and his new girlfriend had dined there just the night before: they’d both walked in barefoot and were pleased with the privacy and relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant.
I recommend ordering the pappardelle with duck ragú. The pasta is made fresh every day and hits that sweet spot between silky and perfectly porous, letting the savoury goodness of the ragù coat it to perfection. The veal ossobuco with peas is similarly magnificent, and the vitel tonné (thin slices of veal served with a sauce made from tuna, mayonnaise and capers) is delicious. As a starter, we ordered crostini with feagtini (chicken liver pate) and mountains of thinly sliced finocchiona (Tuscan fennel salami) which we kept running out of and re-ordering.
Via dei Magazzini, 3/r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
For those seeking the ultimate fiorentina experience, I’ Brindellone beckons from the heart of Oltrarno. I went for the first time this summer and it’s since become one of my favourite spots. Away from the tourist hustle, this gem exudes a quieter charm, making it a favourite among locals.
The restaurant was heaving on a balmy evening at dinner time in August last year, where we sat next to an extremely friendly and older Florentine couple who, like us, had succumbed to the allure of this gem hidden in their own neighbourhood. (Despite being born and bred in Oltrarno, every time they’d walked by the place they had found it fully booked and had never managed to snap a table. This was also their first time, and the whole dinner became a shared, convivial affair.)
We were there for the thick, juicy T-bone steak, but guided by the couple’s recommendations we indulged in coccoli (deep fried dough balls) with prosciutto crudo e stracchino (a fresh cheese with a delicious tanginess to it) and deep-fried courgette flowers as tantalising precursors to the main event. As the waiter paraded the raw, 3.5kg marvel to our table to check we were happy with the size, which was formidable, we briefly hesitated, then quickly remembered why we were there. Yes, we were happy. The steak, cooked over an open flame and only seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil, was colossal, impossibly tender, and obviously al sangue. Happier still, we washed it down with big gulps of house Sangiovese and promised to be back very soon.
Piazza Piattellina, 10, 50124 Firenze FI, Italy
This cave à manger in chic Via Tornabuoni, famous for its truffle mini sandwiches and refreshing Franciacorta, is the perfect spot if you fancy a small bite and a sip of something fizzy whilst shopping or sightseeing on one of Florence’s most fashionable streets. With mahogany and marble interiors, this little spot transforms the most casual of dining rooms (there is no table service and customers eat on high bar stools) into a lavish affair. In fact, you’ll probably end up spending as much money as if you were going for a full seated meal, but the atmosphere and little luxury of it is worth it. The place was opened in 1885 and is now owned by the Antinoris, old Florentine aristocracy famous for winemaking. To drink, you have to try the Prosecco Antinori and of course the Franciacorta, which are a perfect pairing to the tiny sandwiches, but the wine list is huge and provides for every taste. To eat, we had the classic mini-sarnies made with truffle cream (incredibly moreish), the smoked salmon and butter, and the caviar. Beware, it’s an expensive treat; Procacci is on the same street as Tiffany, Prada, Gucci, and Cartier.
Via de’ Tornabuoni, 64R, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
In the heart of Sant’Ambrogio, the late, extraordinary Fabio Picchi has left an indelible mark on Florence’s culinary landscape. The Cibréo empire, spanning the flagship restaurant, Teatro del Sale (run by Picchi’s wife Maria Cassi), Cibleo (Asian-fusion), and Ci-bio (organic Italian produce and fresh lunches), is a testament to Picchi’s dedication to the art of food. While the Cibréo restaurant is a splurge for special occasions, Cibréo Caffe’ and Trattoria Cibréo offer more accessible indulgence. Overall, the Trattoria (also called “Cibreino”), as the more popular and cheekier soul of the two, with a loud, convivial atmosphere and tables you might share with strangers, remains my favourite. I went years ago and had the most delicious ribollita with olio nuovo (bean and bread soup with new season olive oil), and some stewed beef cheeks that I’ve been obsessed with ever since.
Via dei Macci, 122r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Trattoria da Rocco – Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio
Even though Picchi has taken control of most of Sant’Ambrogio, if you ever find yourself in the neighbourhood, be sure to pay a visit to the mercato and treat yourself to Rocco’s meatballs. The market, housed in an old iron-cast structure, boasts a dazzling array of Tuscan delicacies to eat there or for takeaway and a fun way to spend some time if you’re into food. This is not a tourist trap: lots of locals stop for a little bit of lunch after they’ve done their weekend shopping, and on weekdays students sit on little chairs outside for a cheap plate of pasta. It’s also a good way to run away from the heat during peak summer, which is what prompted our retreat to one of the small tables at Trattoria da Rocco. There, we savoured meatballs (both in tomato sauce and fried), spinach sauteed with olive oil and garlic, all complemented by a generous slab of lasagna. The service was impressively swift, with most dishes ready to go, creating a laid-back and homely atmosphere. Rocco, the founder since 1987, continues to play the role of a gracious host, strolling through the tables to ensure all diners are having a good time. Meanwhile, his son Paolo manages the seating arrangements and, when summoned for the bill, meticulously tallies up the charges with a pen on the brown paper placemats. You’ll never know how much everything was but the prices are so honest it doesn’t really matter.
Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Dulcis in fundo: a special mention is owed to this family-run bakery in Campo di Marte. Since its opening in 1973, Cristiano Buscioni and his family have shown a commitment to in-house production: everything, from white or dark chocolate, almond dough, ricotta, custard and sponges is made from scratch. The signature item, the bombolone (custard doughnut), has become a local staple and a must-try for visitors. Frequented by Fiorentina football enthusiasts (the place is next to the team’s flagship stadium), the bakery boasts an interesting clientele and you can often spot the AFC Fiorentina president President Mario Cognigni or former football legend Alessio Tendi having a little treat. Unless you’re a local or headed to a match, chances are you won’t find yourself in the area, as it’s a little outside the centre and there’s not much else around to see. But depending on your sweet tooth you might want to make the trip anyway, and, if you go, factor in that it’s impossible to have just one doughnut.
Via delle Cento Stelle, 1/R, 50137 Firenze FI, Italy
Maddalena Vatti is a literary scout and freelance writer based in London. Her writing has appeared on Review 31, Lit Hub, Il Tascabile and other magazines. Header photo by Maegan White on Pexels.