Best restaurants in Florence

My awesome Florence Explorer city guide app (iPhone) (Android) has only been out for a few weeks (and at only $2.99 it’s by far the best value Florence app in recorded history – please tell 132 of your friends), but I’m already collecting ‘how to make it awesomer notes’ for version 2.0, including an ‘Author Favorites’ feature for the eating listings. But the release of the next version is untold months away! Who can wait that long for my carefully selective and sometimes whimsical recommendations? Not me, that’s who.

So, in the meantime, in the grand tradition of purely subjective lists (fueled by extraordinary research and expertise in this case, obviously) I’ve decided to put together a spoiler list of the best restaurants in Florence right here. Let’s begin.

Budget

Trattoria Mario
Via Rosina 2
Mon-Sat noon-3:30pm; closed in August
A wildly popular, second generation place started in 1953 and run today by Mario’s sons Fabio and Romeo and their kids. It’s a local institution – legend has it that some customers have been coming here daily for decades – appealing to working-class folks seeking a quick refill and visitors looking for an undiluted, shoulder-to-shoulder, Italian lunch experience. Seating is intimate (i.e. tight) and arriving after 12:01pm will probably result in a short to medium wait out on the sidewalk. Once inside order food one course at a time off the hand-written menu on the wall (the English translation is written to the side in tiny pen, so bring your glasses). Specialties include the tripe (served on Mondays and Thursdays) and beef (bistecca). It’s a cash-only place.

Vestri
Borgo degli Albizi 11
7:30am-9pm, except on Sun when it opens at 9:30am
In my line of work, it’s often ethically frowned upon to unequivocally declare anything to be hands-down ‘the best’ anything, but this gelato is really something else. Seriously, you gotta try it. The selection isn’t huge, but what they do, they do very well. They are also, and more famously, a chocolate maker with a generous selection of items, both for immediate enjoyment and transport home as gifts to soon-to-be-very-grateful friends and family. Unfortunately, they don’t seem all too concerned with sticking to their posted hours of business. Three out of four times I walked by, they were unceremoniously shut. So, I’d warn against walking too far out of the way just to visit this place, because, believe me, the disappoint is tremendous.

Al Tranvai
Piazza Torquato Tasso 14
055 22 51 97
Closed  Sun
Loved by locals, this popular eatery puts you shoulder-to-shoulder with a flood of regulars at itty bitty tables. If the crowds aren’t enough evidence, lay your eyes on the  window full of Slow Food endorsement stickers, dating back more than a decade. The hastily hand-written menu suggests frequent changes, so I’ll simply say expect a no nonsense, but satisfying typical Tuscan meal that everyday Florentines cherish.

Trattoria Sergio Gozzi
Piazza San Lorenzo 8
055 28 19 41
Lunch Mon-Sat, closed in August
No one can agree on the name. Trattoria Gozzi Sergio? Da Sergio? Even the sign above the door seems to be uncertain. Whatever the case, I’ve list it here exactly as it appeared on the hand-written menu presented to me during my visit. This miniscule Slow Food recommended place has a rep for openly loathing tourists, but I was treated with flawless courteousness when I was here, so go ahead and join the line of table-waiting patrons without worry. Between the racket from the market stalls just outside the door and the dinning room rush, you won’t feel like you’re getting a typical Tuscan lazy lunch, but you will get a choice of four simple primi (first courses) and a bunch of unpretentious secondi (second courses) including rabbit, tripe, roast beef and grilled chicken. The lone dessert option pretty much sums up the no nonsense atmosphere: cantuccini (dry, sweet biscuits) dipped in Vin Santo (sweet dessert wine). Simple, yet unspeakably delicious. You’ll likely be seated shoulder-to-shoulder or even at the same table with the handful of regulars, lone men that appear to have been among the original patrons when it opened in 1915.

Trattoria Bordino
Via Stracciatella 9
055 21 30 48
Lunch and dinner, closed Sat
This much-recommended, simple place is well hidden only about a minute from the Ponte Vecchio. The list of primi dishes includes crepes and pastas covered in spicy lobster sauce, salmon or clams. Among the many secondi is the least expensive bistecca alla fiorentina (rare t-bone steak) I’ve ever seen (15 euros). There’s also a selection of seafood such as trout, shrimp, sole, sea bass and salmon. A welcome glass of prosecco and the inexpensive carafes of wine make for a tipsy walk home. The dining room is notably dark, nearly the equivalent of eating by candlelight, which, with the décor, gives the meal a pointed medieval feel.

‘Ino
Via dei Georgofili 7
055 21 92 08
11am-8pm Mon-Sat, noon-5pm Sun
There’s an impressive list of panini here (5-8 euros, glass of wine included), all made with local gourmet ingredients, but when you walk in the door and that fog bank of truffle aroma hits you, it’s hard to think about anything else. Popular and casual, you can either take your sandwich away or try to find seating in the next room filled with stools and barrel tables. Order and eat, pay after. They also sell a variety of products like sauces, cheese and pesto.

Midrange

Olio & Convivium
Via di Santo Spirito 4
055 265 81 98
Mon 10am-3pm, Tue-Sat 10am-3pm & 5:30pm-10:30pm, closed Sun
Up front is a delicatessen, with fancy and fragrant food and the occasional spectacle of watching a grunting guy halve an enormous wheel of cheese. In back is a truly special restaurant, with a super daily lunch menu (18 euros) comprised of a photogenic plate of flavorful cold hams, cheeses and mousse, with a glass of wine or water, and a generous dessert. The seasonal a la carte dinner menu may include duck breast stuffed with figs, with balsamic honey reduction sauce or a crispy suckling pig with sweet and sour spring onions.

Enoteca Le Barrique
Via del Leone 40r
055 22 41 92
Dinner only, closed Mon
This enoteca (wine bar), unsurprisingly, has a massive wine list and generous pours, with the added perk of a short, but impressively varied menu, offering cold platters, a few pasta plates, and dishes like duck breast in Vin Santo sauce or squid and calamari sautéed with cous cous. The menu varies from month to month, so expect changes. The welcome glass of prosecco and an amuse-bouche (tiny, pre-appetizer) are a nice touch. They’ve gotten a hearty thumbs up from the Slow Food people and are thusly popular. Arrive very early or reserve in advance.

Osteria L’Antico Noè
Volta di San Piero 6r
055 234 08 38
Noon-midnight, closed Sun
It’s an infinitely debatably point, of course, but by my estimation the sandwich shop side of this combo place is assembling the best sandwiches in the city. Even before you bite into one, you have to respect the long line of students who are wise to the 18 varieties of budget-priced, handheld, quick eats. Equally, sit down next door for a more mid-range priced proper meal, like the “Rigatone Noè” (tomato eggplant, cheese, pine nuts), tagliaerini tartufo (pasta with truffles) or the tortelli di patata ai fiori di zucca (pasta stuffed with zuchinni flower). Secondi options include roast beef with spinach or uovo al tegame con tartufo (eggs with truffle). They also have a somewhat pricey make-your-own salad option.

Trattoria Cibrèo
Via dei Macci 122
12:50pm-2:30pm and 6:50pm-11:15pm, closed Sun and Mon, closed in August
Warning: this place doesn’t accept reservations or credit cards and they defiantly do not serve pasta or coffee. Instead, the more affordable, eight-table sister to the famed, adjacent Ristorante Cibrèo (the trattoria curiously serves many of the same dishes at much lower prices) blows the minds of patient diners with the wondrous dishes coming out of Fabio Picchi’s kitchen, considered one of Tuscany’s top chefs. A multi-year Slow Food designee, Cibrèo’s always-changing, short primi list may include, if you’re very fortunate, the potato and ricotta “flan” with ragu sauce and fresh parmesan, one of the most original and flavorful items I’ve eaten in Florence. The secondi list is generous, with unusual zingers like the rabbit in chocolate sauce. There’s no English on the menu, but the servers are happy to sit (literally) and discuss the food with you. Some people will find the portions a tad small, though this perceived shortcoming fortuitously guarantees you’ll have space for dessert, which should be the chocolate tort if it’s on the menu when you visit. Arrive before 7pm, or risk a very long wait.

L’Osteria di Giovanni
Via del Moro 22
055 28 48 97
Lunch and dinner, closed Tue
This place was so good that I went twice. The dish that brought me back was the exquisite pear and ricotta-filled tortelli. I also enjoyed the sea bass carpaccio and the potato raviolini with porcini mushrooms and black truffles. They pour an always welcome prosecco apéritif as soon as you sit down. One heartening oddity, the bottled water is free! Also, my mom insists I mention that the bathrooms are nice.

High-end

Alle Murate
Via del Proconsolo 16r
055 24 0618
closed on Mondays
This restaurant/museum combo is located in the restored 14th-century Guild of Judges and Notaries. Seating is available both by the second level frescos, most notably the oldest known portrait of poet Dante Alighieri, or the subterranean Roman and Medieval archeological site. The frequently rotating, non-traditional Tuscan menu with southern Italian influences is something of a sight as well.  After dinner stroll around and admire the remainder of the museum, complete with audio guide.

Osvaldo (or Club Culinario Toscano da Osvaldo)
Piazza dei Peruzzi 3r
055 21 79 19
The restaurant and its chef/owner have built a breathless word-of-mouth reputation that’s nothing short of legendary. With a menu that changes as frequently as this one (monthly) it’s probably not smart to list specific dishes, but here’s a few just to give you an idea: shrimp with truffled potato; crab-stuffed ravioli with a truffle sauce; potato ravioli with veal ragu; risotto with zucchini flowers and squid stuffed ginger and herbs; lamb with pistachio sauce; quail with olives, pine nuts and potatoes. The wild boar, among other game on the menu, is truly wild. A friend of Osvaldo’s who hunts in the Maremma Region in southern Tuscany is often responsible for what appears on the menu. Osvaldo’s popularity and limited seating mean that reservations are a must, though pop-ins occasionally get lucky.