Every year, Florence attracts millions of visitors who take in the splendor of the Duomo, browse the Uffizi Gallery, and walk the Ponte Vecchio. They have also propelled a multi-decade dining expansion in one of the world’s best-preserved UNESCO cities. Twenty years ago Florence had only one Michelin-starred restaurant (today’s three-star Enoteca Pinchiori) among its traditional mom-and-pop eateries. Today the dynamic food scene runs from dumplings to kebabs, and there are no fewer than eight Michelin-starred restaurants, including the not-to-be-missed Gucci Osteria by Massimo Bottura or Borgo San Jacopo. (You won’t find those Michelin stars here, though, to save room for unstarred gems equally deserving of recognition.)
At its heart, Florence is a hub of Tuscan cuisine, and the city is famous for its signature dishes like ribollita and bistecca alla fiorentina (T-bone steak). Street food culture is alive and well too, including the signature lampredotto, a cow’s fourth stomach traditionally slathered with green sauce and sandwiched in a bread roll. Due to taxes and salt wars with rival towns, for centuries Tuscans have made their bread saltless, so you’re often better off opting for schiacciata (Florence’s pizza bianca, not to be confused with softer Ligurian focaccia), which you can find plain or filled as panini.
The crowds do have their drawbacks, especially disappointing tourist traps. Locals deride how mass tourism has directed visitors away from sit-down lunches in favor of panini shacks, which cause hour-long lines, street congestion, and littering. Skip the grammable panino and carve out time to support a local restaurant instead.
And be sure to reserve ahead for the city’s best tables. Italian restaurants tend to do two turns at dinner, around 7:30 and 9 p.m. Go for the earlier seating to avoid waiting for locals, who tend to linger over their meals. Be sure to notify restaurants if your plans change, and leave a few euros for tips (a gracious gesture and a step toward squashing the stereotype that Italian hospitality workers earn enough to forgo tipping).
Update October, 2021:
Except for small traditional trattorias that don’t have sidewalk real estate or a piazza out front, most restaurants have set up outdoor seating during the COVID-19 pandemic. For indoor dining, be prepared to show a Green Pass or equivalent documents, like a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours (many pharmacies in Florence do rapid 15-minute saliva tests) or proof of vaccination from your home country.
Note: The inclusion of restaurants offering dine-in service should not be taken as an endorsement for dining inside. Studies indicate a lower exposure risk to COVID-19 outdoors, but the level of risk is contingent on social distancing and other safety guidelines. Check with each restaurant for up-to-date information on dining offerings. For updated information on coronavirus cases in Italy, please visit the Ministry of Health.
Coral Sisk is an Italian-Iranian American-born sommelier, culinary tour guide, and writer who keeps up an Italian food and travel blog. Her company Curious Appetite Travel runs gourmet tours in Florence, Bologna, and around Tuscany.