Do you really want to eat from a blatant tourist menu’?

“Stuffing feathers up your ass does not make you a chicken” is one of my favorite quotes from Fight Club. Just because a thousand people with unproven enogastronomic credibility reviewed an eatery on tripadvisor as the best pizza in Florence, does not make it the best pizzeria in Florence.

I’m not saying 3rd party sites like tripadvisor don’t have their place or worth- it just seems to have become gospel for some food hunting travelers. I find that the people worth trusting online 1st are bloggers who live, have lived and/or continue to spend time/visit that place (and stay in the good graces of the locals there) or those who actually know good food either by writing about food, knowing cooks, having taken culinary tours or classes and who aren’t bad cooks themselves. Like pasta- how can someone really recommend the best pasta if they’ve never made it themselves or understand the curious anecdotes behind al dente?

I understand that the bottom line is if it tastes good, even if a purveyor for example use sub-par, over-hyped ingredients and prepacked foods. It is my opinion that we should embrace a certain amount of food nerdiness to seek out the nitty gritty details which will help deem a restaurant worthy or not. For example: do they use single origin estate extra virgin olive oil rather than a generic brand olive oil on sale. Was the pasta made in-house or pre-packaged. Do they used local produce from the nearby markets. Are they sourcing traditional products (like cheeses and meats) from a local artisan farm than from a factory procured supermarket or commercial distributor. If the meat is coming from the local Chianina breed of cattle, more specifically for the bistecca fiorentina. Most importantly, if they are respecting the tradition that goes behind their signature dishes. I wonder if food reviewers are considering the ingredients and tradition that formulate what is on our plate when deciding if it is “the best.”

The following picks were based on doing an internet search on “the best restaurants in Florence,” analyzing them to death and questions from people saying “someone told me this was the best, do you recommend it?” Since eating well is my job, I wanted to come up with my own mini, alternative guide for best restaurants in Florence:

Sausage and greens (friarelli) pizza at O’Scugnizzo

…Instead of Gustapizza, try O’Scugnizzo (or better yet- Santarpia!)

Why? I’ve been to Gustapizza before- it’s not bad pizza. I just think there is nothing extraordinarily special about their pizza to justify the droves of foreigners waiting ages in line for it. O’Scugnizzo is actually run by Neapolitans, is not crowded with foreigners, has more of an authentic feel (warning: there are like 2 no-frill tables inside) and to me tastes more like a Neapolitan pizza pie.

Paccheri in a saffron and zucchini flower sauce (Vini e Vecchi Sapori)

…Instead of ‘Ino, try Semel or Pugi in Piazza San Marco!

Why? Because ‘Ino charges 8 euros for a panino. Period. I get it- no one is forcing me to spend my money there. The point is that I am not impressed with what they offer- compared to my other panini/carb haunts which charge over half less. I get it, ‘Ino sources prime, slow food-esque premium ingredients. I’m not a fan of their bread and a panino in Florence is all about the bread. It just defeats the purpose of a panini to me (i.e. cheap, comfort food)- even if there are specks of culinary gold in it. Also, I quite prefer the soul at Semel than at ‘Ino. Semel does inventive, gourmet twists on traditional panini such as fig, fennel salami and aged balsamic vinegar. Or stuffing panini with wild boar taglierini pasta. Also, roasted pork with candied cherry tomatoes. Not to mention, the awesome Marco behind the bar always sharp in dress shirts and ties.

La Bistecca Fiorentina at La Veccia Bettola

…Instead of Pandemonio, hop across the piazza to Culinaria Bistrot or La Vecchia Bettola

Why? Near Piazza Tasso. I’ve been to Pandemonio on a couple occasions and while I won’t delve into a straight up critique but I will say that their traditional Tuscan specialties would make my Tuscan nonna cry if I had one (and not out of joy). Their pasta was spot on but so are many other eateries in Florence. I found it overpriced and baffled by their obligatory 10% service fee (not just the coperto). I wrote a post on Culinaria Bistrot as a gourmet slow-food style Tuscan/French fusion bistro with small plates, local wines from teeny producers and truly organic, artisan ingredients. La Vecchia Bettola serves traditional Tuscan fare in a lively atmosphere, mostly with locals and genuine ingredients (like the Chianina for their bistecca fiorentina), fair prices and honest service.

….Instead of La Casalinga, try Sabatino

Why? I totally get that La Casalinga is a historical eatery. It has all of the ingredients for an authentic Tuscan housewife greasy spoon. There is the family running the kitchen and they do home-style cuisine. But again, it seems like it has become a tourist attraction: “come watch an Italian family make things in a kitchen! Look! There’s a REAL Italian grandma in there making pasta!” At the moment, Sabatino’s is pretty locals-loved and frequented, has that magical touch of Tuscan soul and the prices are extremely reasonable, with a tasty selection of fresh pastas and a dirt cheap menu’ for the proletariat eater in all of us.

….Instead of ZaZa, try Trattoria Sergio Gozzi or Mario’s but they are only open for Lunch, in which case I would recommend Trattoria Enzo e Piero for dinner.

Why? This should be pretty obvious. Zaza openly displays a tourist menu, and a menu that is too long at that, and people on the corner cajoling you to come in to dine. People- if any restaurant asks you on the street to come in- that should be a dead giveaway that it is not where the locals go. The only time I have made this except for the restaurant cat calls to my appetite is in Arriccia because all the porchetta pits do the same thing. Gozzi is an institution of over 100 years. They stole my heart with their ribollita, thick pappardelle pasta in wild boar ragu’ and charming hand-written menu.

…Instead of Acqua Al Due, go to Osteria de’ Pazzi.

Why?  Okay, Acqua al Due has a mega pasta list, including what seems like a fun tasting menu’ and some sort of blueberry sauce on their steak which makes them popular. For a good steak you kind of don’t need to add sauce. A good Florentine steak is just that with some salt. Maybe pepper. And no lemon, for the love of the holy cow! I personally do not expect that an eatery with a long menu’ has truly freshly made fare. Osteria de’ Pazzi is for sure a budget friendly restaurant in Florence where locals go with very decent prices and unique offerings (i.e. shaved truffle carbonara, ricotta and pear stuffed pasta with a tomato coulis) with personality. Afterall, Pazzi means “crazy.” But also they are named “Pazzi” since they are located near Santa Croce where the Pazzi Chapel lies.

If you’re craving ethnic food in Florence, instead of Mexican food…go to Banki Ramen.

Why? I have yet to be mildly satisfied with any Mexican food in Europe. They try, they really do. I just have surrendered and given up on Mexican food in Europe. I suggest you do the same.

Any thoughts on the matter? Can you think of any other unique eateries in Florence which deviate from tripadvisor’s and the old school best restaurants in Florence hall of fame?

The point is…these places are not necessarily “bad.” I just think there are more interesting, price vs. quality balanced options at places which I personally find more authentic and worth giving a go for a visitor to Florence.

In my uncensored honest opinion,

The Curious Appetite

Did you know I can connect you the best food tours, in particular a progressive dinner crawl? Contact me for more info! Stay in touch on Instagram (@curiousappetite) and Facebook for live dining tips. Buon appetito!

3 Comments on An alternative guide to the "best" restaurants in Florence

  1. GirlinFlorence
    July 23, 2015 at 12:38 am (2 years ago)

    Fantastic post Coral, I like that you gave alternative options (even if I love Ino but also Semel) I think it is very important that people know the fantastic options out there lest everyone think that the Only sandwich shop is Antico Vinaio.

    Reply
  2. Ed
    March 10, 2017 at 2:04 pm (5 months ago)

    Love the concept, can’t wait to try a few of the recommendations…thanks, Ed

    Reply

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