I went to the dark side so I could tell you where to find the light

this post was originally published in 2016 and it gets updated annually, last update July 2024

I’ll say it- there is more to panini in Florence than All’Antico Vinaio. And if you’re wondering why they are extremely famous, consider this failproof recipe: thousands (13K when this post was originally published, now 30K+ in 2024) of tripadvisor reviews mostly since they’ve been listed for ages, larger-than-life panini and cheap wine all for under 5-10€ (in 2016- that is more like 9-15eu in 2024). Plus viral word of mouth recommendations in tandem with short form videos on social media that spread faster than lightning.

The panini at l’Antico Vinaio are at best edible, for some with easy going palates even delicious. For me, AV is not worth to me waiting up to an hour (or even 5 minutes) in line for. Now that the empire has grown- they’ve taken over Via de’ Neri and the original location bears striking resemblance to a Mickey Dee’s with the old wine shelves replaced by digital DIY order kiosks- the wait is less but the sandwich (and the concept of AV) has lost a lot of its original magic.

Hey, at the end of the day the owners are flying 1st class drinking champers en route to opening more shops around the world- can’t help but to be impressed by their entrepreneurial spirit in a country where most have either left, resigned or are still living with their parents.

If anything, I would shake their hands to congratulate them for their success in such a difficult place to run a business and having the world success they now enjoy. However, I am one that believes that 2 (or many) things can be true at the same time.

I still think that sandwich is not worth eating and the bread feels like a loofah to the roof of my mouth and is packed with overly salted industrial quality ingredients (worse than costco) lacking in distinct flavors leaving me thirsty the rest of the day. And the wrappers all around the city because garbage cans are already too full of them are a disgrace.

Bear in mind in reading this post, I’m not here to rag on any particular business, and food is extremely personal, but as a food blogger in Florence for over a decade- I am here from a rather caring place to offer up some alternative suggestions for those who also live to eat.

Since I care about food journalism, I did some research recently (May of 2024) and ordered their “Bada Come la Fuma” (named after their motto I think explains the owner’s ruthless determination) of pancetta, arugula and pecorino and added pistachio pesto, but since this combo already had honey- it tasted like pistachio dessert spread and there was no one to tell me “che schifo” (warning: gross combo!) when I ordered from the humanless robot kiosk.

Now that one can order from a kiosk at AV, the human factor is lacking when making filling decisions. Florence has lost a lot of soul over these last 10+ years I’ve called it home.

My personal tastes goes towards more soulful artisan style eateries, where ingredient sourcing/quality is emphasized. Although I’m not above a good junky pizza from time to time! But I get a lot of questions “is Antico Vinaio really that good?” DEPENDS on your definition of good. In case you would like to find a panino which is a little more unique, here are some alternatives.

If you appreciate this post, consider treating me to a panino via VenMo (which yields more free recs) or booking a curated walking food tour with yours truly, this Historic Food Lover’s crawl in particular visits delis and panino shacks too. No pressure if you can’t swing it- there’s a google map at the end of this post if you just want the names and free tips on my social media channels like Instagram and TikTok.

As with anything you find on my personal food blog- feel free to take my opinions with a grain of salt or curse them to the ends of cheese rinds. Or not give a flying tomato- up to you!salami florence panini brunori

Instead of l’Antico Vinaio, try Panificio Brunori (closed!), Forno Becagli on Borgo Ognissanti or Lo Schiacciavino 

Brunori (tragically closed! But I’m leaving this up to show why airbnbs and viral recommendations crowding out independent spots has an erosive effect on a city!) has a selection of rolls to pick from in case you don’t want a monster panino and they have really tasty fillings (like artichoke cream) I suspect are made in house. They also bake their own bread since they are a breadshop (Panificio) so a huge plus that Vinaio can’t top.

Their prices are great, usually 3-4€ a pop with also other goodies to choose from, like savory mini-foccaccia bites. This is totally a locals place that you have to know due to its location in a small street and no name on the outside. I highly recommend the sbriciolona (crumbly, fennel salami) with pecorino, artichoke cream and marinated eggplant on a small sesame seed roll.

As far as Forno Becagli– this is also a locals-loved spot that has some of the best schiacciata (Tuscan salted oily flatbread that is what makes AV panini so photogenic) which the most important cornerstone to a damn good schiacciata panino in Florence. I dream of their schiacciata bread and pretty much everything else in that tiny bakery (don’t sleep on anything).

Retrobottega is pretty spot on

If you are looking for a panino shack which does schiacciata panini and wines by the glass, and imo higher ingredient quality than those you find at Antico Vinaio, try Lo Schiacciavino whose panini are also that schiacciata (flatbread) style to Antico Vinaio’s and in my opinion, the fillings are of higher quality. Plus there is seating at Schiacciavino so you don’t have to sit on the curb with a bigger-than-life carb monster.

Also instead of All’Antico Vinaio- hit up: Retrobottega (listed in this list for The Infatuation I contributed to along with Girl in Florence) and Forno Beccagli

Instead of ‘Ino (or after trying them), try SandwiChicProcacci or Semel

Ravioli filled panini at Semel

SandwiChic does gourmet panini, with a placed importance on ingredient quality and artisanal sourcing VERY WELL. Plus, the service is really cordial, and I dig the vintage decor and fab music in the background. ‘Ino probably has super high overhead costs like rent being off the Ponte Vecchio, so I’ll give them that for 8eu panini with high quality ingredients.

Procacci does teeny tiny finger-sized panini but they specialize in truffles and have been an institution since 1885, perfect at aperitivo hour. They have a various selection of panini, including foie gras & truffle panini, at times they do smoked salmon and arugula, brie and chianti jam and truffle marinated anchovies and butter (my all time fav).

They serve a wide variety of wines all from their owning Antinori company. One may argue that this is a big mass producer of wines but they are also the producers responsible for Super Tuscan wines popularity and have been producing wines for nearly 30 generations thus having extreme historical significance on Italian wine culture.

I personally appreciate that Procacci serves bubbly things, like Franciacorta- a tasty pair for the foie gras and truffle panino!

VIVA MARCO E SEMEL

Semel is on many of best of Florence lists- which makes me happy. If you want something a bit heartier & unique, head over to Sant’Ambrogio to Semel. I will say that their panini are physically smaller than what you’d find at most, but that’s because they are stuffed with distinctly Tuscan fillings (like sausage and saffron, pecorino truffle and pear, stewed donkey and chard, or even tagliolini pasta in wild boar ragu’) and not just sliced meats/cheeses or jarred sauces. Marco is one of my heroes and has been for his zero f*** attitude towards fame and fortune yet cares that you eat well.

I fratellini is a classic

You must try I Fratellini but also, try Il Cernacchino

(Please note: The owners who ran Il Cernacchino has taken their brand moved to inside the little grocer at the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio in 2021 and the original Cernacchino eatery near Piazza della Signoria location is now helmed by new owners. I went in Sept of 2021 and it was just OK, but a friend/fellow journalist who went liked it so it might be a matter of personal preference. The market location sells fresh pasta but not sandos. If you want a meaty panini in the market, try Luca Menoni’s burger/sando stand)

Il Cernacchino florence facebook panini
Il Cernacchino (photo: Facebook)

This is somewhat of a neutral alternative because I Fratellini (meaning: the little brothers) is kinda cool being a literal hole-in-the-wall and the guys that slather slates of pane are pretty real. They use quality schiacciata bread from veritable bakers in Montespertoli and in Florence as well as artisanal fillings that linger in flavor and not salt.

But in case they are too busy or you prefer more options, Il Cernacchino not only does panini like porchetta and other usual suspects (finocchiona and ewe’s milk pecorino) with sfiziosi (fancy) options like lardo, pecorino and chili pepper marmalade, they have some down-home-cooking Tuscan primi like panzanella summer salad and pappa al pomodoro tomato and bread soup.

tripperia delle cure florence panini
Okay, so at lampredotto stands I always get a plate because the panini never have enough guts for my liking 😉

For Lampredotto, the most famous stands are Tripperia Pollini on Via de’ Macci and Trippaio del Porcellino, for no-fanfare: try l’Trippaio in Via Gioberti or La Tripperia in Piazza delle Cure

If you really care about food and experiencing local specialties, you at least need to try lampredotto (fourth cow’s stomach) at one of these food stands. While I do love the pop and son pair over on Via de’ Macci- they aren’t the only ones and in fact I think they get too much fawning. IT’S A FREAKING GUT SANDWICH CART, GUYS!!!! It’s like fetishizing a taco truck selling tripe tacos. However, while you’re here yes try it! Again, the Figlio e Babbo stand on Via de’ Macci does lampredotto well, it is one of the best in town, but it’s nearly the only one that gets online street cred, it’s even arrived in the New York Times (soon to be on Tucci)

I really like the lampredotto guy in Piazza delle Cure because a. the area is not full of tourists in general and b. they do more sfiziosi (there’s that word again) things with lampredotto, i.e. once I went and they had it in a porcini and tomato sauce (pictured) which was pretty damn good. I also like Marco Bolognesi at the stand on Via Gioberti because he does nice tripe salads in the summer with fresh tomatoes and tropea sweet onion plus his poppa (cow teat) and lingua toasts are everything. I love the character found at these stands.

Definitely go to Da Nerbone, but while you’re in the hood- try Foccacine Bondi

I’ll be honest: if you have to stand in line for something like a sandwich that for Italians is a quick/affordable way to fill up at lunch- it’s no longer humble fare but instead an attraction and I have conflicted feelings about this.

Da Nerbone IS delcious and worth the wait, more than AV. Everyday, nearly, the stand of Da Nerbone wraps around the market. Read this post on IG to hack the lines and must-orders from Da Nerbone.

Just as I feel there is space outside l’Antico Vinaio (AV)- there are also options beyond Da Nerbone. Look for just about any guide on where to eat/street food in Florence/panini in Florence and undoubtedly Da Nerbone comes up.

What does Da Nerbone do that is supposedly so great? Well, they do bollito (boiled beef) sandwiches well and were a prime stop for lampredotto and tripe plus Tuscan primi like pastas (which are now usually greasy puddles of starches), ribollita (bean, bread and veggie) soup.

Bondi is just around the corner outside the market. They don’t do lampredotto, boiled beef but they have cool fillings that go in their flat focaccia breads (my favorite is the squid in greens, seppie in zimino) ridiculously cheap, 2.5-3eu each! (Now 4-5eu in 2024) plus wine and beer. There is seating inside and is not crowded which is a major plus for me. It’s a bit tricky to find but your efforts will be rewarded, I promise.

Bondi!

Other places to get a decent panini are Bomô Chinese bao buns sandwiches (they have a tigella type panino Sasha on her blog explains better than I could), most alimentari (deli) especially Alimentari Uffizi (just ask for a panini with any of the meats, cheeses and marinated vegetables you see in the deli case- build your own and it’s so fresh!) Antico Forno Giglio (bakery with just a couple sandwiches already made with their house-made bread) in Via Gioberti, also Casa del Vino in San Lorenzo with natural wines to pair.

Juicy Chinese pork bao bun sandwich from Bomô

For those wondering why I haven’t listed ‘Ino: I’m not a fan of ‘Ino for several reasons: the owner is extremely rude unless you’ve scratched his back, I’m not a fan of the bread they use, and is 12eu even if the space with a WC justifies the price.

If he were little more polite or made a panini so good I could look past his attitude, I’d be more forgiving. And I don’t reward rude people when there are nice people who make nicer food at better prices. I usually don’t publicly share a negative opinion but trust me, he earned it.

Here is a handy google map with all my suggestions:

Any on here that you’d add?

In your stuffed and slathered starch trust,

Curious Appetite

ICYMI: This blog runs free of ads- help keep it that way by treating me to a panino via VenMo (which yields more free recs on the blog) or taking a walking food tour with yours truly.

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4 Comments on Searching for Florence’s Best Panini (that’s not All’Antico Vinaio)

  1. Kelly McNamara
    July 22, 2016 at 6:39 am (8 years ago)

    Totally appreciate your straight talk!

    Reply
    • Curious Appetite
      July 22, 2016 at 12:25 pm (8 years ago)

      Thanks so much, Kelly!!! Keep eating real!

      Reply
  2. Tony Melancon
    August 1, 2016 at 11:59 am (8 years ago)

    Instead of I Fratellini, try Il Cernacchino

    We’ve tried and went back a few times to I Fratellini most because of the ‘hole in the wall’ description everyone gives it. While the sandwich is good, filling it’s really not all that. Now we have a bunch new places to try when we’re back in Florence! Thank You!

    Reply
    • Curious Appetite
      August 2, 2016 at 3:30 am (8 years ago)

      Exactly!! So glad you shared your thoughts- I agree with you! Hope you like my list:) Let me know!

      Reply

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