There's no shortage of tips for Italy's wildly popular Tuscan capital, but with so many tourist offerings pumping through the historic town of Florence, it's easy to end up eating a subpar pizza near the steps of the illustrious Duomo. Venturing into any trattoria in the Santo Spirito neighborhood on the Oltrarno side of the river will likely deliver an authentic Italian dining experience—particularly with the pizza at Borgo Antico—but here are a few specialized places that have been keeping Florentines full for decades and always top our list when we have the pleasure of visiting this majestic city.
A hidden little enoteca with outdoor seating situated along the route to Piazzale Michelangelo (which overlooks the entirety of Florence), Fuori Porta is the perfect reward on the hike down from the square's unbeatable panoramic views. Start with a prosecco and carpaccio, then choose from their extensive wine list and find a complement to one of their homemade pastas and mix of curiously topped bruschetta. For maximum enjoyment, sit outside on their stone terrace which is mostly quiet but a great spot for people watching as sight-seers frequently pass by.
You'll arguably never find a gimlet as beautifully prepared as the one at Art Bar—or a fruit cocktail so fresh. Run for decades by two brothers—whose mutual lack of a talkative personality is completely made up for in their barman skills—this seriously hidden gem lives up to its name with its selection of artistically built drinks and laid-back, bohemian atmosphere. Happy hour is a great time to stop by, when you can snack on free popcorn as you wait (and wait) for your libation to arrive. Jazz music plays in the background while groups of friends talk around old tables and, if you're lucky, your inevitable compliments to the brothers might just crack a small smile.
Just up the street from Art Bar is Trattoria Gargani, a cavernous restaurant that's as much an eclectic gallery space as it is a place for an elegant meal. Abstract paintings adorn the walls, which are chiefly done by chef Andrea Gargani's famous father—the painter, poet and restauranteur Giuliano Gargani or "Il Garga"—along with a few by local artist Dejan Bogdanovic. Florence's beloved Gargani family has been using their talented hands to serve up the best of Italy's local produce for nearly half a decade now; which started with Giuliano's restaurant called Garga, and continues with Andrea at the Trattoria Gargani and his brother Alessandro at the helm of La Cucina del Garga—located closer to the San Lorenzo Market. But with an undeniably friendly staff, food you will savor at every bite and an enormously unique ambience, a night at Trattoria Gargani is sure to be a memorable Florentine affair.
I Due Fratellini
Founded in 1875, I Due Fratellini is quite literally a hole in the wall, but is guaranteed to be the finest break in a façade you will ever find. Locals and knowing tourists are always found queuing up for a glass of cheap but satisfying chianti, which is served in a real glass despite the fact you'll consume it standing on the street (one of the benefits of Florence's relaxed outlook on life). Conveniently located on a side street within the city center, a stop by I Due Fratellini (which translates to The Two Brothers) offers a welcome respite from a day of shopping or hours spent ogling the landmark works at the nearby Uffizi Gallery, Florence's major museum. After your tipple, just leave the glass on the shelves adorning the historic wall and give a salute to the brothers—you'll undoubtedly see them again on a trip even years later.
Panino is now a word commonly found in high-end delis across the US and UK, but the Italian word for sandwich has its meaning fully exemplified at Antica Noè. Located under an archway between the Duomo and Santa Croce areas, Noè is comprised of a sit-down restaurant cooking up traditional fare and a take-away sandwich shop next door. Their panini come stacked with ingredients that are so fresh it's almost sinful, and include simple but delicious vegetarian and meat combinations that are accented by their unusual sauces. Black olive, walnut, rosé, truffle or just a distinctly spicy sauce are all on the menu here.
There are several gelato shops in Florence that will have you never eating regular-old ice cream again, but the family-run Gelateria Vivoli just a few steps from Antico Noè is notable for their in-season flavors (which rotate almost daily) and their dedication to taste supreme—they eschew a cone in favor of cups only, ensuring you will only delight in a creamy mouthful of their dutifully made gelato. Where the service lacks—the Florentine ladies behind the counter are uncharacteristically stiff—the rich, artisanal flavor makes up. Be sure to try staples like nocciola (hazelnut) and stracciatella (sweet cream with chocolate), or one of their generations-strong flavors that have been passed down orally like caramello e pere (caramel and pears) or one of Silvana Vivoli's more recent concoctions, lemon caviar.
Word of Mouth presents a destination the way we experienced it. Following both trusted tips and our own whims we explore with the goal of finding what's unique to that place. For deeper looks at some of our favorite metropolises, check out our CH City Guides.
Photos by Karen Day; image of ice cream courtesy of Gelateria Vivoli