John Brunton, The Guardian, March 29, 2013
Tuscan cooking is historically at the root of Italian cuisine, and Florence has a strong claim to being the birthplace of Italian gastronomy. Today, while there are plenty of grand gourmet restaurants, this is also a city where you can still eat simple, hearty local dishes at extremely reasonable prices. Sit down at the red-checked table of an ancient trattoria, grab a place at a fiaschetteria (wine bar) or even stand up at a traditional trippaio (tripe stand), and you can feast off a style of cuisine using local products that hasn't changed in centuries. There are wonderful dishes for vegetarians – ribollita soup, barley salad, pappa con pomodoro (bread soaked with tomatoes) – while meat lovers will find themselves in paradise, from the classic Fiorentina T-bone steak, to tasty offal dishes, slow-cooked stews and rich game ragù. Here are 10 of the best places for a very fine feed.
Casa del Vino
Hidden away between tacky leather boutiques along the St Lorenzo street market, Gianni Migliorini's wine bar has one of the best selections of Tuscan vintages in town. Many are sold by the glass and accompanied by an irresistible selection of hams, sausages, cheeses, anchovies and sardines, while a whole roast suckling pig sits on a marble slab, ready to be sliced up for a delicious porchetta sandwich. The place is jam-packed all day, and apart from the rickety wooden bench on the pavement, everyone squeezes inside and eats their gourmet panino, bruschetta or salad standing up.
• 16 via dell'Ariento, casadelvino.it. Average meal €10
Trattoria da Mario
The square behind the food market, the Mercato Centrale, is lined with scores of restaurants and pizzerias, most of which are best avoided. But do look out for the tiny entrance of legendary Trattoria da Mario, a friendly family-run affair that has been serving excellent, well-priced Tuscan food for 60 years. Only open at lunch and often drawing queues as they don't take reservations, it has a menu that changes daily, featuring the classic ribollita vegetable soup and a hearty bollito misto, boiled beef and tongue with a zingy parsley sauce. It's also worth splashing out for the massive bistecca Fiorentina.
• 2 via Rosina, trattoria-mario.com. Average meal €20
Il Teatro del Sale
This has to be both the best deal and most original place to eat in Florence. It was created by flamboyant chef Fabio Picchi and his actress wife, Maria Cassi, and you pay €5 to join this artistic club, open from Tuesday to Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a live show at night. A tempting buffet is laid out, then the chef shouts out dishes from the window of his open kitchen and guests line up to be served wonderful creations like pasta with artichokes and red mullet, oven-roasted with herbs and olive oil. The meal spreads over 10 dishes, with wine and coffee included in the price. Dinner costs €10 extra, as the live entertainment is included in the price.
• 18 via de'Macci, +39 55 200 1492, edizioniteatrodelsalecibreofirenze.it. Average meal £17
A traditional osteria in Florence is known as a fiaschetteria, a spit-and-sawdust tavern where wine was traditionally served straight from the iconic straw-wrapped flask that symbolises chianti around the world. Il Vinaino is just near the main train station, and has not changed much in a century – though the quality of the wine has definitely improved – and you can feast off a steaming plate of homemade tagliatelle smothered with fresh porcini mushrooms or a rich wild boar sauce.
• 124 via Palazzuolo, +39 55 292287. Average meal €10
When E M Forster described the romantic Piazza Santa Croce in A Room with a View, he would never have imagined the day would come when the most popular spot on the square was a bright modern cocktail bar with a DJ blasting house and techno dance music. But though it may initially look like a museum city, Florence manages to move with the times, and its big student population is drawn to hip locales such as Oibò, rather than to rustic osterie. Lunch is cheap and cheerful – basic pasta and salad dishes – but the time to come is for the aperitivo buffet. From 7pm to 10pm drinks are €8, and accompanied by a huge eat-as-much-as-you-want buffet, which ranges from pizza and lasagne to couscous and caprese salad.
• 53 via dei Benci, +39 55 263 8611, oibo.net. Average meal £7
While Oibò is right in the heart of tourist Florence, Zoe is well off the beaten track, on the other side of the Arno river. The design is minimalist and modern, with an open kitchen and, at lunch, they serve 15 kinds of huge salads, which can be a welcome break in a city where everyone seems to only eat meat. But the place really comes to life in the early evening when the apericena buffet is priced at €7 a drink, whether you order a beer or a mojito, and lasts from 5pm until 10pm. If Zoe is too packed, check out the next-door bar, Negroni.
• 15 via dei Renai, +39 55243111, zoebar.it
Trattoria La Casalinga
For a perfect slice of local Florentine life, don't miss this old-fashioned, home-cooking trattoria, packed at lunch and dinner with locals living in Oltrarno, the artisan neighbourhood across the river from all the famous sights. It is impossible to eat a pasta and a main course here as the portions are just too huge, though the bean and minestra soups are excellent. Renowned for the peposa beef stew, trippa alla fiorentina, and baccalà salt cod, cooked alla Livornese with tomatoes and basil.
• 9 via dei Michelozzi, +39 55 218624, trattorialacasalinga.it. Average meal €20
In a narrow alleyway, just off Piazza Santa Croce, da Vinattieri is a hole-in-the-wall bar with just a few stools lined up outside on the pavement. But the food is something special. Owner-chef-barman Cristiano Santoni starts early in the morning baking schiacciata (Tuscan bread – regulars drop in when it is fresh out of the oven) and stuffing it with salami, gorgonzola and artichoke hearts. In the tiny kitchen, pots of lampredotto (cow stomach), tripe and zuppa di farro (spelt soup) bubble away, served at lunchtime with crusty bread rolls.
• 4 via Santa Margherita, +39 55 294703. Average meal €8
The Buccione family founded this wonderful trattoria more than 50 years ago, though this out-of-the-way address, at the edge of the city centre by Porta San Frediano, has been their home for just a few years. Mind you, with a white-tiled bar, blackened beams and red-checked tablecloths, the place looks as if it opened a century ago. It's difficult to find lower prices anywhere in town, and the menu changes daily to include dishes such as roast guinea fowl, osso buco (veal shank) and tortellini with a rich ragù sauce.
• 2 via Pisana, +39 55 225955. Average meal €15
A must-see for anyone interested in food, the Mercato Centrale is a seething market stacked with every produce Tuscany is famous for, from olive oil and fragrant white truffles, to finocchiona salami and pecorino cheese. Apart from butchers, fishmongers, cheese specialists and grocers, there is also a host of bars and food stands, yet no one attracts the crowds like Nerbone, founded in 1872. The brave won't be able to resist ox tongue or tripe braised with beans. There is also a fine bruschetta with chicken liver pate, pappa con pomodoro, and cheap daily risotto.
• via Sant'Antonino, +39 55 219949. Average meal €12
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk