Top 11 Lunch Spots in Florence, Italy

by Christopher Atwood


Florence is a maze of medieval streets and grand Renaissance boulevards—ideal for a slow tour through Italian history.  The artistic marvels housed in Florence – like, Brunelleschi’s dome and Michelangelo’s David – lure tens of millions of travelers each year. So many visitors flock to Florence that it can be downright difficult to find places to eat in Florence, Italy, that won’t gobble up your wallet or serve you a gross “tourist menu.”  But, worry not—when you travel to Italy, there are loads of restaurants in Florence where you can lunch alongside the locals. So, where can you eat the best lunch in Florence?

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First up, a few tips. When traveling to Florence, ignore any sign in English advertising a special “tourist menu” – they’ll overcharge you and tell you it’s a deal (it’s not).  It’s better to lunch like the locals, digging into a crusty Florentine panino or steaming plate of pappardelle at a family-run trattoria.  The best lunch in Florence won’t advertise to tourists — they serve the food Florentines have feasted on for centuries now.

 

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Follow our tips for eating in Italy and you’ll love (not regret) your lunch in Florence, Italy. So, what are the best local restaurants in Florence?  Scroll down to peruse our Top 12 Lunch Restaurants in Florence:

                                                 11. DA NERBONE (inside the Mercato Centrale)

You won’t get more authentically Florentine than the fare served at Da Nerbone – a lunch counter staple, in business since 1872, inside the Mercato Centrale (Central Market) food hall. The main draw of this bustling lunch spot is their filling Florentine panini (sandwiches) – including classics like crispy porchetta (spit-roasted pig), trippa alla Fiorentina (broth-braised tripe) and the tender lampredotto (cow stomach similar to fatty roast beef).  At lunch time, the line at Da Nerbone gets long but it moves fast. Both the tripe and the lampredotto are served in a crusty roll—often soaked in broth first and topped in a spicy red or green sauce.  If organ meat isn’t your idea of a lip-smacking lunch, fear not: Da Nerbone also cooks up tasty pastas and risotto daily.  After dining here, be sure to stroll the surrounding chioschi (stalls), where butchers and cheese-mongers hawk their gastronomic goodies.  

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                                                                          10. L’ANTICO NOÉ

If Naples is for pizza lovers and Rome is for carbonara fans, Florence is for paninophiles—sandwich devotees. Although offal meat -- like, lampredotto -- crowns many classic Florentine sandwiches, you’ll find plenty of organ-free panini in Florence. Beloved by locals and study-abroad students, L’Antico Noé is ideal for a satisfying on-the-go sandwich when strolling Florence’s scenic stone streets.  Hidden inconspicuously under an archway, L’Antico Noé is run by a husband and wife duo—one Italian, one Canadian. Each sandwich is made fresh to order, featuring yummy fillings like grilled zucchini, milky mozzarella and savory salami. If you’re vegetarian or a carnivore, the friendly folks at Antico Noé will make you belly smile. ((This Florentine gem recently opened a branch in Manhattan, so you can get your Florentine food fix once back in the States)).  

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                                                              9. OSTERIA SANTO SPIRITO

Locals in Florence like to say that there are two Florences – riven by the Arno River.  On one side of Florence, you’ll encounter world-famous sights like the Duomo and Uffizi Galleries. On the Arno’s other bank, in an area called the Oltrarno, you’ll find meandering alleyways, quiet piazzas and mom-and-pop shops beloved by locals. For lunch in Florence away from the crowds, you can’t do better than Osteria Santo Spirito.  This quirky-artsy restaurant in Florence is tucked in the corner of Piazza Santa Spirito – a cobblestone plaza bounded by outdoor cafes, historic palaces and the Brunelleschi-designed Santo Spirito Basilica.  If you’re feeling extra peckish, consider ordering the “pozione ridotta” (half-portion) of various homemade pastas, gnocchi and risotto.  Must-try dishes at Osteria Santo Spirito include the tortellacci (giant ravioli) with a walnut cream sauce and the truffle-dusted baked gnocchi gratinati.

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                                                                   8. MERCATO CENTRALE

Food lovers in-the-know head to Florence’s Mercato Centrale (Central Market) for authentic Florentine food. This covered market was built between 1870 and 1874, when Florence was still the capital of the newly-unified Italian nation.  Inside its glass and metal walls, you’ll find two food-filled floors. On the ground level, various vendors – including butchers, fishmongers, and cheese sellers – hawk their fare. Consider stopping by one of the deli counters here for a taste of pecorino Toscano or fennel-flecked salami. You can also stock up on savory souvenirs – like, sun-dried tomatoes, Porcini mushrooms and Tuscan olive oil. Upstairs, you’ll find the modern food hall – vaunting hot food specialties like pizza by-the-slice and crispy fritti (fried items).  During the work week, the market is open 7am-2pm.

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                                                                      7. FOCACCINE BONDI

Tucked in a quiet shop, just behind the bustling San Lorenzo Leather Market, is one of Florence’s most delicious lunchtime gems: Focaccine Bondi.  This historic bakery has been run by the Bondi famiglia since the 1950s.  Its interior is like stepping back in time, filled with communal wooden tables and a daily menu marked in chalk.  The non-touristy lure here are the bakery’s namesake focaccine—miniature, handmade focaccias.  You pick the savory filling and the bread masters at Bondi will whip up a scrumptious panino for you.  Unlike other sandwich shops in the Florence, the fillings here go beyond the typical salami or prosciutto.  Instead, you’ll find regional favorites like wild boar sausage, house-marinated porcini mushrooms, or eggplant parmigiana.  For 5 euro, you can relish a hand-crafted filled focaccia and a glass of Chianti. Slow-cooked goodness minus the touristy crowds. 

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                                                                           6. ANTICO VINAIO

If you’re strolling between Florence’s scenic Piazza Santa Croce and the Uffizi, be sure to stop in at Antico Vinaio for a bite of crusty deliciousness.  Specializing in massive panini served on fluffy focaccia, this on-the-go lunch counter is popular with hungry locals and visitors alike. Operated by the Mazzini family since 1991, Antico Vinaio crafts artisanal sandwiches brimming with Tuscan specialties, such as slow-roasted porchetta. Vegetarians in Florence need not despair, as the Mazzinis also cook up panini stuffed with spicy roasted eggplant or house-marinated artichokes. Should you be in the area later in the day, consider ordering a “tagliere” (platter) of assorted salumi (cured meats), cheese and crostini. Insider tip: avoid the line by grabbing a late lunch here; they’re open daily from 10AM-10PM.

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                                                             5. ANTICA MESCITA SAN NICCOLÒ

Despite what you may have heard, not all restaurants in Florence are tourist traps. Some still exemplify the soul of Tuscany — serving up classic Florentine fare, simmered con amore (with love) all day. Antica Mescita San Niccolò, in the less-touristy Oltrarno district, is the ideal spot for a crowd-free romantic dinner in Florence or a leisurely lunch.  The old-school menu here is seasonal, boasting daily specials that feature what’s freshest in and around Florence.  Scrumptious house specialties span dishes like ribollita (vegetable-bread soup), la Fiorentina (steak) and il peposo (a medieval beef stew simmered in red wine). This Florence restaurant’s extensive wine list includes countless Tuscan wines, including prized vintages of Brunello and Chianti. ((It’s possible to order house wine by the glass or liter as well)).

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                                                                                4. IL SANTINO

A relative new kid on the old-school Oltrarno block is Il Santinowhich opened its doors in 2008. This “enoteca e gastronomia” (wine and food shop) is the more intimate sister restaurant to Il Santo Bevitore. Specializing in locally-sourced Tuscan cheeses, wines and salumi (cured meat), Il Santino’s comfy spaces makes you feel like your dining an Italian’s cucina (kitchen). Housed inside of a former wine cellar, this temple to wine and charcuterie vaunts brick walls, wood timbers overhead and an elegant “deli counter” where your eyes will feast on a bounty of cheese and meat options. It’s the perfect spot for a relaxed nibble in the early evening. Everything from the legs of prosciutto hanging on hooks to the scrumptious wild boar salami are carved by hand to order. Here you can savor the soul of Tuscany. Arrive early to avoid the line, as Il Santino boasts only a few tables and a central bar.

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                                                           3. AURELIO: I’ RE DEL LAMPREDOTTO

For true Florentine fare, you need to put down your pasta fork and cozy up to a crusty lampredotto sandwich. Made from the fourth stomach of cows, lampredotto is typical and much-beloved Florentine dish. ((Trust us, it tastes like a rich prime rib)). Typically cooked “in zimino” or in a savory broth, lampredotto is often served inside a chewy panino. One of the best sandwiches in Florence you’ll find at Aurelio: I’ Re del Lampredotto (Aurelio: King of the Lampredotto).

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This humble and nondescript kiosk is tucked in a residential area behind the Santa Maria Novella train station. Here, adventurous eaters can nibble on lampredotto served in a variety of ways – in a sandwich, in broth, or with beans. If edible innards aren’t your idea of a yummy lunch, you can also order the perfectly-crisped roast porchetta – seasoned with aromatic rosemary. Lampredotto is really only eaten in Firenze. So, take a risk and enjoy a bite of this oh-so-Tuscan dish when you travel to Florence.

                                                                            2. PANINI TOSCANI

You’ll find one of the most authentic panino shops in Florence in the unluckliest of places – tucked behind Santa Maria del Fiore or, as it’s more commonly known, the Duomo. Panini Toscani is the perfect lunch place in Florence – housed inside a former stone barm that was built in the 1300s. Before you settle on your preferred panini, the owner and his staff will gladly let you taste the ingredients in each sandwich.  Traditional Tuscan fillings span palate-pleasers like pecorino Toscano cheese, oil-cured veggies and – of course – hand-carved salami and prosciutto. If you’re overwhelmed by all the savory gastronomic goodies here, ask for “un consiglio” (advice) from the skilled shop staff. They’ll gladly recommend a glass of vino that will pair well with your panino too.

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                                                                      1. FORNO PINTUCCI

Tucked on a side street in Florence’s quieter Oltrarno district, you’ll find Forno Pintucci.  This fantastic Florentine “forno” (bakery) is scenically positioned right next to the stunning Santa Spirito square. Wood-fired ovens here produce Tuscan bready classics like crisp grissini (bread-sticks), mortadella-stuff focaccia or a panoply of pizza-by-the-slice. If you’re hankering for something sweeter, be sure to order a bit of the fluffy apple cake or apricot-jam crostata (pie). In the morning, you can enjoy fresh-from-the-oven breakfast brioche – flaky croissants filled with marmalade, custard or chocolate.

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