Hannah Hardenbergh is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An American History and Literature major at Harvard College, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.
In this week's post, Hannah recommends 10 restaurants and cafes in Florence she's enjoyed dining in and also dishes on the food and atmosphere at those establishments.
As a new online blogger, I recently learned what a “Top 10-style blog” is. So, naturally, I’ve wanted to make one about my favorite Tuscan meals in Florence! My brother came to visit me for about a week and we tried out all of Valentina’s favorite restaurants. Valentina, a staff member at CAPA, walked us through the hotspots in the city on a map, and we embarked on a culinary quest. I also have this tendency of getting up early and camping out at cafes where I enjoy the atmosphere, to read or write or complete assignments, so I’ve listed a few of my favorite cafes here as well.
This city is full of good food and places to dine in!
1. La Loggia degli Albizi
I had the best cappuccino at this café for sure. In Europe, it is custom to only get a cappuccino or latte in the morning, as it is a heavier beverage than say, an espresso. So, a cappuccino is almost like a snack if you order it after breakfast (but don’t order it after 12pm!). It is common to order an espresso or macchiato after any meal, though.
La Loggia is conveniently 2 blocks away from my apartment, and very close to CAPA Florence, so it was an easy find. I order my drink at the bar counter, and they give me a cup of cold acqua frizzante – sparkling water – while I wait. Sometimes I order a pastry if I haven’t had breakfast yet, and if I go early enough, the croissants are warm, steaming with chocolate and marmalade insides.
My go-to orange juice at Rivarno!
Not to be confused with il Rivareno, the gelateria, Rivarno is located right on the river. I walked by the back door during the first week I was in Florence and was drawn in by its light green walls, rustic stool chairs, and abundance of plants. They have great estratti – smoothies – my favorite being orange and ginger. I stayed to wait out the rain that day and enjoyed my smoothie as I watched passersby and listened to the noise of the water falling onto the tables outside.
3. Osteria Buongustai
Situated in the middle of city center, nearest Piazza della Signoria, Osteria Buongustai feels very family-oriented with long, dining hall-style tables and a slightly smaller square footage than an average cafeteria. We shared a table with an English couple and their young toddler. My cousin and her new husband (!!) were making their last stop on their honeymoon in Florence, so I got to celebrate with them over delicious prosciutto and pasta con pecorino (my favorite kind of cheese). This place was definitely more relaxed and had a more casual vibe than most of the other restaurants on this list, but the food was exceptional, especially the different types of salame.
Those tomatoes! These are some produce I got from the market.
4. Osteria Santo Spirito
I got to sit outside in Piazza Santo Spirito, an energetic square bordered by many restaurants, with my brother and an old high school classmate who happened to be going through Florence that day and eat one of my favorite pasta dishes, spaghetti alla chitarra, aglio, olio e peperoncino. The peppery taste absolutely makes this dish. Every time I ate out, I was impressed by how simple the recipes seemed, and yet how rich the flavors were. Unlike French cuisine, which typically has a variety of ingredients and necessary additional steps, Italian food is more focused on the exceptional quality of the ingredient instead. The recipes are quite similar, if not the same, as some in America, but the difference is the origin and production of ingredients. My favorite Italian produce is the grape tomato from il Mercato Sant’Ambrogio (a local farmer’s market) – crisp and refreshing!
5. La Giostra
If you’re looking for a bit of a fancier dining experience, La Giostra has an incredible menu as well as an enchanting atmosphere. I ate here late one night and the staff was incredibly nice, the ravioli I ordered was divine, and the kitchen even served us free bruschetta! It was here that I discovered my beloved pecorino, the finest soft cheese in all of Tuscany (in my opinion…Today I went to the market and one of the merchants from whom I normally buy salami and cheese said to me that he remembers me because I always order some pecorino!).
Best pizza along with incredible pasta!
6. La Mangiatoia
Best pizza I’ve ever had. Hands down. My brother found this place nestled along Palazzo Pitti. The restaurant is beyond the front room, which looks like a bar space with a small kitchen surrounded by barstools, with a view into a wood-burning pizza oven. In the back, there is another small kitchen and several tables scattered across the elevated floor. They also have a small courtyard with outdoor seating. The pizza we ordered was pizza bianche – a white pizza – with ham, parmesan, arugula, and mozzarella. It was…heavenly.
7. Osteria Cinghiale Bianco
Probably my favorite dining atmosphere, this osteria had really nice staff and it was obvious that the manager was personally invested in making sure his customers were enjoying their evening. Here I tried the cinghiale – wild boar – served with polenta. It was really good, with a strong flavor! It tasted like it had been slow-cooked and the sauce was savory.
Steak with frutti di bosco.
8. La Beppa Fioraia
This fun restaurant sits on the side of the hill near Piazzale Michelangelo. I tried their steak, which while the addition of raspberries was a unique and original recipe, was not my favorite meal. However, my brother ordered rabbit and let me try some, which was quite yummy.
Tiramisu in a plant pot.
Later on, their tiramisu was delivered in a planting pot, with a real flower stuck in the center! La Beppa has a very creative kitchen! We also sat in what felt like a private dining room that was separate from the downstairs one. It seemed as if they had transformed an upstairs apartment into a dining area, as we could see a full-size kitchen at the end of the long room. The place was pretty quiet, but the night before it was booked up, so make reservations before going!
Got to try some of the rabbit dish my brother ordered.
9. Sei Divino!
While my brother Dylan was in Florence, we went to Sei Divino for aperitivo – a common Italian style of eating similar to appetizers but buffet style. We each tried things we hadn’t heard of on the food menu. Together we ordered baked buffalo mozzarella, linguine, octopus soup, and smoked salmon. Many restaurants and even cafes offer aperitivo in the early evening hours, so it wasn’t hard to find good food right in the middle of the city. It is typical for Italians to go for aperitivo just before heading somewhere else for dinner. Most local places will also have seating outside, perfect for winding down and cooling off from the day’s heat during the early summer nights.
10. Lo Sdrucciolo
I saved the best for last – this restaurant had an incredible atmosphere, and a most serendipitous feeling. We happened upon Lo Sdrucciolo after having been turned down at two other places (one of them was La Beppa Fioraia). We walked down the side street where we heard a live jazz band playing, and the restaurants had pulled their tables and chairs out onto the street. We grabbed a table. The trumpeter and bass player were fantastic—trading off solos with each other and trading off with the percussionist. The small street made for great acoustics, and I watched as people chatted, onlookers tapped their feet, and waiters smiled. It seemed that the restaurant hadn’t planned the event or possibly didn’t even know it was going to happen—one waiter was even taking pictures of the front of the house and the street, presumably to capture just how busy they were, and the great atmosphere in the street. People danced and cheered, feeding into the contagious energy that the musicians had created. I absorbed my surroundings, smiling at each moment’s joy.
A view of the DJ outside Lo Sdrucciolo.
Tonight’s Tagliatelle with mushroom sauce–con salsa di funghi— did not disappoint. Nor did the afterparty! Once the jazz band had finished their set, a DJ started spinning vinyl and he was mixing a great playlist! Eventually everyone grabbed some friends and started dancing. Soon, the entire street was filled with people of all ages. We joined in and danced in front of the DJ, where we could watch him mix. We stayed until the DJ stopped playing, amazed at our luck of walking into an area so full of life and energy. All I can say is, good thing those first two restaurants had no available tables.
Hopefully these 10 restaurants and cafe will make your list when you spend time in Florence!
Hannah's journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.