Today I am taking a little different approach (hey, it’s my birthday, I can do what I want!). I am going to attempt to play real “tour guide.” If you don’t know, back when, I bought the domain name “atasteofflorence.com” (I could not believe it wasn’t taken), with the idea that one day I’d know enough about this town to offer tour services. So, to test the waters, instead of just telling you about places we’ve eaten without any useful specifics (address, hours, helpful hints), today I am going to try and give concrete info for those who may be interested in trying out my recommendations. Now, if you are not planning a meal out in Florence, have no fear, I will add some fun facts (and photos, of course) to make it amusing nonetheless.
While I’m going to point out a few specific places, overall I can say that the best way to enjoy an affordable meal out in Florence is to make that meal lunch. The prices of food, oftentimes the same exact food as dinner, are markedly cheaper at lunch time, and since here a 2 hour meal with wine is a very normal lunch, there’s really no need to wait until dinner to enjoy the dining experience (plus, if you’re like me, the thought of just starting a large meal at 8:30 p.m. doesn’t “go down” well). If you do want to enjoy an evening out, though, I will have future recommendations for you as well.
Italian Lunch Specials – Many of the local restaurants have great lunchtime specials, which gets you a complete meal for a set price. There are many touristy places that also have “fixed price” lunches, but you can spot those a mile away because 1) the sign will be in English, and 2) the price will be way more than you should be paying for lunch. Here’s an example of a good lunch deal from one of our local finds….
I had written about Le Stagioni (Via Capo di Mondo 10/12 r, closed Sunday lunch) in my earlier pizza review, and after the enthusiastic comments by a reader, we decided to both give their pizza another try and to go there for lunch as well. Turns out their pizza since my initial post has been cooked to perfection and they have a good lunch special to boot. As with most Italian places, the lunch special only applies during the week. Here you get a beverage of your choice (which includes a tiny beer or a 1/4 liter of wine), a choice off a list of pizzas and pastas, and the requisite after-lunch cafe for 7.50 euros (you can add an appetizer or dessert for another 2.50). Since this is a lunch special, there is no “coperto” (and of course no tax or tip), making lunch for two exactly 15 euros total. This is a pretty typical lunch deal and you can find them at many local places. (For example, La Luna has a similar offer, except with more choices, for 8 euros.) Here’s Steve’s and my lunch special:
Foreign Food Rosticceria – Since I already devoted an entire post praising the virtues of these hole-in-the-wall foreign food places, I won’t repeat myself here. However, I will provide some details. First off, unlike Italian places, these are almost always open for lunch on Sundays and open every evening by 5:30 or 6:00 for dinner; so if you can’t wait until 8:00 to eat, this is the way to go. They also have the same exact menu and prices for lunch and dinner (since they are not technically restaurants), so another good budget tip. (Drinks at these places are usually 1.00 euro for bottled water, 1.50 for sodas; we never have wine with our foreign food, but I’m sure it’s inexpensive.)
After one commenter asked for the address of the Sri Lankin place, I thought “why didn’t she just google it?” After I took my own advice I discovered you can’t actually find it on the internet, so here’s the scoop: Eagle Food Centers is located at Via Del Moro 67/r (not far from the train station) and is open 7 days a week. The lunch plate special (white rice, curries and a popadum) is 3.50 euros vegetarian (and maybe with chicken) and 4.00 if you have meat (vegetarian plate pictured). From their flyer I’ve discovered that they actually have a Sunday special which includes the above, plus fried rice and desserts for 5.00 euros. We’ll be trying that out soon! Speaking of not being able to find it on the internet – the Chinese place I’ve spoken about is called Rosticceria Casalinga (Via Del Leone 53/r, closed Monday lunch). This place actually does have a few reviews on Tripadvisor, but would do much better business if 1) their name gave some indication that it was a Chinese place (it just basically means “home-cooked”), and/or 2) they had a website (I made these polite suggestions when the owner asked me how I had found out about the place, which was pretty empty). Their prices for typical dishes range from 3.50 – 4.50 (with rice being extra).
PinGusto Wok – We ate lunch yet again last weekend at PinGusto, an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet (right across from Sant’Ambrogio Market at Via Petro Annigoni 11, open 7-days, Italian hours; you need reservations for dinner). Now, as with most “Japanese” restaurants in Florence (there aren’t many to choose from), this one is not authentic in the sense that the cooks are from China, not Japan. (As an aside, Japanese food is so uncommon here that your place-mat at PinGusto actually explains to you what wasabi is and how to use it, pictured). And, no, they don’t have the biggest variety of fish on offer (almost all salmon). But to us PinGusto has so many redeeming qualities that we really enjoy our lunches there (admittedly, I’ve talked to others who disagree). First off, lunch is only 10 euros (even on the weekend) for all-you-can-eat (drinks extra; dinner is 20), and for those of you who know Steve, you know he can do some serious damage (okay, I can also do my fair share). While there is an entire cooked food buffet as well (pictured), we pretty much stick to the sushi. One of the great things about the sushi (served conveyor-belt style) is that, unlike every other all-you-can eat sushi place anywhere, they actually send out plates of sashimi, so if you are picky/patient, you can eat tons of fresh fish without getting filled up on rice. While there are many things we wish they served (tuna, eel), for 10 euros I’ll take a never-ending plate of salmon and seaweed salad any time! (And their lemon gelato isn’t a bad palate cleanser afterwards). Helpful hint: this place fills up fast and usually has a line – we have found that if we get there about 12:35 (they open at 12:30), we walk right in at the back of the line that’s been waiting since 12/12:15, avoiding that wait and the very long line that follows by about 1:00.
Thanks for letting me be your guide today!