Studying in another country can have a profound impact on your worldview and future path. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you study in Italy and get to enjoy eating your way through the iconic city of Florence! Emily Palmer shares her fondest memories of eateries around the city to whet your appetite.
Typically, when I ask someone about a trip they went on, I ask about what touristy sights they saw or what hidden gems they came across. I ask because I want to feel the experience as if I were there myself.
Although these questions bring answers that fuel a travel junkie’s mind, there may still be a piece missing. This is because sightseeing is only walking on the outer core of what a place really is.
I believe the best way to get to know a country, or even a city, is through its food.
I’ve traveled a bit, and even with practice and the internet, it’s hard to get past a language barrier sometimes.
Lucky for us, though, there is one common language that all countries share: the language of food.
For those who have yet to visit Florence, Italy, or have only walked on the outer core, here are a few places to check out, alongside my personal favorite meals for each time of day: brunch, dinner, and dessert.
Keep in mind this is coming from a once-picky eater from the United States. But the language of food won me over during the summer I lived in the heart of Florence herself.
(All places listed are super affordable, too, since I was a college student on a budget.)
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Brunch in Florence
Breakfast isn’t as huge in Italy as it is in the US, so the typical meal consists of coffee and a croissant.
But on those days that I’d miss American portions or need a brunch date with the girls, here are two meals that can fill that void. These are from two US-themed cafes with a Florentine twist.
Le Vespe Café
The kind of place that — when it has a wait — you’re always willing to wait out in the sun for it.
The seats are close together so you can go with a group or even go alone and make friends easily.
This café is one where you wish you could order the whole menu at once.
What to Order: The Coxwell
This menu item is a bagel sandwich with a side of mouth-watering potatoes. This isn’t any McDonald’s dollar menu bagel though.
This is the kind of bagel where you eat half, get too full to move, decide to save the rest, and then end up eating the other half on your walk home.
The buttery bagel, toasted to perfection, stands on both sides of an insanely generous amount of a scrambled egg, cheese, and bacon mix that fuels you for a full day.
As opposed to my usual way of eating something delicious much too quickly, this meal is one where each bite requires a break for appreciation.
The feeling of warmth and contentment that comes with it is really just a bonus.
This cafe has limited seating since it’s a small hole in the wall, but — again — there isn’t a single time that we weren’t willing to wait.
The vibes inside were always impeccable and the staff treated us like family.
There’s always good music playing and good people around. Some days we would plan our lives around going to Rooster.
What to Order: Chicken N’Waffles
Believe it or not, I’ve lived in the southern United States for the majority of my life, which is an area famous for its chicken and waffles dish. Yet I had never tasted chicken and waffles until I came here.
I sat down on my first visit, looked at the table to my left, and knew I needed to try it. This staple was one that had all my friends asking for a taste.
The two crisp waffles come with a generous portion of four fried and marinated pieces of chicken on top, with both maple syrup and honey mustard on the side. With each bite, you can decide between savory, sweet, or the ultimate combination of both.
This masterpiece — accompanied by a side of a fresh smoothie or mimosa — makes for an unforgettable experience.
Dinner in Florence
Whether you’re looking for a quick meal to-go or a sit-down experience unlike any other, Florence is filled with options.
These two, however, are my top picks for meals that feed more than your stomach.
They feed your soul.
Oh man, what I wouldn’t give to have these two meals once more.
Natalino Enoteca Panini
There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe the magic that comes from a trip to Natalino’s.
My first full day in Florence, my program assistant brought us to her favorite panini shop down the road. I can, in full confidence, say that after that day, besides when we were out of town on a trip, not a single day went by when Natalino’s wasn’t in our hands.
This tiny shop easily has Italy’s best paninis thanks to their secret weapon: rocket sauce.
What to Order: My custom panini
Although there are plenty of options on the menu, I ended up picking custom ingredients and sticking to it throughout the summer.
I would get turkey, provolone, arugula, and rocket sauce. This simple pick alone brought me into a whole new world of food appreciation with each bite.
The ciabatta bread warmed and crisp to touch hugs the ingredients inside and the rocket sauce creates a taste bud experience unlike anything else.
Everyone I know had their own preferred pick at Natalino’s and there isn’t a day when someone wouldn’t be in the mood for it.
Wanderful members only: Access the recording for this Italian cooking class!
Ristorante Il Teatro Firenze
This restaurant is the kind that brings back more than just memories of food.
This is where I sat outside with a once-stranger and now roommate/bff as we shared our obsession with coccoli and had deep conversations about life.
It’s where my favorite professor had our class dinner after finals (it’s also his top pick restaurant, shoutout to Charlie) and brought us all closer together with a full course meal and heavenly wine.
This is where I got back from a trip on my own and knew the only thing that could cure my exhaustion was getting Teatro to go and taking a long food coma nap.
The employees learned my favorite order and always had a kind and fun demeanor. Overall, this is one of the best places to dine in Florence.
What to Order: Coccoli with Trofie al pesto alla Genovese
If there’s a meal I could eat for the rest of my life, it would be pasta pesto.
Going into Italy, I knew I would have a lot of choices for this Italian necessity.
After trying it out in a variety of restaurants in Florence, nothing came close to the trofie al pesto at Teatro.
After one taste, it became my go-to whenever I felt any craving for pasta at all, which comes a lot when you’re in Italy.
How can you make the best bowl of pasta even better? One simple answer…Coccoli.
Again, coccoli is another Italian staple you can find at most restaurants, but none compare to the serving at Teatro.
This greatest appetizer to ever hit my lips is perfectly salted and takes bread to a new level. It turns into the type of appetizer you have to make yourself stop eating so that you still have room for the meal.
Dessert in Florence
After filling yourself to the brim with enchanting Italian cuisine for dinner, one would think there’s no room for dessert.
One, however, would be incorrect.
Now, it’s hard to find the best gelato in Florence when it’s on every corner. Lucky for you though, I had a sweet tooth and a whole summer’s worth of time, so eventually, I found it.
Gelateria La Carraia
This is another place I have my P.A to thank for introducing me to (shoutout to you, Soph). A beautiful shop right along the walk to the river from where I lived.
The number of flavors was a bit overwhelming at first. But once I found my pick, it became a craving that a quick pit stop in the middle of the afternoon or evening could easily fix.
What to Order: My pick is Mint Chocolate Chip
The creamiest mint gelato with big chunks of milk chocolate smoothly mixed in. I could never get enough of this refreshing, silk-like delight.
Each walk to this gelateria brought with it the same excitement I used to get years ago when the ice cream truck came around, knowing I was about to embark on a journey of flavor no grocery store could ever provide.
This is the kind of gelato you can take to go as you walk along the Arno River to people watch or sit outside on the patio as you indulge in your treat and talk about life with your friends.
Never in my life would I imagine I’d be lucky enough to live in the center of Florence for a summer.
What could make it better, you ask?
I’ll tell you: getting to live right on top of the oldest gelateria in Florence.
We would watch tourists surround this café each and every day and, as soon as they left, we’d swoop in for a cup of authentic gelato.
What to Order: My pick is Vanilla chocolate chip
It seems pretty simple (and I’ll admit I’m picky), but even a flavor like this became so special with the Vivoli touch.
Something about this gelato made it incredibly rich and filling. Whenever I felt a sweet craving and didn’t know what I wanted, Vivoli would usually fill in what I didn’t know I needed.
This airy delight tastes so fresh, you could feel the vanilla bean on your tongue with each bite.
I Gelati del Bondi
The most honorable of mentions: gelato made with the main ingredient of love.
I took a class on how to make coffee, pasta, and — most importantly — gelato. It just so happens that the man who came in to teach us to make gelato was the kindest soul to ever walk the earth.
Vetulio Bondi, owner of I Gelati del Bondi, had a smile that could make anyone’s day.
He shared stories about his incredible life traveling and making gelato, and he took a lot of selfies (check him out on Instagram).
His creamy gelato was special, superior, and reflected his personality flawlessly. The variety of flavors was not only unique, but tasted better than that feeling when you come home after a while without mom’s home-cooked meals.
You could taste the homemade freshness in every bite.
I was only able to visit his family-run shop twice after experiencing his class, but I will never forget how authentic it was. This man changed the gelato game for sure.
Florence is a lively city in every respect.
Its exquisite food is what makes it one of the most diverse and delicious cities in the world. This city holds a multitude of museums, but it isn’t until you eat that you understand the full experience of the art Florence has to offer.
Next time you’re in Florence, I urge you to not only try these out, but to find unique food experiences of your own!
Have you been to Florence? What are your favorite places to eat there?