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Where to Eat Now: Florence

There's nothing prettier to me than Italy at Christmastime. Florence, the ancient heart of the Renaissance, is especially magical; its many piazzas are lit up with twinkling lights, and breathtaking churches open up for free concerts and set out intricate nativity scenes for all to marvel at. But most importantly, the food is hearty, soul-soothing, and just the thing to keep you warm on a stroll over one of the city's many bridges.
While you might think of Florence as another great pasta town, it's actually in the heart of Tuscany's cow country, which means the beef (and leather goods!) is incredible. Bistecca alla fiorentina is a must-have: the thick-cut T-bone steak comes from the local chianina cow, which has a rich, intense flavor you just can't find in the U.S. Come hungry! These guys are big.
From dining al fresco on those gorgeous piazzas (don't worry, many have heat lamps) to the best dolci in town (When in Italy!) these are my favorite Florentine spots for any time of the year.
Trattoria Cammillo
For dinner like a local: Trattoria Cammillo
Trattoria Cammillo
Borgo San Jacopo 57R
(near Ponte Vecchio)
For a special night out, there's no place better than Cammilo. I filmed the Florence episode of Giada in Italy right near this very traditional trattoria, and it became hands down my favorite restaurant in town. In fact, it's the only place Aunt Raffy wanted to eat while we were here! We both love the chicken curry, fritto misto, and of course all the pastas. It's a bit pricy, but worth every penny.
Alla Vecchia Bettola
For incredible pasta: Alla Vecchia Bettola
Alla Vecchia Bettola
Via Vasco Pratolini 3
(off the beaten path)
This hidden gem is 15-minute walk from the center of town, but it's well worth it (and you'll appreciate the walk back when you've filled up on dinner!). It's also tiny, so be sure to call ahead for a reservation. Once you're there, the house pasta is to die for, as are the bistecca, veal chop, pork chop, and chicken. And don't dare leave without ordering the tiramisu! Do as I did and order your main dishes family-style for the group so you can try it all while leaving room for dessert.
4 Leoni
For the piazza dining experience: 4 Leoni
4 Leoni
Via de Vellutini 1R
(near the Ponte Vecchio)
This trattoria on the Piazza della Passera has a nice big outdoor patio that gets lovelier as dusk falls. They are famous for their fiocchetti di pera (pasta with taleggio and pear), but I'm partial to the melon salad, veal chop and, for il dolci, the chocolate cake and cheesecake! Why choose when you can have them both?
Il Santo Bevitore
For a meal everyone will love: Il Santo Bevitore
Il Santo Bevitore
Via Dei Santo Spirito 64
(in Santa Spirito)
When a restaurant is lined with wine bottles, I know it's going to be good. Il Santo Bevitore delivers on that promise, with a great wine list, plus locally grown vegetables, creative meat dishes, and brilliant pastas. If you like heat, the riccioli is for you – it's no-joke spicy! This neighborhood restaurant is a favorite with young locals, so be sure to call ahead for a reservation.
Golden View Open Bar
For dinner with a view: Golden View Open Bar
Golden View Open Bar
Via de Bardi 58R
(near the Ponte Vecchio)
They're not kidding about that view! Golden View has been a favorite for years, both for its gorgeous interior and its great view of the Ponte Vecchio – and the food, of course. The tomato bruschetta (listed as "the croutons" on the English menu) is amazing; like all the best Italian food, it's simple but the cherry tomatoes are super fresh!
La Terrazza
For the best drink with a view: La Terrazza
La Terrazza at the Continentale Hotel
Vicolo dell'Oro 6
(in the Centro Storico)
With its picture-perfect bridges and amazing architecture, one of the best ways to see Florence is from up high – preferably with a drink in your hand! That's why rooftop bars are so popular here. Though some will argue with me, I like the view from La Terrazza best, and its relaxed lounge atmosphere is way better than the high-pressure scene at some of the other bars in town.
Il Santino
For a true wine and antipasti experience: Il Santino
il Santino
Via Dei Santo Spirito 66
(in Santo Spirito)
If you couldn't get a reservation at Il Santo Bevitore, or if you're just waiting for your table, there's no better place to indulge in a bottle of Brunello than at Santino. The 20-person spot is cozy – one might say cramped – but the wine, cheese, and bruschetta more than make up for it with their delicious variety. If you can, grab a seat right at the bar, where you can watch the hilarious staff put together the dishes, wisecracking their way through the night.
Le Volpi e L'Uva
For a stellar wine list: Le Volpi e L'Uva
Le Volpi e L'Uva
Piazza Dei Rossi 1
(by the Ponte Vecchio)
Locals in Florence stop in at little wine bars like this one for a bicchiere or two of wine and a snack before going out for dinner. The wine list here is fantastic – lots of lesser-known French and Italian varieties – and the staff is super helpful and ready to provide recommendations to guide you through it all. A must-visit if you're headed to dinner nearby!
Rivalta Café
For an aperitivo: Rivalta Café
Rivalta Café
Lungarno Corsini 14R
(by the Uffizi)
Aperitivo hour is another treasured Italian tradition, a little like happy hour but with better snacks and refreshingly light drinks meant to get your appetite geared up for dinner. At sunset, there's no better place to be than Rivalta, where you can take your Aperol spritz across the street (yes, you can take your drink with you!) to sit on the Arno wall and pose for an obligatory selfie.
all'Antico Vinaio
For the best to-go sandwiches: all'Antico Vinaio
all'Antico Vinaio
Via Dei Neri 74R
(by the Uffizi)
Back in the day, Florence was a workers' town, where cheap, filling food like sandwiches was in high demand. The panini here are still the best in Italy, both for their variety and the amazing skill and speed with which they're constructed. My favorite is la Favolosa at All'Antica Vinaio, with piles of salami and pecorino cheese spread on freshly baked schiacciata bread (like focaccia, but risen longer for denser flavor) – take it to eat on a nearby street corner, as there's nowhere to sit in the tiny shop.
Buca dell'Orafo
For a cozy reprieve from the crowds: Buca dell'Orafo
Buca dell'Orafo
Via Dei Girolamo 28
(near the Ponte Vecchio)
All of Florence feels ancient, but there's nowhere you'll feel quite as outside of time as when you're tucked away in the stone-lined cavern that is Buca dell'Orafo. The restaurant is built into a 13th-century stone castle that was once home to goldsmiths, but since 1945 has been dishing out delicious meat sauce that I just can't get enough of.
Trattoria Le Antiche Carrozze
For a leisurely lunch: Trattoria Le Antiche Carrozze
Trattoria Le Antiche Carrozze
Piazza di Santa Trinita
(by the Uffizi)
For lunch with a side of people-watching, this trattoria by the Ferragamo Museum has it all. It's a stone's throw from many of the major sightseeing destinations, but not overrun by tourists. Plus, the pomodoro pasta is delicious, as are the grilled vegetables. It's just the thing to fuel up on for some art appreciation at the nearby Uffizi.
Gelateria De Neri
For the best gelato: Gelateria De Neri
Gelateria De Neri
Via Dei Neri 9/11
(by the Uffizi)
It's not a trip to Florence without gelato, no matter what the weather is like – and really, it's hard to go wrong just about anywhere. But this little shop won me over with their rainbow selection of gorgeously fresh flavors like rose, gorgonzola and walnut, and green apple. My all-time favorite? Ricotta with fig. It's a must-try!
Café Gilli
For the best espresso in town: Café Gilli
Café Gilli
Via Roma 1
(by the Duomo)
The last time I was in Florence, I went on a quest for the best espresso in town and must have tried at least 10 different cafés! This local institution, open since 1733, won in a landslide. They also have great pastries and bagged biscotti and candies, which make nice souvenirs for friends back home, since you can't bring them that fantastic espresso. Cozy up to the bar and ask for a caffé or, if you want espresso with milk, a caffé latte. Don't make the mistake of just asking for a latte, or you'll wind up with a cup of hot milk!
Dittta Artigianale
For a taste of home: Dittta Artigianale
Dittta Artigianale
Via Dei Neri 32R
(by the Ponte Vecchio)
Coffee in Italy can be a very traditional affair, which I love, but sometimes you just need your caffeine fix in a more familiar environment. This modern coffee shop owned by an award-winning local barista feels like a tiny pocket of Brooklyn hidden among the cobbled Florentine backstreets, complete with hand-roasted, single-origin beans. They even have reliable Wi-Fi!

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