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Thanksgiving is often known as the holiday of gluttons, so this year, we hopped over the pond to be Italian gluttons…or gluttons in Italy, whichever. Point is, we spent the entire time wining and dining ourselves to Thanksgiving tradition. Get your stretchy pants ready and visually gorge on all this delicious food in Italy.
Ironically, I can’t remember much of what I’ve eaten on past trips to Italy. I remember embarrassingly asking for olive oil for my bread while sitting outside under heat lamps, I remember a Chinese-Italian restaurant in Milan, and I remember Fiaschetteria Nuvoli in Florence, right next to the Duomo. (And yes, I recommend Fiaschetteria. After all, I still remember it after all these years!)
But on this trip, we absolutely focused on the food (and wine — but that’s another post!).
Here’s the best of the best of all the delicious Italian food that went into our tummies. Only the spots we’d recommend are here, so think of this as your guide to where to eat in Rome, Tuscany, and Liguria.
The best food in Rome
We started our trip in Rome, as many trips to Italy do.
Before the trip, we’d joked that we had to try all the Italian places near us pre-trip because “real Italy” would ruin them for us.
And then on day 1, we somehow got a table at the famous Armando al Pantheon — sans reservation.
Best traditional Roman cuisine: Armando al Pantheon
After this amazing lunch, we basically felt like we’d ruined the rest of Italy for ourselves by getting so lucky on day 1.
But, I suppose you can’t have the exceptional unless you also experience the ordinary.
That cacio e pepe was one of the best things we had in Italy. We somehow missed the braised oxtail stew on the menu, but the table next to us had it, and the meat looked oh so succulent.
If you do happen to get to Rome without a reservation, make sure to get to Armando al Pantheon before they open to try your luck. We arrived around noon and were the only ones without a reservation to get in when they opened at 12:30 p.m. for lunch. But, getting a reservation ahead of time is probably smart.
And do listen to the waiters on their wine suggestions — they’re quite talented and on point with their picks.
Best Roman pizza: Pizzarium Bonci
Of course, we couldn’t stop eating just because we couldn’t have Armando al Pantheon at every meal. Good thing there are other delicious spots with Italian classics. Like pizza.
Here in the States, we’re most familiar with the Neapolitan pizzas. But in Rome, they’ve got their own style. So don’t miss this staple of Roman cuisine.
Roman pizza, which is known there as pizza al taglio, is more like a flatbread — if that flatbread was more like focaccia with toppings.
I’ll let this photo from the famous Pizzarium do the talking.
Note to the wise, don’t get too overboard. The Pizzarium is known for its ever-changing, creative combos of toppings, and you’ll want to try them all. But do keep an eye on the price and on how much you get. We ordered all of this for lunch, and it was definitely enough for two people for two meals.
Oh, and don’t forget to try some suppli, those deep-fried balls of street food goodness!
Best bakery in Rome for bread: Panificio Bonci
Speaking of carb-y foods, Rome (and all of Italy) has some amazing bakeries. While most have a variety of carb options, they tend to either specialize in bread (panificio) or cakes and pastries (pasticceria).
One of the best bread specialists in town is Panificio Bonci. This seemingly small storefront packs a punch in terms of options. Don’t miss their mini handheld pizza-like breads.
And yes, if you picked up on it, this place is owned by the same chef that started Pizzarium: Gabriele Bonci.
Best bakery in Rome for pastries: Panella
If you’re down to splurge for some fancy baked goods, check out Pasticceria Panificio Panella Roma.
As their name announces, they do bread as well as cakes and pastries (and more), but it’s really their pastries that shine.
Anyhow, the place is indeed a bit expensive. Our splurge was accidental, but it was oh so delicious. Won’t lie, got drawn in by their window decor!
Best gelato in Rome: Punto Gelato
And of course, a trip to Italy hasn’t truly started without some gelato.
We mapped and subwayed our ways to several of the city’s best-ranked shops, and Punto Gelato came out on top for me. (My partner preferred Otaleg.)
Punto Gelato, sometimes also known as Gunther Gelato after gelato master Gunther Rohregger, had the most intense yet natural flavors. The gelato was velvety smooth and had the perfect density that made it linger on your taste buds.
There are two Punto Gelato locations in Rome and a third sister location called The Taste Gelato.
The best food in Tuscany
Next up was Tuscany.
We were in Tuscany during truffle season, and it was heavenly. Truffle this, truffle that. Yes please, just shower me with truffles.
I probably ate tagliolini with truffles more times than anything else on this trip. And that count doesn’t include other truffle pasta dishes. (I also realized that it’s the smell of truffles that I love, not necessarily the actual flavor or texture of truffles themselves. So yay for opting for the less expensive option?)
It was also porcini mushrooms season. Let’s just say truffles + mushrooms are a match made in a heaven I’d like to be in all the time.
For us, Siena was a culinary delight, so let’s start there.
Best breakfast cafe in Siena: Bar Pasticceria Nannini
The most centrally located and most expansive branch of Nannini is at Via Banchi di Sopra, 24. Yeah, it’s a little fancy, but stepping into the cafe makes you feel like you’re on a true European holiday.
Choose of their specialty pastries and then stand at the bar with your espresso. And dreamily people-watch as you make your pastry and espresso last as long as possible.
Nannini also has a wide selection of wines and packaged Sienese treats for sale, so if you’re short on time, you can get your shopping done while eating breakfast.
Best casual restaurant in Siena: Il Bargello
I suppose it’s not that surprising that Siena, the heart of Tuscany, would have so many delicious spots.
We popped into Il Bargello one day and devoured everything we ordered in lightning speed. The food was scrumptious and beautifully presented, and the wine selection is splendid. Our only regret is that we didn’t have more space in our stomach.
Best special occasion restaurant in Siena: La Taverna di San Giuseppe
Make your reservations for Taverna di San Giuseppe NOW and then come back to read the rest of this. I promise it’s worth it. And so will the numerous friends we’ve sent there in the years since we visited.
This spot is a little fancier, but when you take into account the quality of the food and service, it’s actually quite reasonable. Look at that freshly shaved truffle!
The food was well-crafted and mouth-watering and the service attentive and personalized. And there was a very warm, welcoming ambiance that made it feel like you were having dinner at an Italian friend’s home instead of at some upscale, fancy place where you had to be all prim and proper.
And the dessert menu? Don’t even think about going adventurous. Just order the tiramisu. It may seem basic, but boy were we glad that our server suggested it.
It was basically dessert crack. So damn good.
Before you leave, don’t forget to check out their 2000+ year-old Etruscan-era wine cellar!
Best late night option in Siena: Vineria Il Murello
Well, late night isn’t all that late in Siena. But whereas many restaurants close their doors at 10, this wine bar-restaurant combo is open until 11.
It might not look like much when you walk in, but the food that comes out of that tiny kitchen will certainly exceed your expectations. Plus, it has that cozy neighborhood feel and is a good spot for a relaxing glass (bottle?) of wine or some late night munchies.
Best gelato in Siena: Nannini
And to end the Siena list, we mustn’t forget gelato.
Wait, but we started the Siena list with Nannini, you say.
Good thing the various locations of Nannini are all a little different. The Bar Posta branch (Piazza Matteotti, 29) happens to have delicious artisanal gelato along with delicious baked goods.
And since we started the Siena list talking about how Nannini is great for breakfast, I’m gonna let you in on a secret: gelato is great for breakfast, too!
Best breakfast cafe in Florence: Caffe Scudieri
While we also went to other places in Tuscany, the other main food spot for us was Florence.
Start your mornings in this Renaissance city at Caffe Scudieri. Its location near the Duomo does mean it can be filled with tourists at times, but the place is packed in the mornings with locals as well.
Strong espressos, endless pastry options, reasonable prices, and suited baristas. What’s not to love?
Best lunch spot in Florence: Trattoria da Rocco
Located inside the Sant’Ambrogio Market, this trattoria is a favorite of Florentines who stop by for lunch (the only time it’s open).
It’s casual, down-home cooking in a no-frills setting. Hearty ribollita soup, creamy pesto lasagna, fresh rigatoni alla carrettiera, hmmm.
Wine is served to you by the jug, and you pay based on how much you drink. It’s a dangerous game, I tell ya.
Best wine bar in Florence: Le Volpi e L’Uva
That’s not to say daytime consumption of wine isn’t a favorite activity of ours. We visited many a winery and wine bars during our time in Italy, but our favorite wine bar was absolutely Le Volpi e L’Uva.
Tucked away in a small corner near the famous Ponte Vecchio, this place is easily missed. But to miss it would be a trip fail.
This tiny wine bar, which probably has a maximum capacity of 18 inside, houses so many good wines. Their menu of savory and sweet bites also exceeds expectations.
We absolutely loved all the wines and foods we tried there. We even brought some of the wine home and tried our hands at making some of the foods.
P.S. Leonardo is amazing and will take the best care of you.
Best gelato in Florence: My Sugar
Did you know that gelato was invented in Florence? I had no idea! It only makes me love Florence even more.
Don’t leave the birthplace of gelato without having some. My Sugar delivers both traditional and non-traditional flavors from their tiny storefront. Be sure to try the black sesame!
The best food in Liguria
Whereas I’d been to Rome and Tuscany before, the Liguria region was completely new to me.
Yet many of its foods were ever so familiar. Pesto. Foccacia. Ciuppin (translated into cioppino by Italian immigrants in San Francisco).
We spent our time in Liguria split between the 5 cities of Cinque Terre and the regional capital, Genoa.
Best restaurant in Corniglia: Ristorante Cecio
This hilltop restaurant offers amazing views and incredibly delicious and fresh seafood dishes.
Corniglia is the Cinque Terre town that’s on a hill and requires you to climb near 400 stairs to reach, so having a gorgeous view while cooling down with a drink is much welcomed.
Make sure to get their lobster pansoti. It was bursting with flavor and jammed full with seafood both inside the pansoti and in the sauce ladled on top.
Best restaurant in Manarola: Ristorante Marina Piccola
Marina Piccola, as its name suggests, is located right there in the Manarola marina. When you see photos of what is perhaps Cinque Terre’s most famous town, you can see this restaurant.
While the waterfront seating made us a little hesitant initially (too touristy?), the food turned out to be pretty good. Make sure to get the traditional pansoti with walnut sauce here. It is absolutely heavenly.
Best street food in Genoa: Friggitoria San Giorgio
Street food is always best judged by the number of locals in line, and there’s always a (fast-moving) line at this friggitoria.
Freshly fried-to-order seafood and veggies come in easy-to-hold cups and cones. There’s just something fun about eating out of a cone with your hands!
Best restaurant in Genoa: Trattoria Vegia Zena
Seafood is huge in Genoa given its location, and Trattoria Vegia Zena offers a wide variety of seafood selections on top of other traditional Genovese dishes.
Portion sizes were much larger than all the other restaurants we ate at, so keep that in mind when ordering.
Trattoria Vegia Zena is near the Genoa marina, tucked away in a small alley. It’s a local favorite and can be packed and busy on the weekends though, so make sure to make time for a leisurely meal.
Last note: keep in mind that almost all restaurants in Italy will bring out bread and charge a cover, even if you don’t touch the bread. The cover is typically 2-3 euros per person, so don’t be surprised if your bill is a little higher than you expected.
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