I have been fortunate to travel to different parts of Tuscany several times over the past fifteen years. The general level of restaurants in the region has definitely improved in the past decade or so. Even given the ongoing economic crisis in Italy, the region is richer and more modern than ever, excellent wines even more numerous and better than ever, and the regional hospitality business has learned quite a lot dealing with well-to-do and often demanding international tourists who flock to the famous region each year. Tuscan cuisine, long reliant on land often best suited to grapes and olives rather than a wide array of vegetables and fruits, has never been among the most exciting in Italy. And, the traditional bread, which is found everywhere, has no salt, which is odd, and can taste odd.
No matter, when done well Tuscan cooking can be very satisfying – it is in Italy after all – and it has even grown very interesting around the edges, as creativity has become more evident. Even at neighborhood trattorias a tad off the beaten path, presentation and the array of tempting dishes has grown over the years.
Here are eleven restaurants to recommend when in Tuscany, listed from north to south. Ten was not quite enough. This is by no means exhaustive, or a list of the best, as there are plenty of other excellent restaurants in this wonderful region. These are just ten that you are likely to have a very enjoyable Tuscan meal from various parts of the region.
Set in the tiny main piazza of this upscale seaside destination that draws plenty of wealthy Europeans, including many Russian “biznessmen,” especially notable for their stunning six-foot-tall model-esque consorts that are tough to miss parading along the boardwalk or among the Prada, Fendi, Ferragamo and Tiffany stores. This relatively new restaurant is somewhat stylish but approachable and specializes in seafood and the cuisine of the area. The seafood is impeccably fresh and of high quality and, befitting the tony crowd the town attracts, the presentation is also very nice, even for the humbler preparations.
Forte dei Marmi - Ristorante il Pozzetto
Piazza Garibaldi 3c, Forte Dei Marmi
+39 0584 80255
This elegant and not inexpensive seafood restaurant has been around since 1906. It also features a very good wine list with an emphasis on white wines as you might expect. There are a number of tempting choices among tempting, and affordable choices among the Franciacortas – Italy’s version of Champagne, and whites from Friuli plus plenty of Tuscany, of course.
Forte dei Marmi – La Barca
Viale Italico, 3, 55042 Forte Dei Marmi
Just off the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, a popular tourist destination in the heart of the old quarter, this humble restaurant has been serving locals and visitors since 1860. You will find the local specialties like farro soup and tordelli with meat sauce and a number of meat options like stewed wild boar, Chianina steak, roast pork, and grilled steak cut of the famed Cinta Sinese pigs.
Lucca – Osteria Baralla
Via Anfiteatro 5, 55100 Lucca
+39 0583 440240
Adjacent to Osteria Baralla and around the corner from the entrance to the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, this capable, quaint spot offers a range of local dishes, seafood, pizza and grilled items.
Lucca – Tre Merli
Via dell'Anfiteatro, 15, 55100 Lucca
+39 0583 490370
Catering to tourists, this friendly and informative little wine bar across from church that is the setting for the regular Puccini concerts provides a very nice introduction to the wines and cooking of the region of Lucca. It works equally well as stop for a flight of surprisingly good local wines – it is Tuscany, after all – artisanal Lucchese beers, a sampling of excellent, robust olive oils, or for a relaxed meal. The kitchen does a very commendable job with a limited array of local specialties.
Lucca – Enoteca Calasto
Via San Giovanni, 5, 55100 Lucca
+39 0583 954267
In the historic heart of Pisa, a stone’s throw from the university, this comfortable, longstanding osteria (or even trattoria) is known for large portions of excellent local dishes, including seafood. Expansive wine list, too.
Pisa – Osteria dei Cavalieri
Via San Frediano 3, 56126 Pisa
+39 050 580858
Very popular with tourists, though not touristy, at least in the sense that the food is traditional and terrific. The locals like it, too. No reservations are taken and the lines can stretch well out the door for the lively and casual trattoria that is just north of the Arno River and a few blocks from the main train station.
Florence – Il Latini
Via dei Palchetti, 6R, 50123 Florence
+39 055 210916
The trattoria of the well-regarded Il Cibreo is deemed by many locals and regular visitors to be the most reliable of the handful of Cibreo outlets. It is a more wallet-friendly place than the main Cibreo to enjoy Fabio Picchi’s interpretation of classic Florentine cooking. No reservations are taken.
Florence – Il Cibreo Trattoria
Via dei Macci, 122R
+39 055 234 1100
This the thrice weekly paean to the beef steak culture of the Chianti hills from the famed butcher Dario Cecchini. This is the place to experience the famous Italian steak, the only famous Italian steak, the glorious bistecca alla fiorentina. It is certainly glorious when done here, and just one of six or so courses that is very heavy on the beef, though Tuscan beans might not get tastier than what is served here. A meal is nearly all you can eat and comes with top-notch local Chianti served in oversized straw-covered bottles and finishes with Italian brandy and grappa. The 50 € tariff is a pittance for the quality and quantity of food and the wonderful experience; Dario puts on a show announcing the courses along the way. Reservations are a necessity, as the space is very limited. Get there early to enjoy some terrific Dario-made salumi, olive oil and tasty Chianti in the tiny butcher shop next door, where Dario’s progenitors have been serving the village for generations.
Panzano – Officina della Bistecca
Via XX Luglio, 11, Panzano in Chianti
+39 055 852176
This tiny hilltop town obscured by its walls and towers that impressed Dante is well worth a stop. Il Pozzo is well worth a detour in its own right. Right on the main piazza this serves traditional regional dishes done in an impeccable and well-mannered fashion. Their shaded garden area is a pleasant place to dine even when the temperatures are hot.
Monteriggioni – Il Pozzo
piazza Roma 20 53035 Monteriggioni
+39 057 7304127
Though it is just around the corner from the Church of San Domenico – which holds the head of the rather famous Saint Catherine…of Siena – and the stop for regional buses, this is popular mostly just with locals. I only knew to visit because it had been recommended by someone who lives in the neighborhood. Much more than a pizzeria, this place serves a wide range of regional dishes plus top-notch veal scaloppine, unusual for Italy. The pizzas are quite good, too. Plus, the views from the covered patio with the Duomo looming on a hilltop not too many blocks away might be even better than the very enjoyable fare.
Siena – Pizzeria di Nonno Mede
Via Camporegio, 53100 Siena
+39 0577 247966