In terms of tourism, Lucca lives in the shadow of the nearby Pisa, but for no good reason: the charming fortress town offers some of the best food in Tuscany.
Tuscany is known for its red wine, truffles and vineyard-patched hills, often serving as the backdrop for romantic memoirs and their on-screen interpretations. Yet one town, still under the Tuscan sun but far less trafficked by tourists looking to find themselves, is Lucca, a mid-sized city encircled by high-drama Renaissance walls. Just kilometers from Pisa, Lucca does not offer a slanted tower you can pose by in hopes of beating your Instagram like record, but it does have an unusually high concentration of delicious food.
You’ll find Tuscan staples, yes—prosciutto and melon, finocchiona (fennel salami), bistecca alla fiorentina and porcini mushroom risotto. But like every Italian town—even those so tiny you can’t find a gas station—Lucca has its signature dishes, many of which might seem more at home in Emilia-Romagna than in Tuscany. For example, the divine tortelli lucchese, a fresh pasta stuffed with meats and cheeses and tossed in a slow-cooked ragù, resembles the pastas you find in Bologna, as it’s made with egg. You’ll find other rich, fresh-pasta classics like tortellini in brodo and taglioline al burro fuso in Lucca, too.
Pencil the city into your Tuscan vacation, whether you’re headed to Cinque Terre or Florence, or make it the main destination, as Lucca’s specialties are totally worth the transatlantic flight; you’ll learn this with one taste of minestra di farro alla garfagnina, a wonderfully lush farro soup dressed with olive oil, or just about any preparation of baccalà, the distinctive Italian salt cod that’s grilled, fried, mixed with pasta or served on crostini. Oh, and the beans. Lucchese bean dishes are heavenly and usually drenched in local olive oils.
Luckily for tourists, the town is easily accessible by train, and the station is just a five-minute walk from the city’s walls, which are perfect for biking, by the way. If you include Lucca on your Tuscan jaunt, make sure to eat at these places until you cannot bear to eat anymore, then go get gelato, of course.
This Lucca institution dates back to 1782 and serves some of the city’s finest farro soup, apparently a fixture on the menu for hundreds of years. (Per their website, the restaurant is beloved by “Giacomo Puccini, Ezra Pound, the King Gustavo of Sweden, the Princess Margaret of England, Indro Montanelli and others.”) 3 Via Cervia.
Osteria San Giorgio
Here you’ll find traditional lucchese dishes with a strong focus on seafood. 26 Via San Giorgio.
This traditional (and very affordable) Tuscan trattoria serves one of the most beautiful antipasto misto around; the spread includes prosciutto, sopressata, salame, assorted crostini, fried polenta, olives and more. 45 Via delle Conce.
No matter how much salt cod or farro you’ve eaten, save room for some crazy-good housemade gelato. A scoop of Cremeria Opera’s cioccolato del dottore may just change your life. 951 Via Gaetano Luporini.