Because Rome doesn’t need another hero, America’s biggest ambassador for Italian flavors goes to bat for Florence.
Mercato Centrale
Credit: Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

Florence’s food scene is hot with old traditions—and some new takes on them—but it’s the way of life here that makes this city one of the best places to eat on the planet.

My perfect food day goes something like this:

I start strong at 8 a.m. with a spleen sandwich at Da Nerbone in Mercato Centrale (Via dell'Ariento), eating it alongside a bunch of butchers with a cold Peroni in hand. Then, after a visit to the Santa Croce Basilica (Piazza di Santa Croce, 16), I stop into Dondino (Piazza Santa Croce, 6/red) for a leisurely aperitivo before I walk over to Ristorante del Fagioli (Corso dei Tintori, 47-r) for a proper old-school lunch—that’s pappa al pomodoro, trippa alla Fiorentina and a bottle of Chianti Classico.

After that, I’m in the mood for a sunny stroll over to the convent of San Marco (Piazza San Marco, 3) to see the frescos by Fra Angelico, each one a masterpiece of light and expression. I check out my favorite, “The Mocking of Christ,” in cell 7, and then it’s time to start thinking about dinner.

Of the hundreds of options, my number one is consistently Cibrèo Ristorante (Via dei Macci, 122r) where Fabio Picchi interprets classic Tuscan cooking in a way that always takes my breath away with its simple elegance each and every time I visit. I also love his tiny spot nearby, Ciblèo (Via Andrea del Verrocchio, 2r)—it’s a tongue-in-cheek riff on the traditional cucina, with Asian influences.

Or I might end up on the other side of the Arno at the family-run Trattoria Pandemonio (Via del Leone, 50/R). Giovanna is in the dining room, her husband, Rolando, minds the finely tuned cantina, and their son Cecco is in the kitchen, gently dancing the Florentine saltarello with his classic dishes revisited with a lighter tough. I love his sformatino di melanzane (a sort of soufflé with creamy eggplant), the maccheroncini with sugo della mamma (beef ragù) and anything meaty off the grill. Or the fantastic polpettine di lesso, the meatballs made of leftover boiled beef that are genius comfort food.

Two glasses of vin santo and a plate of almond cantucci later, and I saunter off into the quiet streets of the city, singing songs from The Decameron, headed toward the river. — as told to Dana Bowen