Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Best Fixed-Priced Menus in Florence

When we travel through Italy, we tend to steer clear of fixed-priced menus. Why? Because they're usually a disappointment. Sure, the food is well priced but the quality is often compromised because of it. €3 for a bowl of pasta is a great deal but if it was made hours previously and then microwaved before heading out of the kitchen, it hardly seems worth it. Furthermore, the choices are often limited to basic (read: boring) Italian fare like spaghetti pomodoro or roasted chicken.

But sometimes you're in the mood for spaghetti pomodoro, right?

Furthermore, traveling is expensive! It's costly to cough up €75 for dinner every single night. So when we've felt the pinch, we've broken our own rule. Yes, we've tried a few select fixed-priced menus, and to our surprise, we've liked them! A lot, in fact. Our secret? We quickly learned that the trick to a cheap, yummy meal was to stay away from the tourist centers and venture to family-friendly neighborhoods that cater to the locals. Here's a list of our favorites.

Near San Lorenzo

Palle d'Oro
Via Sant’Antonino, 43r
Telephone: +39 055 288 383
Closed Sunday
Palle d’Oro opened its doors more than four generations ago as a wine bar. Although you can still order a sandwich and glass of wine at the front counter, head to the dining room in the back. It’s a small and simple room with tile floor, neatly dressed tables, and wood-beam ceiling. Their fixed-price menu is limited (think spicy spaghetti carrettiera and roasted chicken) but the €13 at lunch, €25 at dinner which includes a pasta, entrée and side dish is hard to beat.

Near the Duomo

Trattoria del Pennello
Via Dante Alighieri, 4r
Telephone: +39 055 294 848
Closed Sunday night and Monday, three weeks in August and Christmas week
One of the oldest restaurants in the city, Trattoria del Pennello has a colorful past. “The Brush,” is a nod to 15th century Renaissance painter, Mariotto Albertinelli, who owned an osteria in this very spot. Trattoria del Pennello’s two narrow dining rooms are bright and cheery with white-washed walls accented with modern art. Large picture windows let in an abundance of light. There’s a lovely outdoor back patio, too. Three fixed-price menus ranging in price from €20 to €25 all offer a tasty selection of classic Florentine fare like spaghetti carrettiera, “the cart driver’s pasta,” a perennial favorite with sautéed tomatoes and chili pepper. Entrées like baccalà alla livornese (the classic salt cod simmered in tomato sauce) and tagliata di manzo (sliced sirloin steak dressed with parmesan cheese, arugula and a dash of balsamic) are equally satisfying.

Near Santa Croce

Trattoria Anita 
Via del Parlascio, 2r
Telephone: +39 055 218 698
Closed Sunday and two weeks in August 
This corner trattoria hidden along the backstreets just west of the Piazza della Signora has been in the same family for more than three generations (three affable brothers are at the helm these days). The dining room has a rustic feel with its lemon-yellow walls, brick archways and wrought-iron chandeliers. Shelves filled with bottles of wine for sale abound but the house wine is decent and reasonably priced. It’s a popular spot at lunchtime, and for good reason. The fixed-priced lunch menu, two courses plus a side dish for about €8, is why they come. It’s simple peasant food—think penne pomodoro and roasted chicken—but it’s fresh, flavorful and plentiful (for €12 you can get bistecca as an entrée choice). 

Near Santa Maria Novella

Trattoria Il Contadino 
Via Palazzuolo, 69/71r
Telephone: +39 055 238 2673
Closed Saturday and Sunday
For more than 30 years, this unassuming spot located halfway between the Arno and the Central Station has prided itself on serving simple, tradition dishes at very reasonable prices. For €11 at lunch and €12.5 at dinner, you'll get pasta, an entrée and side dish. (Add just €1 more for a decent quarter-carafe of house wine to wash it all down.) The menu changes daily but depending on the time of year you could find yourself enjoying fresh pappardelle with mushrooms or tagliatelle topped with wild boar sauce. For an entrée, try the deliciously tender spezzatino (beef or veal stew), chicken cacciatora in a savory white wine sauce and salty black olives, or even roasted rabbit. The dining room is casual but comfortable with basic wooden tables topped with paper place mats. Like the food, it is nothing fancy. Come early, as they do not take reservations.

Near the Pitti Palace

Trattoria Bordino 
Via Stracciatella, 9r
Telephone: +39 055 213 048
Closed Sunday
Just across the Ponte Vecchio in the city’s Oltrarno district, Trattoria Bordino’s rustic interior is moody and romantic, something straight out of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In fact, the building dates back to the 1500s when it was a coach depot and gathering spot for the local knights and other Renaissance warriors. Little candle-lit niches hide among the exposed rock walls. Old farming implements festoon the doorways. The high vaulted ceilings make the otherwise tiny dining room appear much larger than it is. Come for lunch when €10 will get you bistecca alla fiorentina, roasted potatoes and a salad. (Or, for only €7 feast on roasted lamb, bollito di manzo, a straightforward beef stew, or grilled chicken.) Pleasant outdoor seating on a quiet side street.

Near Piazza Santo Spirito

Trattoria I’Raddi
Via Ardiglione, 47r
Telephone: +39 055 211 072
Closed Sunday
Located at the end of a dead-end street, I’Raddi is a little hard to find but worth the effort (look for the little hand painted sign on at the top of Via Ardiglione pointing the way). The eatery is small and unassuming but modern in its clean design, a reflection of its three young owners, one of whom is creative Chef Alfonso di Noia. His menu changes every two months, tracking the seasons of fresh produce that make an appearance at the local farmers’ market. Budget-minded travelers should head to I’Raddi at lunchtime Monday through Friday where they can score a serving of homemade pasta for less than €3! Delicious desserts beautifully presented. Call to make a reservation otherwise you’ll need to share a communal table. 

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