Eating in Italy is an experience. The country prides itself in its cuisine, and rightly so. They do everything well there. Pasta, pizza, cheese, sauces, wine, coffee, you name it. I live in California, the state that exports the most agricultural goods. Yet, I go to the grocery store and I'm offered produce from Central and South American instead. Not so in Italy! One of the things that struck me about Italy is that the majority of the ingredients used come right from Italy itself. They also create their menus based on what is in season at that time.
Of course there are many bougie places in Italy, but my husband and I had a budget to stick to, so we ate at places that were easy on the wallet, but delicious nonetheless. Here are our favorite budget-friendly places to eat in Florence and Rome.
BUDGET-FRIENDLY FLORENCE EATS
Il Pizzaiuolo (Via dè Macci, 113, 50122 Firenze, Italy) - One of the best pizzas we had on our trip. Some people next to us had an amazing tagliere with meats, cheeses, olives, and a huge plate of bufalo mozzarella served with bruschetta. I recommend having a reservation before you go. It gets very crowded, but if you eat there, you'll see why!
- La Divina Pizza (via Borgo Allegri, 50r, 50122 Firenze, Italy) - They have traditional pizza, as well as focaccia pizza with an array of choices made fresh before your eyes. We got lucky because our Airbnb apartment was the upstairs neighbor to this amazing place! When we saw the huge crowd late at night, we knew we had to visit. You pay for the focaccia pizza by weight, so just ask him to cut you off a piece. He'll warm it up for you in the oven so that the cheese melts and it's nice and hot, ready for you to eat.
- Eduardo Il Gelateria Biologico (Piazza del Duomo, 45R, 50122 Firenze, Italy) - Homemade cones, organic gelato, and right in the Piazza del Duomo. My husband got a red wine sorbet, and I got a pomegranate and peach sorbet. There's quite a line, but it's worth it! Lots of delicious and unique flavors.
Florence Central Market (Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 50123 Firenze, Italy) - This bustling market is a must-see. Locals and tourists alike can find amazing produce, meats, pastas, cheeses, wines, and oils here. If you're looking to bring home some goodies from Italy, this is the place to get it. The vendors are authentic and genuine, and the food quality speaks for itself. Go upstairs, and you'll find a food court. There's a wine bar in the center of the court, a small Eataly grocery store, and food stands that only use ingredients that are found in the Market itself. We ate at La Pasta Fresca - SO good. I wish we stayed in Florence longer to try it all!
Grom Gelateria (Via del Campanile, 2, 50122 Firenze, Italy) - Expect long lines, and expect to return again and again. I recommend the pistacchio, nicciola (hazelnut), and crema di grom. This was our favorite gelato place in Florence.
All'Antico Vinaio (Via dei Neri, 74 R, Firenze, Italy) - You haven't had a real panino until you've been to All'Antico Vinaio. There is a restaurant as well, but we opted to go for the sandwich stand right outside the restaurant. The sandwiches are HUGE. Pick your choice of meat (but do not mix the meats - it's considered sacrilegious!), cheese, and topping. Sounds simple right? But when you have choices of any kind of Italian meat and cheese you can image, topped with spicy eggplant and arugula, smothered between bread that's been spread with a truffle, artichoke, sundried tomato and/or mushroom cream, you a REAL PANINO. No wonder why people wait 20+ minutes for their sandwich. BECAUSE IT'S AMAZING. Oh, and did I mention that ALL sandwiches are 5 only euros?
BUDGET-FRIENDLY EATS IN ROME
Rome is, overall, more expensive than Florence. Be advised, we were told by our Airbnb host to stay away from restaurants along the street Via Del Corso; they are incredibly overpriced. With that tip, we were able to find some great budget-friendly eats in Rome!
- Borgo Antico (Borgo Pio, 21, 00193 Roma, Italy) - This place was a hidden treasure. We had a long day at the Vatican museum, and kept walking until we found this small place to eat. It's an intimate and quiet place, which we needed. My husband got the osso bucco, which was incredible. The shank was falling off the bone, and the rice on the plate was swimming in the most delicious stew. I got a asparagus gnocchi which was divine. Little pillows of starchy heaven on a plate. We also got a couple of delicious Roman style artichokes. I highly recommend this to someone who needs to unwind after visiting the Vatican!
- Pasticceria Boccione (Via del Portico D'Ottavia, 1, 00186 Roma, Italy) - We first saw this bakery on an episode of Rick Steves. I had forgotten all about it until we passed by it while in the Jewish Ghetto. There was a line out the door of an unmarked bakery, and I was curious. The adorable ladies there didn't speak any English, so we just pointed and said, "Questo e questo e questo," (This and this and this). We ended up getting a slice of this sweet bread/loaf thing filled with ricotta cheese. It was so delicious and not too sweet. We also got an almond macaroon, and a slice of this fruit cake/bread that was in a tray on the counter. Now, all of the baked goods are slightly burned, but it's purposeful! A guide who was in line behind us told her group that they purposefully burn the baked goods to caramelize the sugar on top. It also adds a unique and delicious taste to their pastries. They are closed on the weekends, so make sure to plan to get there on a weekday! We only wish we had bought extra to take home with us!
- Cantina Cantarini (Piazza Sallustio, 12, Roma, Italy) - This is not your typical touristy restaurant in Rome. In fact, it's situated on a hill top in a quiet neighborhood outside the main part of the city. Come here for an intimate and quiet dinner. The staff does not speak very much English, and most of the patrons are Italian. That's how we knew it had to be good! We ordered a steamed clam and mussel antipasti, which was incredible. We sopped up the juices with some delicious bread. Then we got risotto and squid ink pasta to share. I had been dying to try squid ink pasta from Italy. It looks like black spaghetti with little squids in it, and it tastes like the ocean. So amazing. We ended with a tartufo for dessert, which is chocolate and hazelnut ice cream with a gooey fudge center (made to look like a truffle). Prices are incredibly reasonable, and the food is downright delicious.
- Pastificio (Via della Croce, 8, 00187 Roma, Italy) - This pasta place is full of people all afternoon and evening. They make two kinds of pasta right there in the shop, and once they're out, they're out. The pastas featured on the day we went were a carbonara or rigatoni with a creamy eggplant sauce. You can eat it there (while standing in a crowded store) or take it to-go, which is what we did. The best part is that these delicious pastas are only 4€ per dish! Now, I have to say, ours were both a little undercooked, but since it had so many great reviews on Yelp and the store was full of both tourists and locals alike, I'll chalk it up to a bad batch. Flavors were on point though.
- Gelateria Artiginale Corona (Largo Arenula, 27, 00186 Roma, Italy) - After visiting the nearby Cat Sanctuary, we stopped at this little gelato shop. I had the most AMAZING sorbet here that I am still dreaming about: pepperoncini. It's a sweet and sour tasting sorbet that leaves you with a slightly spicy kick on your mouth. I couldn't find that flavor anywhere else!
- Bocca Di Dama (Via dei Marsi, 4, 00185 Roma, Italy) - This gelateria and pasticciere is known for their quality ingredients. We had a rich chocolate gelato and I bought some meringue cookies as a gift (which were incredible). They make all of their gelato and baked goods right in their shop. It's definitely worth checking out.
- Bellacarne Kosher (Via del Portico D'Ottavia, 51, Roma, Italy) - This isn't really as budget friendly as the others, but I had to add it simply because it had the best dish we had in all of our Italy travels: the braised lamb and artichoke dish. The other dish I got was mediocre and a little salty, but I would go back specifically for the lamb dish. Also, be sure to try the Jewish style artichokes (fried artichokes).
Word of advice: make sure you always check the menu and prices before sitting down to eat. And overall, we found that the best places were the ones that required a little bit more walking outside of the touristy areas. With an array of places to choose from, you can't really go wrong. But do your homework beforehand, and you'll find those real gems that satisfy your palette and save your wallet.