Tuscan food is richly entrenched in rustic traditions with simple regional staples like wild game and fish, bread, beans, cheese, and of course, olive oil and wine. Modern Tuscany is literally dotted with Michelin-starred restaurants and celebrated among gastronomes, but the culinary essentials remain the same: fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients, simply prepared to allow the primary flavors to shine. If you’re hungry to see what Tuscan cooking is all about, these five cities are exactly where you’ll want to dig in.
Florence, the regional capital of Tuscany, is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. And after you work up an appetite taking in the incredible collection of Renaissance art and architecture, including Michelangelo’s Statue of David, the Florence Cathedral, Palazzo Vecchio and the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, you’ll find that the city is a hotspot for many regional gastronomic specialties. Don’t leave the city limits until you’ve tried bistecca alla fiorentina, a popular T-bone from local Chianina cattle; ribollita, a thick vegetable soup; and crostini, toasts topped with olive paste or chicken liver pâté. You’ll find these dishes on menus everywhere, but save a night to treat yourself to a meal at central Italy’s most celebrated restaurant, Enoteca Pinchiorri. Located inside a Renaissance palazzo, the luxurious Italian restaurant is Tuscany’s only Michelin three-star (and it just got the nod again in 2018), and a must-visit for extensive tasting menus and a wine list teeming with hard-to-find vintages.
One of Italy’s most picturesque Medieval towns, the city of Siena—just 35 miles south of Florence—is well-worth the excursion both to see the striking Gothic architecture and to eat a few special Sienese treats. Plan to spend time people-watching in the city’s great central piazza, Il Campo, and if you’re keen to take in an amazing view, climb the tall municipal tower of Siena’s city hall, right beside the piazza. And of course, go to the Duomo (cathedral), filled with Michelangelo statues and Bernini sculptures. When you get hungry, seek out pici, a pasta made from flour and water rather than flour and eggs, and panforte, a spicy cake of nuts and candied fruit that’s another Sienese speciality. There’s many (many!) outstanding restaurants, but definitely consider making a reservation at La Taverna di San Giuseppe for about as true a seasonal, fresh Tuscan food experience as you can find (don’t miss the galletto al mattone, brick-baked chicken). Or, try the classic Sienese restaurant Osteria Le Sorelline, where the traditional dish of pici alle senese is simply divine.
Yes, the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa is here, and yes, you should definitely visit it, photograph it, and climb to the top. And the other must-sees on your list should be the Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Assunta, an incredible basilica nearby, as well as the Baptistery of Pisa, a masterpiece of Pisan-Gothic architecture. But let’s face it, just climbing the Leaning Tower is going to leave you hankering for good food. So go out for pizza—Pisa truly has a wealth of pizzarias. Try Trattoria Pizzeria Il Montino, the first pizzeria in Pisa, or beloved Quarto D’ora Italiano for pizza Pisana. Craving pasta? If you’re a spaghetti fan, head straight to the local favorite, Spaghetteria Alle Bandierine.
Little Lucca may not have the instant name-recognition that Florence, Siena, or Pisa do—yet. What’s really been putting this historic medieval comune once ruled by Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Bonaparte, on the map is its amazing cuisine. Mark Bittman of The New York Times has described Lucca’s food as “among Italy’s most compelling,” and Food & Wine calls Lucca one of Italy’s most underrated food cities. What’s all the fuss about? Foodies make the pilgrimage to Lucca for the city’s signature dishes like tortelli lucchese, a fresh pasta stuffed with meats and cheeses then tossed in a slow-cooked ragù sauce. Other local favorites include minestra di farro alla garfagnina, a farro soup dressed with olive oil, or baccalà, Italian salt cod. To taste the former, pencil yourself in at Buca di Sant’Antonio, a Lucca institution that dates back to 1782 and has had farro soup on the menu for hundreds of years. For traditionally-prepared Lucchese-style cod (and plenty of other delectable seafood dishes) try Osteria San Giorgio. Hungry for more? Follow the Lucca, Montecarlo and Versilia Wine and Olive Oil Trail in the countryside just outside of Lucca to sample specialties like Collini Lucchesi DOC wine and the DOP extra virgin olive oil of Lucca.
Only true food connoisseurs know Grossetto, located in the southernmost portion of Tuscany, but thanks to Michelin the word is out. There’s three Michelin two-star restaurants in the region — Bracali, Caino, and Il Pellicano, plus celebrity chef Alain Ducasse’s Trattoria Toscana in Castiglione della Pescaia. After you’ve worked your way through the area’s riches, check out the medieval town of Grosseto itself, close to the Tyrrhenian Sea. Take a stroll to admire the Medicean walls of Grosseto, ancient city walls built in 1574, and don’t miss the Romanesque Cathedral of Grosseto, too.