After living in a region or country for a certain amount of time, cravings start to kick in. When You’re in Asia it’s a great big cheesy pizza; in Italy it’s a spicy curry. Talk about grass is always greener.
I have been housesitting in Rapino, a small town in rural Abruzzo Italy, for over three months now. My dad and a friend came to visit so we jumped on the bus and went up to Florence. But, having been cooped up in a town with just a handful of restaurants — all Italian, I was not going there for the pizza or bolognese. A visit to the big smoke when you’ve gone rural for so long is a major event on the social calendar!
So, over the next few days, we unashamedly indulged in a round-the-world culinary journey. Here’s my guide to the top non-Italian restaurants in Florence, for when those inevitable food cravings kick in 🙂
MEXICAN — tIJUANA
Just a small walk from our Airbnb, was Tijuana Restaurant. A small chain of Mexican restaurants with a similar vibe to TGI Friday’s, but the one we went to was set in a cave-like building, which was a semi-Italian touch. Most of the chatter at surrounding tables was of Americans; we guessed foreign exchange students. Italians were clearly not the target audience here.
Happy Hour was on for another 20 minutes so we quickly got in our margarita drink orders before starting on the food menu. You’ll find everything you would expect from a Tex-Mexican — enchiladas, fajitas, burritos etc. We went for the spiciest enchilada on the menu, expecting it to be Italian spicy (i.e. the same spiciness as a peppercorn). But, wow, pleasantly surprised — I had to use my frozen margarita to extinguish the fire in my mouth.
The salsa was great, the nacho chips home made, the food was spot-on and the margaritas – bam! All in all, you won’t be disappointed if you’re after some authentic(ish) Mexican flavours and a tacky but can’t-help-but-love-it ambience.
Tijuana Restaurant: Via Ghibellina, 156r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Iranian – Tehran
Down a small street near the main attractions of Florence was Tehran, an Iranian restaurant. The entrance was decorated in beautifully coloured tiles lit up with glittery golden lamps and the interior felt like we had stepped into a chic Persian kasbah.
We were seated by the front door, which was a very awkward and tight spot for 4 people, but I presume we were being used as pawns to lure in other customers. Not a great start – but that’s what happens when you insist on always having lunch at 12pm in a country of late-lunchers.
However, having a front row seat meant we had the pleasure of being able to watch people walk up to the restaurant, look at the menu, and turn up their noses before walking away. At first, we felt for the restaurant — it must be tough being the black sheep in an Italian-centric city. But, we needn’t have been concerned, as by the time we had left the small restaurant was completely packed.
My boyfriend had spent quite a lot of time in Iran, so he talked us through the menu. It was pretty authentic looking by all accounts. One disappointment, however, was the lack of Iranian wine on the menu, considering the reputation of Shiraz. But, I’ll never turn down some Italian wine, either.
We ordered a variety of dishes, including an appetiser of three dips, grilled chicken skewers and beef stew. All were outstanding and very fresh. The meat was perfectly marinaded and the portion sizes were spot on.
It certainly whetted my appetite for my upcoming trip to the Middle East and reminded just how much I love food from that part of the world.
Tehran Restaurant: Via dei Cerchi, 25, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Vietnamese – Com Saigon
This evening it was a toss up between the 1950’s American diner complete with waiters on roller-skates and a highly recommended Vietnamese restaurant. I lost the popular vote (I was craving a burger), but that turned out to be the right decision.
The restaurant was simple and clean, and the staff were Vietnamese. The restaurant had an open kitchen so you could watch the masters at work, which is always nice.
We ordered spring rolls (oh, how I’ve missed them!!), and a bowl of pho each. While nothing can compare to sitting in the backstreets of Hanoi watching the tuk tuks and street carts whizz past, this was the next best thing. Everything was fresh and flavoursome, and the Saigon beer was the perfect complement to a fantastic meal.
However, as is usually the case with soup-based dishes, within 20 minutes of finishing we were all still hungry so we popped into the local taverna and grabbed a cheese and ham platter with a bottle of Prosecco — very Italian.
Com Saigon: Via dell’Agnolo, 93, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Indian — Royal India
Ah, Indian food — my weak spot. Surprisingly, there are quite a few highly-rated Indian restaurants in Florence. We went for Royal India for no particular reason. While the service was still Italian (speed isn’t a concern), the food was as good as any Indian any of us have had anywhere in the world, including India.
We asked for our curries extra spicy, and that they were. I think I caught him having a little giggle as he served it up.
A definite 5 out of 5 for this restaurant. In fact, it was so good I forgot to take any photos for you. That’s always a good sign of a great meal 🙂
Royal India: Via Guelfa, 90R, 50129 Firenze FI, Italy
All in all, Florence completely surprised me on the culinary front. We didn’t find such high quality, authentic options in Rome, Bologna or other parts of Italy. Now that the cravings have been curved, we can head back to our rural home ready to binge again on some fabulous Italian food.