I found eating in Florence more expensive than other Italian cities. In addition to higher prices, a cover charge of 1.50 euros per person is normal. You can still minimize the dent in your wallet by checking the prices first, eating a bigger lunch than dinner (lunch is always cheaper and there are more special offers) and Rick Steves suggested that you drink your coffee standing up at the bar because sitting down will cost more in Florence. Generally in Europe, a service charge of 10 to 15% is normal (check your bill!) and so tipping is not necessary but most people round the bill up. If the bill is 23.50 euros with service included, round it up to 24 euros.
We stumbled upon a restaurant (more of a take-out place with a small bar table) where you can pick a plateful of 3 types of ready-cooked dishes or sandwiches with 3 types of fillings plus a drink for only 4 euros. Although this lunch offer was for students, I was allowed to enjoy it too.
Yi's barley (farro) salad, thin slices of roasted beef and some fritto misto thing.
My sandwich of ham and spicy aubergine
Italian buffalo mozz is just gorgeous!
Across from the bar-restaurant is a bigger sit-down restaurant owned by the same people and there was an even bigger selection. Also 3 types of dishes, for 9.90 euros. This looks like the economy lunch we have here but the dishes are of much better quality.
One thing I miss very much is simple, delicious salads with an olive and balsamic vinegar dressing. You can easily fix one of these salads but they never taste the same as in Italy because the freshness and quality of the ingredients just can't compare to those in Italy. I've said it before--Italian tomatoes are the best in the world. One bite and you'll be convinced that Italian tomatoes are unrivalled. If I were to design the Italian flag, I'll have a tomato in it. I do mean a tomato, not the color red.
We had two nights of Chinese dinners. These were from the second dinner, the photos for the first are lost. Chinese food in Florence is good because the restaurants are owned by mainland Chinese.
The above two dishes were 10.60 euros, cosidered cheap because the first Chinese restaurant we ate in was nearly twice that for 2 dishes and a bowl of rice.
I avoided ready-cooked pizzas but in Italy, ready-cooked pizzas are delicious! As to whether authentic pizzas are thick or thin-crust, I've noticed that pizzas in restaurants are the thin-crust type while ready-cooked pizzas in take-out joints are always thick-crusted though not as mile-thick as Pizza Hut's. It makes practical sense because the thick-crust pizza will stay crispy longer.
I was surprised by the taste of the pizzas from this place near the Duomo.
Ready-cooked pizzas are sold by the weight.
The base was so crispy it crackled yet the rest of the crust was soft. This was the perfect 'thick' pizza--crispy crust and delicious with tons of artichokes, mushrooms, olives and oozy white buffalo cheese. I'll use buffalo cheese, not those yellow block mozz, for my pizzas from now on!! I wish I could learn from the guy because this was a really good pizza.
I left Florence reluctantly. I had covered the major tourist points quickly but I want to know the city deeper. It wasn't until I had left Florence that I found out more about it. For example, what do the poet Dante, the great artists Leonardo Da Vinci, Donatello and Botticelli have in common? They were all were born in Florence! Michelangelo would've been too if his Florentine parents didn't move to the nearby town of Caprese. Florence is the historic city where Italian renaissance began that influenced the art and culture of the whole of Europe. I've just read in Newsweek about the 1 kilmeter-long secret elevated passageway that runs from the Pitti Palace (we went but it was closed) through the Uffizi through the Ponte Vecchio through the Palazzo Vecchio. Built in 1565 for the Medici family to travel through (and spy on) the city and citizens below, the passage looks like the halls of the Uffizi with precious works of famous artists on the walls. I want to walk this passageway one day and look at the Ponte Vecchio, so beautiful and treasured that even Hitler agreed not to blow it up. I will pack a baguette, some salami, an insalata caprese (buffalo mozz, tomatoes and basil) and a bottle of wine and go to the Piazzale Michelangelo and watch this historic and charming city as the sun goes down and the city lights glimmer in the Tuscan night.
p.s. Florence Plus is a large hostel in the center of the city, very near to all the major tourist attractions. It is clean, spacious (you can have 2 to one room), cheap (23 euros per pax), well-manned with experienced and informed staff who speak very good English. There's a cafe, a bar and roof garden. The hostel is very popular and you need to book early. For a more Tuscan stay, you can go to Florence's Plus' affiliated hostel, Camping Michelangelo, 1/2 hour by bus away from the city into the hills of Tuscany.