In recent years, Florence has become well-known for a new generation of panini: generous amounts of thinly sliced cured meats, pieces of fresh or aged pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese), and some vegetables, either oil-packed, grilled or in the form of a spread, pressed in between two warm slices of salty and crunchy schiacciata bread. It’s almost like an antipasto platter sandwich: yum! There are a ton of spots in Florence’s centro where you can find this kind of panino. As a native, my favorites are SandwiChic (via San Gallo 3R), Da’ Vinattieri (via Santa Margherita 4/6R), Ino (via dei Georgofili 7R) and Schiacciavino (via Verdi 6R).
But Florence’s rich culinary history offers a lot more. For example: don’t fear approaching one of the many stands hosting towering, steaming pots of hot lampredotto, the cow’s fourth stomach, served in a crunchy rosetta bun, whose cappello (“hat”) is swiftly dipped in the warm broth and seasoned simply with salt and pepper, or decadently finished with a dollop of salsa verde or piccante spicy sauce. Find them at Lupen e Margo (via dell’Ariento banco n. 17), Tripperia Pollini (via de’ Macci 126) and La Buticche dì Lampredotto (piazza Nerli 2). These stands also offer panini with juicy tripe, cow tongue or thinly sliced cow udder: highly recommended!
Two of my personal favorite panini shops fit into no discernable category. Bondi Le Focaccine (via dell’Ariento 85R), in business for over 40 years, serves triangle-shaped panini, cut from a thick, pillowy, round disk made from the same dough used for their pizzas, filled with mozzarella squashed with a fork and accompanied by zucchini, herrings, radicchio, pesto, potatoes or other odd fillings. The panini are then popped in the oven to properly melt all the ingredients together.
Semel (piazza Ghiberti 44R) is a tiny space across the street from the Sant’Ambrogio food market, just big enough to fit a couple of stools, three clients at a time (four when it’s packed!), a small counter with all sorts of goodies, soft-spoken Niccolò assembling panini, plus Marco and his big personality, taking your orders and ordering you a little glass of red wine. A semel is a soft, round bun with a delightfully crunchy crust, a historical Tuscan bread that was almost on the verge of being forgotten. The fillings are exquisitely paired produce and iconic Italian products, like their shredded raw fennel, blood orange segments and anchovy panino, homey stews of wild boar, donkey or snails, tiny meat-filled ravioli pasta, and more. The menu changes daily based on availability and on Marco’s mood.None of the above are “the best” panino in Florence. How could there be a single best? How can one single shop satisfy all needs, moods, cravings, hunger levels, budgets? Put the above list in your back pocket, keep your eyes peeled for places that look good to you, and go find your next favorite panino. Until lunch tomorrow!