chianti classico, chianti restaurants

The Best of the Best of Chianti Restaurants

Last week I wrote about the Chianti Classico and mentioned a fantastic restaurant near the town of Gaiole in Chianti. It was chosen from the below list of stand-out restaurants in the region, as evaluated by Tuscan Travel Group’s friend and blog contributor Giovanni Nivino. Mr. Nivino’s background is in the wine industry and he has extensive first-hand experience dining in Tuscany with his wife and family. In Mr. Nivino’s words…

This region of Italy provides a terrific combination of food, wine, and charm at the greatest value level (price vs. quality). Remember, the heart of Tuscan food is simplicity and using the finest and freshest ingredients possible. Don’t expect to find fancy sauces and elaborate presentations. Do expect to savor bursting flavors that are designed to go well with the local wines. And it is quite healthful. Don’t expect fancy digs and elaborate décor. Quite the contrary. It seems that little thought or effort is given to the surroundings (excepting the glories that Mother Nature provides). The emphasis is on the food and wine. It is unlikely that any of these restaurants will
find their way onto anybody’s “Top 100 in the World” list. Yet, this is the food that we like the most. We would prefer to eat in Tuscany more than any other place.

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My same comments above regarding value apply to the wines of Tuscany. Make sure that you sample all of the various varietals and sub-regions. Even the every-day Chianti is delightful (forget about the straw-bottled plonk of a few years ago). Today, this is the hottest wine making region on the planet. There are so many small, local producers that are never seen in the USA. Always feel comfortable asking for assistance and recommendations. You’ll be pleased with the wines offered and with the price. Ask that the red wines be decanted (even the young ones). They are generally big wines and need to open up and will drink much better. The restaurant will also recognize that you are serious about your wines and who knows where that might lead!

My evaluations are based on a simple, three happy-face system that depicts my personal feelings about the restaurant. One face means that we would definitely go back; two mean we would not only go back but go back soon and three mean going back soon and often. Websites in English are noted when available and GPS coordinates are included for the hard to find venues (caution – some of these are my best estimate). Always book ahead to assure the best table.



Osteria di Passignano   ☺☺☺
Via Passignano, 33, Badia a Passignano
Tel. 055-8071278, 43.578281, 11.244284

The historic late nineteenth-century Monastery has been converted to the cellars of the Marchese Antinori. Stored in these cellars are the aging barrels of Solaia and Tignanello. Deepest reverence is in order. I have stood in these cellars among the barrels – a religious experience. When you arrive, ask if there might be a tour of the cellars available, you might get lucky and be able to tag along on one of the occasional tours. This family consistently produces the top stable of wines in the world (they have been at it for 600 years – 26 generations). In any given year they might have several wines on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100, occasionally one in the top ten and one or two per decade make it as the “Number One”. No other winery anywhere can even come close to matching that. Beyond their big scoring wines are two dozen moderately priced yet high quality bottlings that are great values. We have complete confidence in all of the Antinori wines – never been disappointed. Most of their wines are available by the glass in the Osteria. This is the sixth restaurant that they have opened (Florence, Vienna, Zurich, Moscow and Pebble Beach). Without a doubt the best food in the central Chianti Classico region (it carries one Michelin Star). Go for the chance to taste all of these wines; the excellent food and scenery are a bonus.  If you are in need of special wines, this is the place to shop. Gift items, older vintages and large format bottles are in stock.

Ristoro di Lamole   ☺☺☺
Localitá Lamole
Tel: 055-854-7050, 43.549372, 11.355771

Going south on the road from Greve to Panzano, the turnoff for Lamole is clearly marked on the left. Follow the signs up past the Vignamaggio winery, the Mona Lisa’s birthplace. You will pass several tiny groupings of houses and other small wineries until you arrive at the tiny hamlet of Lamole. The gorgeous four mile scenic drive alone is worth the effort. The restaurant has a lovely terrace with a knockout view, which is why it is a good idea to reserve a table. While this is a very simple place at first glance, the service is excellent and the wines and food match and all at real value prices. Featuring fabulous wines from these hills, the wine list has grown over the years from a single handwritten sheet to an impressive collection of the best of the Chianti Classico at very reasonable prices (I keep encouraging Filippo and Paolo to raise their prices – they work too hard to be giving wine away). Many of these wines are available at retail in their cantina. Filippo and Paolo are the perfect hosts. Everything is great. Good local wines at bargain prices. Good food, gorgeous scenery and wonderful people. It is incredible! If you are in the area in early June, make sure to attend the wonderful wine and food festival held in Lamole.

Pizzeria Il Gallo Nero  
Downtown Greve
Phone 055 854-4802

We have often eaten here. It is open late and serves a vast selection of wood-oven fired pizza (pizza only served in the evenings). Also pretty good basic Tuscan dishes. It is quite reasonable. The wine list is adequate (actually quite good considering it’s a pizza joint). Perfect spot for a large group (they will take reservations). Right off the main square in Greve. Very accommodating staff and rather pleasant surroundings. Air conditioned. We always felt very welcome. One drawback is that it is occasionally the lunch stop for upscale bus tours out of Florence (it can be a hoot to watch the bus people deal with Italian food and wine and then try to split the bill thirty ways).

Enoteca Fuori Piazza  
Via Prima Maggio, 2, Greve
Phone: 055-8546313, 43.584246, 11.315328, no website

Just a short walk down the small street that exits the main square on the wide end right next to the bank is this tiny wine shop. The wine selection is wonderful, although limited. But the real surprise here is the food. There is a small outdoor garden under an awning and a few tables inside. The miniscule kitchen puts out some amazing dishes. Last time I was there, the stove was manned by two Japanese chefs using three foot long chopsticks to do all of the cooking. Wonderful pastas and other simple dishes. Exceptionally reasonable.

Via Ciampolo da Panzano 9, Panzano
Phone: 055-8560152, 43.547520, 11.310748

This restaurant changed hands recently and first reports are that it is even better than before. The new owners come from nearby Pietrafitta and have a good reputation in the community (maybe they have fixed the service which had been the one weak point). Thankfully, the patio has not changed. The terrace, festooned with wisteria, acacia, jasmine, bay and brightly colored furniture is the best thing about this place. The magnificent view of the valley below is amazing, and the interior, with its high ceilings and Arts and Crafts chairs, is as pretty as the view from outside. Absolutely delightful. Park up the street just outside the castle and walk back along the pathway.

Solo Ciccia (Owned by Dario Cecchini)
Panzano – Across the Street from Dario’s Butcher Shop
Phone 055 852727, 43.544780, 11.316513

Loosely translated, this means “only meat”. The classic correct translation would be “only fat”. As the menu says, this is the home of a butcher. Nothing but meat is served here. It is a fixed menu that changes every evening. The price is fixed at €30 which includes a half carafe of wine for each customer (you are invited to bring your own wine with no corkage fee charged).  All of the service is at large communal tables family-style. Don’t even think about going here unless you are a serious carnivore. Interestingly, all of the meat main courses are based upon Dario’s grandmother’s recipes. They feature the use of what might be called scrap meat. There are no steaks or roasts or prime cuts included. Each dish is derived from meat that would normally be either thrown out or reduced to trimmings or ground into hamburger. When we were there, we dined on veal knee, beef shin, pork knuckle and a fourth dish which came from some such obscure part of the animal that I don’t even remember it. All were fabulous; each cooked using the slow cooking method. It was quite an experience. You’ll be wonderfully amazed at the flavors. I would say that reservations are absolutely essential. Perhaps it is most fun to go to the second seating as those who have the nine o’clock reservations start to congregate in the street in front of the restaurant about eight o’clock and of course Dario is out there circulating with glasses of wine and lots of conversation. Don’t miss this. It is right now one of the hottest restaurants in Italy, and certainly one of the most unique.

Now Dario has opened a second restaurant called Officina della Bistecca☺☺ (055 852 020). This is the home of the beefsteak. The menu is fixed and is the same every evening and features four different courses, each one of beefsteak. On our visit we had a ribeye, a T-bone, a porterhouse, and a strip steak done as tartar. Each of these is a separate and individual course. The meat was absolutely superb! Very little else is served so if you’re not up for a major meat-a-thon, you’d better stay home. Remarkably the entire meal including modest wines is €50 per head. The whole evening is quite a production with a lot of theater involved and speeches by Dario. Very entertaining. An experience that everyone should have at least once in their lifetime. At the end of the meal large jugs of various Italian after dinner liqueurs are placed on the tables. CAUTION: hazardous to your health, can be fatal. Do not touch!

Enoteca Baldi  ☺
Piazza Bucciarelli 25Panzano in Chianti
Phone: 055-852-843, no website

Right on the small piazza in the heart of Panzano. This little gem has a large selection of wines to enjoy by the glass at very reasonable prices. The great local wines are featured. There is also a very good wine shop. Owned by the family that recently sold Vescovino, the food is a healthy cut above most Enoteca although the menu is somewhat limited. A classic neighborhood Enoteca. We hang out here a lot. On nice days, buy some wine and sit across the street in the small tables in the park (there is also table food service).

Osteria alla Piazza   ☺☺
Località La Piazza, Castellina in Chianti
Phone: 0577-733580, 43.529860, 11.285276

In the middle of a vineyard 15 km north of Castellina (just 5 km south of Panzano), with one of Chianti’s most spectacular views. It’s worth the short drive into the countryside to relax on the terrace and enjoy the sophisticated menu. This is one of the most colorful restaurants we’ve seen. The table linens and settings are worth the trip alone. Very festive. Don’t miss the grilled porcini which you get to hand pick from a huge basket full of freshly harvested gems (as is the case in most restaurants, this is usually not on the menu but always available by request – I order it at every meal – outstanding). All of the food is great. Excellent Bistecca Florentina. Also an exceptionally strong local wine list at bargain prices. Very popular with locals so reservations are essential.   

Le Vigne   
Podere La Vigne
East: 1 km, Radda in Chianti
Tel: 0577-738-640, no website,  43.486911, 11.385356

Podere Le Vigne is hard to see from the road as it is set down a dirt road deep in a vineyard just at the eastern outskirts of Radda. Look for the sign. This is a very simple trattoria and a big favorite with families. Especially kids friendly. What more could you ask for than to eat out in the vineyards with great food, nice wines, and good service in a relaxed and very casual atmosphere. Very reasonable, an excellent value.  

Badia a Coltibuono   ☺☺
Badia a Coltibuono, Gaiole in Chianti
Phone: 0577-749031, 43.497049, 11.451601

Just outside the abbey walls is Badia a Coltibuono’s extremely pleasant restaurant, with seating outside or in soft-yellow rooms divided by ancient brick arches. One of the prettiest and most charming dining spots in Tuscany. Go for lunch (one of our favorite lunch stops in all of Italy). The wines from the Badia are excellent and a value. Note that this is the headquarters for the Medici cooking school (perhaps Italy’s most famous). You’ll find that the food is more innovative than most other spots in Tuscany. If you can spare the time after lunch, make a reservation for one of the tours of the Monastery and gardens that take place in the afternoon (highly recommended). Four kilometers north of Gaiole in Chianti. Essential to reserve. On the roadside just at the entrance is a shop selling all of the Badia’s wines and their famous olive oils and wonderful honeys. Also lots of nice gift items. Worth a stop. They also now have available one-day cooking classes and have recently added a few very nice guest rooms.  

Osteria del Castello   
Località Castello di Brolio, Gaiole in Chianti
Phone: 0577-747-277, 43.415278, 11.459167

Just down the hill from the Castello di Brolio and set in the woods, most of the tables are outdoors under the trees. Go for lunch after you have toured the Castello and sampled some of their wines (the tasting room is just before you enter the grounds of the castle). The food is very good and somewhat more innovative than you might imagine. The wine list features Brolio’s best offerings (I have to add that the wines here have improved immensely in the recent years). Absolutely delightful!

Osteria di Fonterutoli   
Località Fonterutoli, Castellina in Chianti
Phone: 0577-740212, 43.43557 11.30654

This has been closed for a short time while it was moved into a new location on the estate. What used to be a rather bland interior 30-seat trattoria is now housed in a more upscale and larger restored country home overlooking the vineyards. All of their wines are excellent, among the most famous in Tuscany, and the food matches. Here is another situation where you get the opportunity to taste wines by the glass that you could not normally find. Locals love this place. Extremely simple but wonderful food (may be a bit more elaborate now that it is in new digs). Reservations are strongly advised. Very good tasting and tour of the winery is available.  

Honorable mention:

Cantinetta di Rignana
Badia a Passignano
Phone 055 852601, no website, 43.560647, 11.266581

La Fattoria
Strada del Cerro, 11 – Tavarnelle Val di Pesa
Phone 055 807-0000, 43.579778, 11.189608

Taverna del Guerrino  
Via Montefioralle, 39, Castello di Montefioralle (outside Greve)
Tel: 055-853-106, no website, 43.580517, 11.303103

Cantinetta del Nonna   
Via 4 Novembre, San Casciano in Val di Pesa 
Phone: 055-820570, no website, 43.657257, 11.186250

Oltre il Giardino
Piazza G. Bucciarelli 42, Panzano
Phone: 055-852828, 43.544833, 11.315270

La Bottega di Carla
Piazza della Torre 2, Volpaia
Phone: 0577-738001, no website, 43.516669, 11.380899

A great reference website for dining suggestions in Chianti is posted by Judy Witts “Divina Cucina”.

Buon Appetito!

Laura Signature'






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