Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
We really relied on TripAdvisor while we were travelling for recommendations of good local restaurants to visit. That’s why when we walked past a pizza restaurant in Pisa and the waiter on the footpath called out to us, “Don’t walk past! Come in for a meal! Trust TripAdvisor!”, we looked at each other doubtingly and kept walking.
That’s because we had looked up said pizza restaurant earlier and found out it was ranked #636 of 769 restaurants in Pisa. Someone should tell that waiter that simply being listed on TripAdvisor doesn’t mean that they’re trusted by tourists – having a high ranking is what matters!
Luckily we had already earmarked a local family-run restaurant based on earlier research – this one was ranked #7 of 769 restaurants! Il Peperoncino is only about ten minutes walk from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and serves up delicious home-cooked pastas with a smile. The owner of the restaurant is very friendly to all customers – he was showing some American kids how to make tiramisu when we first entered the restaurant!
They have a simple menu – a handful of appetisers, a dozen pastas and a dozen pizzas. What makes it special is their ability to accommodate any special dietary requests – vegetarians and vegans won’t have any issues here, and if you want to make any small adjustments to a particular dish, you can. The owner speaks perfect English and is happy to chat with you to make sure that you get exactly what you want!
We started with some bruschetta to share – the Antipasto Toscana. Included in this are two slices of bruschetta with chopped and herbed fresh tomatoes, one slice with smokey grilled zucchini, eggplant and capsicum, and one slice with ‘lardo di Colonnata’, a local Tuscan speciality of cured pork fat. It sounds incredibly unhealthy, but lardo is actually quite delicious – you only need the tiniest sliver of it for the full-bodied flavour of it to really spread across your palate. A great little starter to share between two people.
K chose one of the daily specials advertised on the chalkboard – a Tagliolini Salmone with a pistachio crumb on top. This was a remarkably light and delicate dish, especially when compared to other seafood pastas we’d had in Rome. Their light touch with the creamy sauce meant that the pasta never congealed and stayed quite fresh with just the lightest coating of salmon-infused cream. What initially looks like a small serving proved to be quite filling in the end!
I chose to have a pasta that wasn’t advertised at all, either on the menu or the daily specials! I’d thought about ordering the Linguine Ai Frutti di Mare (seafood linguine), but the owner suggested Spaghetti Chitarra with seafood as an alternative daily special which they could make up on the spot. What a choice – rich with perfectly cooked juicy clams, mussels, prawns and squid, this spaghetti was quite light, flavoured mainly with the bold ocean flavours of the seafood.
Il Peperoncino is the place to go for light, delicate pasta cooked with love. You won’t find heavy sauces and giant servings here, just great local and homemade ingredients cooked with respect and served up in a perfectly belly-filling meal. There’s a dish here to suit everyone – and if not, just ask the owner and they’ll make something for you! Il Peperoncino is a must-visit when in Pisa.
Il Peperoncino is located at 95 Via Santa Maria in Pisa, Italy.
Pisa is an easy hour’s train ride from Florence, a perfect distance for a short daytrip. We took the trip specifically for extremely touristy reasons – everyone needs a photo of themselves holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa right? We booked our tickets to climb the tower in advance which I do recommend, especially in peak holiday season.
We also added on some extras to our tickets, including a visit to the Cathedral of Pisa and the Baptistry as well. Of the three, I’d actually say that I preferred the visit to the Baptistry. It’s less visited than the other two, and has been perfectly designed for vocal projection. Every half hour, a security guard will walk into the centre of the Baptistry and begin a series of vocal harmonies that echo around the space, combining to create a beautiful melody. It’s quite magical, and worth a visit.
By the time we had lunch at Il Peperoncino, visited those key sites and wandered the streets, shops and markets of Pisa for a few hours, it was time for us to head back to the train station for a train back to Florence…but not before stopping into Oro Gelateria for gelato! Their gelato has an intensity and purity of flavour that’s difficult to find – when you order a mango sorbet as I did, it tastes as though you are literally just biting into an actual mango. It’s quite remarkable, and worth a visit!