When you think of Roman food does your mouth start to water? Mine does! But truth be told, I didn’t have the best dining experiences the first time I was in Rome. I ate some rather cardboard-tasting pizza and bland pasta at too many Roman restaurants. I left the country a little puzzled about its reputation as a food wonderland. That first trip I counted only one really good meal. Where was the creamy gelato? The chewy yet airy pizza cooked near a wood fire? Al dente pasta made amatriciana-style with fatty, delicious guanciale? Balls of risotto stuffed with cheese and fried to golden perfection? Sadly, I left with those questions lingering.
Thankfully though, in the subsequent numerous times that I’ve visited Rome, I’ve tasted the “delizioso” food they’re known for. It’s been “buon appetito” ever since. That first visit may have been a miss, but through careful study of blogs, travel articles, and trip advising websites, I’ve found many wonderful Rome restaurants to share with you.
At first I thought the problem was that I was staying in the city center. You’re more likely to find restaurants catering to tourists in areas where tourists tend to congregate than you would if you visited restaurants in areas where locals live, but good culinary experiences can be had in the Centro Storico of Rome and its surrounding areas.
Gelato: There are two gelaterias in Rome that compete for my top honor—Giolitti and Gelateria del Teatro. Both places serve creamy gelato that bursts with flavor. The fresh ingredients used in their gelato shine through. The dark chocolate at Gelateria del Teatro is the bee’s knees. But I also love the dark chocolate (fondente) at Giolitti, too. As an added bonus, the version of it at Giolitti is dairy-free. Caramelized fig is another favorite of mine, as is coffee, caramel, and peach. Giolitti has a great patisserie and coffee shop, so if you would like a pastry with your ice cream I would recommend going there. They serve up sfogliatella that is amazing—light layers of flaky, buttery pastry shaped like a shell and filled with a sweet ricotta mixture. Heaven!
Pizza & baked goods: One way that Romans enjoy pizza is by the slice (al taglio). At some eateries, you will encounter huge rectangular pizzas where you order a segment by weight. You can order 200 grams for a snack or if you’re getting more than one kind; have them whack off more for a meal-sized portion. And by whack off, I mean they take a big knife and…whack…slice off a hunk of pizza which is then folded in paper for you to take away and enjoy. Antico Forno Roscioli serves up some of the best in town. They also have delicious baked goods, since this is the oven (forno) branch of the many Roscioli eateries, which include a formal restaurant and a deli.
Another way to order a pizza is by the pie. In Italy, the entire round pizza is one serving size. The most famous is the Margherita which is simply made with tomato sauce and mozzarella—sometimes there is a sprig of basil. There are plenty of other concoctions to try though. Remember that peperoni does not indicate meat, it means peppers. If you want a spicy meat on your pizza, then order one with salsiccia (sausage). A place that I enjoy for its pizza is Pizzeria da Baffetto.
Pizza bianca is a “crispy on the outside and soft on the inside” bread that makes a great snack on its own or a nice meal when served as a panino. Some of the best pizza bianca in Rome can be found at Forno Campo de Fiori. The bread is delectable and the panini fantastic. The meat to bread ratio is perfection. They use only top quality goods and the price is really reasonable. Grab some fruit from the market in the middle of Campo de’ Fiori and you have an amazing lunch.
Lunch and Dinner
If you’re in the area of the Colosseum, it can be difficult to find good food, but I like the pasta and meat dishes at Trattoria Pizzeria Luzzi. They serve a good Amatriciana pasta (my favorite), succulent chicken, nice vegetable dishes, and hearty bread. Their pizza is on the cheesy side, but has good sauce and nice crust. The prices are fair, too.
For a nice evening out, I recommend making reservations at Piccolo Arancio. Located on a small side street near the Trevi Fountain we found the service impeccable and the food tasty. We enjoyed our artichoke starter and each had pasta for our main. A bottle of wine from Frascati was a delicious accompaniment.
Built into the side of a mountain constructed of the shards of ancient wine jugs, Flavio al Velavevodetto in Testaccio serves up the best Amatriciana pasta that I’ve had in Rome. Al dente rigatoni is dressed with Amatriciana sauce comprised of salty guanciale, sweet tomatoes, and mild cheese. It’s simply delightful.
While in Testaccio, you may want to check out the food market there. There are many delectable looking food stands, but I had a panino there that really hit the mark. At Mordi e Vai I ordered the “allesso di scottona alla picchiapo” sandwich. Tender beef (I think it may have been brisket) covered with a sweet tomato sauce on pillowy bread hit the spot.
When at the Vatican, you may want to stop by Hostaria Dino & Tony. The food was amazing and the service like no other. We weren’t presented a menu, but instead were offered different choices for each course according to what was on the menu that day. The pasta alla gricia was perfection with guanciale and grated cheese making a silky sauce for rigatoni. We also enjoyed an antipasto platter of meats, fried foods, and breads. A fried artichoke made for another tasty nibble. We were too full for the second course or dessert, but they looked great too.
If you’re in Rome during spring, you have to try Jewish artichokes (carciofi alla giudia). These are fried artichokes so silky and delicate that they do not resemble the prickly kind served in the States. Nonna Betta in the Jewish Quarter serves up some of the best. I love their delicate, flaky fried fish, too. It is a little more expensive than some of the other eateries on this list, so you may just want to have antipasto there.
You won’t find a lot of actual street food in Rome (food being sold on the street), but that doesn’t mean they don’t have it. You just need to look inside a shop for it. One of my favorites is a fried ball of rice called suppli. Supplizio serves up the regular kind with mozzarella in the middle, as well as different versions like carbonara or cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper). One is a filling snack, while a couple could make a like meal, especially with some meatballs (polpette).
Sometimes a person can get tired of Italian food. Gasp! I can’t believe I wrote that, but it’s true. When you’re looking for something a little different, I recommend the Chinese restaurant, Citta in Fiore, in the hip neighborhood of Monti. The restaurant has a reasonably-priced lunch menu and the best steamed dumplings I’ve had anywhere in the world.
These are just a few of my favorite Rome restaurants, but I’m continuously uncovering more great places to eat in Rome. Have you had a great dining experience in the Eternal City? Please share your favorite Rome restaurant in the comment section.
**Our friends at The Tour Guy offer Florence food tours. These are a great way to sample the riches of the city with a knowledgeable (and fluent) expert. If you use our link, you will save 5% on their small-group tours. Buon appetito!
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