When I think of Italy my mouth starts to water and my stomach starts to grumble! Just writing this blog, I had to stop and go cook some pasta. I also made bruschetta to have before it…and, truth be told, I’m seriously considering ordering a pizza right now. But the first time I was in Rome, I didn’t have delectable dining experiences. I ate some rather cardboard-tasting pizza and bland pasta on too many occasions. I left the country a little puzzled about its reputation as a food wonderland and certainly didn’t miss its cuisine when I returned to the States. 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 with fatty, delicious guanciale? Balls of risotto stuffed with cheese and fried to golden perfection? Sadly, I left with those questions lingering.
Never one to fail though, I decided to continue eating until I found the best places to eat in Rome. It was tough work…but someone had to do it. Thankfully, I found great eateries and it’s been buon appetito ever since. That first visit may have been a miss, but now I can share several wonderful Rome restaurants with you. And the best part? Most of them are located in the city center so you won’t have to go far for a good meal. It’s true that many of Rome’s best dining choices are in little neighborhoods outside the center, but after a long day of sightseeing you probably don’t want to stray too far from your lodging.
Warning: you’re more likely to find Rome restaurants catering to tourists in areas where foreigners 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. Here are some of what I think are the best restaurants in Rome.
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 are 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 to enjoy pizza Roma 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. I also highly recommend Pizza Florida by Largo Argentina. This restaurant is a little more nondescript. They have a couple tables at the front, but are really a take-away place. They have a good selection of various types of pizza to order by the weight and cheap prices per 100 grams. Grab several different varieties and walk across the street to enjoy the ruins where Julius Caesar was stabbed—now a cat sanctuary.
Another way to order a pizza is by the pie. In Italy, an entire round pizza is one serving size. The most famous is the Margherita which is simply made with tomato sauce and fresh 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 bell peppers, so if you want a spicy meat on your pizza, then order one with salame piccante. If you just want sausage—(and, really, who doesn’t?)—then order a pizza with salsiccia. Pizzeria da Baffetto, which isn’t far from Campo de’ Fiori, serves up pizza with wafer-thin crusts. I’ve had never seen crusts this thin before! If you’re looking for a crust that is a little more plentiful, head over to the Monti area (not far from Colosseum) to visit alle Carrette. They are serving up some of the best pizza in Rome at good prices. As a bonus, they have a lovely space out back with outdoor seating.
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 sandwiches are fantastic. My favorite kind is made with mortadella (thinly-sliced Italian bologna) served on pizza bianca. The meat to bread ratio is perfection and they use top quality goods (important when there are only two ingredients). The price is really reasonable, too. Grab some fruit from the market in the middle of Campo de’ Fiori and you have an amazing lunch.
Pasta & Other Italian Goodies
For an evening out, Jon and I will sometimes make reservations at Piccolo Arancio. Located on a small side street near the Trevi Fountain we find the service impeccable and the food tasty. The pasta has been consistently good, as is the fried artichoke for a starter, and the servers there do a great job of pairing wines with your meal. A bottle of wine from Frascati was a delicious accompaniment to our meal. Reservations are generally necessary, but you can make them online.
Built into the side of a mountain constructed of shards of ancient wine jugs, Flavio al Velavevodetto in Testaccio serves up the best Amatriciana pasta that I’ve ever had in Rome. Perfectly al dente rigatoni is dressed with sauce comprised of salty guanciale, sweet tomatoes, and mild Pecorino cheese. It’s simply delightful. The restaurant is a bit of a walk on foot, so I recommend taking the metro to the Pyramide station and walking from there. There are plenty of neat things around, like the Museum of the Walls (you can walk atop the ancient walls for free!) and the Protestant Cemetery.
While in Testaccio, you may want to check out the market there. Mercato di Testaccio has stall upon stall filled with delicious meats, cheeses, produce, and baked goods. Vendors sell clothes, accessories, housewares, and personal products, too, but the food is what shines. There are many delectable-looking food stands serving everything from hamburgers to barbecue, but I’m never there for American food. I want the Italian sandwich which foodies praise—a panino from Mordi e Vai. There are no seats at this stand whose name means “bite and go.” There isn’t an orderly line either, so be prepared to make yourself known if you want to eat. I order the “allesso di scottona alla picchiapo” sandwich. It’s a mouthful…literally! Tender beef (I think it’s brisket) stewed in a sweet tomato sauce on pillowy bread hits the spot every time. I would go back over and over for this panino.
For authentic Roman food at decent prices, I adore Alfreda e Ada. This is my favorite restaurant in all of the city! They serve a couple of pasta dishes every night, a few meat dishes, and some sides. Everything they serve is seasonal. My favorites are the beef rolls and the chicken rolls. Jon and I usually split a pasta for starters, each get a meat dish, and split a side dish—like chicory. The wine is decently-priced, too. Be there at least 20 minutes before they open in order to get a table (they don’t take reservations), because there isn’t much seating and people start lining up early. Space is at a premium so be prepared to sit with strangers if you don’t have enough people in your party to fill a table.
Sometimes a person can get tired of Italian food. Gasp! It sounds pazzo, 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. Go there for lunch for the real deal. The restaurant has a fixed-price lunch menu where you choose an appetizer, main course, and side with a drink. They have the best steamed dumplings I’ve had anywhere in the world.
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 pasta, succulent chicken, nice vegetable dishes, and hearty bread. Their pizza is on the cheesy side, but has good sauce and nice crust. If you like a lot of cheese on your pizza, you will probably enjoy it. Jon and I are minimalists when it comes to our pizza toppings, so it’s not our favorite, but it’s okay given the touristy area. The prices are fair, too. (There are two restaurants by this name near each other–they are not the same in quality; I enjoy the one at the corner of via Celimontana and via di San Giovanni in Laterano.)
When at the Vatican, you may want to stop by Hostaria Dino & Toni. The food is amazing and the service is an experience like no other. We weren’t presented a menu, but instead were offered different choices for each course according to what the chef was cooking that day. The pasta gricia and pasta amatriciana were perfection with guanciale and Pecorino 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 fried artichokes are silky and delicate—not resembling 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. The restaurant 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, also known as arancini in other areas of Italy. 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).
These are just a few of my favorite Rome restaurants, but I’m continuously uncovering more great dining experience in the Eternal City. Do you know of a great place to eat in Rome? Please share it!
*Our friends at The Tour Guy offer food tours in three of Italy’s most prominent cities: Rome, Florence, and Venice. These are great ways to have someone take you to the finest places so you can sample all the riches of a city with a knowledgeable (and fluent) expert.
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