Rome is a paradise for sightseers from all walks of life, with stunning fountains, ancient ruins, and a series of historic landmarks that make it one of the go-to destinations of Europe. But even though your eyes will have more than enough to contemplate during a trip to the Eternal City, it’s also a foodie’s wonderland thanks to a spread of options that offer both international delicacies and local favorites. Think about these culinary possibilities as you’re putting together the details of a journey to Rome.
Highlights of Roman Cuisine
Although pasta or pizza is often what springs to mind when you think about Roman food or Italian cuisine in general, there is a lot more going on than the staples that have made their way around the globe. An internationally famous delicacy, Roman artichokes pop up on the menus of some of the very best restaurants in the city for a reason, and they’re particularly mouth-watering when they’re in season from February through May. Fried zucchini is also one of the local favorites in Rome worth trying even if fried food isn’t typically your meal of choice.
When you’ve sampled some of the less-famous Roman classics, finding your favorite pasta dish is an age-old tradition in a city that almost has too many great options. Carbonara is the timeless Roman dish that remains the centerpiece of plenty of restaurants, although digging into favorites like cacio e pepe and fettuccine Alfredo (or its cousin fettuccine al burro) can be a life-changing experience at the best Roman restaurants. There’s certainly a time and place for Roman pizza as well, with many eateries boasting the best pizza in all of Italy – even if you do have to be little wary of a few of them. Washing it all down with a small cup of genuine gelato is just about impossible to top, and there are dozens of terrific stands and small shops throughout the city ready to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Rome is also a great place to be a little daring with your food choices, particularly in the old slaughterhouse district of Testaccio just south of the historic center. Meals like tripe in red sauce and stewed oxtail are a couple of the mainstays of cucina povera (“peasant cuisine”), which mostly relies on the leftover pieces of meat called offal. A very old tradition in Rome, offal-based food is served in some of the finest restaurants as well as more casual place throughout the city. Whether you’re an adventurous foodie or simply looking for quality dining experiences, however, you shouldn’t have a hard time ending up with an unforgettable experience touring the best food Rome has to offer.
Be Wary of the Tourist Trap
The classic tourist trap is found just about anywhere in the world there is an iconic landmark, and Rome clearly has no shortages of restaurants with elevated price tags near their most famous gathering points. One place to be especially aware of this is near the Coliseum, where there is a pretty amazing divergence of quality in a concentrated area. If you want a view of the Coliseum for a meal, even a simple one like a sandwich and a pint, you should be ready to fork over quite a bit of dough without a guarantee the food quality will match the cost.
But Rome is also a terrific place to go off-the-beaten-path to find a hidden gem, particularly during the day in the most touristy zones in the city. Instead of a full-service place where you’ll pay a premium to see a landmark you were just in, you’ll be in much better shape shooting down an alley and finding a place with counter service and locals on their lunch hour.
Highly rated places like Pizza Zizza or La Boccaccia–only a few minutes north of the Coliseum by foot–will let you grab a slice of legit homemade Roman pizza for a fraction of the price of a meal at a sit-down location loaded with other out-of-towners. The same also goes with the famous Pizzarium, which serves classic combinations of Roman pizza just outside the Vatican. Although Pizzarium doesn’t even have much real seating for the takeout side of the business, finding your own view and a quiet place to eat is part of the adventure of grabbing a midday meal in Rome. While there are many terrific places to splurge for an amazing meal in Rome as well, choose wisely when you’re within range of the most popular destinations in the city.
Finding the Ambiance
Unlike some of the other cuisine hot spots in Europe, the best restaurants in Rome don’t have stunning cityscape views. Instead, Rome is famous for its quiet, scantily lit alley restaurants that are perfect for spreading out the evening–particularly during the warm nights of summer.
A perfect place to delve into the romanticism Rome offers is to head over to Trastevere, a neighborhood just south of the Vatican that’s known for its cobblestone streets and ancient-appearing alleyways. There are certainly a few restaurants with inflated menus in the main part of Trastevere, but there is also a range of great restaurants serving both traditional and modern Italian favorites. Places like I Vinaioli, Checco er Carettiere, and Antico Arco aren’t exactly on the inexpensive side, but they offer an amazing combination of Trastevere ambiance and traditional bites.
You could take a cheap cab or Uber across the Tiber to/from the central Roman neighborhoods, but Trastevere is also at the end of a beautiful river walk perfect for walking off a plate of carbonara and bottle of Chianti. Trastevere even has a pub, the Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà, that is often mentioned along with the other best watering holes in all of Europe.
It’s not hard to find a bit of local tone right near the more central parts of Rome either. In the Celio neighborhood, a popular area within walking distance of the Pantheon, Colosseum, and Forum, you might have to skip over a few inexpensive restaurants, but you can also find quiet little trattorias serving authentic Roman cuisine right out on the streets.
For more serious foodies, the Michelin-rated restaurant Armando al Pantheon is an oasis in the middle of one of the busiest parts of the city, and diners get a chance to say that ate in a renovated pagan temple that dates to antiquity. Food halls, or open-air markets, are also picking up steam in Rome and give visitors an excellent sampling of local flavors. In the eastern part of the city, the Mercato Centrale Roma has three floors of vendors from all over the area and is a particularly great spot to feel the pulse of the city over lunch.
Though it can certainly feel a bit overwhelming to try to sift through the assortment of great food options in a city like Rome, you would have to go almost out of your way to have truly bad dining experiences given the number of quality choices. With an eye out for the restaurants to skip over and reservations well in advance for Rome’s top restaurants (like Armando al Pantheon), you’ll be well on your way to doing what the Romans do like a pro.