Everyone comes to Rome with high expectations about the food, and rightly so, but how do you find the best places to eat in Rome? There are thousands of places to choose from to eat in Rome, a trattoria, ristorante, tavola calda… what do they all mean, what kind of establishment should you be looking for and how do you pick a good one rather than a tourist trap?! Fear not we will explain all…. as well as make some recommendations!
When to eat?
The most important thing to remember is when in Rome do as the Romans do. Firstly, know your times, Italians eat later than the Brits or North Americans and North Europeans. Restaurants and proper Italian establishments stick to these eating times and are not generally open all day for a wide range of food. Lunch or pranzo is from 1-3 pm and dinner or cena is served from 8 pm onwards (most places don’t open until 7.30 pm). If you are peckish earlier 6-8 pm you can opt for the classy drink with nibbles option or Aperitivo.
Where to eat?
Life can sometimes seem old fashioned here, you have to know the right small shop to go to for your needs and likewise with eating. If you want good pasta you should not go to a pizzeria, if you want to be spoilt with elegant surroundings choose a ristorante. The main options are:
Bar – for coffee, breakfast, a sandwich, a beer but limited food options (open early till late)
Tavola Calda – literally means hot table and serves a wide range of premade dishes including sides pizza, chicken rotisserie, pasta etc
Pizzeria – makes pizza, if you want the best go to a place that specialises. Look for ‘Forno a Legna’
Osteria – a very basic, local eatery with wine in a tumbler and a paper place-mat
Trattoria – a rustic venue with a family type atmosphere
Ristorante – more elegant dining with quality table-cloths and nice wine-glasses
What to look for?
What is important for the local Roman is good food and not the decoration of the interior. Despite always looking elegant themselves, they don’t care if they queue for a half-hour to get into a place or eat off of paper plates. If you want a more authentic feel, go for the Osteria and Trattoria.
If you are eating like a local you want places with a simple menu in Italian. If a restaurant has good local trade they don’t need tourists and so do not feel the need to translate their menu (in fact a bad google translation is a better bet than 6 languages).
Welcome staff should be avoided…. Like the ancient sirens of the seas these guys are there to seduce passers-by into their eatery, so if there is someone outside with a menu it is NOT a local place! Think about it… they have to pull you in (one Roman gran on her mobile phone can fill a place quicker than these guys!).
Prices!! Pasta is the first carbs course and so should not be overly expensive €8-10 for a carbonara etc…. you should only be paying €14 for something with seafood or gold dust on it! A good pizzeria can be judged by the Margherita from €4.50-6.50.
Away from the tourists! Locals do not visit tourist spots and so good local places are not to be found in front of the Trevi fountain or on Piazza Navona. The good local places are usually hidden in a back alley away from the main tourist areas even just 5-10 mins away – do not be afraid to wander in all those little winding streets – that is where you will find a hidden gem!! There a number of areas in Rome known for good restaurants some are off the beaten path. The more central is Monti, the ghetto, Trastevere, and if you are looking for real Roman food offal and all – Testaccio.
Finally, to round all this up we wanted to give you a quick list of things to look for and of course avoid
Things to look out for
- Stick to the correct times – remember somewhere open all day or serving dinner at 6 is not for locals
- Choose osteria and trattoria for more authentic feel. If you want pizza go to a pizzeria!
- Explore off the beaten track… in the dark back alleys
- Look at the prices – this will confirm if you have made the right choice
Things to avoid
- Welcome staff
- Menus in 5 languages and menus with pictures
- Main tourist areas and piazzas
Check out our other blogs for more ideas on what dishes to eat in Rome or surviving past 6 pm with the Aperitivo. Alternatively, you could always book our food tour and we will show you the best food Rome has on offer! If you have any questions please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to help!
A few of our favourite eateries…
- Pizzeria Da Baffetto– One of our go-to pizza places. Here you will experience true roman-style pizzas cooked in a real clay oven with a thin base and a selection of traditional toppings. Warning – prepare to get squeezed on a table with another family, have the pizzas come flying at you and probably get shouted at by the waiters – but this is all part of the authentic experience.
- Maccheroni – This is a classic restaurant serves Roman specialties but with an emphasis on the pasta. Here the Pasta and Tiramisu is made fresh every day! It is located in the back streets of the Centro Storico just a stone’s throw away from the Pantheon and Piazza Navona – we recommend it as the perfect finish to our Best of Rome Walking Tour!
- Retrobottega –This innovative “pasta-lab” is run by two friends who provide the highest quality fresh Italian ingredients – they even go as far as to forage their ingredients from nearby forests! We recommend their tasting menu accompanied with a glass of wine (or two). Although served in a casual setting this is high-end food so be prepared to spend a little more here.
- Ristorante Nino – Via Borgognona 11. Almost 100 years old, if the walls of this restaurant could speak they would tell tales of the many stars and members of the Roman aristocracy that have dined here since the Dolce Vita. Tuscan food at its best and a great wine list to choose from.
- Settimio all’Arancio – Via dell’Arancio. Close your eyes and choose anything from their menu and I can assure you that you will not be disappointed. Fish here is fresh and delicious, and if you like it raw then this is not to be missed. Meat options are often served on a raclette so you can choose exactly how it is cooked.
- Coromandel – Without a doubt the best brunch in Rome. This cozy little spot serves everything from eggs benedict to maple syrup pancakes and fresh, hand-made pastries, all served on dainty china. The coffee and freshly squeezed juices are also delicious.
- Seu Pizza Illuminati – Run by Daniele Seu, Rome’s most creative pizza chef, this pizzeria is not to be missed. Although located in a grim apartment building in a rather unattractive area of Trastevere, It was recently voted the 6th best pizza in the whole of Italy!
- Emma – Emma, owned by Pier Luigi Roscioli serves an excellent pizza. Located close to Campo De Fiori.