Part of the holiday pleasure in Rome is discovering your very own favourite trattoria. In our opinion, it’s hard to eat badly in Rome. But for those who’d like some guidance, here are our suggestions.
For smarter restaurants, it’s advisable to book, especially at the weekend. At the simpler but popular trattorie and pizzerie, there’s often an informal queue or waiting list.
Many restaurants – especially in tourist areas – start serving dinner at 7pm, although nearer 9pm is a more normal time to eat. Restaurants in Rome shouldn’t request a cover charge but generally they’ll bring some bread and charge you for that, anyway.
Don’t be too surprised if you end up sitting inches away from other diners, or even sharing a long table with strangers; this is fairly normal in small, informal eating places.
Good tourist choices
Around Rome’s tourist hubs you’ll find many restaurants aimed at tourists. Some are overpriced and uninspiring, but there are also plenty of reasonable restaurants. Have a look at the menu, the prices, and at the meals being served and you’ll get a good idea of whether the place will suit you. Naturally you pay more in a tourist location like Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, and a Roman may not be impressed with the establishment, but it’s your holiday and you may well feel the view is worth it. You only have to go a few yards from the main piazza to find cheaper fare. There are far too many decent places to list, but one of the best areas to start looking in the Centro Storico is around the narrow Via di Tor Millina (which leads off Piazza Navona) and along Via del Governo Vecchio, where you’ll find plenty of pleasant restaurants with outdoor seating. Campo dei’ Fiori and Trastevere are also places where you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Cul de Sac
Piazza Pasquino. This is an enoteca – wine bar – which serves good wines by the glass and also does great food – ideal if you want one or two dishes, rather than a long formal meal. It’s a narrow place like a corridor, so there’s not much space and single diners may end up sharing a table.
This is a modish bar-restaurant. Although the place is popular with smart-ish Romans, and the staff were charming, the establishment wasn’t above a small credit-card trick – they illegitimately charged my card in pounds (at an unfavourable exchange rate) without permission. I’d recommend it for the atmosphere and food, but pay in cash.
Osteria del Gallo
Vicolo di Montevecchio, 27 (near Piazza Navona, off Via di Tor Millina). A haven just off the busy lanes west of Piazza Navona, the Osteria serves classy meals at a touch more than average tourist prices.
Pastarito – Pizzarito
I really enjoy visiting this chain of pasta/pizza restaurants. There are several branches around the centre of Rome (see links panel on the right for their website), and although they have little atmosphere the food is good and service is swift and efficient. Everything is computerised and when you’ve finished there’s no need to wait for the bill – simply go to the cash till with your table number. You can choose your own combinations of pasta and sauce, or pizza and toppings, from the long list in the menu. Portions are extremely generous – almost enough for two to share – and good value for money. There is a special children’s menu. A great way to eat a filling meal at low cost, and very family-friendly.
Another chain, this time serving Neapolitan pizzas and rich desserts. There’s a branch with a very handy location near Piazza Navona, on Via della Pace. It has tables inside and outside.
Via del Teatro Pace, 44. A basic, no-nonsense tourist pizzeria in a handy location close to Piazza Navona. There is a wide range of decent, cheap pizzas, no extras are added to the bill, and the tables inside and out are usually full.
Romans are fine judges of food, so where crowds of locals go, you can be sure to eat the best. But note that these eateries can be chaotic places with long queues and rarely take advance bookings.
Vicolo del Bologna (Trastevere). So busy that they ran out of cutlery when we were there, Dar Poeta serves legendary pizzas and generous, filling bruschette.
Via del Governo Vecchio, 18. An old-fashioned Roman eating place, with a few, sought-after tables, no pretensions at all, and good, cheap pasta.
Via del Governo Vecchio. Supposedly the best pizza in Rome, often with incredibly long queues waiting for tables.
Piazza del Fico (close to Piazza Navona). Another simple and crowded shrine to good Roman grub, with queues outside.
For something a little different or a little smarter here are some less touristy eateries with a cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Via della Croce (near the Spanish Steps). A small wine-bar-restaurant with a cosy atmosphere. The pizzas are good and reasonably-priced, and for dessert they serve gorgeous chocolate cake.
Di Fronte A
Via della Croce, 38 (near the Spanish Steps). A popular restaurant with a youthful, international atmosphere and art hanging on the walls. The menu is extensive and varied – my favourite is the pizza della casa with cheese and truffle.
Le Pain Quotidien
Via Tomacelli 24/25 (near Via del Corso). This Euro-chain specialises in filling breakfasts and large salads. There’s nothing local about it, but the atmosphere is friendly (with large shared wooden tables) and their breakfasts fill the gap left by typical hotel fare.
Hip eating spots
If you want to hang out with either Rome’s super-tanned, jewellery-clanking celeb trash or the more understated new media types, you’ll need to get up to date with the current ‘in’ places – fashionable society in Rome moves en masse from one place to another. These were some of the options last time we checked:
Via Torino, 33 (near Metro Repubblica). A smart restaurant with a restrained atmosphere on weekdays, Target is handily located for the Teatro dell’Opera, and opens late. Good house wine. Highlights include cold dessert crepes, and the orecchiette (‘little ears’ pasta).
Piazza Augusta Imperatore, 9 (near Via del Corso and the Spanish Steps). A restaurant, pizzeria, wine bar and bookshop. It’s been around a few years now, but Gusto is still a modish spot for Sunday brunch as well as serving good dinners and pizzas. Outdoor tables are atmospherically located, opposite the Mausoleum of Augustus.
Via Mameli, 5 (Trastevere). Prado has a PA system which is used to request diners to move their double-parked sports cars. It’s busy and buzzing, but prices are surprisingly normal (pizzas under ten euros) and the food is extremely good. A favourite with footballers.
At the main railway station, Stazione Termini, there is a good cheap self-service restaurant where you can buy a bowl of pasta, a dessert and wine for just a few euros. Upstairs from the concourse, the setting may not be the most attractive but it’s a decent place to fill up on a budget.
If you only want one big meal a day, or your time is limited and you want to eat on the move, you can find good slices of takeaway pizza at many tavola calda (literally: hot table) outlets around Rome. There’s a good place on Largo Argentina which makes a handy pitstop. Along Via del Governo Vecchio are some nice bars where you can eat quickly, and we recently found a good sandwich shop (at number 88) serving a wide range of snacks, filled rolls, heated sandwiches and so on.