Rome is a tough city to visit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful place that has great food and amazing historical monuments on almost every street. But it’s also a very big city with steep hills, a shocking amount of bad restaurants that capitalize on tourists (which are EVERYWHERE) and an average temperature of 90+ in August. We spent four days in Rome and had some really great meals, but we were also exhausted every day after doing walking tours that lasted between four and six hours. Alli and I have visited Rome once before and unfortunately had one of the worst meals on our honeymoon there and we had several people warn us about their really crappy restaurant experiences.
So, before we left for our Italian vacation, Alli did a lot of research online to find restaurants were actual Romans go to eat. She found a bunch of online sources and recommendations but we mainly used Parla Food and her Rome for Foodies app to plan our eating adventures (very useful, we highly recommend it). Unfortunately, most of those restaurants were 1-2 miles away from our hotel, so we had to make a lot of advanced reservations and do some serious walking or pay for a 20 euro cab ride (usually worth it though).
Our goal was to have at least one good meal a day in Rome and I think we accomplished that, here’s the places we ate at in Rome (check back in the next week for Florence and Venice):
Osteria dei Pontefici – We were on a driving tour of Rome and our tour guide from Miles & Miles recommended the restaurant for a casual lunch. We didn’t really get a wide range of their menu, it was a small lunch with various veggies, some charcuterie and cheese and some meat filled ravioli. The food was alright and while we saw other tour guides dropping off families at the same time, there was also a strong local presence. It wasn’t our best meal of the trip, but it definitely could have been much worse and might be more interesting if you are ordering more adventurous options off the menu. Also it’s very close to the Vatican and seems slightly better than the 500 tourist traps in that area.
Pizzarium by Gabriele Bonci (pictured top) – We found out about this pizzeria behind the Vatican through Anthony Bourdain’s Layover episode. This isn’t normal Italian pizza, it’s cooked in rectangular trays and is technically called Pizza al taglio, which was invented in Rome. Bonci’s toppings can range from the extravagant (foie gras with cherries) to simple (classic style with just sauce). You pick out what pizza you’d like and they charge you based on the weight of the pizza. For the three large slices and two drinks (they have a very nice Italian craft beer selection), it cost us just 15 euro. While the toppings were all fresh and full of flavor (the potato with black truffle mouse was our favorite), it was the amazing crust that really set this pizza apart. It was dense, almost burnt and had an amazing crunch. If you are planning on visiting the Vatican, Pizzarium Bonci is a must. It’s only a 15 minute walk from St. Peters Square and is in a more residential area with almost no tourists in sight. This was one of Alli’s favorite meals of the entire trip.
Salumeri Rosciole (pictured above) – After reading on Parla Food that Rosciole had some of the best burrata and spaghetti carbonara in Rome, Alli and I rushed to make reservations weeks before our vacation. It was a good thing that we did because this restaurant was very busy and if you didn’t have a reservation, you were seated in the basement (aka dungeon) or turned away. This was without a doubt my favorite meal in Rome and maybe in all of Italy. Their burrata was amazing, the outside was a perfect mozzarella shell and the inside was filled with the creamiest ricotta/mascarpone I’ve ever had. It came with sun dried cherry tomatoes that tasted like candy, we couldn’t get enough and almost asked for more. It was perfect and I will dream of it in the coming months. Their cacio e pepe was very sharp and creamy, the spaghetti carbonara was the best I’ve ever had and the hand sliced prosciutto could have been it’s own meal. This was one of the more expensive meals we had on our trip (around 85 euro) but well worth every penny. The kitchen also provided a small amuse and free dessert (cookies and dipping chocolate). This place is a must if you are ever in Rome.
La Piadineria – Alli and I stumbled across La Piadineria on accident, we originally had planned to visit a different but restaurant but found out they had closed for holiday (after 30 minutes of walking there). We were very tired, hungry and had no idea what to eat. We saw a couple kids walking into a tiny little restaurant and after further inspection they appeared to be fueling up for a night of drinking. La Piadineria is basically a Roman version of Jim’s Steakout. Their menu includes cheap panini sandwiches with freshly carved meats and fresh cheeses and they appear to be open late. Our two sandwiches and two soft drinks ended up costing us 12 euro and was a very satisfying meal. We were the only Americans in the place (good sign) and it seems to be popular with the local youth. I wouldn’t necessarily go out of your way to stop by, but it’s a great option if you find yourself near one and want a quick bite.
Li Rioni (pictured above) – We knew that we’d have to try some wood-fire Roman style pizza at some point and after consulting Parla Food, we decided to try out Li Rioni. After failing to make a reservation because of our lame concierge (that’s another story), our entire group of seven decided to show up to the restaurant and hope for the best. The restaurant was empty when we arrived but the server warned us that everything was reserved, however if we could eat fast and be gone within 45 minutes that he’d let us sit down. We gladly took the challenge and split four pizzas between us, two margherita (below), a marinara and a margherita with prosciutto. The crust was thin but very crunchy and slightly charred around the edges and in traditional style, was unsliced. The pizza was fantastic and I think this meal made everyone’s list of ‘one of the best things I ate on the trip’. I wish we could have taken our time, ordered some appetizers and maybe some wine but we still had a really good meal. Definitely another must when visiting Rome if you want to experience true Roman style pizza.
Il Gelato di San Crispano – If you had a chance to listen to our podcast Tuesday, you’ll get an idea about the lengths Alli and I went to eat really good gelato. We walked by hundreds of gelato stands in Rome and most of them looked pretty bad; huge piles of neon colored ice cream made from powdered mixes and chemical stabilizers. San Crispano (as it’s referred to by the locals) is very close to the Trevi Fountain and worth the hunt. The flavors are created using fresh ingredients and the gelato is maintained at a specific temperature which makes the texture perfect. Here are some quick tips on gelato: avoid places with ridiculously large brightly colored piles of gelato in their case, avoid convenience-shop type stores that also sell “gelato”, avoid shops with gigantic Nutella containers and avoid any shop using plastic tins.
Laduree – Every time we visit a large city we go out of our way to find that city’s patisserie that offers the best French Macarons. We almost forgot to look into that when we visited Rome until we saw another tourist walking around with a Laduree bag. This is a famous Paris shop that has locations all over the world (we visited NYC’s last April) and really has nothing ‘Italian’ about it, however the desserts are so good that it’s worth finding. We ordered a dozen for ~15 euro and managed to barely hold off eating them until we arrived to the hotel lobby. The Laduree shop is pretty close to the shopping district, it’s a great place to grab a snack for the hotel after walking around all day.
That pretty much covers the highlights of our Rome trip, we did much better then we did two years ago when we had a horrible meal in a random hotel. There are plenty of great places to eat in Rome, just be prepared to take taxis or buses to get there. If you are planning on visiting Rome, book an extra two days because you’ll need it to recover from seeing all the sights (you obviously can’t go to Rome and NOT see the Colosseum, Roman Forum, all the fountains, etc). It’s a big, beautiful city that is surrounded by history and walking around and coming across famous monuments at every corner is pretty cool. Just avoid all of the tourist traps (listen to our podcast for tips on this), do your homework, make reservations ahead of time and you’ll do fine.
p.s. if you’d like to see our non-food sightseeing shots of Rome, check our Alli’s album here.