Food is our passion and our way of site-seeing. On our trip, we sought out the sort of restaurants we would send friends to if they visited us in Philadelphia—every day restaurants with mostly locals as customers.
We’d heard before the common saying “You can’t have a bad meal in Rome. Trip Advisor lists over 9,000 restaurants in the city. The four of us, all pretty informed diners—myself, Christina, our son Noah (a sous chef at The Modern) and his friend, Bo, a serious eater—dined at a dozen restaurants over a week. We compiled our list carefully from various knowledgeable sources. And in the end it was true: we did not have a bad meal.
Before we get to our list, here’s a quick primer for understanding Rome’s eateries:
Trattoria: A traditional restaurant with an extensive menu that certainly includes pasta and may or may not include pizza.
Pizzeria: A more crowded and raucous trattoria that also has pizza and a shorter non-pizza menu.
Restaurant: More serious yet less traditional dining with pasta more likely to be included than pizza. Its menu is more focused on what we would think of first course and “entrée” in which the vegetable component of the entrée is integral to the dish rather than a separate “contorni.”
Prices: The restaurants below ranged from pretty moderate (say $30- $40 per person with some wine) to more pricey, special occasion places (See Antico Arco and Marzapane), but nothing too crazy.
Best Meal in Rome
Roscioli Campo de’ Fiori
In our seven days of lunches and dinners, Roscioli was our unanimous choice as the place we’d eat if we had only one meal. A fabulous salumeria—essentially an Italian deli—Roscioli houses a wonderful restaurant in the back and bottle-lined wine cellar with a terrific but not expensive selection. The food and service are top notch and the white tablecloths befit the food without taking away from a comfortable, informal atmosphere. Via dei Giubbonari, 21/22
Flavio al Velavevodetto Testaccio
Testaccio was the food processing center of ancient Rome and continues to be, by many accounts, its culinary heart. Two thousand years ago, give or take a century, products from the far reaches of the Roman Empire were delivered here in large clay pots. Since there was no recycling, the clay pots were broken apart with the pot shards forming a gigantic hill. Flavio al Velavevodetta is essentially a cave built into it, serving outstanding food with exceptional pastas. Go early and roam the Testaccio neighborhood, which is still working-class Italian. Better yet, take the four-hour tour offered by Elizabeth Minchilli, an American expat and food authority. That’s what we did.
Via di Monte Testaccio, 97
Da Cesare Casaletto Monteverde
A proper, no-frills trattoria that fills up with multi-generational Italian families on weekends. For pizza, plan to visit during dinner hours. Via del Casaletto, 45 via
Emma Pizzeria Navona
This spot is casual chic, in a modern Roman sense. There are great pizzas, of course, but many things on the menu beyond pizza. To us it felt like a terrific Italian restaurant that could work in a sophisticated city anywhere. Via Monte della Farina, 28/29
These two pizzerias are located a stone’s throw from one another just west of Piazza Navona. Cul de Sac is officially an enoteca, a wine bar, But essentially like Da Francesco. Both are great. Cul de Sac Piazza di Pasquino, Da Francesco 73 Piazza del Fico, 29
Pizzeria Fiammetta Navona
Located a few blocks north of Piazza Navona, a dependable pizzeria a notch below Cul de Sac and Da Francesco. Piazza Fiammetta, 10
More expensive and more formal (slightly pricier but not stuffy)
Antico Arco Travestere
This warm, lovely resto sits on a Trastevere hill in the shadow of the ancient Roman walls. The atmosphere is relaxed the food is excellent. Piazzale Aurelio, 7
Marzapane East of Villa Borghese
This culinarily ambitious Michelin-starred restaurant is helmed by a young female chef from Spain. We found it lacking in hospitality, and the food, for all its ambition, is not quite as good as NY or Philadelphia equivalent. Still it was an intriguing meal. Via Velletri, 39
A sentimental favorite as it’s the first place Christina and I ate on our first trip to Rome. This solid, warm and comfortable restaurant offers a smart, seasonal menu and it’s a nice mid-point between noisy and raucous pizzerias and trattorias and fancier dining. Piazza Rondanini, 53
Not quite a meal
Il Forno Campo de’ Fiori
A must-visit in the northwest corner of Campo di Fiore, Il Forno sells fresh-from-the-oven pizza by the slice to go. Get the porcini. Campo De’ Fiori, 22
Beppe e i suoi formaggi Campo de’ Fiori
An Italian deli renowned for cheese, many of which the proprietors make in Piedmonte. Go crazy with cheeses, salumi and wine. Via Santa Maria del Pianto, 9a/11