Honestly, Italy is a place where all my foodie dreams come true. Amazing pizza, simple and delicious pasta, anti-pasti for days, prosecco on tap and the much famed aperitivo time make this the ultimate food and drink based destination for me.
But like many huge cities, especially ones that attract millions of tourists each year, it can be hard to find the really good stuff. Don’t worry – I ate a lot of food on my recent trip to Rome (see the city break guide!) and I’ve got a complete foodies guide to this amazing city.
What’s good? What’s Roman?
Sure, you’ll get all the basic pizza and pasta at every basic trattoria or osteria (casual restaurants) in Rome, but it doesn’t mean it’s traditionally Roman or good to eat. I learnt pretty fast on my food tour in Testaccio that Rome isn’t known for its Pesto (it comes from the North) and it doesn’t make great red wines.
The good thing is that there are lots of things you should be trying to have an authentic experience – here’s just a few of them:
Deep fried risotto balls?! Where do I sign up!!!? Suppli are small bite-sized snacks often served in a paper cone with deep fried veggies. Mozzarella cheese is covered in left-over risotto, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. I was told that I definitely had to have it with prosecco as fried foods are best consumed with something fizzy, and who am I to argue?
Cacio e Pepe
Sometimes simple is best when it comes to pasta, and this dish never failed to impress us. Pasta (usually spaghetti, but we had it with rigatoni) with pecorino cheese, black pepper and olive. Sounds easy to make but I’m willing to bet I’d never be able to recreate this at home!
We actually tried this without realising it was typically Roman, so apparently we have menu skills. One of the best pasta dishes we tried in Rome, this spicy tomato sauce with Chilli, cured pork jowl and pecorino cheese will have you begging for more. Pork jowl or cheek is used a lot in Roman cooking – it’s cheap and flavourful much more so than something like basic ham which leads me to…[easy-tweet tweet=”Don’t read this is you are hungry – it’s a foodies guide to Rome!” user=”SamRSparrow” usehashtags=”no” template=”light”]
The Romans love their carbonara and that’s good because I do too! What makes this dish even more tasty than what you might pick up at the Italian restaurant back home is using pork cheek instead of bacon and ham and not using cream (just the pecorino cheese and egg). Trust me you’ll struggle to go back to your usual Carbonara!
Aside from Pasta, which you’ll eat tons of in Rome, offal is big news here. Yep, you heard me. We are talking oxtail and tripe, both of which we tried whilst in Rome. We loved the Oxtail (hunt out a traditional stew called Coda alla Vaccinara) and we were pleasantly surprised by the tripe!
What about Gelato?
Well what about it! I have a guide on how to seek out the best Gelato, how to tell the difference between good and bad and which gelateria are worth your Euro. Until you read that then, this list is where to head for your Gelato fix in Rome:
- Il Gelato di San Crispino
- Gelateria del Teatro
- Bar Giolitti, Testaccio
- Gelateria dei Gracchi
Where to Eat + Drink
Here are my recommendations for places to eat. We didn’t need to book at any, but if you are going in the height of season you may want to try and book ahead.
We broke all the rules with this one and we were in fact pleasantly surprised. We were so very tired from our day in Pisa and train ride to Rome, it was 9pm and we just wanted some dinner. This restaurant was right next to our hotel, overlooking the Pantheon and although our brains screamed tourist trap, my need for carbs got the better of me.
We ate a simple pesto linguine and a bucatini alla’amatriciana, a speciality from Amatriciana including red chilli peppers, guanciale (cured pork jowl), and pecorino cheese. Both were delicious, both were washed down by a glass of gorgeous house red and the service was wonderful.
Located just off the Via Dei Corso, Di Qua is a simple restaurant tucked away down a side street with lovely outdoor seating. Recommended to me by fellow blogger Queen Beady we immediately ordered the Lasagne and Carbonara. The food was absolutely delicious, particularly the Lasagne and was one of the cheapest meals we ate in Rome.
We visited on a Sunday evening (and Rome seems to sleep on Sundays!) and it was very quiet. That could have been why the service was a little brisk but if you visit don’t let that put you off – the food alone is worth it!
We tended to drink our lunches in Rome because all our dinners were so big, so head of our Testaccio food tour we nipped in to the ever so cool Salotto 42, just round the corner from the Pantheon and bang opposite the Temple of Hadrian in Piazza Di Pietra. We’d already walked past a few times, and on a Saturday evening seen it heaving with locals so we felt like a cheeky cocktail was in order to really understand what the fuse was about.
For 22EUR we had a Spritz42 (a version of an aperol spritz made with ginger beer) and a Bellini served with olives and crisps etc. Both drinks were beautiful, the service was spot on and as we sat at the front of the bar in a pair of sumptuous green velvet chairs looking out on to a thousands of years old monument we felt very lucky.
Between 12pm and 3pm they do what looked like a very good buffet lunch for 12EUR each, full of meats, cheeses and salads and very popular with well dressed locals!
If you need a reason to visit Testaccio, make it this. Built on top of Monte Testaccio (which is a not insignificant hill made up only of pieces of thrown out terracotta pots from Roman times), Angelina’s specialises in offal. Now don’t click away! Rome is famous for its quinto quarto, and it would be a crime not to try whilst here.
We tried oxtail and tripe and honestly I was panicking a little before getting stuck in. The tripe was particularly good in a tomato sauce with a little pecorino cheese – the texture and the taste was very melt in the mouth so I dare you to give it a go!
Honestly this restaurant was wonderful – hidden a way behind a small door and up some steps which felt a little like walking into someone’s house. But go, visit and be brace – you’ll be greeted by a wonderfully decorated, sort of greenhouse vibe restaurant with warm staff and very local food.
There is absolutely no excuse to eat badly near The Vatican, not when Il Sorpasso exists just 10 minutes walk away. We were famished after our 3.5 hour Vatican Tour, and instead of landing in the first restaurant we saw took a walk until we found this place.
I’m sure we were the only tourists in there, but we were welcomed with open arms and quickly found a table inside. It has a rustic decor, plenty of good bread and olive oil, and if you fancied it, a selection of cured meats and cheeses that would tempt even the harshest of critics.
We were famished so chose a fettuccine and pesto dish with courgette and courgette flowers and a Tagliatelle alla Gricia. A typically Roman dish, this was the perfect balance of cured pork and cheese. The whole meal was 33EUR including bread, water, wine and beer.
Based just across the river in Trastevere, when we found out that this restaurant had a wine cellar older than the Coloseum, we were all the way in. We spent our last night here eating like Kings and Queens in this family run restaurant where the ambience is matched by the totally fresh home cooking.
Between us we had beef carpaccio, mozzarella in a tomato sauce, chicken meatballs, a lean pork dish with baked whole mini onions that blew my mind, tiramisu balls and a creme brulee done in a completely different way without the hot, hard shard of sugar across the top. It was truly delicious.
Honestly, I’m not convinced we’ve eaten better than we did in Rome and we barely scratched the surface. Go to Rome for the ancient history, the frescos, the sculptures and the classic piazzas. Leave with your heart and belly full of amazing Italian-Roman cuisine!
Want more? Here’s the low-down on our foodies tour of Testaccio, a neighbourhood in Rome.