I have visited Rome more than a hundred times in the past 32 years. It is, of course, a city of endless fascination that has attracted visitors for 2000 years.
Most visitors tend to eat in places that scream “menu turistico, ” which means they can taste the same twenty dishes wherever they go. But Italy is a nation of regions, each with its own geography, language, politics, and culinary traditions. Rome is famous for the lusty splendour of its cooking, based on gorgeous primary materials that are served at the peak of their quality.
I have created a list of places where the food is classically
Roman and are mostly frequented by Romans. Allow yourself to be guided by what looks good, what smells good, and what mamma is cooking in the kitchen. Here are some places where you can’t go wrong:
Great Places To Eat in Rome
If you go to the Campo dei Fiori eat at Trattoria La Carbonara at #23. The pastas are good (especially the Carbonara) and the vegetables are outstanding (they buy the best at the market in the square before the rest is sold to the public). Tel 06/6864783
My favorite in Trastevere: Piccola Trattoria da Lucia, Vicolo del Mattonato 2, has been there since 1938 and was Vittorio de Sica’s favorite. Very traditional Roman cooking, very simple place, but quite pleasing tel 06/5803601. Be sure to have La Gricia as a pasta course.
Tramonti e Mufatti, Via Santa Maria Ausiliatrice 105
It is a bit out of the center, reachable by subway or taxi. This only has seven tables and you must reserve. Great wine, wonderful service, outstanding salumi, cheeses, oil-cured vegetables, just OK pastas. But the whole experience is great. The owner is Marco Berardi and his sister Laura. Across the street is a neighborhood bakery that shuts about 8 pm, just as the restaurant opens. The little bigne with lemon pastry cream is heavenly. Get one to start your stomach going.
Matricianella, Via del Leone 2, 06/683-2100
Near the Parliament and Piazza Goldoni. The fried foods are outstanding, especially the carciofo and the ricotta fritta. The spaghetti cacio e pepe is first-rate, the meat and vegetables very good, and I liked the cooked fruit for dessert.
Tram Tram, Via dei Reti 44, 06/490-4160
A cozy little trattoria with a Sicilian bent and a national wine list. The food is mostly very good (the involtini di pescespada and the roasted potatoes are great) and the creme caramel is not to miss.
Have you been to Testaccio? This is much more traditionally Roman than even Trastevere. It is across the river from Trastevere (therefore, somewhat south of the Jewish Quarter). Its main street is the Via Marmorata (Marble Street), so named because all the marble that was unloaded from the river was transported up this broad street to build the Forum and the Coliseum.
One block in from Via Marmorata is Piazza Testaccio, which is thought to have the oldest ongoing food market in Italy (2000 years). It is still wonderful and not at all touristy. As with any market in Italy, you must mind your wallet and purse. Then go back to the Via Marmorata #47 to Gastronomia Volpetti, one of the greatest food stores in all of Italy. The quality is superb, prices fair, and the brothers who run it are fanatically devoted to quality, tradition, and to their clients. The cheeses here are heavenly and they sell genuine traditional balsamic vinegar at a very fair price.
I would recommend a morning visit (not on Sundays) to the neighborhood, the market and the store, and then have lunch at Trattoria Perilli al Testaccio at Via Marmorata 39 (tel 06/5742415). The place has been there since 1911 and hews closely to Roman specialities.
Also in Testaccio, just opposite the market, is La Luna Piena, a very nice traditional trattoria open for dinner. Via Luca della Robbia 15; tel 06/575-0279. Among the secondi my two faves are coda alla vaccinara (the best braised oxtail in Rome…don’t knock it until you have tried it) and polla alla romana, chicken with peppers. Very good price/quality relationship.
Margutta Vegetariano-RistorArte, Via Margutta 118, tel 06/32650577, open daily, vacations vary from year to year, all credit cards, moderate to moderately expensive
The Via Margutta is one of my favorite streets in Roma. You will love the park views, the art galleries, and its sense of intimacy right in the middle of a big city. This restaurant is just a few doors down from the apartment where Federico Fellini and Giulietta Masina lived during their marriage. Now the street is popular among artists and dealers who enjoy the vegetarian cookery at this enjoyble, often crowded, restaurant.
Taverna Giulia, Vicolo d’Oro 23, tel 06/6869768, closed Sundays and in August, all credit cards, moderate to moderately expensive
If your trip to Italy does not include a trip to Liguria, this is one of the best places elsewhere to sample the flavors of the Italian Riviera. The pesto is quite fine, the focaccia is crisp and fragrant, and the fish and vegetables are delicious.
Enoteca Corsi, Via del Gesù 88, tel 06/6790821, closed Sundays, August, and in the evening, major credit cards, inexpensive
An old and very traditional Roman eatery that almost seems like an anachronism in the city center, but is all the more welcome because of that. I love the soups here, which change daily. The pastas are basic and lusty, and dishes such as pollo con i peperoni is a delicious chicken and peppers preparation. Cheese and fresh fruit are the desserts of choice. All this is what people think of as Italian home cooking, but here it is prepared with much more care. Wine is sold by the carafe, though you can also get good bottles too.
If you tire of Roman cooking and want the fabulous dishes from Emilia Romagna, go to Colline Emiliane, Via degli Avignonesi 22. Tel 06/4817538. The salumi (prosciutto, salami, etc) is a tasty starter, and anything made with egg pasta is dreamy. It is between Via Tritone and Via Nazionale.
Fortunately, Rome is a great walking city, so you need not worry about the extra weight you will put on during these divine meals. Buon appetito!