This is an updated version of my original A paper tablecloth guide to dining in Rome written for friends, friends of friends, friends of instagram pals and anyone else who happens to ask ‘where should we eat?’.
Rome has a veritable wealth of gastronomic tourism and food writing, so the traveller has a more than ample array of places to go for advice, many far more exhaustive than this humble collection. This list is compiled according to my view that a restaurant/trattoria/caffe is always the sum of its parts. Part of the equation is the food, which is all important, but the other part of the equation is the ambience, which can not be overlooked, especially when you are traveling. I like the paper table cloth kind of places, because they kind of fit the ignoranza* of Roman food, but this round up has been expanded to include old school white linen tablecloth establishments and more. Other guides to click on are friends Benedetta Canale’s 48 hours in Rome, Erica Firpo’s best in Rome and and my Weekend in Rome for Olive Magazine.
Since I first wrote my first ‘where to eat’ a lot has happened. Most recommended places now book out months in advance, many now require credit cards to hold your table (fair enough when you understand that there are people out there that book several places and then decide). Deciding on a whim, even if you are traveling in low season (always a great idea), is not really possible if you want a seat at places like Armando al Pantheon, my long time top pick.
Ten years ago the winds of change were wafting through the city as a younger generation of cooks and restaurant owners arrived. The wind whipped up into a flurry and the young, new, modern Roman dining scene is now established, more confident than ever, and doing great things. The younger generation of chefs like Alessandro Miocchi and Giuseppe Lo Iodice from Retrobottega and Sarah Cicolini from Santo Palato, have created what can be called Modern Roman food, and have led the way in a revived concentration on local, seasonal, artisan ingredients and attention to detail. (Because lets face it, touristy trattorias can be super lazy).
These are the very Roman ingredients to look out for: Carciofi (artichokes – winter, spring), Fave (broad beans – spring), Puntarelle (so Roman there is no translation – winter) and anything made with zucchini romaneschi (especially in spring summer).
first, a few old favourites
Trastevere: Da Enzo Via dei Vascellari, 29, tel +39 06 5812 260 firstname.lastname@example.org On the quiet side of Trastevere near the Tiber Island, this little osteria serves simple seasonal Roman fare with great attention paid to the raw materials. Last time I ate there I started with La Gricia – spaghetti with panfried pork cheek (a sort of an Amatriciana without the tomatoes) which as fave were in season, had a handful of Rome’s favourite beans tossed through it. There is always a queue so try going early or late for lunch. I haven’t been for ages but everyone who tells me they have been recently is always positive. Order the Carpaccio di Verdure if it is on the blackboard. Great house made dolci. BE PREPARED TO WAIT
Osteria dell Velodromo Vecchio, a metro ride out in the suburbs is this Slow Food Osteria d’Italia listed osteria, warm, family run, with constant attention to well sourced produce and well executed classics. A favourite of Leo and mine for Sunday lunch when the kids are at scouts. Via Genzano 139-141
Da Caesare, on so many lists, but deservedly so. At the end of the no. 8 tram where the Gianicolense becomes almost farmland of the Valle dei Casali. Via del Casaletto, 45
Trastevere: Da Augusto Piazza de’ Renzi, 15, closed for dinner Sat and all Sunday. Come early or late for lunch in this cramped little spot with tables spilling out on to the piazza – there is often a queue. This is real home cooked Roman food, served by cheerfully grumpy Roman girls. Best are the stews: Abacchio alla Romana (lamb), Coniglio alla Cacciatora (rabbit), and in winter-spring try the Puntarelle, a side dish of crisp curly greens dressed with anchovies and garlic. (stay tuned for my update on this place that needs a revisit).
A very Roman place to eat coda alla vaccinara, the infamous ox-tail stew signature dish of the meatpacking district. Via G. Branca, 98 ph. 06 574 6585 Dated but unpretentious interior, lovely outdoor patio in summer, good wine list, never disappoints
Testaccio: Piatto Romano A relative newcomer on the Testaccio dining circuit, Augusto from Piatto Romano is serving some of the best trattoria food in all of Rome (see anchovies below!). Tables on the street, handy to lively Piazza Testaccio for an aperitivo before or a gelato afterwards. Via G. B. Bodoni, 62 Tel 06/64014447
In the centre – Armando al Pantheon
This small restaurant has been in the same place since the fifties and it still turns out the uncomplicated Roman dishes it always has, relying on the best local produce and traditional products, cooking them all with care and flair, which is why it has been in the Slow Food Guide Osteria d’Italia for years . It had a makeover in 2012 keeping the original warmth and added some contemporary cool. Salita dei Crescenzi 31, ph. 0668803034
The Ghetto – Nonna Betta
Via del Portico d’Ottavia, 16, 06 6880 6263
Keeping this on the list, because everyone want to have a double fried artichoke, Roman Jewish style, while they are in Rome, especially in during the cooler months when they are in season. But, to be honest service and presentation was a bit lacking the last time I went. The whole strip of trattorie along Via del Portico d’Ottavia is a good option when you don’t have a booking as the outdoor tables turn over quickly.
The Ghetto: Ristorante Piperno Monte dé Cenci 9 Tel. (+39) 06 6880 6629 Old school in decor and vibe, I really love Piperno. One for a special night out, but also lovely spot for an outdoor lunch under an umbrella in this out of the way piazzetta in the Jewish quarter.
and for pizza
Ai Marmi AKA Orbitorio (translation. Morgue) for the marble tables. This place is classic, the pizza is thin and Roman, not the best in the city but super genuine. The lifetime waiters rush between the cramped marble tables, banging down bottles of Peroni (Romans drink beer with pizza) and green Acqua di Nepi, slinging whole round pizzas and plates piled with fried things, scribbling into small white notepads with very little time for pleasantries. It all feels like the set of a Roman film from the 60’s, There are tables out the front too, but there’s often a queue for these (no bookings) and the space inside is where the real atmosphere is. A textbook Roman pizza dinner is: Birra (not wine), fritti (Bacalà, fried zucchini flowers, supplì) followed by pizza. Viale Trastevere, 53, across the road from Piazza Sonnino
quick lunch, weekend brunch
Pandali is not only an inner city haven for celiacs (the entire menu is gluten free), but a great spot for a quick, super healthy vegetable forward lunch close to the Pantheon. Chef Libby Greenfield prepares huge trays of roasted, sautéed vegetables, bright salads and amazing GF focaccia. Via di Torre Argentina, 3 Mon to Sat 9-15
Corrado al Banco 18, is a wine stall with kitchen at the Testaccio market. Aside from the great selection of wine by the glass and by the bottle to take home, Corrado cooks simple ‘ricette ritrovate’ – found recipes from around the boot. Great lunch option after shopping.
Marigold is like something from another place, except it is in Rome. And you can tell it is in Rome because Domenico Cortese sources the freshest and the best produce and turns it all into simple but artfully produced dishes. Think shaved fennel and puntarelle together with roasted hazelnuts. And then there are Sofie Wochner’s bread and other divine baked goods. Open for breakfast and lunch tuesday to sun, dinner fri and sat, brunch sat and sun Via Giovanni da Empoli 37
modern, curated, unique
Retrobottega. Retrobottega, which means the back of the workshop, deserve all the accolades, and position as one of the places, in many ways, the place, that created modern Roman food. They have been serving carefully sourced and creatively prepared plates in their small uber contemporary dining room in Via della Stellata since 2012, and now have an bar/enoteca on the other side in Via Ascanio, and a pasta and bread store. Via della Stelletta, 4. Near the charming Piazza delle Coppelle morning market.
Trattoria Pennestri in the semi industrial Ostiense neighborhood, in the very same street as Marigold. This is a trattoria in name and style, in that it is relaxed and homey, but a restaurant in terms of the calibre of food that comes out of the kitchen. I have eaten here with friends and work colleagues over the past few years and loved it every time. There are Roman classics but also dishes found rarely around the city. Via Giovanni da Empoli, 5 – Roma T +39 065742418
Santo Palato, San Giovanni. When you go, you will realise what all the fuss is about. Sarah Cicolini has taken the simplicity of a trattoria and made it something more. Book! Piazza Tarquinia 4 A, 00153
a coffee, un aperitivo, maybe a beer
Piazza del Fico www.bardelfico.com Coffee under a fig tree, salads, simple primi and a bit of vibe..
Vinaietto, favourite spot for a friday night wine on the pavement. Monte della Farina, 38
Vicolo della Scala, 1. In the heart of Trastevere this converted milk bar has pavement tables in a completely characteristic side street, great artisan beer and local wines and quality things to wash your drink down with.
Bar San Calisto
on Piazza San Calisto right by Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. Real old Trastevere, perfect for an afternoon aperitivo, coffee, coffee granita with cream or a house made gelato. By old Trastevere I don’t mean belle epoche, turn of the century grandeur but more 70’s grunge all a bit down at heel but affascianante.
I met Leo here 18 years ago so it deserves a mention. Outside tables, fine real ales, real music. Good for that after dinner digestivo out on the pavement. Via Goffredo Mamelli 25
* Ignorante is an adjective that gets used to describe Roman cooking in the style that your grandmother cooked. Very rustic, very home style, lacking in any kind of finesse or elaboration.