Top 10 restaurants in Rome

As more and more visitors are returning to Rome I am getting asked this question often, hence the post!  I originally posted this 10 years ago………that’s why they call Rome the ‘Eternal City’, nothing much changes very quickly, and when it comes to food, I am eternally grateful for that.

My definition of a top Roman restaurant is one that has one or more of the following characteristics:

  • has been in operation for at least one hundred years
  • is family run 
  • specialises in traditional Roman cuisine (simple, fresh, and offal based)
  • has a menu that changes depending on what is available at the market that day
  • is frequented by Romans
  • offers excellently cooked gluten free pasta dishes 

I found all the following through living here, walking past them, sampling them extensively (as well as a lot of others). There are also many excellent restaurants in the suburbs of Rome but I have stuck to the city centre, where most visitors will be staying and prefer to eat. So here goes, not in any particular order:

1.  Antica Hostaria Romanesca – Piazza Campo dei Fiori, 40 – 06 6864024

I have been going here for over 25 years. The bread and fettucine are home-made by the Nonna who sits in the small front room of the restaurant and makes it while you watch if you are lucky. Her grandson Luca and his sister run the restaurant. It consists of one small room plus a square of the piazza. There is a sign on the wall written in local dialect warning about the wait and not to bother the chef with complaints.  But it is worth it.  Dishes are individually and lovingly prepared, and spilling over with food of the highest and freshest quality. 

The Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Pollo con Peperoni (a uniquely Roman dish)/chicken with capsicum, and Fegato alla griglia/grilled liver (featured above along with the roasted porcini mushrooms and puntarelle salad, burrata cheese and grilled zucchini, and a dessert called Sbriciolata alla nutella) are the best I have ever tasted.  But everything on the menu is good, cheap, and cooked with care and attention to detail.  Try any of the specials as they will be seasonal and based on the chefs traditional knowledge. And while you are waiting you will have the spectacular Campo dei Fiori to watch – full of people, no cars, magnificent medieval buildings, and a statue of Giordano Bruno, the last person burnt to death there in 1600 for heresy (proclaiming that the earth circled around the sun rather than the other way around).  Reflect on how, if waiting for some spectacular Roman food while sipping wine and eating warm bread is the main problem you have at the moment, then life is much improved since 1600.

2. La Carbonara  – Piazza Campo dei Fiori,23 .- 06 6864783

You will be lining up often with international movie stars and politicians to get a seat but it is not a pretentious or expensive place, just a Roman institution.  At the other end of the piazza from Antica Hostaria Romanesca, it is thankfully much larger indoors so you can eat either on the piazza or inside with air conditioning / heating. It produces very traditional, high quality Roman dishes. The Fiori di Zucca/fried zucchini flowers (featured below along with the lamb chops and potatoes, and Carbonara in the background), Saltimbocca alla Romana (veal with proscuitto and sage) are the best I have ever tasted and the Carbonara is on a par with Antica Hostaria Romanesca.  Again you will have the Campo dei Fiori piazza to look out upon and will be entertained by a parade of non-stop buskers.

3. Da Luigi – Piazza Sforza Cesarini 23 (between Campo dei Fiori and Piazza Navona), 06 6865 946

I stumbled on this place when I used to live around the corner and noticed it was always full with lines of people waiting. Da Luigi is packed full with Roman families who like to keep this place a secret.  It is squashed along the side of a tiny piazza for outdoor seating but there is also extensive seating indoors in a variety of wood panelled rooms.  Here you will find reasonably priced, down-to-earth Roman dishes specialising in sea food but also pizzas and meat dishes.  It is noisy and always crowded and there is nothing to look at, but the variety and good reliable quality of the food makes up for it. Try the fried artichokes.

4.  Ai Spaghettari – P.za di San Cosimato, Trastevere 57-58-59-60

A beautiful, succulent and rich experience of a typical, restaurant, that has nevertheless been around for half a century or more.   It is based in the most traditional part of Rome, Trastevere, a mostly pedestrian only precinct, which is now packed with restaurants and is an enchanting neighborhood to eat in.  Ai Spaghettari is always noisy, has the television blaring, and is always full.  A pizza oven greets you at the door and you can watch while your pizza is made, being flung up in the air and all. There are vast amounts of seating outside and in, and service and menu are both good, featuring lots of traditional Roman specials.  If you don’t book you may be waiting a while but you will get a seat eventually. (no GF pasta or pizza)

5.  Pizzeria Popi Popi – Via delle Fratte di Trastevere 45, 06-589-5167

I avoided going to this restaurant for years as it looks like the typical tourist trap often found in Trastevere.  Red checkered table cloths, tables set outside in front of a beautiful, white marble church, and filled with tourists.  Then my Italian husband and his mates took me there.  Now we know the waiters by name.  Frequented by both Italians and tourists alike, its cheap and cheerful outdoor atmosphere make it a superb summer Roman dinning experience (and indoors for Winter).  They have a large and traditional menu (including pizza) and the food always tastes surprisingly good for its quick production, volumes turned-over, and large variety.  Their Tiramisu is one of the main  reasons we keep going back.  By the way, once I asked the waiter what the significance of the name was.  He told me its the sound that Italian men make when they squeeze the breast of a woman “popi, popi”.   Booking is optional but recommended, but if you just turn up the waiters will look after you. (no. GF pasta or pizza)

6. Ciak – Vicolo de’ Cinque, 21 ,Trastevere 06 5894774

Carnivores unite! (You can probably tell by now that I am not a vegetarian but all of these restaurants have great vegetable dishes and vegetarian options on offer too, although probably best to avoid this one if you are a vegetarian). The window is packed with hanging dead animals of the kind not often seen – boar, pheasant, deer and hare.  Deep rich, red salamis of wild boar, pastas with venison ragu, stews of hare, Fred Flintstone steaks of beef, pork and veal are all on the menu here and nothing much else.  If meat is what you are after you will get any kind your heart desires (including heart…..).  It feels like you are eating in a Tuscan agroturismo with bare brick walls, lively noise and Chianti bottles everywhere.  The huge open grill is at the front and you can go and choose your type and cut of meat before cooking.  Best to book as it tends to be a restaurant that people go to specifically for this kind of food. (no GF pasta)

7.  Spaghetteria L’ Archetto – Via dell’Archetto, 26, Trevi Fountain 06 678 9064

This is the Frat Boy version of these top ten restaurants in that it has foregone all the add-ons of Italian cuisine and just focuses on the pasta.  Exactly 100 different pasta dishes can be ordered here and not much else.  But why would you bother coming here for anything else, their pasta dishes are fantastic?  Originally another restaurant I stayed away from as it seemed too gimicky, but I was dragged again along by my husband and his mates who had all eaten here for years.  Once I tasted my Fiume di Londra (London Fog) pasta dish I understood that no short cuts had been taken in delivering high quality, mouth watering food. This is a great place to go when you are sick of the same menus in all the other more traditional restaurants of Rome, although here you can get the traditional plates as well of course.  Try also the Pasta al Limone and the Penne alla Vodka a traditional dish that many restaurants disdain to put on their menus but is delicious and won’t make you drunk (although perhaps best not served to children).  Their vegetable dishes and Tiramisu are pretty good too.  Outside seating is on the cobblestoned street so cars will pass at your elbow.  Inside there is plenty of space available although it is like a warren, all underground, and airless at times.  If you book try to sit outside or ask for a table close to the entrance. 

8. Taverna Agape – Piazzetta di, Vicolo di S. Simeone, 26, (near Piazza Navona) 066879694

If you are looking for a romantic night out then this Roman institution is perfect. It offers everything except pizza and looks out onto a quiet medieval piazza complete with its own fountain. Try the pasta Cacio e Pepe (traditional Roman sheeps cheese and fresh black pepper) pasta.

9. Osteria dei Cappellari, Via dei Cappellari, 66, (near Campo dei Fiori) 069436 6598

A beautifully decorated, traditional osteria with relaxing ambience and excellent, seasonal food, everything except pizza. Its small and intimate, crowded with candles, mirrors, hats (cappelli) and a piano, on a cobblestoned medieval pedestrian street where once hat makers had their trade. Dishes are highly seasonal, portions are generous and desserts unmissable. Try any of the types of beef steak (filetto di manzo) here, especially if its with Porcini mushrooms. No seating outdoors but why do you need it when it looks so good inside?

10. Il Marchese, Via di Ripetta, 162 (near Piazza del popolo) 0690218872

Last but not least for an excellent cocktail and/or traditional roman food with a twist, in a place that feels ancient and new, elegant and informal all at the same time…………Try the steak tartare and the house cocktails.

If you enjoyed this blog you may enjoy reading my books. Click here https://brontejackson.wordpress.com/books/

Piazza Navona Day

For many years what determined where I lived was whether it was possible to have coffee in Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s loveliest renaissance piazzas, whenever I wanted.  It meant that Rome was always top of the list. Today is a Piazza Navona Day.  It’s a day I regularly set aside to do nothing much except sit in Piazza Navona and drink a coffee.

Like magic a bus appears as soon as I leave my apartment, it whisks me away and in 20 minutes I am in the very heart of Rome. The Capitoline hill, where the Roman Empire, once extending as far as England and Egypt, was governed and is still governed from today.  I salute Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor in bronze on his horse at the top of the staircase in Michelangelo’s square, guarding the spot where the temple to Jupiter received sacrifices and spoils from Roman conquests. I wander slowly along Rome’s main street lined with palaces now housing banks and insurance companies – providing the same service as the noble families who once inhabited them did.

At Piazza Navona I spy a table in the morning winter sunshine, draped with dense cream linen and standing on some ancient cobbles.  I point to it and politely ask the waiter if it is OK to take that one. Although my Anglo Saxon looks can never pass for Italian, my accent and language can, so I get the usual quizzical (are you a tourist or not?) stare as I order my cappuccino ‘ben caldo, con poco latte, niente cacao’ very hot, with less milk than usual and without chocolate on the top.  It comes so hot and strong that it will take me an hour to drink it – just what I need.

Although we are deep in the middle of winter, the sun is shining brightly and warming the top of my head.  No wind reaches this piazza, protected from the river breezes and tucked well into a ring of medieval and renaissance palaces. I hear the constant falling of plentiful water in the fountain nearby, designed by Bernini in 1650 to represent the four great rivers of the time.  The gigantic statues of four men that depict each river lean out from around a huge Egyptian obelisk, stolen from Cleopatra, which pierces the bright sky with a Christian cross.  The fountain sits on top of the ruins of the Emperor Diocletian’s chariot racing track.  Here is Rome in a nutshell, or a fountain – marble statues, flowing water, stolen treasures, sports arenas and empires one on top of another. A great unbroken line of humanity in this very place; people who loved, laughed and cried right here; people who thought their worlds were about to end and those who thought they would never end.

At the table across from me a woman and man, well advanced in their journey through life, soak up the sun and sip their coffee talking about a family lunch this weekend.  I have always admired these Roman women. When I first arrived in Rome in the 1990’s they wore floor length fur coats, glittering jewelry and hard cased Prada handbags wherever they went.  The fur coats are now mostly gone but this woman stands up and puts on an ankle length carmine red wool coat with matching colored Prada backpack, her jewelry catches the sun and makes her whole body sparkle.  She looks so cheerful and benevolent, and I wonder when I can expect to transition from cranky and sweaty to cheerful and benevolent. After we retire says my husband.

 

Watching this couple, I can’t wait, I feel like I am always chasing after a life that is just ahead of me – just out of reach and disappearing as quickly as I gain on it.  A life of old Rome, of women in fur coats, and men in hats, of unhurried conversations with family and friends, of quiet winters with no tourists, of freezing Februaries with no sun, of deserted summers where the city shuts down, and doesn’t exist online, and a country where no one speaks anything but Italian. Coming up fast behind me, pursuing and almost engulfing me is another life, full of a younger generation I don’t want to be, and a fast paced, hurried life that I don’t want.

The huge bells of Saint Agnes in Agony ring out deafeningly and I feel my entrails turn to water as a Roman senator would say.  They ring out an ancient stone sound that makes me want to cry; young laughter from the table of girls behind me overlays it – ancient and new, sorrow and joy, pain and the exquisite gift of being, mingle together. The sound fades away slowly and I am in the present again with my faint headache and feet that feel the uneven cobblestones beneath them.  I am home for now and will give myself another ten minutes to sit in the sun and enjoy my here and now life, exactly between the other two.

rhdr

La Dolce Vita for all seasons

This post is to announce the publication of my book “Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons”!!!!  I am very excited.

What is it about I hear you ask?  Well………….Twenty years ago, Bronté Jackson won an airline ticket that thrust her into the heart of the Mediterranean. Recently separated, made redundant and evicted from her home, Bronté spent six months recovering in Greece and spending her redundancy package, before making her way to Rome. Roman Daze: La Dolce Vita for All Seasons is a book about living a personal and continuously surprising adventure. It’s about following your heart and what it’s like to live among people who continuously use theirs.

In Roman Daze, Bronté Jackson describes how the seasons, food, family, landscape, rituals and history combine to create and explain the Italian lifestyle and why, from the outside, it looks like La Dolce Vita.

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“It took only three days to fall in love with Rome. Like all infatuations, I expected it to wear off. I decided that I would leave when I no longer noticed the Coliseum. I am still waiting.”

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From December 10, 2013 it will be available on all major e-platforms as an e-book and hard copy (print on demand). I will provide the links as soon as I have them. Many of you will relate to the stories and lifestyle description in this book (and some of you are in it! – you know who you are;).

If you enjoy the book, please write a review of it and recommend it to your friends. More information on the book is on the page in this Blog “Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons.

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How to enjoy a Roman Autumn (Fall)

Autumn is a great season to visit Rome in because the city is fresh, crisp and relaxed.  The weather is a perfect and steady 24 degrees with sunny, blue skies.  The blistering heat has finished, the colder months have not yet started, and the rain of spring is far away.  Romans have returned from their summer holiday months and are tanned, cool and refreshed; ready for work, and if that includes the tourist trade then the service is much better than you would get in the baking hot and crowded summer months.  There are also fewer tourists as most of the Northern hemisphere has taken their holidays and have returned to work.  Airline tickets cost less; everything is open, and the city is back to business.

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Here are my top ten tips for how to enjoy a Roman Fall/Autumn.

1.  Plan to walk a lot.

Autumn is perfect for walking (as is the city of Rome).  It rarely rains, is not too hot, and the sunshine and blue skies set off the rich colours of the city and its monuments perfectly.

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2.  Visit a park (Villa Borghese, Villa Ada, Villa Pamphili)

Sunshine will filter in through the green foliage of the summer growth making any park seem cool, lush and shady.  But there will also be evidence of the season, with colours changing to yellows and browns and crunchy leaves underfoot. Tracks will be dry and easy to walk on, summer mosquitos will have gone and the air still warm and balmy.  A Park is the perfect accessory for autumn.

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3.  Visit the Municipal Rose Gardens of Rome.

Internationally acclaimed and featuring over 1,000 varieties of roses they are still blooming ferociously in autumn.  Although not publically listed as open in autumn (they are only open officially for a few weeks in May and June), I was walking past the other day and they were definitely open and being visited.

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4. Don’t go to the beach.

As tempting as it maybe for some of you from colder climes who don’t get much opportunity to go,  the beach will generally be shut in autumn in Rome.  Romans are seasonal creatures and will finish going to the beach at the end of summer (21st September), no matter what the temperature.  Most beaches are privately run and are fenced in and will be closed due to lack of clientele.

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5. Don’t look as though you are going to the beach.

Likewise if you are still wearing shorts and sandals in autumn it will be noticed.  My summer clothes were noted and commented on a few weeks ago in my neighbourhood in an unfavourable manner by a fellow customer at my local café.  There is a season for everything in respectable Roman society, and in September to December it is autumn, and the attire that represents that (closed shoes, longer trousers, jeans, layers, light cardigans, cotton scarves, etc.).

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6. Shop for last season’s cloths.

Many shops, though not in the trendiest parts of town, will still have remnants of their summer stock, from cloths to bags.  As no self-respecting Roman would be seen dead in the colours, fabrics, or shoes of summer, the prices are rock-bottom and on offer to the tourists who are the only people that will buy them.  Stock up!  Rome’s last seasons’ stuff is what the rest of the world will be wearing in a years’ time.

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7.  Eat seasonal delicacies – Funghi Porcini, Puntarelle, Carciofi alla Romana, Roasted Chestnuts.

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Funghi Porcini are large flat mushrooms that taste earthy, nutty and quite unique. They are one of my favourite things to eat, made all the more special by the fact they are available for only a few months of the year.  I recommend eating them grilled and as a stand-alone dish. They don’t require any other accompaniment than bread and the fresh green olive oil, parsley and garlic they will be cooked with.  Most people are hooked after one taste.  If you are a bit shy and need to dilute your first experience then I recommend ordering the Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini, a thick egg noodle/pasta delicately flavoured with fine slices of Funghi Porcini.

Puntarelle (little points) is a vegetable dish.  They look and taste a little like celery but come in the shape of a small squid or octopus (the ends are all curled up).  They are served with olive oil and flavoured with a few anchovies, vinegar and garlic.  They are fresh, tangy and divine to eat.  They are found only in Rome, in autumn, and are the ends of a vegetable that no one, not even a large amount of Romans I asked, knows the name of.  They are notoriously difficult to prepare and are therefore best eaten at a restaurant where someone else has had to chop, scrape, soak, slice, and marinate them.

Carciofi, artichokes are a Roman speciality in general but prepared alla Romana is even more typically Roman.  Again it is ordered as a vegetable dish and will come as a single, large artichoke soaking in its own cooking juices of lemon, mint, garlic, parsley and boiling water and garnished with olive oil.  It is magnificent!

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Roasted chestnuts will be available on every street corner in the centre of the city.  Roasted over a coal fire you can buy them in small paper scoopfuls.  They are warm, nutritious, richly filling and slightly sweet.  They make a perfect snack or an excellent (and very cheap) breakfast along with a coffee.

8. Sit in the sun.

It is one of the best recreational activities of the year.  Winter it is too cold to sit still outside, summer it is too hot to sit in the sun, spring is unpredictable.  Autumn has long, lovely, warm days full of a sunshine that caresses without burning, stimulates and sooths, tans and smooths, gently washing away negative and stressful thoughts.

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9. Watch the sun set.

The sunsets of autumn fill the sky with brilliant reds, oranges and yellows that blot out clouds and pollution and linger on for hours.  It is as though the sun needs to go out with a bang in its last season of dominance; that it needs to remind us all of its majesty so that we don’t forget its importance and power as we live through the winter months.

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10. Go to a Vineria.

If Parks are the perfect accessory for autumn and sun sitting the perfect recreational activity then the Vineria is the perfect resting place.  The evenings that darken early, and the slight chill in the air when they do, force you inside at a time usually too early to eat but perfect for the partaking of a little wine, cheese and salami – the trifecta of the Vineria.   Vinerie serve only that (although some can also entice you with dinner once you have settled in), and from around early evening (just before sunset).  They specialise in an exhaustive range of wines and usually have shelves of bottles that line the walls from floor to ceiling as part of their decor.  Cheeses and salamis will be offered that match the wine you choose, and the small, cosy and intimate nature of these establishments will make you glad that you chose your sojourn to Rome to correspond with the magnificent season of autumn!

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