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.

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Roman Life – Il Primo Bagno, The first swim of the season

Some things can’t be homogenised, commercialised, mass produced or copied.  Thank goodness.  You have to wait until they come around again, like the seasons of the year.  A lot of things in Italy are like that. Some see that as an archaic attitude to life, lacking rationale (economic in particular), and a wasted opportunity.  But not all experiences can be bought or made, sometimes they are just to have.  And its in the having and savoring, without a desire to do anything else with them, that Italians excel; and why their lifestyle and culture is so envied and, ironically, copied………

Its exactly eight years since I last tasted the tart little tarts, filled with fruit from the orchards and fields that surround them deep in the heart of the countryside south of Rome.  The paddocks are lined with glasshouses that supply the city with its peaches, figs, tomatoes, and berries.  Buffalo cows that produce the milk for mozzarella meander the streams that flow down from the rocky mounts behind them. into the sea just in front of them.  We search for the small, nondescript little cafe that we always stop at, about half way into our journey from the city to the sea and yes, it is still there!

And so are the tarts……… I choose blackberry and as I bite into it thank goodness that some things stay the same, that some things are a genuine expression of their local resources and culture.  I thank goodness that the owner of the bar still serves these tarts, as she watches me.  No doubt wondering why a foreigner, who has probably lived all over the world (I have), would bother to look so happy and satisfied at a roadside stop somewhere between Rome and Naples.  But I have come literally half way around the world and waited eight years for these little dense, well built, rounds of fruit.

We continue on our way to Sperlonga, a beautiful white stone, seaside town built on top of a cliff.  Its staircase, which begins at the sea, twists and turns up the mountain through caves designed to be blocked off so that invaders (including a pirate called Red Beard – really!) couldn’t reach it.  The water at Sperlonga is a particularly high quality due to the underground springs of fresh mineral water that bubble up through the seabed, in bursts of freezing cold water, in the otherwise 22 degree, translucent blue, undulating body of sea.

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At the bottom of the cliff the large stone, knee height pool that fills with natural spring water is still there, built for the women of the village to do their washing in and take advantage of the clean, cold water.  Italy bursts with fresh, cold drinking water from the ground for its citizens.  Where ever you are it seems the earth sprouts forth the enticing and the necessary to enable and cherish life and encourage it to stay (or return) right here at its source, enjoying and relaxing in its abundance.  Maybe that is why the residents are so thankful to their local Saint, who presides in a full life sized statue over the beach.

It is hot and sunny, the perfect day for our first swim of the year/season. We have our lunch in the shade of the Saint, giving thanks and celebrating our first swim with local buffalo mozzarella, local tomatoes and a zucchini and ricotta strudel from this months La Cucina Italiana cooking magazine, http://www.lacucinaitaliana.it

When I first arrived in Italy, I was fresh from back packing around the Greek islands.  I wasn’t carrying any cook books in my backpack.  The internet didn’t exist and cookbooks in English were rare. I knew how to cook but not how to use Italian ingredients (I had no idea what to do with an artichoke and some months it is THE main vegetable on offer), or cook Italian food (and many of the ingredients I was used to were unavailable – pumpkin, ginger, coriander, self raising flour).  I was especially not used to only using seasonal produce.  I was so stunned the first time I asked for strawberries and everyone in the shop laughed at me.  So I needed to learn how to cook in Italy and I needed to learn Italian.  In the days before the internet, La Cucina Italiana monthly magazine did both.  I learnt all the Italian words for food and cooking terms, including local expressions like ‘a string of oil and 2 fingers of milk’, as units of measurement.  It helped that there were a lot of pictures, step by step guides and special features each month on what to do with the in season vegetables and fruit, as often you couldn’t get much else.

“Do you have anything besides zucchini?” I once asked my fruit and vegetable seller.

“What do you mean?  We have dark green zucchini, light green zucchini, baby zucchini, zucchini flowers, why do you need anything else?”

So in zucchini season its helpful to have a few recipes for zucchini. I have translated it so you don’t have to learn Italian as well. See below for recipe. Serves about 9.

  1. Slice up finely and length ways (called a listerelle) about 6 zucchini (not the baby ones) with a bunch of spring onions and fry them for about 10 minutes in some italian extra virgin olive oil (its really important to use this oil and not another type), with salt, pepper and sage, oregano or bay leaf.
  2. Mix together 300g ricotta cheese with 200g of fetta cheese, some salt, pepper and a small dash of italian extra virgin olive oil.
  3. Mix the cooled, cooked vegetables in with the cheese and spread it on a sheet of flaky pastry.  Put another sheet on top of it and close the edges  so it is as rectangular as possible.  Make some slits on the top of it and brush it with egg yolk.  Bake it for 20 minutes at 180

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact me for one of my private tours in the Tour page on this website or my Facebook page – Roman Daze

Read more in: ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons’, Melbourne Books, 2013

Available at all bookstores nationally within Australia, FAO Bookstore Rome, and via Amazon, Kobo and ibooks.

http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

Click here for a free download of the Prologue and first chapter.

Click to access roman-daze-la-dolce-vita-for-all-seasons.pdf

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