A friend recently asked for some restaurant recommendations for a friend planning a trip to Rome in June and July and my long response seemed worthy of a blog post.
Rome’s four pastas and artichokes
As a food-focused visitor in Rome, you will absolutely need to eat the four traditional Roman pastas from Central Italy: Gricia, Carbonara, Amatriciana, and Cacio e Pepe.
Gricia, made with Pecorino Romano cheese and guanciale (cured pork cheeks) is my favorite pasta and the restaurant Flavio al Velavevodetto makes my favorite Gricia. They also make a phenomenal version of the other traditional regional pastas when they are on the menu.
To overly simplify in explanation:
- Amatriciana is basically Gricia with the addition of tomato (Pecorino Romano, guanciale and tomato)
- Carbonara is similar to Gricia with the addition of egg (Pecorino Romano, guanciale, and egg)
- Cacio e Pepe is a little like Gricia without the guanciale (Pecorino Romano and pepper).
I love them all.
In June, you could catch the tail end of artichoke season, and Flavio’s Carciofi alla Giudia or fried Jewish artichoke is excellent. It’s like a vegetable that somehow morphed into a pile of crispy potato chips with a tender meaty vegetable core that still manages to look like a piece of art on your plate. The Carciofi alla Romana or Roman artichoke is also good, but it’s not on the same level for dining out as it’s braised and could easily be done at home, but the Jewish artichoke is on another level.
Wines made with native grapes from Lazio
Flavio is also a great place to try wines made from native grapes in the region. For native reds, look for wines made from Cesanese or Nero Buono, and for whites, Malvasia del Lazio (sometime labeled Malvasia Puntinata) or Bellone. The native wines of Lazio tend to be inexpensive and you can easily enjoy bottles of some of the best for under 20 bucks.
Flavio often has wines by Marco Carpineti which makes a delicious Bellone blend, Capolemole Bianco. Wines by Cincinnato are sold all over the city. They make some great and inexpensive wines with Bellone, including Pozzodorico and Castore. I also highly recommend their reds made with Nero Buono, particularly the Ercole.
Cesanese is one of the most famous native grapes in Lazio and some argue that it’s what the ancient Romans likely drank, and this might sound funny, especially if you have been to an Eataly in the United States, but Eataly in Rome is one of the best places to buy gifts, including delicious, regional wines. It’s also easily accessible by train. As much as Eataly seems designed to market Italy to the world, it was originally designed to market Italy to Italians. There are Eataly’s in most major cities in Italy and the very first one was in Turin.
The Eataly in Rome sells some of my favorite wines made with Cesanese, including wines made from Cesanese del Piglio by Casale della Ioria, especially Torre del Piano, and the Silene made by Damiano Ciolli with Cesanese di Olevano Romano grapes. Eataly also has many of the Cincinnato wines.
Other Roman restaurants
Similar to Flavio, Tavernaccia is great and easily accessible. The food is often a bit Umbrian (thick hand-cut prosciutto!), but Lazian too, and delicious, especially if they have the lasagna baked in a wood oven on the menu. Although that might be heavy in June… The wine list is also very good.
Roscioli, a salumeria that is also a restaurant is a great choice for topnotch pastas and excellent wines. You can also make reservations online but beware the wine cellar. You can book tables in the wine cellar which sounds like a treat, but it’s not. It’s a tiny box of an underground room that is absolutely stuffed with tables. Get a table in front of the deli counter if you can. The bar and hall are also both better than the cellar.
Felice in Testaccio is famous for its Cacio e Pepe which the waiter magically mixes at your table. While Cacio e Pepe seems simple, getting the creamy factor perfect can be deceptively difficult, but at Felice the waiter will literally do it in front of you. Like magic.
Trattoria Da Danilo makes one of the best Carbonara’s in the city and is a great trattoria for its traditional Roman menu and for its overall ambiance. Unlike Roscioli, basement tables are okay here. Eggs in Trastevere is also a fun place to try carbonara variations. I also heard that they recently started selling Carbonara on a stick as street food. I haven’t tried it yet, but I am in.
I’ve also had many lengthy and delicious meals at Renato and Luisa’s. Don’t miss the specials board. Some of their best items show up here, including the best Rigatoni con la Pajata (traditional Roman preparation using the intestines of unweaned baby lamb) I ever had in Rome. They also have a good wine list.
“Rude” Roman restaurants
The “rude” dining experience in Rome is classic and basically refers to old-style restaurants with often grumpy waiters that serve all the traditional dishes without any flair or excessive service. So Roman. These are good places to try the traditional Roman secondi or meat dishes, such as saltimbocca (veal cooked with white wine, prosciutto and sage) or involtini (rolled veal with vegetables), as well as the contorni or vegetable sides, including cicoria (chicory) and oven roasted potatoes which are almost always delicious.
L’Antica Birreria Peroni is one rude option. My boyfriend who is Roman and obsessed with Italian craft beers (more on this below) advises that it’s the only place you are allowed to drink a Peroni beer.
Trattoria di Augusto in Trastevere is another good, rude, no-nonsense, but fun, option. You need to line up outside before the doors open as they don’t take reservations and it fills up fast.
Offal is a big deal in Rome, including Pajata (the intestines of unweaned baby lamb often served with pasta in tomato sauce), Coda alla Vaccinara (braised oxtail) and Trippa alla Romana (the Roman-style of tripe). These dishes can often be found at the rude restaurants (and many other restaurants) and in my opinion, shouldn’t be missed.
While the rude restaurants are good for traditional Roman preparations so too is Trapizzino which is found throughout the city (and in Florence and even NYC, although I tried it and I don’t think it tastes as good in NYC). They make adorable handheld pizza pockets stuffed with many traditional, and also not so traditional fillings. You can get tongue in green sauce or coratella (offal from small animals) with onions. The one with burrata and anchovies is great too. The crust is the best part as it is made by one of the most famous pizza makers in Rome, Stefano Callegari. It’s not your ordinary pizza pocket and is the perfect size for a snack or a meal if you get a couple and toss in some of their supplì (fried rice balls) which are also tasty here.
You can also get Trapizzino at the Mercato Centrale at the Termini train station which I highly recommend you stop at on your way to Florence, either to fill up on pizza before boarding the train or to stuff your bags with pizza to eat on the train. And it’s not just Trapizzino, you can also get Bonci pizza here which is as famous for its toppings as for its delicious crust. Gabriele Bonci is another one of the most famous pizza makers in Italy. Seu pizza is here too, although I think the restaurant is better for this one than the food stall at the train station. And if you miss the Mercato Centrale in Rome, no worries, there is one in Florence too that definitely has Trapizzino, although I’m not sure about Bonci.
Which brings me to pizza in general for which there are many, many options.
- La Gatta Mangiona which basically means gluttonous cat and which has a lot of quirky cat art on the walls, great special pizza topping options and one of my favorite crusts in the city. You can check out the specials in advance on their website. I checked while writing this and they currently have a pizza special with Asiago cheese, asparagus, duck speck, and pink pepper, and another with caciocavallo cheese, sauteèd artichokes and lard. Tough choice.
- Bir and Fud in Trastevere has great pizza and a great list of beers on tap, including Italian craft beers.
- Sforno, Sbanco, Tonda and Emilia Romana are all run by the same guy behind Trapizzino, Stefano Callegari. There is a famous Cacio e Pepe pizza on the menu modeled after the traditional pasta dish. It’s a little too much in my opinion, but it is also a remarkable feat and worth ordering for this reason alone. Emilia Romana is my personal favorite pizzeria, but mainly because it’s in my neck of the woods (we live in Roman suburbia) which makes it a terrible choice if you are visiting Rome without a car, but I eat there at least once a week so it deserves mention. It’s also in a castle. Oh, Italy.
- Seu Illuminati feels a little fancier and is terrific.
- Gino Sorbillo of Naples fame recently opened a pizzeria in Rome, but it’s new and they don’t take reservations so it’s also very crowded and the line to get in can be very long. The pizza is phenomenal, but after doing it once, I’m not going to suffer the crowds again until it gets a little less popular.
- L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, also of Naples fame has been in Rome longer and is, therefore, easier to get into. In the summer, there is also a food and beverage festival that runs along the side of the Tiber river and Da Michele sometimes opens a temporary pizzeria here. This could be open in June and is a nice location to enjoy a topnotch pizza.
- Pizzarium by Gabriele Bonci sells pizza by the slice and weight and is as famous for its glorious toppings as for its crust. It makes for a great snack. I like it best at the Mercato Centrale at Termini Station before boarding a train.
- Da Remo is a good option for the classic, crispy thin crust Roman pizza if you want to experience it. It also has the old school Roman “rude” vibe. They don’t take reservations so it’s another good place to show up before they open to get in line. Order a supplì (fried rice ball), a classic Margherita pizza and some cheap house wine.
Fried food is a must in Rome and supplì is the Roman classic. The best supplì (fried rice balls) are found at Supplì in Trastevere, a hole in the wall fried food and take away joint. Supplizio, a well-known supplì place in the city, also just opened a second shop just down the street from Supplì. I’d recommend stopping by both places.
Fried baccalà (salted codfish) is also not to be missed here. There is one stop for that, Dar filettaro a Santa Barbara. It’s old school and fried baccalà is their specialty.
That wonderful part of the day when you rest before dinner with a spritz and some fried snacks or little sandwiches or even potato chips, aperitivo time, is also a must in Rome, especially when the city gets really hot in the summer.
The spritz is a light alcoholic beverage made with Aperol, prosecco and soda water that can be found in many bars and cafes throughout Italy. When you order it or another light alcoholic beverage in the late afternoon before dinner, it often comes with a free snack and is referred to as an aperitivo.
I prefer to order a Campari spritz which swaps out the Aperol for the less sweet and more bitter and slightly more alcoholic Campari. Campari is of course more famous in America as one-third of a Negroni (the other two-thirds being vermouth and gin) which is also a great beverage to enjoy in Rome, and in Florence where the Negroni was allegedly invented.
It’s also easy to forget that Rome is not far from the sea. Some of my favorite aperitivo options are in the seaside towns of Fiumicino and Fregene, especially in the summer when the city gets really hot. You need a car or a cab to reach these locations, but depending on your priorities and the length of your stay, they are worth considering. Singita Miracle Beach offers an aperitivo with a dramatic sunset ceremony that includes music and the ringing of a giant gong just as the sun slips below the water that is always fun.
Some of my very favorite restaurants are also near the sea, including La Baia, QuarantunoDodici and L’Osteria dell’Orologio. These are seafood restaurants with a completely different vibe and menu than the restaurants in Rome and which offer delicious things like spaghetti alle vongole (with clams) or spaghetti con le telline (local, itty, bitty tiny clams).
Italian craft beer
There is also a lot of exciting things happening with Italian craft beer these days. The beer bar, Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà in Trastevere, Ma Che for short, is the best place to try some. It’s also across the street from the pizzeria Bir and Fud which has its own mighty list of craft beers on tap and good pizza too. The two are good visited together. There is a Trapizzino on the same block as well which means you could technically spend an entire day eating delicious pizza and drinking remarkable craft beers on the same block.
Ma Che’s tap list (which they post online) is excellent, with beers from across Europe and the United States. I am particularly enamoured with the Italian Grape Ales or IGAs which are the inevitable outcome when hops start to get a lot of attention in wine land. These fruit beers which are made with grapes or grape must, often using wine yeasts or wild yeasts, are sometimes aged in wine barrels. They tend to have flavors that are complex, funky and sour.
Loverbeer from Piedmont is one of my favorite Italian IGA brewers. But there are many terrific options, including IGAs from Ca’ del Brado and Montegioco. Ma Che is also fun as most people take their beer outside to drink on the street which still feels exotic to me as an American.
If you end up near the Vatican, which is rather inevitable when visiting Rome, Be Re is a good option for Italian craft beer and again, more Trapizzino. The beer side here is also the same owner as Ma Che. If you attempt and survive the Vatican museums, it’s a great little place to refresh and catch your breath.
Open Baladin is another good choice for Italian craft beers. And burgers. Perhaps surprisingly, there are some phenomenal burgers to be found in Rome and Open Baladin is one of my favorite places to find one. Bonci of the pizza fame above is responsible for the bread here, and I find that the care and quality given to meat and its preparation in Italy often puts the Roman burgers above the American ones. Baladin also has a raw meat burger that is great. There are still weird burgers to be had in Italy, but there are remarkable ones if you know where to look.
Luppolo Station is another good beer bar with an extensive craft beer selection on tap. It’s also located near the restaurant Tavernaccia mentioned above and makes for a good stop before or after dinner there. Unlike the other beer bars listed here, they also have decent wine by the glass if there are non-beer drinkers with you.
Gelato and maritozzo
Last, but not least, gelato. I will confess that I have one huge food personality flaw, I don’t love ice cream. I like gelato, but I’m not going to fall out of my chair gushing about it as I do with everything else food and wine related. But my Roman boyfriend loves it and you will be here in the summertime and are likely going to need it. He recommends Otaleg (Gelato written backwards) and points out that a lot of tourists like La Romana, but that he is not a big fan. Although not a gelato-lover myself, I would recommend Fata Morgana as I know they have a gelato made with chestnut honey, orange rinds and Sardinian pecorino (Wha?! Get out).
And last, but definitely not least, especially if you already ate your way through even a portion of the list above, you should consider a late night Maritozzo. It looks unremarkable, but the slightly sweet bun filled with cream is a giant, delicious, unfried donut-like wonder that is typically enjoyed by young Romans late at night. The understated Il Maritozzaro in Trastevere is a good supplier. Il Maritozzaro is also located near the restaurant Tavernaccia and the beer bar Luppolo Station, both mentioned above, which means that you could stop at all three and have aperitivo, dinner, and dessert all in one go.