A couple of weeks have gone by since I came back from Rome so I’ve had some time to digest all the information I gathered and to sort out my pictures. Before flying to the Eternal City, I did extensive research; reading guidebooks, food essays and cookbooks about Roman cuisine, as well as countless websites and blogs. While I cannot aspire to publish an “Ultimate Rome” list (which would probably take a lifetime to achieve!), I’m confident that this is a list of places where foodies visiting Rome simply must go. When I go to a new city, I like to have a shortlist of sure shots, places to go where I know I won’t be disappointed. This is such a list: start with these fantastic addresses to get a taste of Rome, then stray your own way and discover your favorite spots. You’ll come back dreaming of the next time you can walk and taste your way through the streets of Rome again.
Roscioli Vineria – Salumeria
Centro Storico: Via dei Giubbonari, 21/22 (close to Campo di Fiori)
Wine, cured meats, salumi, cheeses, fine products
Pass through the nondescript narrow entrance door and you’ll be swept off your feet. At Roscioli, you’re greeted by the smoky and pungent smell of cured meats, an incredible selection of cheeses that make you want to sample them all, and rows of fine wines that convince you to stay for a meal. Buy everything you need for a takeout picnic, or stay in and dine in a chic contemporary-meets-rustic space with exposed stone arches and modern paintings.
Roscioli – Forno
Centro Storico: Via dei Chiavari, 34
Breads, sweets, pizza by weight, quick lunches
Very close to the main Roscioli address, the Forno will satisfy your carb and sweet cravings. All kinds of breads, classic Italian sweets, a coffee bar, pizza by the weight and quick takeout lunches make this place a favorite lunch joint. Eat quickly, pressed against the bar or at one of the stand-up tables, and watch the Italian business crowd fly in and out of the place at lunch hour.
Testaccio: Via Marmorata, 47
Gourmet souvenirs, olive oils, salumi, cheeses, wine, sweets
Volpetti is a beloved foodie address and pretty much every food publication has written about them, as the framed articles crowding the walls can attest. Usually, when a place becomes so busy with tourists, locals slowly abandon it. But Volpetti defies the odds. Their secret? An incredibly welcoming service, an army of middle-aged men all ready to have you sample their best cheeses and salumi, and a handpicked selection of the very best products Italy has to offer. When you enter Volpetti, you’re treated like your family has been shopping there for generations. The store is not so big, but the product selection is. They will vacuum-pack all your purchases and wrap them beautifully in Volpetti-printed paper tied with a ribbon. Italians go there on a weekly basis to buy their one or two special products they won’t find anywhere else; you will go to bring back the best gourmet souvenirs that will help you remember Rome’s delicious life for a long time after you come back home.
Confetteria Moriondo & Gariglio
Centro Storico: Via del Piè di Marmo, 21-22
Chocolates and sweets
The crimson velvet interior of this Roman institution looks more like a fancy jeweler’s shop than a chocolatier. I spent as much time admiring the store’s antiques as their beautiful chocolates, which are meticulously made and feel truly handmade. This is the one place to buy sweet gifts! I especially liked the multicolor candy pearls packaged in little transparent bags: each translucent crunchy pearl contains one drop of sweet syrup. A delicious surprise that will make you feel like a kid again.
Jewish Ghetto: Via Portico d’Ottavia, 47
Kitchen accessories, china, crystal, table linens, cutlery
You could spend hours exploring the maze that is this incredibly vast store housed in 19th century vaults. You think you’ve seen everything, but then you find another passageway and lose yourself in rows of gold-encrusted dinner plates. Selling everything from modern kitchen gadgets to classic Italian pottery, this store will trigger buying impulses in the most rational shoppers. Leone Limentani supplies the fanciest hotels and restaurants in Rome, and it is the one address to visit if you want to bring home something special for your table or kitchen.
Restaurants – Lunch
Forno Campo de Fiori
Centro Storico: Campo de Fiori, 22
Pizza by weight
One basic rule to know as a foreigner when visiting Rome is that you should never have pizza for lunch. Authentic wood-fired ovens take five to six hours to heat up so having them ready by lunchtime is impossible. Restaurants selling pizza at lunch are most likely baking them in regular ovens, which is a shame given the finger-licking good Roman pizza you can enjoy if you’re patient enough to wait until dinner to order it. The only pizza one should have for lunch is the one sold by weight, such as at Forno Campo de Fiori. This place serves straight-from-the-oven 6-foot-long pizzas to a hungry crowd that elbows its way up to the counter. Now’s not the time to be shy; there is no such thing as waiting in line here. Do as the locals do: push your way in, choose which pizza you want (quickly or the impatient server will go on to the next customer) and show how wide you want your slice. They’ll weight it, fold it in half, wrap it in brown paper and hand it to you in a matter of seconds. This is the place to try the famous pizza bianca (grilled pizza crust brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and herbs), the prosciutto pizza is heavenly, but we fell head over heels for the zucchini pizza (enough to go back twice to have it again). I would fly back to Rome just to enjoy Forno Campo de Fiori’s pizza.
Obikà Mozzarella Bar
Centro Storico: Piazza Campo de Fiori (corner of Via dei Baullari)
If you’ve never tasted Mozzarella di Bufala Campana before, Obikà is the place that will change your life. The luscious creaminess of buffalo milk simply has no equal; it makes me swoon at each bite and it’s the one thing I would want to have as my last meal on this earth. The restaurant serves tasting-plates of different mozzarella varieties as well as salumi, prosciutto, and other DOP products. As an introduction to the wonderful world of mozzarella di bufala, I recommend ordering the “Grand Tasting”, which features three very different kinds of mozzarella and is served with cherry tomatoes, pesto and bread (enough food for two to three people). The next time you go, you’ll know which kinds you prefer and be able to handpick your choices. The menu also features salads, sandwiches, pasta, desserts, great wines and world-class coffee. Don’t miss the best chance to people-watch on Campo di Fiori as this is the only terrace where it’s worth having lunch on the piazza (other seated restaurants are tourist-traps).
See “Gourmet Stores” section above.
Restaurants – Dinner
Note: Rome is crawling with great restaurants, most of which are casual and unpretentious. We were staying in Trastereve and there were so many options in the streets surrounding our apartment that we didn’t even cross the Tevere River once to have dinner in the city center. These are three great spots in the heart of Trastevere, a quiet neighborhood at day but lively (and somewhat rowdy) at night. It will be a great temptation to walk out of these restaurants and head straight to any of the surrounding bars spilling out onto the streets, to stretch your evenings into the nights. Consider yourself warned!
Trastevere: Via San Francesco a Ripa, 12
Fish and seafood
As I said right above, Rome is home to a vast majority of casual restaurants. Compared to other major capitals of the world, it has remarkably resisted the fusion food / modern decor / tasting menu trend. In Roman dining rooms, lights are bright, meals are served quickly and people don’t linger for hours sipping their wine. Of course, there are some exceptions dotted around the city and the closest we ventured to new cuisine is Ripa 12. Located in the heart of Trastevere on Via San Francesco a Ripa, surrounded by graffiti and pizza joints, this elegant restaurant stands out. The decor is sleek, contemporary art is displayed on the walls, and the exposed chocolate brown wooden beams bring just the right touch of warmth to the place. You’ll go for the amazing selection of fish and seafood: most antipasti and primi piatti feature one or the other and fresh products from the sea shine their brightest at the main course. The fish ceviche was outstanding: choose the fish (amongst 7 different choices) and they serve it diced, under a generous sprinkle of chopped radicchio, shavings of parmigiano-reggiano, a drizzle of the finest olive oil and drops of unctuous balsamic vinegar. We wanted to lick the plate clean! Another star of the night was Gnocchi with Mussels and Beans, a combination that seemed strange at first but proved to be exceptional: the gnocchi were thin and hollow (not too filling) and the dish was drenched in a spicy and perfectly seasoned tomato sauce. With very reasonable prices for such fresh products (appetizers 10-20 euros, main courses 15-20 euros), efficient and courteous service as well as an excellent wine list, I can’t imagine a reason not to go to Ripa 12.
Le Mani in Pasta
Trastevere: Via dei Genovesi, 37
Fresh pasta, grilled meats
We almost didn’t make it to Le Mani in Pasta as it turned out to be closed most nights we had planned to go (reminder to myself: when in Europe, always, always inquire about opening hours and days). I was obsessed with going to this restaurant because I had seen it featured in many guidebooks and on all of my favorite blogs. It was the one place where I wanted to try fresh pasta and I wasn’t disappointed. I could have had two servings of their fresh linguine with grated ricotta! For the main course, E had grilled lobster and I had grilled lamb; both were well done but they were outshone by the pasta. The place is small, the tables are very close to one another, the place quickly gets packed (we’ve seen several parties without reservations be denied seating), the servers are loud and hot tempered Italian men. It may sound cliché, but if you want to live an authentic Italian dining experience, this is the place to go. And the best thing is that locals love it as much as we do.
Ivo a Trastevere
Trastevere: Via San Francesco a Ripa 158
Pizza, fried finger food
A Roman favorite for more than 40 years, Ivo serves pizza as it should be: quickly and a bit brusquely, by servers whose heads are permanently turned to the soccer match that’s showing on the restaurant’s many TVs. Tables are turned in record time so be ready to place your order quickly, to eat under bright neon lights or on communal tables (on the restaurant’s terrace) and to have a bit of trouble getting the server’s attention after you’ve been served. It’s not too bad as you’ll be busy anyway, devouring the piping hot crispy pizza that will have been dropped in front of you mere minutes after you’ve ordered it. It’s also a good place to try no-fuss classic Roman fried appetizers (artichokes, zucchini and cheese as well as rice and potato balls).
Centro Storico: Via dei Pellegrino, 87 (close to Campo de Fiori)
One of the rare cafés around the city were you can take your time sipping your coffee in a comfortable sofa, reading or browsing on your laptop. The place has a hip artsy feel and it showcases exhibitions by local artists. The coffee is delicious and there’s a great selection of sweet and some savory snacks. Free wifi.
Centro Storico: Via degli Orfani, 84 (right by the Pantheon)
A veritable institution for more than 60 years, coffee aficionados fly miles to bring Tazza d’Oro’s coffee back home. The bar is always packed so be prepared to use those elbows again. You can buy the freshest beans, roasted on site every day. I didn’t want to leave just to keep on enjoying their coffee’s intoxicating smell.
Tridente: Corner of Via Della Croce and Via Bocca di Leone
This pasticceria is right in the middle of Rome fanciest shopping district, Tridente, right at the bottom of the Spanish Steps. It is a very busy neighborhood and Pasticceria d’Angelo has plenty of space to accommodate those who shopped until they dropped on their terrace. They have good paninis and an impressive selection of pastries. You can take out, eat at the bar, or sit on the terrace and wait to be served (prices are a little higher on the terrace).
Gelateria del Teatro
Centro Storico: Via di San Simone, 70 (East of Piazza Navona, right by Via dei Coronari)
Located beneath a theater, this gelateria serves dozens of gelato flavors, from the classics (Sicilian pistachio, strawberry, chocolate) to more inventive flavors (white chocolate and basil, sage and raspberry, truffles). The varieties made with or without milk are clearly marked and they have a gluten-free cone option. The little street is a dead-end and feels like a closed courtyard where you can peacefully enjoy your gelato while watching the world go by on Via dei Coronari.
Centro Storico: Via Uffici del Vicario, 40 (between Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain)
Giolitti is the gelato institution in Rome. Founded in 1900, it has been visited by millions of people and many celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, Pope John Paul II, Justin Timberlake and, most recently, the Obama family. The place is so packed that people are almost fighting to get their gelato. It was one of my most annoying experiences in Rome. Although the gelato is delicious, it’s not really worth waiting if the line is long as there are so many other great gelaterie scattered around the city – but many absolutely want to visit for the authentic decor and historical character of the place. I liked the (much quieter) sweets counter managed by an old Italian woman.
Tours & Cooking Classes
Artistic, historical, archeological and gourmet walks
I’ve had my share of bad experiences with tour agencies in the past and I generally shy away from them in favor of becoming a tour guide myself. But even with all my pre-departure readings, I’m far from being as knowledgeable as a local, and sometimes you just want to let someone else take control. I came across Context Travel through David Lebovitz who organizes his Gelato Tours with them, and it convinced me to contact them to organize a custom day-long food tour. Their reply was swift, their proposal was tailored for my needs and booking was seamless. I even ended up booking a wine tasting activity with them. They have a very wide expertise (as attested by the long list of different walks they lead) and can organize any custom activity you can think of for customers of any expertise level (they have led gourmet walks for starred chefs). What I love the most is that their guides are all professionally active in the fields they represent: for example, their gourmet walk docents are food writers, photographers or have experience in the food industry. You can read the docents’ bios on their website so you know who you’re going to meet when you get there.
For our day-long market and gourmet walk, we were lucky enough to be assigned Eleonora Baldwin, a food writer, photographer and blogger (her blog is Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino). Born in the United States to an American father and an Italian mother, she moved to Italy when she was very young. We bonded with her immediately and she expertly guided us through Rome’s most delicious addresses. She shared a wealth of information on a wide range of topics from Italian food to politics. Our day with her completely changed our experience in Rome and made us fall in love with the city in a way we hadn’t thought we would, appreciating its flaws as much as its qualities. We were almost sad to part with her come 5 p.m. and we’ve kept in touch since then. If you go to Rome, don’t hesitate to ask for Eleonora to be your guide, you won’t be disappointed.
Two bonus references: I haven’t experienced these myself but they were recommended by people whose judgment I trust and respect. Next time I go to Rome, these will be on top of my list!
Città di Gusto
Via Enrico Fermi, 161
Recommended by Robin Goldstein (Blind Taste).
(Description from Lonely Planet’s Rome City Guide): The city of taste is a six-storey shrine to food created by Italian foodie organization Gambero Rosso. It has cooking courses starring Rome’s top chefs, a wine bar, pizza workshop, cookbook shop and the Teatro del Vino for demonstrations, tastings and lessons.