Dining in Rome

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Only in Rome: Dining at a sidewalk table between ancient Roman columns at Da Giggetto. (Photo courtesy of Da Giggetto)

A guide to dining in Rome and some of my favorite restaurants, trattorie, osterie, pizzerie, and gelaterie

This site includes some of my favorite Roman eateries, from a holy hospice run by lay sisters to a trattoria frequented by the families of convicts.

Great dining experiences

There are some of Rome's greatest pizzerie to its most classic wine bars, an old-fashioned German-style beer hall to a modern cafeteria-like tavola calda.

We cover everything from classy restaurants with wine lists longer than Moby Dick to tiny osterie that don't even print menus and are tucked into Trastevere's back alleys and hidden in corners of the Jewish ghetto.

Finding the perfect Roman restaurant

Even in the Eternal City's third millennium, you can still enjoy a feast fit for a Roman emperor. The tricky part is finding an inexpensive one. Your best bet is to hunt down one of a handful of traditional Roman osterie, the sort of down-home, family-run restaurant holdover straight out of a 1950s Fellini film.

There are several reviewed on this site, but to find your own just listen for the clink of glasses and murmur of Roman dialect emanating from behind the strings of beads hanging in a doorway with no sign and no menu posted.

Pop your head inside and a beaming papa will stride over to welcome you, ushering you to a communal table while his son abandons the soccer game on TV to slice you a basket of bread.

Mamma shuffles out from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron and asking with a feisty smile, "So, what do you want?" to which you retort, "What do you have?" and she inevitably replies, "I got spaghetti!" so you order the spaghetti.

The food will be simple, hearty, and delicious, the wine home-made, the atmosphere convivial, and the bill a fraction of that in a proper restaurant.

Rome restaurants, pizzerie, gelaterie, and more

Tips & links

General dining tips
  • "Pane e coperto" is not a scam: Nearly all Italian restaurants have an unavoidable pane e coperto ("bread and cover" charge) of anything from €1 to €15—though most often €2 to €5—per person that is automatically added onto your bill. This is perfectly normal and perfectly legal (though a few trendy restaurants make a big deal about not charging it).
  • Find out if service (tip) is included: Don't double-tip by accident. If the menu has a line—usually near the bottom of the front or back—that says "servizio" with either a percentage, an amount, or the word "incluso" after it, that means the tip is automatically included in the price. (If it says "servizio non incluso," tip is, obviously, not included.)

    Even if the menu doesn't say it, ask É incluso il servizio? (ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo)—"Is service included?" If not, tip accordingly (10%–15% is standard).

    Don't be stingy about tipping, though. If il servizio is, indeed, already included but the service was particularly good, it's customary to round up the bill or leave €1 per person extra—just to show you noticed and that you appreciated the effort.
  • Tourist menus: The concept of a bargain prix-fixe menu is not popular in Italy. Some restaurants do offer a menu turistico ("tourist menu"), which can cost from €8 to €20 and usually entails a choice from among two or three basic first courses (read: different pasta shapes, all in plain tomato sauce), a second course of roast chicken or a veal cutlet, and some water or wine and bread. With very few exceptions, tourist menus tend to live up to their name, appearing only at the sort of tourist-pandering restaurants that the locals wisely steer clear of.

    However, a menu à prezzo fisso ("fixed-price menu") is often a pretty good deal, usually offering a bit more choice than a tourist menu.

    Then—especially at nicer (and pricier) restaurants—there is the menu degustazione ("tasting menu"), usually far more expensive (anywhere from €25 to €110) that is a showcase of the chef's best, or of regional specialties, and can make for an excellent way to sample the kitchen's top dishes.
  • Book ahead: For restaurants that I am truly eager to try, I go ahead and book a table—at least at dinner. I find that a corollary of Murphy's Law seems to apply. If you prudently book ahead, you are likely to show up to a half-empty restaurant and feel a bit like a fool for having worried about finding a table. If, on the other hand, you just show up at the door expecting to find a free table, the place will inevitably be packed and its bookings full for the evening.
Culinary tours of Rome
Italian dining phrases
English (Inglese) Italian (Italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a restaurant un ristorante oon rees toh-RAHN-tay
...a casual restaurant una trattoria
un'osteria
oo-nah trah-toar-RHEE-yah
oon ohst-air-EE-yah
I would like to reserve... Vorrei prenotare... voar-RAY pray-note-ARE-eh
a table for two una tavola per due oo-nah TAH-voal-lah pair DOO-way
...for 7pm per le sette pair lay SET-tay
...for 7:30pm per le sette e mezzo pair lay SET-tay eh MET-tzoh
...for 8pm per le otto pair lay OH-toh
     
I would like Vorrei... voar-RAY
...some (of) un pó (di) oon POH (dee)
...this questo KWAY-sto
...that quello KWEL-loh
chicken pollo POL-loh
steak bistecca bee-STEAK-ah
veal vitello vee-TEL-oh
fish pesce PEH-shay
meat carne KAR-neh
I am vegetarian sono vegetariano SO-no veg-eh-tair-ee-YAH-no
side dish [veggies always come seperately] cotorno kon-TOR-no
dessert dolce DOAL-chay
and e ay
...a glass of un bicchiere di oon bee-key-YAIR-eh dee
...a bottle of una bottiglia di oo-na boh-TEEL-ya dee
...a half-liter of mezzo litro di MET-tzoh LEE-tro dee
...fizzy water acqua gassata AH-kwah gah-SAHT-tah
...still water acqua non gassata AH-kwah noan gah-SAHT-tah
...red wine vino rosso VEE-noh ROH-so
...white wine vino bianco VEE-noh bee-YAHN-koh
...beer birra BEER-a
Check, please Il conto, per favore eel COAN-toh pair fah-VOAR-eh
Is service included? É incluso il servizio? ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo
Restaurant price categories
Under €15
€€Under €30
€€€Under €60
€€€€Over €60

The dining prices categories above (and throughout this site) represent a rough estimate of how much, per person, you would pay for a standard Italian meal—which is to say three courses with a bottle of water and the house wine.

(A truly "full" Italian meal really consists of five courses—antipasto/appetizer, primo/first course, secondo/main course, contorno/side, and dolce/dessert—but few actually splurge on the whole, belt-busting thing at every meal. Select any three of your choosing and call it dinner. Espresso and digestivo at the end are extra.)

If we're talking about something other than a full-service, sit-down restaurant (pizzeria, sandwich shop, Venetian cichetti bar, or some other lighter-fare establishment), the price category will be for whatever constitutes a "full meal" there (a pizza and a beer, 5–10 cicchetti and a glass of wine, etc.). This is why every gelateria on this site is ranked "€."

Then again, if some old-school 19th century caffè on the main piazza charges four or five times what a typical bar does for a cappucino (and they do tend to), I'm slapping it with a "€€" even if your bill does come to under €15 a head because, relatively spekaing, it's really pricey.

That said, nothing is more variable than what you will spend to eat out. You may show up at a moderately priced restaurant and splurge on a truly full Italian meal of five courses (including the priciest seafood or steak dishes on the menu), plus dessert, grappa, espresso, and an expensive bottle of wine or two.

Your abstemious neighbor at the next table might just have a plate of spaghetti and a bottle of water.

Your bills will be radically different, even though you ate at the same place.

Splurge at your own discretion.

(In case you are curious how I estimate the costs, decades of writing travel guidebooks led me to a surprisingly accurate formula—at least for Italy. Average the price of the cheapest and most expensive primo on the menu—ignoring any obvious outliers, like a spaghetti with lobster that costs twice what everything else does. Now multiply that average by four. The result is amazingly close to the cost of a full meal at that restaurant.)

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