Quick Bites

Fast food, Rome style

Lunchtime offers you the perfect opportunity to savor Roman fast food—and picnicking is great for any meal: on the steps of a medieval church, on a curb by a fountain on a piazza, on a grassy bit of lawn overlooking the Colosseum by the Roman Forum, or simply back on your hotel room balcony.

Pizza by the slice

Rome's best food-on-the-go is pizza rustica, or pizza à taglio, sold in tiny shops where they cut the pizza of your choice from big, steaming sheets and wrap it halfway up in waxed paper for easy carrying.

Rome averages a tiny pizza rustica joint every three blocks or so. Just pop in, point to the bubbling sheet with your preferred toppings behind the counter, and hand over a couple euro. It's priced by weight, but they'll slice off however much what you hand them will cover. About €2 will get you a healthy portion.

Some varieties to try: pizza margherita (tomato sauce, cheese, and basil), pizza con patate (with julienned potatoes, but no sauce), and pizza napolitana (with anchovies). Or go minimalist with pizza rossa (just the sauce) or pizza bianca (just the dough, brushed with olive oil and salt, sometimes with rosemary; exquisite).

Bars—not just for alcohol

Dining for free in Rome
Want a free dinner in Rome—or at least a hearty snack to stave off hunger until dinner? Do a stuzzichini (snacks) crawl from bar to cafe during the aperitivo /Happy Hour for tons of free bar snacks and scrumptious canapés. » more
A Roman bar, although it does indeed serve liquor, is more what we'd call a cafe, a place to grab a cheap panino (flat roll stuffed with meat, cheese, and/or vegetables) or tramezzino (large triangular sandwiches on white bread with the crusts cut off—like giant tea sandwiches).

Both come stuffed with fresh mozzarella and pomodori (tomatoes), prosciutto and provolone, or perhaps tonno (tuna).

Eat standing at the bar for the lowest prices (everything costs more if you sit down; Italian quirk).

Tavole calde—Tiny Roman cafeterias

Dar Filettaro - Tucked into a tiny, triangular, sloping piazza just off the southeast corner of Campo de' Fiori you can join the line of people threading to the back of the bare room to order a filet of baccalà (salt cod) fried golden brown da portar via (wrapped in paper to eat as you passeggiata)... Largo dei Librari 88, tel. +39-06-686-4018, Closed Sun; open only evenings. » moreYou can sit down for a quick pasta or prepared meat dish steaming behind the glass counters at a tavola calda (literally "hot table") for about half the price of a trattoria.

The dishes are sold by weight, either on plates for eating in or in little aluminum tubs for take-away.

Il Delfino is a huge, modern tavola calda perfectly sited on Largo Argentine, walking distance from most centro storico sights. » more

A rosticceria is basically a tavola calda with spits of chickens roasting in the window.

Picnicking on the freshest food in Rome

A picnic is one of my favorite ways to eat in Italy—and super-cheap. Putting together a Rome picnic—what to order, how to order, shops and markets to get your picnic pickings—is all detailed on its own page. » 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
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

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