Traveling to Italy and curious about what to eat in Rome? Read on for recommendations for pizza, pasta, and gelato stops, as well as a very special vineyard in Frascati.
Planning our visit to Rome was no easy feat. I spent weeks asking around for recommendations, reading dozens of articles about what to eat in Rome, and going down the YouTube rabbit hole trying to find all the must-see attractions. I ended up with a list so long it made my head spin, and attempting to cram it all into 4.5 days proved so overwhelming, I just slammed my Macbook shut and said “F*ck it.”
Here’s the thing: Rome is one of the oldest and most special cities in the world. It’s saturated with mind-blowing art, architecture, and food, and I don’t know how much time you’d need to experience it all. So if you’re planning a trip to Rome for a few days like we did, my advice is not to exhaust yourself with all the touristy things and do as the Romans do. Which is to say: Relax.
Before we chat about what to eat in Rome, a few travel tips:
- Rome gets so hot in the summer, it’s damn near tropical (seriously, there are palm trees). And since you’re gonna be outside a lot – with air conditioned spaces few and far in between – pack appropriately. You’ll also want your best walking shoes since you’ll be strolling on cobblestones most of the time.
- Uber is expensive in Rome, but public transport (buses, trams, and subways) is easily accessible and affordable (you can buy tickets in tobacco stores or in metro stations). Local taxis are another option – just have your cash handy – and check out the app MyTaxi.
- Learning a few basic Italian words and phrases on YouTube prior to the trip really helped me feel less awkward in Rome – aaand got me on the good side of several waiters. Here are the videos I found most helpful: 5 useful Italian sentences, more sentences, how to order in a restaurant like an Italian, Italian ice cream 101, and Italian pizza 101. In general, the channel Rome Inside is chock-full of useful information (see: 3 Walking Route Ideas in Rome).
On to the food!
Like I said, the list of restaurants I compiled was so long, it basically left me paralyzed. Instead of making a concrete plan for what to eat in Rome, I starred all the places on Google Maps and we ended up choosing where to eat based on where we were. The system worked out well since we didn’t have a single bad meal!
Roman restaurants have set meal times, outside of which you’ll find many kitchens are closed. Lunch is usually from noon to 2pm and dinner’s from 7pm to 10pm. Roman breakfast is much lighter than American – no eggs, bacon, or potatoes – consisting of coffee and a pastry (usually a croissant).
5pm to 7pm is aperitivo o’clock – a part of the day set out for unwinding with friends and family over low octane cocktails (like Aperol Spritz) and light snacks before dinner. In many cafes/bars, your server will bring you a plate of free snacks to enjoy with your drink (chips, peanuts, focaccia, etc.). Some bars even offer entire buffets of stuzzichini (snacks) during aperitivo hour for free! Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to track one down, but you may have better luck. [Recommended aperitivo spots: Mimì e Cocò and Freni e Frizioni]
Before our trip, someone said to me, “The worst coffee in Rome is better than the best coffee in America,” which turned out to be true – Italian coffee is insanely good. Keep in mind, though, when you order coffee (caffé), you’ll get espresso. If you want American-style coffee, ask for a caffé Americano (espresso with water) but you might get the side-eye. Another option is a macchiatto, espresso “marked” with a splash of steamed milk. If you like really milky coffee, of course there’s the cappuccino, but it is strictly a breakfast drink! Do not order cappuccino after 11am – I’m not sure what happens if you do, but I kept hearing this time and time again during my research…
Of course, you gotta have-a tha pizza. You can enjoy pizza al taglio – pizza baked in square trays and sold by the slice – or a round personal-size pizza. We chose Dar Poeta, a casual restaurant tucked away in a dark cobblestoned alley, where the pizza is delicious and the wine is cheaper than water. My favorite was their white pizza with potato, rosemary, and speck (ham). [Other pizza recommendations: Pizzarium and Nuovo Mondo]
Roman Pasta Specialties You Have to try
The three classic Roman pastas are: cacio e pepe (Pecorino Romano cheese with lots of coarse black pepper), carbonara (bits of crispy guanciale [pork cheek], egg yolks, and Pecorino Romano), and amatriciana (guanciale with tomato sauce).
We had our cacio e pepe at Roma Sparita, a cozy, homestyle restaurant with a pastel interior. It was rich, gooey, and intensely savory – like an OG mac-and-cheese. Bonus points: they serve it in an edible bowl made of cheese.
For carbonara, we headed to Roscioli, a renown restaurant, wine cellar, charcuterie counter, and bakery. This was equally rich, with perfectly al dente pasta punctuated by crispy pork bits. The food was delicious, and the space beautiful, but the restaurant was teeming with American tourists, which made the experience feel less authentic. [Other pasta recommendations: Flavio al Velavevodetto, Matricianella, Osteria dal 1931, Trattoria Perilli, and Armando al Pantheon]
For our gelato fix, we stopped at Giolitti – reportedly the oldest gelato shop in Rome, dating back to 1900. It’s a spacious, ornately-decorated store that also houses a pastry shop with gorgeous treats, as well as a bar. I tried the black cherry and pistachio flavors and it was one of the best ice cream experiences of my life. [Other gelato recommendations: Il Gelato di San Crispino and Gelateria La Romana]
An Unforgettable Day Trip
One of my favorite memories from the trip was the tour of Merumalia, an organic and sustainable vineyard on volcanic soil, that I booked through AirBnb Experiences. We were looking for a way to visit more rural parts of Italy without traveling too far or spending the night in another city, so a wine tour in Frascati (25 minutes away from Rome by train) seemed perfect.
The whole Merumalia property was gorgeous and the views were breathtaking. Our guide, Giulia, was extremely knowledgeable about organic wine production, and had a lot to share about Italian food traditions in general. We had a tour of the vineyards, learned about grape processing, tasted their wines and olive oil, and even got to stay for dinner, which we enjoyed on the dreamy terrace as the sun began to set over the vineyard. Thanks to Giulia’s mom, we got to try the third regional specialty, Bucatini all’Amatriciana, made with fresh tomato sauce with organic tomatoes from their garden (!!!).
Last but not least, have a walk through Campo de’ Fiori. It’s a huge farmers market with the most beautiful local produce and other specialties like pasta, olive oil, limoncello, and Italian dishware, which make perfect souvenirs. I fell in love with these splatterware ceramics and am still kicking myself for not buying any (ran out of room in my luggage!).
If you’re visiting Rome anytime soon, I hope you find this guide useful! And remember, it’s harder to get a bad meal in Rome than a good one, so just relax and enjoy “la dolce vita.”