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Rome Food Guide: How to eat like a modern Roman
I love helping people eat well on their visit to Rome. Bringing someone to a restaurant and seeing their eyes light up as they chew, or getting good feedback from readers or friends based on a tip I gave them makes me really happy for one simple reason: because in my family, food is love.
Growing up, if a family friend lost a job, we cooked for them. If someone got sick, we cooked. If someone died, we cooked. We said thank you with pie. For birthdays, we got to choose our favorite meal for dinner and whatever kind of birthday cake we wanted. For their anniversary, my parents cooked and we all ate together to celebrate. Holidays meant special treats like candy canes and conversation hearts. For Mother’s and Father’s Day, me and my siblings made our parents breakfast in bed (I’m sure some of the items were of questionable quality and composition, but hey, we tried). Once, when my brother and I had a big fight, he made me mac and cheese with hotdogs to say he was sorry. It worked.
Helping you eat well on your trip to Rome is my tiny way of passing on some of that love.
This ultimate Rome Food Guide contains links to all of my useful posts on this topic. I’ve also expanded on the guides I’ve already written to include some general tips for dining in the Eternal City, coupling current trends with more traditional advice.
The other reason I’m posting this is because contrary to popular belief, if it is possible to eat badly in Rome. Tourist traps abound, and even savvy travelers may have trouble finding real food at normal prices.
So let’s jump into my ultimate Roman Food Guide! As always, feel free to reach out in the comments with thoughts, experiences or questions, and if you have a favorite restaurant in Rome, share it!
The Ultimate Rome Food Guide
What is Roman food?
Italy as a whole is obviously known for its excellent food, but Roman food seems to be an overall favorite of visitors to the country, as evidenced by the fact that it’s been crowned one of the world’s top food cities by both TripAdvisor and TasteAtlas in the last couple of years.
Italian food is highly regional, and Rome, like every other city in Italy, is home to its own traditional dishes. In the Eternal City, you can expect to see the same few things popping up frequently, including pecorino romano cheese, pork jowl (guanciale), bitter greens (cicoria and puntarelle), artichokes (seasonally), and offal, to name a few.
No matter where you eat in Italy, you should investigate the local specialities so you know what to expect. While some dishes might appear on menus outside of their region of origin, it’s not common to find whatever you want wherever you want it. When I lived in Padua, for example, there was only one restaurant that I knew of that had carbonara on the menu (and it was pretty touristy).
You should also expect to eat seasonally in Rome and Italy in general – certain produce is only available at specific times throughout the year.
Check out my guide on what to eat in Rome and start planning your orders now!
A primer on Roman pastas
One cannot mention Rome without mentioning pasta; the Eternal City is home to some of the best pasta dishes in the country (in my humble opinion).
But do you know your cacio e pepe from your carbonara? Again, look no further – here’s my thick guide to the best pasta in Rome. This post combines information on Rome’s pasta, ranging from the core four to lesser-known dishes, with tips on where to eat the best of the best.
Where should I eat in Rome?
I’ve got your back again! Check out my guide on where to eat in Rome, which I update periodically.
Hungry for something other than Roman food? Here’s my guide to the best non-Italian restaurants in Rome.
Do you need to make reservations at Roman restaurants?
Generally, yes. I’ve got a thorough guide on making reservations in Italy here.
Certain popular places definitely require booking in advance. Here are quick links to some of my favorites:
Book for Roscioli Salumeria here.
Book for Armando al Pantheon here (bookings open for thirty-day periods).
Book for 180grammi here (bookings open for 14 days from the date of booking).
Book for Seu Pizza Illuminati here.
Book for Trecca here.
Book for SantoPalato here.
Book for Marigold here.
What’s the menu like at a Roman restaurant?
Italian meals have a specific structure, starting with the antipasti and (sometimes) culminating in a “coffee killer”. A what? Don’t worry, here’s my guide on the Italian meal structure for you.
So, how do I avoid those tourist traps you mentioned?
I’m so glad you asked – I’ve got a thorough post on how to avoid tourist traps in Italy riiiiiight here.
How to eat like a modern Roman
Dining well in Rome requires an understanding of both the city’s traditions and the way things are today. It’s an exciting place for anyone who loves food for precisely those reasons – it keeps doing what it’s done well for many years, and it evolves constantly.
Here are my tips for eating as the (modern) Romans do.
Sip cocktails at a top-rated bar
When you think of drinking in Rome, you probably think of wine. Fair enough – wine is often on my mind, too (keep reading for more about the city’s wine scene).
I’d like to urge you to go beyond wine, at least for one aperitivo, and visit one of the city’s many excellent cocktail bars.
Be adventurous with offal
Romans have been eating offal for centuries. Many restaurants serve it in its traditional forms, while others are mixing things up.
If you want to try some traditional Roman offal dishes, you should without a doubt head to Checchino dal 1887 in Testaccio. In my opinion, their sugo di coda is the best in the city. Flavio al Velavevodetto (also in Testaccio) generally has a few well-done offal dishes on the menu, and you should also try my favorite pasta dish in Rome, which I’ve been promoting for years now, the fettuccine con rigaje di pollo at Armando al Pantheon (which is fettuccine with tomato sauce and chicken giblets). I’ve also had some standout offal dishes at Trattoria Pennestri in Ostiense.
If you want to try some updated takes on Roman offal, head to Mazzo for their fried tripe, Trecca for their padellotto of chicken giblets and potatoes, or Santo Palato for their fried oxtail meatball. Just thinking about those three dishes makes me hungry.
Enjoy new takes on pizza and the old classics
The pizza scene in Rome is particularly lively. You’ll find historic neighborhood feuds about which pizzeria is best alongside new places that have to be booked a month in advance.
If you read my guide on what to eat in Rome, you’ll know that traditional Roman pizza is cracker thin and sparsely topped. If you want to try it for yourself, I recommend Pizzeria Ostiense, Emma Pizzeria and Ivo a Trastevere.
For a modern take on Roman pizza, you’re going to want to head to 180grammi in Centocelle, but you have to book in advance, like I said above. The pizza and fritti there are a blast – pizzaiolo Jacopo Mercuro has no fear when it comes to toppings that are, shall we say, traditionally shied away from, including, yup, you guessed it – pineapple. The menu rotates seasonally, so you won’t find it all the time, but on his summer 2023 menu, the “Pineapple Express” had pineapple carpaccio on it.
Another great pizza disrupter is Pierdaniele Seu at Seu Pizza Illuminati. He deviates from the traditional Roman crust by inflating it to a Neapolitan-style halo and also isn’t afraid to scare traditional palates with things like chicken and even cantaloupe on his seasonal offerings. He’s actually just gotten into the Roman-pizza game too, with his new spot – TAC – which stands for “thin and crunchy.” I haven’t been yet because it’s only just opened, but I’ll report back as soon as possible.
Drink natural wine
I have lost count of how many natural wine bars have opened since I first started glugluing the stuff a few years ago. It’s been truly remarkable to see (the openings, I mean, not me chugging natural wine, although I find that part quite fun).
Not only that, many restaurants have started serving natural wines too, even some older places whose food menus probably haven’t changed in decades.
Being a fan of natural wine, this is good news for me. Some of my favorite spots to sip are Mostò, Latteria Trastevere, La Mescita and I’d say my number one is Bar Bozza (also because it’s in walking distance to Trecca, which also serves natural wine and is one of my favorite restaurants in the city).
If you truly want to experience Rome like a modern Roman, be sure to check out a natural wine bar (or ten).
For more, check out my guide to natural wine in Rome.
Plan your meals along with your sightseeing
Standard wisdom says “DO NOT EAT WITHIN 5 BLOCKS OF A TOURIST ATTRACTION” but this does not apply to Rome (and probably a lot of other cities, too).
If you do that, you’ll miss out on Armando al Pantheon, Roscioli, Grappolo D’Oro, Enoteca Cul de Sac, Baccano, da Cesare al Pellegrino, Luciano Cucina Italiana, da Baffetto, Emma Pizzeria, Open Baladin, Retrovino, Piccolo Buco, Colline Emiliane, Ristorante Maccheroni, and more! Aaaaand you might end up at a tourist trap instead.
The fact of the matter is, there ARE great places around Rome’s most-visited sights, you just have to know where to look (the list above is a good place to start). Yes, there might be other tourists there, but just because there are doesn’t mean it’s a tourist trap. Maybe they just did their research, like you.
Take a culinary adventure to an out-of-the-way neighborhood
Ok, I realize that I just told you to eat in the center, near tourist attractions, but hear me out. You need to eat multiple times on your trip anyway, so why not venture out to areas that are less frequented by tourists to have some of the best food in the city?
This is a great strategy for avoiding tourist traps in general, and you have the added bonus of seeing other parts of the city. It’s a win-win for you, your stomach and in many cases, your wallet.
In May of 2023, I moved to an area of the city I loved but had never lived in – San Lorenzo. Since then, I have explored the city’s east – including San Lorenzo itself, Tor Pignattara, Pigneto and Centocelle – and in doing so, have had some of the best meals I’ve had to date in Rome.
Here are a few ideas on where to eat in those neighborhoods:
Centocelle: Legs for fried chicken, Menabò for just general yumminess (I had a warm salad there once made with tender rabbit meat and strips of beet and carrot that I still think about regularly), and, my new-to-me favorite: Osteria Bonelli. It’s from another time, the waiters speak in serious Romanesco, and it is an absolute delight. A sunny Sunday lunch there is particularly satisfying.
I’m also championing the San Giovanni area as a foodie neighborhood. Although it’s not exactly off the beaten path, it’s not an area that people think of as having great food (a designation generally reserved for Trastevere and Testaccio), but there are some truly excellent places there, including SantoPalato, Epiro, Barred, and, if you venture a little further, you’ve got Brado and Trattoria Popolare L’avvolgibile.
Relax on a rooftop
Along with natural wine bars, it seems like new rooftop bars and restaurants are popping up constantly in Rome. Some of them offer magnificent views of the city’s best-known monuments, and others are in more out-of-the-way corners that may not be as stunning, but still offer a respite from the crowded streets, a bit of a breeze, and an endless vista of Roman rooftops.
If you want to enjoy the best of modern Rome’s wining and dining scene, book yourself in for a rooftop aperitif.
Don’t know where to start? I have a mammoth guide to Roman rooftops here.
Eat street food
I love street food for a few reasons, the top two being that it’s portable and generally affordable.
Rome has a rich street food culture that ranges from sweet to savory. A few of my personal favorites are porchetta sandwiches and of course, pizza al taglio. You can even get pasta to go these days!
If you’re short on time, head straight to the Mercato di Testaccio and wander the stalls, which, in my opinion, have some of the best street food in the city.
I hope you found this guide to Roman food useful. Anything to add? Share it in the comments!
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