I like to think of Italy, Rome in particular, as the rightful birthplace of food.
Have a hankering for Neapolitan pizza? It’s just around the corner! In the mood for handmade pasta? Let’s try that side street! And if you want a quick snack to keep the hunger at bay how about a gelato or two or four? Yes please, keep them coming, shut the front door.
We were only in Rome for 3 and a half days but it’s safe to say we fell in love with the city – it’s people, it’s culture and of course it’s food! Down below you’ll see some of my favourite hotspots as well as recommendations from foodie experts on where you can find the best of the best. And don’t worry, while I may not have tried and tested every single one of them (I’ll be back again someday!) their dishes have been verified through reviews and aesthetically pleasing (a.k.a Instagram worthy) pictures, trust me!
- Pasta: Ristochicco, Mimi e Coco, Cantina e Cucina, Armando al Pantheon
- Pizza: Dar Poeta, Forno, Sbanco, Baffetto Emma
- Antipasti: Cul de Sac
- Street Food: (arancini, pizza by the slice, sandwiches): Mondo Arancina, Forno Campo de Fiori, Forno Riscioli, Sandwich Shop Birre e Sale
- Gelato: Frigidarium, Gelateria La Romana, Fatamorgana, Wonderful ice cream
- Coffee: Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe
- Bars/Nightlife: Bar del fico, Campo de Fiori, Piazza Navona, Trastevere
The dish: CARBONARA
This is everything you’d imagine an Italian restaurant would be; tucked away from the main streets, red-chequered table clothes, dining al fresco and filled with locals and tourists alike. The service was a bit hit-and-miss as the servers were overstretched, but what they lacked in numbers, they made up for in food! Do yourself a favour and order one of the quintessential dishes of Roman cuisine, the carbonara.
According to the experts, although pasta makes up three quarters of this dish, the real test of carbonara is the sauce. Did you know that there is no cream in the sauce but eggs, parmigiano and pepper?! My meal lived up to the equation. It arrived in a piping hot skillet and was absolutely exquisite. Al dente pasta, buckets full of salty bacon, strong parmesan and a creamy rich and flavourful sauce! I am still dreaming about it.
2) Mimi e Coco
The dishes: RAVIOLI & CARBONARA
Best known for: caprese salad, focaccia bruschetta, lasagne & carbonara
If you’re looking for a beautiful square with a lively atmosphere then Piazza Navona is the place to go! During the day you will spot portrait painters, vendors, street performers and three famous fountains. It’s an ideal place for people watching! You will find the charming, cosy candlelit wine bar that is Mimi e Coco down one of it’s side streets and I can assure you that you won’t just want the wine when you catch a whiff of the glorious dishes that emerge from the kitchen.
We tried the ravioli and carbonara. The ravioli was generously stuffed with spinach and ricotta and was smooth, creamy and bursting with flavour in a sweet tomato and basil sauce. I may have taken two or three bites of the carbonara from my boyfriend’s plate and so can attest to the ethereal rich creaminess, salty pancetta and silky pasta. Jovial service, a beautiful ambiance and authentic Italian food at a great price!
3) Cul de Sac
The dishes: PÂTÉ, PASTA ALLA SICILIANA, LASAGNE (& WINE!)
Best known for: Antipasti, cheese (I wish we had gotten this!) and wine
Make your way back towards Piazza Navona and turn down Via di Pasquino where you will find the memorable Cul de Sac. This is one of the oldest wine bars in the city, famed for its encyclopedic wine list and thousands of bottles (1,500 to be exact) that line the shelves. The waiter selected a red using a cane to reach the top shelf – slightly terrifying as we were sitting directly below it! – so just keep in mind that they have done this before! The wine is sensational and I would return just to sample their extensive directory. Food wise we had a glorious assortment of pâtées (one even had juniper berries!), pasta alla siciliana (simple but oh so satisfying!) and the lasagne which apparently was meaty, sauce and cheesy in all the right places.
Cons: This place is pretty small and has a queue, you could be waiting a while, especially if you want to sit outside. But definitely do as the atmosphere is a lot better! The portion sizes of some dishes (lasagne in particular) were also pretty small so we had eat as follows; one bite lasagne, two sips wine.
Next time I would definitely try the antipasti as everyone raves about it.
4) Mondo Arancini
The dishes: ARANCINI AND PIZZA
This place is a local delicacy and the perfect stopover for a quick lunch or in our case a stopover between lunch and dinner. It’s easy to spot that the locals love this plate and after trying the food it’s no wonder why! The Sicilian arancina ragu ( meat filled) was soft and warm and even had the cheese pull. The pizza by the slice had a super crispy base so much so that you could hear the crunch when you bit into it. The vegetables were such good quality and everything was so fresh. If you ever find yourself in Piazza del Popolo I’d highly encourage you to go!!
The dishes: BAFFETTO PIZZA, AUBERGINE PIZZA
Baffetto is a legendary, vintage pizzeria that has claimed to serve the best Roman-style pizza in the city! Everyone lines up to enter the pizza joint, you’ll even see snapshots of celebrities pinned up on the walls. This place is loud, buzzy and cheap and serves up the most wafer thin crispy base pizza I’ve ever had. Thin-crust magic with simple fillings! Try the original for a real pizza experience!
Cons: The wine is served in a jug in teeny tiny glasses, though it does add to the experience! The waiters were an interesting bunch – no smile or hello, more interested in chatting to each other than to the customer but it did provide an entertaining watch and I think that it’s part of the restaurant’s character.
5) La Gelateria Frigidarium
Surely gelato is simply the Italian word for ice cream? Nope, no way José! Gelato is denser and is served at a lower temperature and so the flavours are more intense! Italians have trumped us when it comes to pizza and pasta and gelato is another one to add to the list! My favourite gelateria in Rome is family run Frigidarium. Something important is happening between these walls as there is a constant queue throughout the day. I can tell you that it is worth the hype and the wait!
This small store uses all natural ingredients and has a variety of flavors that are constantly changing. The real kicker is the complimentary dip of white or dark chocolate that hardens to create a chocolate shell. I had 1 scoop of blueberry and 1 scoop of the frigidarium flavor, a mix of caramel and chocolate along with a full-sized cookie. It tasted even better than it looked if that’s even possible and was only €2.50. When I say get this gelato, even if you can’t eat anymore, just do it. You will thank me later!
6) Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe
Espresso perfection to recharge your batteries! Sant’Eustachio is one of the oldest unassuming coffee shops in Rome and is considered by the locals to serve the best coffee in the city. Apparently the bartenders beat the first drops of an espresso with heaps of sugar to make the froth, which they add to the rest of the coffee. This makes it sensationally smooth and will definitely have you feeling a lot more lively!
Top tip: If you are anything but Italian opt for no sugar! I think I may have gotten diabetes from the one drink.
Fun Activities Between Food Stops
- Day 1: Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona
- Day 2: Spanish Steps, Colosseum (definitely get a tour guide when you get there and skip the queue), Roman Forum, Campo de Fiori
- Day 3: The Vatican, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica
Rome is a city that you should discover by walking. Even if you want to fit in with stylish Italians sometimes you have to just suck it up and wear your Asics. Don’t worry, no one will judge you for it! Even if you don’t get to see and do everything, just go for a walk and I have no doubt that you will stumble across attractions, delicious restaurants, beautiful squares and fountains, gelaterias and parks. It’ll be an adventure no matter what!