With the return of visitors to Rome, people are asking me for advice on where to eat. Therefore I will publish this list before I’m really ready to as I have not found ten places off the beaten path that I would recommend. Instead, this list is mostly famous places.
First, my recommendations out of the famous places:
Pierluigi, Piazza de Ricci 144 (downtown Rome): it is on its own piazza and you can enjoy the people watching. It is a seafood restaurant, but it has the most delicious vegetarian pasta and tiramisu. You will need to make a reservation.
Colline Emiliane, Via degli Avignonesi 22 (near Piazza Barbarini): This place makes delicious food. It is the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna (Bologna, Modena, Parma, etc.). Small and with no outdoor seating. But, they have a window where you can watch the pasta being made fresh every day. You have to call to make a reservation.
Tonnorello (several locations in Trastevere): I thought it was a zoo eating there, way overcrowded and the same food you can get most places. If you go at 12:30 pm, you can probably get in to one of the locations.
La Matriciana (across from the opera house, near the Termini train station), Via del Viminale, 44: Classic place from 1870.
Then the less famous places:
Fuoco Lento, Via Flavia 63/65 (in Ludovisi/Sallustiano): Old school waiters, outdoor seating as well, never had anything bad here. It’s my “go-to” place. Open on Sunday night as well. Outside the touristy area so much easier to get a table.
Da Bucatino, Via Luca della Robbia 84/86 (in Testaccio): outside the tourist areas, has outdoor seating, and is an old school place.
Tratteria Valentino (not to be confused with Trattoria da Valentino on Via Cavour, which is also fine.), Via del Boschetto 37 (in Monti): great local place on a side street in Monti. Near Quirinale palace. Hidden in plain sight because they kept the old facade from when the space was a ice shop.
And one that is not famous:
Osteria del Rione, Via Basento, 20 (near Villa Borghese): Just north of the Via Veneto neighborhood, this place is a real local place located in a basement. There is almost no other business on the street, an extremely limited menu (basically what Bruno, the owner, tells you he has), and a set menu for 10 euro.
Lastly, I recommend one place outside Rome (near the airport) Osteria dell’elefante, which I wrote about before.
Once I have been to ten places that are fairly unknown, like Osteria del Rione, I’ll write about them.
Can a celiac eat pasta, pizza, and gelato? Is a trip to Rome even possible?
First, learn the basic phrase for without gluten — “senza glutine” (sen-za glue-tea-neh) in Italian. While there are many dishes that do not include gluten, such as rice dishes, cross contamination can be a problem so it’s a good idea to explain that you have an allergy. Celiacs is “celiachia” in Italian and the “ce” at the start of the word is pronounced as a “chay” so it’s “chay-lee-ah-chee” but you can show the restaurant this phrase from Celiac Travel which explains that you have celiacs and that you cannot eat food made with wheat or wheat products.
Sono affetto da celiachia (intolleranza al glutine), devo seguire una dieta assolutamente priva di glutine.
Qualsiasi cibo contenente farina/amido di grano (frumento), segale, orzo, avena, farro, spelta, kamut e triticale può causarmi gravi malori.
Luckily, the Italians are obsessed with gut health, so they will feel the tragedy for you, and they will understand. Now, on to the places in Rome where you can eat!
Mama Eat Lab (100 percent gluten free) – They also have another restaurant called Mama Eat but it is not 100 percent gluten-free.
Read a really good article here. Much of this list is from that site (which includes information about AIC — gluten-free accreditation). This site also rates the places. I also looked at this site which gave a good roundup of gluten-free eats in Rome but more importantly, a list of gluten-free eateries at the airport!
Traditional classic Roman dishes are heavily “nose to tail” or “quinto quarto” as this city is proud of eating ALL of the animal, and all plants. Some of these traditional dishes are coda alla vaccinaria (beef tail), trippa (tripe), and pajata. Romans also eat an immense amount of seafood, much of it raw. In terms of classic dishes not mentioned earlier, here is my list of Roman dishes to try. I have listed the dishes sort of in order of what time of the day you might try them, not in order of preference. I’ll mention what I think of them in the description.
Maritozzo: Is a cream filled brioche bun. Usually eaten for breakfast or as a snack. This is delicious but quite ridiculous.
Suppli: Is the deep fried rice or pasta croquette incredible popular with Romans. Available everywhere and usually sold at pizzerias (which is weird because there is nothing deep fried at a pizza place except for this…) and eaten as a snack or appetizer. “Suppli” is the word for telephone cord because the melted cheese looks like an old fashioned telephone cord. I don’t really like this but it is super famous.
Fiore di zucca: Stuffed zucchini flowers almost always filled with mozzarella and salted anchovy. Some places will make it without the anchovy if you ask, but that would not be authentic. The anchovy adds a touch of salt and umami. Most places make this dish and it looks like a UFO, unidentified fried object. I prefer it at places where they use light batter or breadcrumbs. I also prefer it without the anchovy because I like the delicate flavor of the zucchini flower.
Taglio pizza: Is square focaccia type pizza sold by weight. There are so many kinds of pizza I recommend going to a chain like Alice (ah-lee-cheh) and ask for small pieces so that you can try different flavors (This is also a good thing to order for a party). Romans eat pizza for breakfast (my preferred Roman breakfast), lunch, and party snack. Usually the pizza had for dinner is not “al taglio” but Roman style. A Roman style pizza is ONE round pizza per person. No sharing. You eat with a knife and fork. Beer is usually the thing to drink with pizza in the evening. Pizza is not something you would cook at home because you need a pizza oven. The taglio pizzas are baked in industrial electric ovens but a dinner pizza (The Romans consider it a social thing done from 9 pm to midnight) is usually baked in a wood fired oven (forno a legna).
Porchetta: Is from a town near Rome (but then everyone likes to claim that they invented gelato, so don’t let that stop you), but is much beloved here. It is a deboned pig rolled up with crackling/pork rind on the outside and inside it is flavored with rosemary and other herbs. Usually served sliced as a sandwich component.
Pasta carbonara, cacio e pepe, gricia, and amatriciana: These are the four most common pasta sauces in Rome. Carbonara is made with guanciale (pork jowl bacon) and egg yolk. Usually with spaghetti or short pasta. Almost never with fresh pasta. Cacio e pepe (caw-chee-oh-eh-peh-peh) is pecorino cheese and black pepper. People make a big deal that this is a creamy sauce without any cream. Pecorino is sheep’s milk cheese common to this part of Italy. It is much in texture like Parmesan. Cacio e pepe (cacio is related to the Latin word for cheese. Formaggio is the modern Italian word for cheese). Gricia (Gree-chaw)is the same sauce as carbonara but without the egg. Amatriciana (Ah-mah-trey-chee-ah-na) is named after a town called Amatrice. It is a sauce with tomatoes, guanciale, and pecorino. I prefer the carbonara, but generally I prefer pasta with clams or meat sauce.
Pasta is eaten as a meal on its own or as a first course. In general, most Romans do not eat three or four course meals on a daily basis. If they eat pasta for lunch, then they probably won’t eat it for dinner. Also, the portions in Rome are not as huge as in the USA. Italians generally consider certain sauces appropriate for certain shapes of pasta. Most of the Roman sauces I have mentioned work on both long and short pasta. Almost always on dried pasta, which gives a better tooth and mouth feel.
Gnocchi alla romana: Roman gnocchi are larger dumplings that are sliced and served “au gratin” hot from the oven. Thursday is the day to eat gnocchi because traditionally, as Catholics, Friday would be a day of fasting or lights meals, like fish. Gnocchi are usually on the pasta menu because it is a type of pasta made of potato and flour.
Puntarelle: Is the classic Roman salad. It is made with the white stalk of the chicory leaf which are trimmed, put through a metal tool to split, left in cold water to “open up,” and then served with anchovy dressing. I prefer this without anchovies, because then it’s a crunchy fresh tasting salad.
Cicoria: Is usually sautéed chicory. It is always in season, on every menu, and always the vegetable of the day. It’s bitter.
Carciofi alla giudia (Jewish style artichoke) and Roman style artichoke: The Jewish style is deep fried until the artichoke looks like a flower. The Roman style is steamed and dressed with olive oil. I do not like the deep fried ones because the artichoke flavor is gone. I adore steamed artichokes, but I usually just steam them in my microwave. Italians also eat the stalk of the artichoke so when you buy them, they will sell them with the stalk attached.
Guanciale di manzo: Is beef cheek. This is always served slow roasted. The Romans are famous for eating the “off” cuts.
These were the dishes that are typically Roman and perhaps less “scary” to try. Plus, gelato. Always gelato and tiramisu. If you are given a choice of dessert, I would always choose the tiramisu. Otherwise, have a coffee and go get a gelato. Gelato shops are open all day, usually from morning (when they may serve pastries) to midnight or later. While restaurants almost always close from 3 pm to 7:30 pm, a gelateria will always be open.
***** Fabio, the owner contacted me and corrected the addresses and explained why his has two restaurants — one is the summer location. Thanks, Fabio, always nice when people improve the information on my blog. *****
Imagine taking the extra large, mild tasting, sweet Amalfi lemons… and serving them with pasta inside. Well, I finally had it. My Italian teacher kept bringing it up as a delicacy that we had to try. I imagined it, an oddity in a lemon. The months went by and due to a pandemic and other such things, it took a while for us to find a date for Pasta Trombolotto!
Finally, the date was set. It was October. The restaurant in Sermoneta was reserved and off I went. Sermoneta is a perfectly preserved medieval town about 30 minutes (by train + car) south of Rome. I looked at the bus route to the town, but one really needs a car to get there. Sermoneta (it is named for the vast amount of money paid for the town) is a dying town as all the young people are moving away. Hence why it’s perfectly preserved. It’s often used as a film set. But, the town needs more than that to survive. It needs tourist dollars.
This conundrum between dollars and reality will come up later in this story.
The town is gasp-worthy beautiful. Tourism (as mentioned) has not stained the town with too many billboards and English menus. Even the postcards were non-touristy. Who prints a postcard with an overcast sky in a town of gray stone? That seems like a fail of marketing 101. There is no parking in the town so one enters a pedestrian haven. The town is hilly and cobblestoned so bring good ankles. As we ooohed and aaahed at every archway and turret, we imagined how marvelous this must be in sunlight. Or maybe the veil of night made it more dramatic?
Finally, we went to the restaurant famous for Pasta Trombolotto. The owner, Fabio, is charismatic and undeterred by a lack of comprehension. There are two famous Pasta Trombolotto restaurants in Sermonetta and he owns them both. One is called Simposio al Corso (it is the winter location) and Il Giardino del Simposio (open April to October). We went to the Il Giardino del Simposio located at Via Conduttura 6. The location at Simposio al Corso which is near the entrance to the town and located deep underground. The summer location, Il Giardino, is a patio overhung with lemon trees. It feels a bit magical.
We had wine, we had appetizers, we had main dishes, dessert, and coffee, but what I recall was the pasta. That’s why we were there. It was the main show. But, it was not served inside a lemon. Frankly, I was torn. Because it was not lemon season (March), our Pasta Trombolotto was not served in a lemon. It wasn’t served in lemon shaped crockery. Not even on a yellow plate. Not that it wasn’t dramatic.
Fabio coddled and seasoned every serving individually in a pan, table side. Trombolotto is a herb and lemon infused oil. It’s good and certainly one of the most seasoned things I’ve had in Italy (remember that simple is the key here), but without the Disney-esque lemon container… well, this is why I was torn. I like that they keep it seasonal and authentic. But, part of me, the marketing maniac, wants them to at least get lemon shaped bowls with lids. Ya know?
The owner is trying to make the town famous for this dish. He is resisting offers to take his show to Rome because he wants people to come out to Sermoneta for the Pasta Trombolotto.
If you are ever in that area, I recommend going. The address for the winter location is Corso Guiseppe Garibaldi 33, Sermoneta. The summer location is at Via Conduttura 6. The phone number is +39 339 2846905 anytime of the year.
And, and, just to add more to this story, the owner will show you an oil that you cannot have… because you are not his grandpa. It even says it on the bottle… like the best of experiences, there is always another story.
Orrechiette are the famous pasta shape of Puglia/Apulia. There are over 350 official shapes of pasta in Italy and many more if one includes all the variations and local names. Just watch Pasta Grannies and you’ll know. One day I ordered the handmade “little ears” pasta and I found them to be filling. Maybe because when the pasta is made, the dough is squished so it becomes much doughier than a machine-made pasta?
Apulians also eat lots of raw seafood (they have a dish of pasta with sea urchin roe — typical of Apulia) and many forms of fresh cheeses. Somehow these are not as famous as the little ears. I also saw row after row of almond trees and olive trees.
Apulians also eat a puree of fava beans served with sauteed chicory greens. I’m not a bean eater, but I like this dish.
Apulia is also famous for their round dried breads, “friselle” or “cimbale” if they are tiny as rings. These are savory dried breads like crackers but used as the base for a meal (dipped in water to reconstitute) or dipped in wine… They may look like bagels but the dough is much lighter.
But the one I like the best is the greasiest — panzerotto. I also mention it in the “not pizza” article.
Basically, a panzerotto is a deep fried pocket pizza. If you like fried dough, calzone, or melted cheese sandwiches, then you’ll like this.
At the one place in Monopoli, one can get it made with hemp dough. Hemp is a variety of Cannabis. Hemp is good for many things and was Christopher Columbus took tons of it with him to the new world. It’s good for rope making.
Just as Roman cuisine is famous for using the “quinto quarto” (fifth quarter) of the animal, Rome famous for four pasta sauces — with one that is made from the part of the animal that no one wants to mention — the fifth quarter. Or is it the opposite?
In most restaurants, you order your pasta dish by the sauce as there are traditionally certain pastas for certain sauces. In a few, by the shape of the pasta, although most places will have already decided which pasta they are cooking that day. I find that many restaurants use the large tubular pasta as it fills the plate better. There are officially 350 shapes of pasta but many have different regional names and new shapes are being invented constantly. Italians will tell you that the pasta should fit the sauce so that the sauce sticks to the pasta. Some Romans will tell you that only certain sauces go with certain types of pasta.
A basic thing about Roman cooking. It’s simple with few ingredients and use the best quality that you can afford. Also, almost no garlic or chili. The Italians are sensitive to regional names so even describing something as “like bacon” can be controversial.
Cacio e Pepe (catch-ee-oh-eh-peh-pa): Basically it’s called “cheese and black pepper” and that’s what it is. Usually a long string-like pasta like spaghetti although traditionally, tonnarelli (a rougher hand cut “square” long pasta) is used. Spaghetti means “strings.” The cheese used is Roman Pecorino, the sheep’s milk version similar in hardness and age to Parmesan (which comes from Parma), and pepper. One makes the sauce by using hot water that the pasta has been cooked in. There is no cream added. It’s a very simple sauce.
Carbonara (cARR-boh-nar-ah): This is the one with the famous story about how the American GIs missed eggs and bacon and so this pasta sauce was made to cater to them. Not true but a nice story. This sauce involves pork jowl, guanciale, fried to bacon bits (they will tell you not to use bacon — but if that’s all you have…), grated pecorino, and an egg yolk. The result is a thick golden sauce.
Gricia (gree-CH-ah): Is basically carbonara without the raw egg yolk. If you like bacon bits but don’t want the cloying creaminess of the carbonara, this is the one for you. It’s often used with tubular pasta like rigatoni.
Amatriciana (ah-mah-TREE-chee-ah-na): If you like the pork jowl bacon, you like the Pecorino, but you don’t like the egg yolk, and you wish they’d add some tomato sauce, then get the amatriciana. It’s called that because the pork comes from Amatrice, a town in northern Lazio (the region where Rome is located, south of the famous Tuscany).
And the fifth… is hard to find these days and never on the English language version of the menu (some traditional Roman restaurants will have a printed menu in English for the foreigners and a hand written on for the locals). It’s a dish called “rigatoni alla pajata” and is rigatoni with veal’s intestines (or bowel, as they will say here). It’s that particular part of the intestine from newborn calves who have only had milk. When the calf is slaughtered, the undigested milk is still in the intestine and it looks a bit like a creamy sausage.
None of these are my favorite pasta sauces. I like spaghetti alle vongole/spaghetti con le vongole (spaghetti with clams) and aglio e olio (garlic and oil) with chili flakes, a dish so simple that it’s almost never on the menu in restaurants. Apparently, it’s a drunk food that people make when they come back from being out on the town. Both of these dishes are from Naples. Many of the Italian immigrants to the United States were from Naples so the American idea of Italian food is often shaped by that. This is evident in the New York style pizza which is most like a Neopolitan pizza.
Oh, I also like penne with canned/preserved tuna or salmon. It’s one of the most common things to get in a Roman cafeteria. It’s easy to make and all the ingredients are already in the pantry.
If you want to binge on watching videos about Italy, here are some I’ve found. Mostly on food. Mostly about Rome. I will not list all of them as there are too many, but a few that will give you some leads to follow.
Rick Stein is one of my favorite TV chef presenters. The thinking chef’s chef. Here in Corsica and Sardinia.
Floyd was a chef who had a good time, this time in Liguria.
If you want months worth of binge watching, Rick Steves provides! Rick Steves has eight hours of free TV shows on Italy alone! He also has free audio tours, apps, books, etc. He is much raunchier on his audio tours! If you want a private guide in your ear, he has those! If you just want to watch him give good advice, watch him here.
Suppli are the Roman version of “arancini” — basically a croquette from cooked rice or pasta. The name, suppli, derives from the telephone cord because when you pull the two halves apart, the mozzarella should string out like a phone cord.
In the south in Naples, arancini are “mini” oranges and they are usually made of rice. In Rome, the suppli are often made with pasta. Suppli are smaller than arancini. They are greasy. As you can see in the photo, the suppli is not that big (it cost 2 euro because it was amatriciana — the normal one with mozzarella is 1.5 euro). The one that I got was a amatriciana, a pasta sauce made with guanciale (pork cheek bacon), cheese from Amatrice, and tomato sauce. The pasta in mine was tube pasta — like a straw.
Many appetizers in Rome involve something deep fried. These fried pasta or rice balls are very popular either as an appetizer or a snack. For some reason, always eaten with pizza. I don’t know why since I don’t associate pizzerias with deep fryers.
Ramen is more than just instant. It’s gourmet too. In the previous year, I went hunting for gourmet ramen in Lima… A Nikkei food festival is happening this weekend in Lima so you could go hunting as well. Below is what I found on my search:
Tokio Ramen: Probably the best in Lima. It’s all by itself over in Jesus Maria. **** update October 19, 2019**** Tokio Ramen has opened a new location in Miraflores: Calle Coronel Inclán 235.
Noruto: Was a reliable go-to place for my Nikkei friend (Nikkei refers to the Japanese restaurants as well as the Japanese-Peruvians).
Kaikan: the ramen was actually better than at Norutu, even though the restaurant is part of the same chain.
Takuenn. Tried sushi. Soup not a thing.
Maido: this is often the best restaurant in South America (according to 50 Best Restaurants) but it is Japanese fusion so they also have ramen. It is served with a large rustic ladle, but I didn’t think much of the soup.
Tzuru: I can’t recall so I think it says it all.
Cosme: When I saw the ramen on the menu, I had to order it. It was not good. I ate the pork belly but that was it. When I didn’t eat it the rest, the staff took the dish off my bill even though I didn’t ask them to.
Korean restaurants: The Korean restaurants have ramen as well. I’m guessing that it is also made from instant noodles. The Koreans make a popular version of instant spicy ramen.