Looking for the best trattoria in Rome? Good. Because unless you’re sticking to Michelin-starred spots only, at some point during your trip, you’re going to wind up eating at one. Might as well make it top-notch.
Originally, a trattoria was a mid-priced, family-run restaurant, something between a ristorante and osteria in terms of expense and formality. In reality, it’s come to mean pretty much any restaurant in Rome that’s serving up Roman dishes and isn’t overly expensive (or any others that want to pretend that’s the case — hi, all you places with tourist menus!).
So if you want the very best trattoria in Rome… you should have an idea of where to go.
When I’m craving an amazing cacio e pepe or Roman artichoke or saltimbocca, these are the trattorias in Rome I frequent.
(Do note that while these places all have very good food, they’re not all always top-notch with service: brusque waiters are part of the trattoria’s charm. Truly. It’s as traditional as carbonara).
The best… no-frills trattoria in Rome
Hostaria Romana is old-school: the tables are crammed together, past diners have scrawled their signatures on the wall, and if two people at your table order the same pasta, it’s spooned out of a pan right at your table. Fortunately, the dishes are old-school, too. Nothing here is going to blow your mind with creativity, but that’s not the purpose of, say, a like-your-nonna-romana-made-it amatriciana: We’re talking simple ingredients done well.
On that basic (but oh-so-difficult, if other trattorias in Rome are any indication!) promise, Hostaria Romana delivers. Which is especially surprising given its location right around the corner from Piazza Barberini, or tourism central. Even more surprising? The waiters here are actually nice. Go figure.
In season, don’t miss the artichokes. When I ate there in December, I ordered both the alla giudia (fried) and alla romana (braised) styles. They were both delicious. (Who said you have to settle for just one option?).
Hostaria Romana is located at Via del Boccaccio 1, right near Piazza Barberini; it’s open daily except Sundays for lunch and dinner. For dinner, reservations are recommended.
Here’s some irony for you: Easter’s the most important feast in the Christian calendar — but in the home of the Pope himself, it’s also the toughest day of the year to find food. At least in restaurants in Rome.
Ironic or not, it, well, makes sense. Most Italians are at home on Easter, chowing down that feast with family. Even restaurateurs.
Whether it’s ironic or not, though, one thing’s for sure: For travelers to Rome, it’s definitely inconvenient. So find out what’s open in advance… and, since you’ll be competing for dinner slots with lots of other hungry travelers (it’s high season now, after all!), book your meals a few days ahead of time, too. Unless you don’t mind eating microwaved spaghetti and meatballs on Tourist Alley every night.
“So then, where do I book?” you say. “Which of Rome’s great restaurants are actually open on Easter? I’m so worried I won’t experience that fantasticItalianfood I’ve heard all about!”
Everyone seems to love Luzzi, a trattoria just down the street from the Colosseum.
Tourists love it because it has checkered tablecloths, waiters who speak English and are (gasp!) friendly to them — but who still yell at each other across the room in Italian, and an earlier opening time for dinner than most other 8pm-and-after restaurants.
Locals love it, although a little less, because the waiters are nuts but (usually) fast, and the menu's cheap: €6 and under for most pizzas and pastas.
The only people who don't love it is foodies. That's because Luzzi is not for those of us who pick apart whether the guanciale tastes smoky or if the pasta is fresh, or who want a wine list (you won't find one here). Luzzi doesn't serve some of the best food in Rome. It doesn't even serve some of the best cheap food in Rome. (For that, see: places in San Lorenzo and Testaccio, including Il Pommidoro and Nuovo Mondo, and some in Trastevere, including Roma Sparita).
But Luzzi fits a certain need. That need is for a place that's fun, cheap, and reliably okay within a 10-minute walk from the Colosseum, an area where you can't throw a guidebook without hitting a terrible, touristy, overpriced place that caters to, and is filled with, people with their noses in the same guidebook. And some of its dishes are pretty good, including the amatriciana or fettucine alla bolognese (both €5.50), and starters like the octopus grigliata or the antipasto that you get yourself. Help yourself to the array of veggies and other goodies in the back, and you'll be charged depending on the size of your plate — this big plate cost about €4 (below).
In the evening, though, your best bet at Luzzi is the pizza (shown at top). It doesn't hold up to the pies coming out of Luzzi's neighbor Li Rioni, but then again, Li Rioni is a dedicated pizzeria, no pastas on the menu. Luzzi isn't. And even so, their pizza's pretty darn reliable, always with a proper thin Roman crust and fresh ingredients.
(Well, almost always. Never, ever order their pizza at lunch; it seems Luzzi's pizza chef is only on at dinner. So what you'll wind up with, instead, is a kind of undercooked, floppy monstrosity that scares away all the other pizzas on the playground).
So am I recommending Luzzi or not? If you're in the Colosseum neighborhood and are at risk of winding up in one of the other myriad and awful places in the area, if a friendly, bustling atmosphere is more important to you than if every dish is perfect, or if you're used to places where guitarists sing "That's Amore" to you and where spaghetti and meatballs are on the menu and you want to try something a little more authentic, then yes. If you're the type who likes to reserve dinners in advance and eat the very best of what Rome has to offer…mmm…probably not.
(That doesn't mean I don't love you, Luzzi!)
Luzzi. Via di San Giovanni in Laterano 88. Open for lunch and dinner daily except for Wednesday. 06 7096332. For a map, click here.
La Campana, a restaurant tucked away a few steps from Piazza Navona, claims to be Rome's oldest dining establishment. It was recorded as being on the same street all the way back in 1518 — a tough claim to match.
But since these kinds of claims are everywhere, particularly in a city as overrun with old establishments as Rome, that's not really why you should go.
You should go if you want to experience good, classic Roman food, or cucina romana, at not-bad prices, in the heart of the center. In an area where culinary mediocrity is so thick on the ground, that's pretty tough to find. Oddly enough for the neighborhood, it's not even fair to call La Campana touristy: While there are always tourists there, a number of businessmen are always taking up the tables as well, particularly at lunch.
That said, not all of my experiences at La Campana have been perfect. One more-mediocre experience included my rigatoni all'amatriciana (€8), a dish that was undone by the long strips of not-very-crisp-or-smoky guanciale, or pork jowl, each of which were at least two-thirds white fat.
But I've also had a juicy saltimbocca (veal wrapped with prosciutto, €12, shown below) and an excellent coda alla vaccinara (€12), at top, in a rich, delicious sauce and with the meat falling off the bone. That coda alla vaccinara, alone, made me vow to pay more visits to Rome's (maybe) oldest restaurant. Other classic dishes on the menu to try include the fettucini al ragu (€10), trippa (€12), and artichoke (€5).
Something else I'll say for La Campana: The service is excellent. That's not something you tend to see in many moderately-priced Roman restaurants, particularly not those that have been written up as often as this one. But the black-vested waiters are unfailingly polite, and the service (usually) pretty fast.
La Campana. Vicolo della Campana 18. Closed Mondays. For more information, click here. For a map, click here.
When Il Tajut, my local cultural association, restaurant and wine bar, moved to the Parco degli Acquedotti this summer, I was despondent. When I wanted Italian food — but couldn't face another night of pasta amatriciana, gruff Roman service, and loud, packed restaurants — where would I go?
Thankfully, Il Tajut has returned from exile. And for a restaurant experience unlike Rome's usual offerings, it's as reliable as ever.
From the start, your experience at Tajut will be a little, well, different. Its door will be closed. You won't be sure if it's really a restaurant, or open, or not. Sometimes, you may have to ring the buzzer. And if it's your first time there, you'll also be asked to fill out a membership card with your name and details. That's because Tajut is a cultural association. (More on what that means in an upcoming post). Everyone who dines here has to be a "member."
The good news is, it's a good club to be in…even if, looking around you, you might notice few other members. On a recent Saturday when the restaurant had just reopened, only half of the tables were full. Usually, I take this as a bad omen. In Tajut's case, though, I think the place hasn't really been discovered yet. (Except for a review in Corriere della Sera last year that ripped them apart, particularly for not having many of their dishes on the menu. Oops).
So why recommend them? Because the food is reliably good, if not perfect. (And yes, the limited staff — the owner's always the chef, a blond woman's always the server — is often out of dishes). Most importantly, though, Il Tajut is different.
The menu features cuisine from Friuli, a small, northern Italian region that borders Slovenia and Austria. There's no amatriciana here; instead, specialties include frico, a flat cake made with potatoes, onions, and cheese (€9), shown at left; spatzli, a kind of pasta well-known to Swiss and Germans (€9); canederli, dumplings that here are made out of bread and mixed with butter and ricotta (€10); and goulash,that hearty stew usually credited with Hungarian origins (€10). The last time I was there, I had a delicious tagliolini with venison ragu and ricotta affumicata (€10). And the wine list is extensive, boasting a number of northern Italian wines that are hard to find elsewhere in Rome.
The place isn't perfect. A dish of sausage and potatoes (shown at top) was swimming in even more oil than you'd expect, most of the food is fairly heavy, and the prices are a little high for what's essentially peasant fare. The service (as in, the one waitress) isn't always particularly fast.
But for super-friendly, personalized service, a quiet, whimsical atmosphere, and a taste of something different, Il Tajut is just right.
Il Tajut. Via San Giovanni in Laterano 244, in Celio, near San Giovanni in Laterano and a 10-minute walk from the Colosseum. Dinner only; open from 7pm daily. For a map and more information, click here.
If I hadn’t ordered the carbonara, I might have left Testaccio’s Lo Scopettaro much more impressed. And feeling less like I’d just consumed a pile of bricks and several lead irons (although that was my own fault, being someone unable to take a couple bites and leave the rest untouched).
Lo Scopettaro is touted, by some, as one of Rome’s rustic, traditional tavernas, guaranteed to serve up good pastas for okay prices. RomaToday says that “for years it’s been a true institution in the capital, a sure spot for those who love traditional Roman cuisine.”
But I think at some point along those 80 years it’s been around, Lo Scopettaro may have started resting on its laurels. After all, from the crowd in there last night (mostly Italian, plus one or two tables of tourists), it seems like it can.
The good news about Lo Scopettaro: It has both outdoor and indoor seating, and the indoor section is, indeed, rustic and quaint. Its menu is packed with options for true cucina romana lovers, from nervetti di vitello (€8, and that’d be nerves of veal — yum!) to rigatoni con pajata (€12 for pasta with the intestines of a milk-fed calf). (Don’t worry, there’s plenty for less adventurous eaters, too, from a normal amatriciana to classic saltimbocca).
The service was also surprisingly on point. With our reservations, we were sat right away and even given the option of immediately sitting inside or outside — whoa. We were served promptly and politely throughout the whole meal. For that, I give Lo Scopettaro big ups.
What about the food, you say? In a word: Uneven. The good tasted homemade, filling and yummy; the bad was bland. And our plates were half one, half the other.
An amatriciana’s (€9) spiced-just-right sauce was delicious (although the noodles were, ahem, most definitely store-bought… can’t imagine Grandma would approve). The muscolo di vitello (veal muscle), served in a thick tomato stew with carrots, was filling and tasty. But the chicory, one of only a couple of contorni in season, was undersalted and underspiced, even though we’d asked for it with lots of pepper.
The real disappointment, though, was the carbonara. Extremely heavy, it had a ton of cream and absolutely no bite. If the chef had added black pepper or salt, I couldn’t taste it. I was confused: After all, this was supposed to be one of Lo Scopettaro’s specialties. I saw plate after plate of the stuff leaving the kitchen, heading to other (Italian-speaking) tables.
It was only after I’d slogged halfway through my plate, wondering if I was missing something or if it was an “off” night, when we overheard the following conversation at the table behind us:
Happy middle-aged Italian couple, tucking into their two plates of carbonara, to the waiter: “Please, tell us. What is the secret with this dish?”
Waiter: “We use a lot of cream and not very much egg.” (Could have told you that).
Couple: “It’s so good!”
Waiter: “Yes, most other restaurants do it differently, with more egg, but this is how we like it.”
These two were apparently regulars, at least if the free cherry pie they got had anything to say about it.
So: Regulars must come here for Lo Scopettaro’s carbonara, which apparently they like thick, creamy, and missing the egg, salt and black pepper that I usually associate with the dish — and which nobody else serves like that. If you can’t see yourself agreeing with them, I’d still say go to Lo Scopettaro — if you’re in the area, and if you steer clear of the carbonara.
Also be ready to fend off the waiter’s (very polite!) attempts to sell you on the tasting menu, which, at €37, seems pretty expensive for a “rustic” place in Testaccio, especially if not all those dishes are top-notch. As it was, our bill came to €53 for two, including a not-so-great bottle of the house red (€10). For cucina romana, that’s plenty steep enough.
Lo Scopettaro. Lungotevere Testaccio 7, in Testaccio. For a map, click here.
You don't realize how dire the dining situation is in Rome until you
call 20 places on your list in late August, the height of ferragosto, looking for a reservation
somewhere, anywhere, with edible food. But all that pulling out my hair
(and running up my phone bill) allowed me to, at the very least, come
up with a list of places that are open. Right now. And good, not like
those awful tourist places you see on the percorso between the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain.
And thus, I reveal to you (drum roll, please!) my hard-earned list. Let
no man or woman in Rome have to wait seven more days for a good dinner
-Taverna Trilussa. Trastevere. I just wrote about this place;
it's slightly pricey, but the pasta, done the traditional Roman way, is
pretty darn good. Try to reserve a seat outside. +39 065818918.
–Asinocotto. Trastevere. It's next on my list for what I've heard about
its traditional-dishes-with-a-twist, like ravioli filled with salted
cod and marjoram or coconut mousse with gingered, dried fruits. +39 06
Campo dei Fiori. Overpriced and probably overrated, but also well-liked (at least by tourists) for
its classic Italian pastas, meat and fish. Another plus for visitors:
It's right in the heart of the centro storico. +39 066875287.
Trastevere. Modern, hip, and highly-renowned. I'm told it's hard to get
out of there for less than €50 a head, at the very least. I'm also told
it's well worth it. I'm saving up my money to find out. +39 0658335903.
Ghetto. I generally try to steer clear of the Ghetto, but I've heard
this is a gem (or at least, fairly good) in a sea of tourist traps.
Come here if you have a fried-food craving or need to nosh kosher. +39
-Lo Scopettaro. Testaccio. Boasts traditional (and cheap) cucina romana; I'm going tonight, so stay tuned. It's been on my list for a while. Update: Read about my experience at Lo Scopettaro here. +39 065742408.
–Le Tre Zucche.
Portuense. Off-the-beaten-path, but some locals say it's worth it for
the yummy, creative food; diners especially recommend the tasting menu.
-Bucatino. Testaccio. A favorite for classic Roman dishes like bucatini all'amatriciana and gnocchi. Cheap prices. +39 065746886.
–Osteria dell'Arco. Porta Pia. Creative Roman cuisine, moderate prices. +39 068548438.
None of those fit the bill? Ethnic restaurants (like Monti's Maharajah) and chains (like Insalata Ricca) are usually open during ferragosto, too.
Yes, your passport’s important. But that’s not what I mean. As much as many people seem to plan their trips to Rome down to the detail, there are some mistakes that can be easy to make… from using TripAdvisor for restaurants to coming during ferragosto. Below, eight items to keep in mind while planning a trip to Rome.
1. Bring your student ID. If you’re a university student, bring your I.D. card with you. It’s true that this gets you fewer discounts than it does in more student-friendly countries like, say, Greece, but it does get you a discount at the Vatican (€8 instead of €15) and can come in handy elsewhere, too. If you’re an E.U. citizen, also make sure to bring an I.D. with you whenever you’re sightseeing: You lucky Europeans get discounts at almost all of Rome’s sites, including the Colosseum, forum, and Borghese Gallery.
2. Don’t come in July or August Think about what time of year you’re coming. Yes, little Johnny gets the summer off from school. But so do everybody else’s kids, so this is when the hotels are full (and pricey), the Colosseum’s packed, and you have to stand on tiptoes to get a look at the Vatican’s Laocoön. Not to mention that it’s hot, sweaty, and in August, Romans celebrate ferragosto— meaning that the city’s best restaurants and family-run shops are closed. (For proof, see photo above). Scheduling limitations are understandable. But if there’s any way to sweep away to Rome in June, or better yet, spring break, fall, or Christmas, you’ll have a much more relaxing, rewarding experience. Little Johnny will thank you.
3. Do your restaurant research… Understandably, a lot of people come to Rome and think, “All these restaurants serve Italian food. They MUST all be good!” Sadly, that’s not the case. You would wind up eating in a tourist trap if you showed up at Times Square hungry and confused (I know I have…), and you will wind up having the same experience in Rome. Not might. Will. It’s a tourism-based city, and lots of restaurants take advantage of that, shoveling their customers terrible, microwaved food along with a gut-wrenching bill.
So if you’re spending any amount of time thinking about what museums and sites you want to see in Rome (and who doesn’t?), then do yourself a favor: Use some of that time to think about where you’ll eat, too. You’ll be spending at least two hours a day dining, three or four if you’re doing it the Italian way. You don’t want to feel like those hours, or euros, are wasted.
4. …but don’t do your restaurant research on TripAdvisor. Yes, TripAdvisor is good for some things. It is not good for restaurant recommendations, at least here in Rome. It’s too easy to play the system — aggressively asking clients to post 5-star reviews, having cousins and siblings put up fake reviews, etc. I’m not casting any aspersions on the restaurants that are listed as Rome’s “best” on TripAdvisor. But. Suffice it to say that I’ve never heard of most of the TripAdvisor top-15 (Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, a local favorite, and Babbo’s, which is pretty good for the value, aside), among anyone claiming to be a “foodie” or even “very enthusiastic eater.” And those restaurants have never, ever come up as recommendations to me from any Roman or expat friends in all the times I’ve asked.
But the bad news continues. Also be wary of guidebooks, since as with all restaurant scenes, things change quickly here in Rome, and guidebook-info is often at least a year behind. (Not to mention that as soon as a restaurant winds up in a guidebook, it often starts resting on its laurels). For proof, just check out my post on Ristorante Montevecchio. In 2007, it had a glowing review from NPR. But three years is a long, long time in the dining world.
So what do you do? Well, research elsewhere — preferably in recent newspaper articles like, okay, mine, and on good Rome-food websites like Katie Parla’s www.parlafood.com. I’ll also be adding more and more restaurants to the “Food and Drink” part of this site, so stay tuned.
5. Think ahead of time about taking a tour. Because if you’re interested in the concept at all, what will happen is this: You’ll get to the Colosseum. You’ll see the line. Some nice-looking 20-something holding a clipboard will stop you and say “Hey, do you speak English? Do you want to skip this twenty-three-hour line?” And before you know it, you’ll be hustled into a tour that, well, might get mixed reviews, to put it nicely.
Instead, do your research in advance and think about what you might want to take a tour of. (The Vatican can overwhelm visitors, and those companies worth their salt arrange for you to skip the line; the Forum can seem like a pile of rubble without a knowledgeable guide; an evening city walk can help you get your bearings). Then book it. Done. You don’t have to think about it again — nor do you have to get swept into a group of 50 with a barely-English-speaking guide, all because you didn’t book a well-researched company in advance.
6. If making a strict itinerary, know your closing dates. I never fail to be saddened — and surprised — by the number of visitors who come to the Vatican Vatican museums on Sunday, expecting to waltz right in. Why do these downtrodden hordes surprise me? Because the Vatican museums (including the Sistine Chapel and Raphael rooms, of course) are always closed on Sunday. (Except for the last Sunday of the month, when it’s free, but that means the line snakes for miles and miles, so….).
If you’re planning your sites day by day, make sure you know what will be open when. If you can’t find out opening dates for a museum/restaurant/site through a quick search online, give them a call on Skype. Also, remember that if you want to go to the Borghese Gallery (and you should! It’s lovely!), you must reserve in advance.
7. Don’t get a RomaPass. Necessarily. A lot of visitors do this ahead of time because it seems like a great idea: Once you activate it, your first two entries to sites are free, the rest are discounted, and you get free public transport, for three days. Sounds pretty great, right?
Before you spring for it, though, consider which sites you’ll be going to first — and if “skipping the line” is worth it. (The only RomaPass site that tends to have a long line is the Colosseum). A RomaPass costs €25. Let’s say you’re coming to Rome and you’re doing a Colosseum tour with a company that lets you cut the line. So instead, you immediately do the Capitoline museums (€7.50 saved) and the Palazzo Barberini (€5 saved), neither of which have lines that I’ve ever seen. In the next three days, you would have to take the bus or metro six times and hit up three more sites that charge you entry for the card to even pay for itself. (Are you even going to three more sites that charge you entry? Most top spots, including the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Basilica, and other churches, don’t have an entry fee. Plus, the RomaPass does not include the Vatican museums, a €15 entry).
You also don’t have to buy a RomaPass in advance: If you decide you want to buy one once you get here, you can purchase it from any of the ticket desks of the participating sites or from ticket desks at some metro stops, including Termini, Spagna and Ottaviano.
For a RomaPass FAQ, click here; for a list of the museums it includes and their respective discounts, click here.
8. Forget the traveler’s cheques. Or, at least, don’t go too crazy: They’re nice insurance, but can be way more of a hassle than they’re worth. Bringing a big wad of cash and expecting to change it when you get here is a bad idea, too, only because any of the money-exchange places you find will give you a “you-must-be-kidding” (and not in a good way) kind of rate.
Easier: Bring a couple of ATM cards and use them when you get here. (At least one will work. Really.) For bigger purchases, use a credit card, like Visa’s CapitalOne, that doesn’t bang you with a surcharge for international fees. Both options will give you the “High Street” exchange rate, not the rate that some guy with a storefront and some pretty currency symbols came up with.
Just remember two things. First: Credit cards are accepted far less often in Italy than they are in other countries, including the U.S. and U.K., so you should always have cash on hand. Second: To be on the safe side, make sure you call your bank and credit card companies in advance to inform them that you are going abroad, so charges that they see won’t be the nefarious workings of some Roman scam artist.
If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.
The wonderful meals you can enjoy in Italymight not be around forever. Between globalization, a farming crisis, and the demand (particularly by tourists) for out-of-season products, the way Italy makes and consumes its food is changing. Just check out the relatively-sudden prevalence of grocery stores (there are three within a 5 minutes' walk from me) or the crowds that pack the (yes, few and far between, but still existing) McDonald's in Rome for proof.
The same way you'd think twice before tossing garbage into the street, think about how your choices of restaurants and foods might impact the (culinary and natural) environment around you. Katie Parla gives some excellent tips for how to be a conscientious eater — in Italy, or anywhere.
Check out (my) verdicts for Rome’s most local, best-value places for coffee, gelato, wine, cucina romana and more in my article for the Guardian’s travel section, “Eat Like a Local in Rome.” Agree with my choices? Disagree? Feel free to comment below!