My Three No-Fail Rome Restaurants

Kick-ass carbonara from Da Danilo in RomeSometimes, I feel like I'm slagging off on Rome's restaurants more than anything else.

However. There is fantastic food in this city, and honest people serving it. You just have to know where to go.

When I need a no-fail, top-notch, not-too-expensive Italian meal (like when guests are in town), these are the three restaurants I now turn to. The food is fantastic, the service good, the atmosphere untouristy, the prices moderate. And I haven't found something surprising added to my bill. (Yet).

My top picks to eat in Rome…:

With a group of friends or family: Flavio al Velavevodetto

Flavio al Velavevadetto in Testaccio, Rome

I was a little late to the Flavio al Velavevodetto lovefest, having been preceded by, among others, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini. But I'm so glad I arrived.

Tucked into Monte Testaccio (if you don't believe that the hill comes from an enormous pile of Roman amphorae, thanks to being a dump in ancient times, just check out the restaurant's glass wall, above), Flavio al Velavevodetto serves up all the traditional Roman dishes, but in a way that makes even your 100th amatriciana taste almost, well, new. Don't miss their fritti, vegetables so lightly fried they remind me of tempura.

Fritti at Flavio al Velavevodetto
The other bonus of Flavio is the ambience. It's elegant and understated, and the interior is much roomier than at crammed little trattorie in the center. In the summer, you can dine out at the lovely terrace upstairs, a particularly good bet if your crowd is on the loud side. Plus, the serving staff is unfailingly polite and pretty fast—rare things for Rome.

Flavio al Velavevodetto is located at Via Monte Testaccio 97, a short walk from the Piramide metro stop. Or you can, of course, take the ever-present number 3 "foodie" bus to get there. Call +39 06 5744194 for reservations.

On a date: Da Danilo

I first stumbled into Da Danilo because it was just around the corner from my first apartment. Until the newspaper articles on the walls tipped me off, I had no idea that the place was a local legend. Even now, two years later, it remains legendarily good. And surprisingly local. If a bit on the expensive (and, at night, crammed-together-tables) side.

The small, so-intimate-you're-bound-to-knock-knees trattoria serves up Roman dishes, but with such fresh ingredients, they hardly compare. Don't miss the carbonara (top of post), with one of the most delicious, smoky-crispy-perfect pieces of guanciale I've ever encountered. Not to mention this carpaccio, dressed with puntarelle or truffle shavings.

Da Danilo food in Rome

Da Danilo is located at Via Petrarca 3, a stone's throw from Piazza Vittorio Emanuele and its metro stop. Call +39 06 77200111 for reservations. 

For a business meal: L'Asino d'Oro

L'Asino d'Oro restaurant Rome

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: L'Asino d'Oro just might be my favorite restaurant in Rome. At least, it's in the top three.

Here's where to go when the idea of more cucina romana, or of checkered tablecloths, makes you want to get on the next plane to anywhere. Yes, the food is Italian—but it's Umbrian. With a twist. No amatriciana on the menu here; instead, look for deliciousness like stewed wild boar in a sweet wine sauce.The atmosphere is sleek and modern, the staff professional, and the prices good. If you're pinching your pennies, you also can't beat the 3-course €12 tasting menu at lunch.

L'Asino d'Oro is located at Via del Boschetto 73 in the heart of Monti, a short walk from the Forum or Colosseum. Call +39 06 48913832 for reservations.

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L’Asino d’Oro: Just Maybe My Favorite Restaurant in Rome

Outdoor seating at L'Asino d'Oro, Sforza's restaurant in Monti, Rome

I'd always wanted to try L'Asino d'Oro, the Umbrian restaurant, run by renowned chef Lucio Sforza, that had made the leap from Orvieto to Rome's Montesacro neighborhood. But, somehow, life got in the way. Before I had a chance to try it, the Rome location closed.

And then, this past February, L'Asino d'Oro reopened in Monti. A short walk from my apartment. I had no more excuses.

This past weekend, I went for the first time. And it was so good, I went back again four days later for lunch. I can't recall any other restaurant in Rome–not Le Mani in Pasta, not Palatium, not even Roma Sparita–that's made me such an addict so quickly.

Given the restaurant's glowing reviews and the elegant crowd inside (unsurprisingly, the restaurant was completely booked up), I had high expectations on Saturday. The meal, though, beat every single one.

Dinner kicked off with two surprises: smiling servers (rare for Rome!), and a little "taste" from the kitchen, a chicory and ricotta frittata drizzled with olive oil. Then came the fettucine in a duck liver and Vin Santo sauce (€10), one of those bizarre-but-perfect pairings that you just don't find at your average trattoria, and scafata with fava beans, peas and chard (€9). Wild boar stewed in "dolceforte," a reduction of chocolate and red wine–kind of like an Umbrian version of mole (€15). And a super-tasty twist on zuppa inglese that was light, creamy and just sweet enough.

I returned that Wednesday. I had to try their lunch: €12 for an antipasto, primo, secondo, glass of wine, and water. As I suspected, it just might be the best lunch deal in town. (Four-euro pastas at the Spanish Steps aside). For starters, the patio (shown at top) is a lovely choice on a nice day. The service is just as attentive as at night. The portions are smaller, of course, but just right for a lunch that doesn't leave you reeling. (Or rolling). The menu changes daily, and it wasn't quite as creative as what we'd seen at dinner. Still, it was delicious: pumpkin soup, ravioli with ricotta (below), and lamb stewed with artichokes. Ravioli at L'Asino d'Oro, Monti, Rome

So there you are. Another top restaurant to add to your list, and a well-priced one, too. As for me, I'm just thrilled to have found a restaurant that replaces a once-upon-a-time favorite in Monti. Let's just hope L'Asino d'Oro doesn't follow the same well-trodden path.

L'Asino d'Oro. Via del Boschetto 73, Rome. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Click here for a map of L'Asino d'Oro's location.

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