Italy is synonymous with some of the best food in the world and no trip to Italy would be complete without mentioning its food… and the drinks, of course! But how often do you hear stories of travellers telling you they had the worst food and service experience in Paris, London, or Rome… We certainly had our share of bad food all over the world, Italy included, and mostly in the early years of our travels… We have learned a lot over the years and we are getting better at finding good places to eat when we travel. Read about our recent experience and find out how to find the best food in Rome.
Due to the lack of time we didn’t do any research as to where to eat in Rome. Customer reviews can be extremely helpful, but I find it difficult to follow the advice in big cities as you never know where exactly in the city you will be at the time you want to eat lunch, dinner, or have some coffee… And I’m not one of those people who would walk to the other side of town for a restaurant, even if it has some amazing reviews. So here is some general advice that will lead you to the better restaurants in Rome without too much effort.
5 Tips – How to Find the Best Places to Eat in Rome
1. Ask locals for advice – eat where locals eatAsk locals about the best places to eat. We asked for some recommendations at our hotel and they pointed us to an excellent restaurant. Nothing fancy, just simple home-made Italian food at a fair price, just around the corner from our hotel. We found it so good that we ate there three evenings in a row. We were not the only ones – the place was packed with locals every evening. In case you are interested, the restaurant is called L’Orso 80 and is located just a few blocks North of Piazza Navona – 33, Via dell’Orso.
2. Eat what locals eatLook around before ordering the food and see what locals eat. If it looks good, order the same. We have applied this trick several times and got to taste some dishes we would have never ordered ourselves. Like the Roman Jewish artichoke (carciofi alla giudia), which tasted very good and much better than expected by the looks of it. Or our 15 pieces – 15 EUR antipasti menu which turned out to be 15 plates and not 15 pieces, as we had expected. That was the only time we didn’t finish our meal… Italians next to us didn’t seem to have any difficulties and ordered some pasta for the main course and a dessert on top of the antipasti… Unbelievable!
3. Don’t eat at the restaurants near the main tourist sights
Don’t eat at the restaurants at the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, etc. They are usually much more expensive, the service is bad as they expect high turnover, and the food is usually warmed up and not made when you order. You can have a 10 EUR tiramisu and a 7 EUR coffee at Piazza Navona at a tiny table so close to the other people that you can follow at least two conversations if you want to… Or you can walk for 2 minutes to one of the quieter streets a bit outside the main tourist routes and have a home-made tiramisu for 4 EUR and a coffee or tea for 2-3 EUR. Service with a smile and a nice quiet table are a bonus.
Don’t hesitate to look for better price/quality restaurants even if you think you are in the tourist area and there is nothing else around. Often, you only need to walk a block or two away from the main tourist routes in order to find some local restaurants with great menu and low prices. You can easily find a pizza or pasta for 10 EUR, even in the city centre of Rome. I once had an excellent chicken and artichoke dish for just 7 EUR, the same price as a cup of tea at the Piazza Navona.
4. Look for artisanal ice cream (gelato artigianale)
If you care for some ice cream, the best places are the ones where you can get artisanal ice cream. Look for a sign ‘gelato artigianale’ or ‘gelateria artigianale’.
One of the best places for ice cream in Rome is Giolitti with more than a hundred different flavours. We had some ice cream at Giolitti and it was absolutely delicious! We tried several flavours, including coffee, wild cherry, pomegranate and rice. I liked rice flavour the best and I would recommend it to anyone! Great discovery!
5. What you should know about Italian coffee
I am not a big coffee drinker myself, but I tried some Italian coffee just for the experience and found it terribly bitter. My cousin ordered an espresso once and her reaction to the bitter black substance at the bottom of the tiny cup was ‘I think they forgot to add the water’. From then on she only ordered cappuccino and said it was drinkable. Someone at the table next to us ordered a cup of caffe Americano and received a tiny cup with a bitter drink, the size of an espresso in the rest of Europe…
The Italian definition of a good coffee is very different from that of the rest of the world. I find it completely overrated. But this is what traveling is all about, isn’t it? You cannot experience the country if you are not open to the different habits, different food and their undrinkable coffee… So go ahead and order some coffee next time you are in Italy. For the most authentic experience, I would suggest you try a tiny espresso. Make sure you get some water (and lots of sugar) with it to get rid of the taste…
Tasting some of the best food in Rome – join a food tasting tour or do it yourself
Before I left for Rome, I was hesitant to book one of the food tasting tours. They do look amazing, by the way, but at the end we decided not to do it as it didn’t fit our schedule. If you want to join such a tour, make sure you book in advance in order to be able to choose one that fits your schedule and interests. Instead, we organised our own Italian food tour, spread over different parts of the city and over three days.
We visited two markets in Rome – Campo de Fiori and one in Trastevere where we took lots of time to look around and try some fresh fruit and fruit juice. We also visited some local food stores selling cheese or pastry and tried some of the specialties they have. We looked for some slow-food restaurants for lunch… We had coffee and Italian desserts at different cafés all over the city. We had ice cream and tried flavours we had never heard of before. And we even had Spritz because apparently it’s just something you have to try, even though the weather at that moment was not ideal for this fresh summer drink… We ate some of the best mozzarella and also the best pizza I ever had. But the best of all was discovering some new food we have never tried before.
As I said, a trip to Italy is for a very big part about the food. So make sure you take the time to find the best places and don’t settle for mediocre.
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PS – Special thanks to my cousin for the pictures in this post as she often had to wait for me to take a picture (or two) before she could start to eat or drink. She said she would think twice before going on a trip with me ever again since drinking cold coffee, eating cold spaghetti and melted ice cream is no fun… 🙂
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