When looking for a place to eat while in a strange city, whether you are looking for a quick bite or a fancy meal, we are all looking for the same thing: The best quality at the best price. While not getting ripped off.
To this end, there are some golden rules.
Golden Rule No.1: If it is very close to a major tourist attraction, keep looking.
Most eateries you see that are within view of iconic attractions such as the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Vatican Museum etc, overcharge for average or less than average food and drinks. Their goal is to get you in, get your money, and get you out. As quickly as possible. And who can blame them? They pay exorbitant rates to locate their restaurants so close to these sites, and they have to turn as much profit as they can during the high season.
We have heard all the stories about how these restaurants cut costs, from nuking store-bought frozen pizzas and other foods to selling tap water, while you may also notice sometimes you do not receive a proper receipt (a trick to avoid paying tax).
While not wanting to paint all of these restaurants and trattoria with the same brush, if you don’t want to play roulette with your dining experience, it is better to avoid these overcrowded places. Even if your kids are crying and your mother-in-law is nagging you about her need to sit and rest her feet, there is usually somewhere else just around the corner on a less touristy street, where even if the quality of the food is still not the best, it is probably at least cheaper and less crowded than their noisy neighbours with the better view!
Golden Rule No. 2: Just go to Trastevere!
When in Rome … eat in Trastevere! Seriously, if in doubt, do what the locals do.
The area of Trastevere (literally “across the Tiber”) is not connected to the metro line, so is less frequented by tourists, so maybe this is why the locals prefer to eat out here!
It may also have something to do with the quality of produce, which is evidenced by the fresh food markets you can see here every morning except on Sundays. These markets are flocked by locals, who know they are buying the best of ingredients for their home cooking, as farmers from the countryside bring their produce here every day. Just like the ancient Roman aqueducts used to bring fresh water from mountain springs into large public fountains in the city, Trastevere is the hub into which all of the freshest and highest-quality ingredients from the countryside flow. The Roman city slickers know where to find the best produce, and the local restaurants use the same suppliers.
And because it is frequented by knowledgeable locals, restaurateurs are kept honest in their prices. So you get the best of both worlds when you visit Trastevere – the highest quality grub at honest local prices!
If in doubt, hear the locals speak for themselves. Here is a recent video of random Romans being asked to name their favourite places to eat – most of their recommendations are in Trastevere! Take your pick from any of the eateries named and tell us in the comments if you agree with their recommendations!
All that being said, here are some of our favourite places to eat outside of Trastevere. Don’t expect pricing to be as reasonable as Trastevere restaurants, especially for places closer to the major tourists attractions, but if you are looking for a place close to your hotel or want to eat just after you finish your tour of one of these iconic sites, here are a few we like, including a few hidden gems that are family-run and missed by most tourists!
Close to the Vatican:
Dal Toscano, via Germanico 58-60
Popular with steak-lovers, the food here gets rave reviews. Due to its prime location close to the Vatican (see Golden Rule #1), don’t expect the prices to be on a par with Trastevere, but if you are looking for a place close to the Vatican and like your meat, these guys know their stuff!
Piccola Toscana, via della Giuliana 69
Located a little further away from the Vatican, this joint is worth the walk! Regularly receives rave reviews for its great service, cozy atmosphere and varied menu of delicious everything – Pasta, potatoes, meat, fish and definitely leave room for dessert! The staff are very friendly and greet every customer with a warm welcome.
Close to Colosseum:
DivinOstilia, via Ostilia 4
Friendly service and great food! This little place often goes unnoticed, but is one of the hidden gems in the area. The owners pride themselves on their expertise in wine, so ask them to recommend the best vintage to pair with your food!
Pasqualino, via dei SS. Quattro 66
The staff here are very friendly, and the food is pretty darn amazing! Try the pasta …
Close to Piazza Venezia:
La Cabana, via del Mancino 7-9
A nice, cozy trattoria in a central location, this spot gets a thumbs-up for its decor and atmosphere, friendly service, great food and is famous for its dessert trolley!
Close to Termini:
Matermatuta, via Palermo 51
Famous for its seafood, but has an eclectic menu where everything gets a thumbs-up!
Close to Piazza Barberini:
Il Giardino, via Zucchelli 29
Another hidden gem that you could easily walk right past, given its unpretentious and subtle exterior, but inside you will find a warm and friendly atmosphere and great food. The seafood in particular gets rave reviews.
Close to Villa Borghese:
San Marco, via Sardegna 38
Nice setting, good pizza, good pasta. Ticks all the right boxes if you are looking for a nice restaurant in a quiet area with good food and a nice atmosphere.
Coming soon … Our tips on the best gelato in Rome … !
Those are our picks, what about yours? We invite you to add your own recommendations, and cautionary tales, based on your own Rome dining experiences!! Please add to the comments below!