Rome has always taken its food seriously, valuing substance over style where eating is concerned. So, although plenty of high-end and design-driven restaurants exist, most Romans, even the well-heeled ones, will opt for tradition and hearty portions over fusion and fashion. Simple, good-value eateries (which generally go by the name of trattoria or osteria), while not often located in the most beautiful buildings, remain the stalwarts of the city’s eating scene and are unchallenged as Rome's best restaurants.
Some are unreconstructed family-run operations that have been serving up the same dishes for generations—but still do them so well that they pack in the punters day after day, attractions in and of themselves. Others are revamped old-school trattorias or bistros—places that take a tried-and-tested formula (informal service, unfussy cooking based on market-fresh ingredients) but give it a twist by upping the creativity quotient in the kitchen and offering a range of fine wines you won’t find even in the city’s best bars.
No matter which restaurants you choose from this list, you’ll be eating some of the city’s finest food in an unpretentious setting. Buon appetito!
Best restaurants in Rome
Armando is a no-frills trattoria of the kind that once was common in Rome but now is like gold dust, especially when its location is taken into account—just a few yards from an A-league attraction. A recent renovation has spruced up the interior but all the hallmarks of authenticity remain, including indifferent artworks and wonderfully friendly service from the family that has run it since 1961. The menu sticks with tried-and-tested Roman pasta and meat classics executed with love by smiley chef Claudio Gargioli. Unusually attentive to special dietary requirements, they will gladly substitute in gluten-free pasta.
Heinz Beck is, without a doubt, the most talented chef in Rome, with three—merited—Michelin stars. His technical dexterity and unerring instinct for taste and texture combinations never fail to impress. The setting for La Pergola, on the top floor of the Cavalieri hotel with its panoramic view over the city, is simply breathtaking. But what emerges from Beck’s kitchen (every dish dictated by seasonal availability) is equally so: amberjack tartare with tomato mousse and olives, potato gnocchi with caviar and chives or sea bass with olive oil-marinated vegetables are infinitely more sophisticated than they sound. The remarkable cellars are said to hold 53,000 bottles; markups on wine are very steep. But around €350 for two with a good bottle still compares favourably with restaurants at the top of the gourmet ladder in other capitals.
Don’t expect a long, leisurely experience at this diminutive family-run trattoria. Space is limited, the noise level is high and the service is fast and furious, but for typical cucina romana it is a reliable and atmospheric option. Prices are a little above the average, but the quality of ingredients is assured and there is a nice selection of lesser-known Lazio wines. Bookings are taken, but only for the early evening seating so to catch one of the outside tables get there for an early lunch or be prepared to join a very long queue.
Rome’s revolutionary pizza maker Gabriele Bonci started his astronomic rise to stardom at this unassuming pizza shop and it has consistently remained top of the list of Rome’s best pizza al taglio. The focus on the perfect dough and only the best, seasonal ingredients, along with a creative eye for toppings, have deservedly seen the Bonci brand expand across the city. Despite a recent renovation to double the size of the shop, the place is usually heaving, so join the throng and eat on the pavement outside. The location near the entrance to the Vatican Museums is ideal for a post-Sistine Chapel carb fix.
Rome’s first ever wine bar, the Cul de Sac was founded in 1977. Looking very traditional nowadays, it’s cramped inside and out, with long pine benches and tables, and is decidedly simple. But the location—just off piazza Navona, with a ringside view of the ‘talking’ statue of Pasquino—coupled with fairly reasonable prices and an encyclopaedic wine list, ensures full occupancy all the time. The food is standard wine-bar fare including a selection of home-made pâtés as well as generous sharing plates of cured meats and cheeses.
This tiny purveyor of fresh pasta has gained fame as a cheap and cheerful lunch destination in one of the priciest parts of the city. There are no frills here, just a choice of two pasta dishes (which change daily) served on plastic plates to eat at the counter or take away. But at €4 a portion, which includes water and a cup of house wine, you would be hard pressed to find a better deal in the area.
This upmarket trattoria is more difficult to get into than many top restaurants—so book well in advance. The reasons for its popularity are simple: friendly service and ambience, excellent food and a huge wine list with reasonable markups. The cuisine, like the family that runs the place, is from the region of Le Marche, so meat, fish and game all feature on the menu. Vegetarians are well served by a range of tortini (pastry-less pies); pasta-hounds can enjoy such treats as tagliolini with anchovies, pine nuts and pecorino cheese.
A hit with locals and tourists alike, Li Rioni churns out wafer-thin pizza romana from its wood-fired oven at an impressive rate, and at more-than-reasonable prices given its location just a short stroll from the Colosseum. The (slightly kitsch) interior is decked out like a Roman street with shuttered windows and terracotta hues, and in summer extra tables are set up outside on the pavement. Expect it to be packed and very noisy; exactly as a Roman pizzeria should be.
Organic, no additives, gluten-free and superb: the wonderful gelato whipped up by Maria Agnese Spagnuolo for her Fatamorgana mini-chain (and previously only available in the ’burbs) can now be found in several new easily accessible centro storico locations, including this one in the hip Monti district’s pretty piazza degli Zingari. There are all the classic flavours (with twists), plus specialities such as black cherries and beer, pears and gorgonzola, and baklava.
The minimalist yet warm interior of Patrizia Mattei’s Gianicolo restaurant provides the perfect backdrop for sampling the carefully creative menu, which changes according to the season. Although prices have risen somewhat in recent years, Antico Arco remains steadfast in its popularity and reputation. The seven-course degustazione menu is good value and the wine list offers up some sensibly priced gems. Until 6pm there is also a fixed finger food menu of miniature versions of the main dishes. Book well in advance.