Bologna, Piedmont, Tuscany or Sicily. These are the areas usually associated with traditional Italian food - not Rome, the city of ancient civilisation. In fact, finding authentic cafes and restaurants away from the pasta, pizza and gelato tourist menus can be difficult.
Fortunately, after hours of eating, drinking, conversing with our local mates and guides, recommendations and taste testing many unique off the beaten path eateries we came up with our favourites frequented by locals, foodies and the very knowledgeable to give you the insiders guide to experiencing Cucina Roma.
With a busy day of sightseeing ahead the best start to any day in Rome is with a real Italian coffee. Follow the smell to Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè located in the old town centre at the back of the Pantheon. Best. Coffee. Ever. Italians like their coffee strong, bitter, and in shot sized portions – take a breath and give it a go – don’t dishonour the locals and ask (as Haylee does) for a ‘really hot single shot decaffé latte with no froth’. Head to a Starbucks if that’s what you want. Otherwise, suck it up and knock back your first espresso of the day (merely asking for ‘un café’ will get you this stock standard measure!) or un café doppio (double espresso). Once you have a shot of black syrupp under your belt then you are allowed to branch out and try a monachella (coffee with chocolate and whipped cream) or the Sant’Eustachio café’s famous Gran Caffè with cream to get you revved up for your day in the Italian capital.
Most Italian’s take their coffee standing at the bar - a quick mouthful and on with the day. The crowded Cafe Sant’Eustachio may feel a little intimidating from the outside - but trust us, the locals are extremely welcoming and appreciate exactly why you are there - like we said: Best Coffee Ever!
By mid morning it is time for what many of us refer to as “morning tea”. Head away from the crowds to the cobblestone streets and medieval palazzi of Trastevere to indulge in freshly baked bread and pizza by the slice at La Renella. This small neighbourhood eatery is Trastevere’s ‘local’ Bakery and Pizzeria, where the locals purchase freshly baked bread, homemade pizzas, a variety of panini and sweet treats (which is paid for by weight, about €5 to €15 per kg).
Try the traditional Pizza Bianca (white pizza) with fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers - in season June to September) or the tuna on focaccia bread with vine ripe tomato slices and fresh arugula. You can eat in but more fun to take a feast away to enjoy in a local piazza. There is also a fish market in Travestere not to be missed that offers casual dining at The Market, a super spot to watch the local nightlife hotting up in Travestere.
If pizza is your craving our other favourite pizzeria is the authentic Taverna Le Coppelle. Located on the corner of a narrow street in between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona Le Coppelle is a great place to sit outside and enjoy some of the many choices including calzones and pastas, but go for the crispy thin airy crust of fresh authentic Roman pizza, crushed tomato sauce and a blend of melted cheeses - the anchovy meat lover’s prosciutto is one of our Dan’s favourites. (Pizzas cost between 5 and 12 Euro).
Getting away from the traditional pizzerias, one of our absolute favourites is just around the corner from the Coliseum. Trattoria Luzzi offers delicious food in a chaotic Italian atmosphere. Ranging from homemade pastas to wood-grilled pizzas and fresh salads there is something on the menu for everyone although for us the best part of the whole experience is the cheap tasty wine! “Vino della casa” paired with stringozzi con funghi (pasta with mushrooms) and an insalata caprese (tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella covered in extra virgin olive oil) you will definitely be satisfied. Alternatively, La Campagna (the countryside) is another traditional trattoria to explore. A family run business purported to be the oldest trattoria in Rome with the traditional food you would expect. You won’t see tables outside so you will have to be bold and adventure in!
As the warm southern Mediterranean begins to set it is time to line up your evenings dining. But before that an aperitivo is a must. Our destination of choice is the roof terrace of Albergo Cesari, a hotel located in Piazza di Pietra, with impressive views over the ancient city. If the Italians didn’t invent the concept of the aperativo, then they definitely perfected it! Enjoy a multitude of famous Italian brands of aperitifs which include Martini, Cinzano, Campari and Aperol – mixed with anything from Prosecco to Soda Water, and try not to fill yourself up on the complimentary plump green olives, fresh roasted almonds, rosemary infused crackers and wonderful assortment of cheeses. If your busy sightseeing day mean’t a lack of lunch then try some of their smaller dishes including the fresh caprese salad assorted meat platter or roasted vegetable panino.
Unless of course you have taken our advice and made a reservation (essential) for either one of our favourite evening osterias: Flavio Al Velavevodetto; or Osteria Bonelli. An osteria is a little less casual than the trattorias. At Velavevodetto try cacio e pepehere (tonnarelli pasta with pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper in a creamy sauce) or coda all vaccinara (Roman Oxtail stew) both very representative of the local Testaccio neighbourhood in the heart of the old city. In summer book a table on the large upstairs terrace. The vegetable sides at Osteria Bonelli are locally famous.
Going to Rome is all about the incredible architecture but don’t let that mean going without fantastic Italian food and wine. Let this little guide be your starting guide to getting away from the tourist prices and lesser quality and eating amazingly with the locals - giving you all the energy to beat the streets all day!