A Roman Tasting Menu: Rome’s Best Restaurants 2019
If there’s one thing Romans love talking about, it’s food: the proper way to make it, the proper way to eat it, and, most importantly, where to find the best. Even mid-meal (even mid-bite!), locals will continue to debate the virtues of Roman vs. Neapolitan pizza or the ideal preparation of a pasta carbonara. Friendships have been ruined and families divided over the most crucial question: what are the best restaurants in Rome?
With the rise of amateur food bloggers and the success of Gambero Rosso (“Red Prawn”: Italy’s answer to the Michelin guide) this debate has reached a feverish intensity. Everyone shouts the praises of their neighborhood favorite, cites the legitimacy of their grandmother’s recipe, and refuses to surrender. Making things more difficult is the sheer variety of restaurants and cuisine; trying to compare a neighborhood pizzeria and a three-star ristorante is a matter of apples and oranges.
What follows, then, is a representative sample of the best that Rome has to offer, a tasting menu of the city’s culinary wonders. Each is, in our opinion, the best in its class, and while we know there will always be a debate about what is “the best”, we also know that each of these places is outstanding and definitely among the top restaurants in Rome.
1. Best Home-Cooking: Sora Margherita
As you pass by this inconspicuous doorway on a small side-street you would never guess it contained a top-notch restaurant if it weren’t for the line of people waiting for a table. Stepping inside is like walking into someone’s front room, and indeed the food is that of the Italian grandmother you always wished you’d had.
Although within the zone of the old Jewish Ghetto, Sora Margherita doesn’t keep kosher. Lucky for us: the crispy guanciale (pork cheek) shines in the glorious red sauce of their bucatini all’amatriciana (don’t refuse a napkin if offered!) They do however feature a number of dishes typical of this historic Jewish quarter, including the famous fried artichokes. No reservations, but put your name down and grab a drink nearby to soak in the atmosphere of this delightful neighborhood.
Piazza delle Cinque Scole 30 (Centro Storico)
Lunch and dinner; no weekly closure
2. Best Restaurant in the Historical Center of Rome: Renato e Luisa
Finding an amazing meal in the heart of Rome’s centro storico is never impossible, but it’s getting harder as tourist traps compete for real estate. Thank goodness for places like Renato e Luisa, which remains dedicated to high-quality Roman cuisine while being only a stone’s throw from major sites like the Pantheon and Piazza Navona.
The titular owners present updated versions of local classics with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal flavors, and Chef Renato is famous for his lighter interpretations of traditional pasta like carbonara or cacio e pepe. Beloved by tourists and locals alike, their rustic dining room is always packed: reservations are highly recommended.
Via dei Barberi 25 (Centro Storico)
Dinner only; closed Mondays
3. Best Seafood Restaurant: La Torricella
Unless you arrive by boat, Rome is far enough from the Mediterranean to make you forget that it’s only a short drive from the sea. Your only reminders are the seagulls on the Tiber and the occasional exceptional meal of fresh seafood. Although not as famous for its fish as Naples or Sicily, Rome benefits from the same waters and offers some amazing dishes.
The appeal of La Torricella is not only the talents of their chef but also the relationships they’ve built over the years with suppliers and fishermen. Everything is freshly caught from the Mediterranean: always seasonal, never frozen. Their amazing grilled calamari is testament to how little intervention (other than a splash of lemon) is necessary when you have fresh seafood and a clear supply chain. Bring your appetite.
Via Evangelista Torricelli (Testaccio)
Lunch and dinner; no weekly closure
4. Best Classic Roman Pizza: Dar Poeta
A local favorite for decades, this old Trastevere standard continues to draw crowds of students and workers with its combination of low prices and incredible flavor. The crusts are just as Roman pizzas should be: thin, crispy with just a hint of carbon. With little fuss and zero pretensions, it continues to be one of the top places to eat in Rome.
Visitors are sometimes shocked at the idea of eating a whole pizza per person, but remember that the volume of dough is actually much lower than your standard North American pie. That being said, be careful about toppings: too many will overwhelm the thin pizza and leave you with a soggy, unstable mess.
Vicolo del Bologna 45 (Trastevere)
Lunch and dinner; no weekly closure
5. Best Modern Pizza: Berberè
One of the hottest restaurant openings of Summer 2017, Berberè aims to elevate the art of pizza, literally. Their unbelievably delicious crusts are produced with natural fermentation rather than chemical yeast, yielding a product thicker than the traditional crispy Roman but not as doughy as a Neapolitan. Their dedication to their pies is matched by their fidelity to a hipster aesthetic: expect your server to be cooler than you.
The menu is limited and always changing, bringing artisanal products from around the country to top their delicious pies. The wine list is excellent, but take note of the fine selection of craft beers sourced from Italy’s nascent microbrewery industry. It’s the perfect place to recover after a visit to the nearby Borghese Gallery.
Via Mantova 5 (Salario/Villa Borghese)
Dinners everyday, lunch only on weekends; no weekly closure
6. Best “Fifth Quarter” Restaurant: Da Bucatino
In general, butchers talk about the four quarters of an animal, but historically the humble Romans became experts at extracting as much meat as possible from the mystical quinto quarto, the fifth quarter. This included all the bits of meat that less scrupulous butchers would usually discard––and less adventurous chefs would never touch. What the steak is to Florence, the lowly tripe is to Rome.
Undoubtedly the best restaurant in Rome to sample these local specialties is Da Bucatino, right in the heart of the formerly working-class district of Testaccio. A hearty trattoria, it offers heaping plates of pasta and then the full range of offal, oxtail and entrails. A must-try for the adventurous foodie is rigatoni with pajata; illegal until recently, it features the intestines of an unweaned calf (carefully cleaned) with the last meal of mother’s milk left inside to be turned into cheese during cooking. Vegetarians steer clear.
Via Luca della Robbia 84 (Testaccio)
Lunch and dinner; closed Mondays
7. Best Cacio e Pepe: Flavio al Velavevodetto
People talk about Rome as the City of Seven Hills, but often forget about the eighth one, the hill that the ancient Romans imported from abroad. Seemingly a natural formation, the Monte Testaccio is actually formed entirely from the discarded clay amphoras that brought oil and wine to the empire’s hungry capital. More shocking is that one of Rome’s top restaurants is literally built into this archaeological site; snag a table inside so you can admire the ancient pottery as you eat.
Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) is one of Rome’s classic pasta dishes. Local food blogger Natalie Kennedy has attempted to collate all the divisive opinions, but in our opinion Flavio’s is hard to top. His secret, we’re told, is leaving the cheese to sit with freshly ground pepper overnight, so that the spice is treated not a last-minute addition but a fundamental element of the dish. Archaeology aside, the cacio e pepe is worth the trip; it’s definitely one of the best plates of pasta in Rome.
Via di Monte Testaccio 97 (Testaccio)
Lunch and dinner; no weekly closure
8. Best Wine Bar: Giulio Passami L’Olio
In this hallowed establishment, when presented with a massive leather-bound tome you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the Gospels, but in fact it’s just the wine list––although here they treat it with the same kind of scrutiny and reverence. With many thousands of wine by the bottle and broad but constantly changing offerings by the glass, there is no better place to explore the viticulture of Italy. Many of the vintages are impossible to find in stores, long kept in their cellar for the benefit of loyal patrons.
While the wine is always the star, Giulio Passami L’Olio (“Giulio, pass me the oil!”) also does food, but skip the pastas in favor of their voluminous platters of formaggi e salumi (more room for wine!) The eclectic decor (plenty of vintage erotica on display) gives the whole evening the aura of a surrealist boudoir. As Stephen Sondheim’s Dionysius declares: Red, White or Pink, it’s the thing to drink!
Via di Monte Giordano 28 (Centro Storico)
Noon till late; no weekly closure
9. Best Cheap Eats: Mordi & Vai
There is a man in Rome who will make you a sandwich, and that sandwich will be the best you will ever have. It will, indeed, lead you to rethink your whole conception of sandwiches as a category and, perhaps, force you to reevaluate what you’ve been stuffing inside bread all these years.
Since before the opening of the new Testaccio Market in 2012, Sergio Esposito has been offering fresh buns packed with an astonishing variety of delicious fillings, all drawn from Rome’s local food-scape. With many offerings drawn from the quinto quarto (see #6 above) it is the perfect opportunity for the squeamish eater to sample tripe, tongue or offal. His panino di carbonara full of bacon, eggs and cheese, is perhaps the greatest hangover cure yet invented. If you’re looking for a place to eat in Rome that’s cheap and filling, go no further.
Mercato Testaccio, Via Beniamino Franklin 12 (South central stall)
8am to 3pm; Closed Sundays
10. Best Romantic Restaurant: Armando al Pantheon
A general rule of thumb when traveling is to never eat anywhere near something famous, but, as in so many ways, Armando al Pantheon breaks this law. Although just around the corner from one of Rome’s most important monuments, it has resisted cashing in on its location and instead presents one of the most elevated menus and most intimate dining rooms in Rome.
With low lighting and a hushed ambiance, there is no finer place to share a meal with someone special. The service is impeccable and the cuisine is some of the city’s most refined; it’s no wonder that it made our list of most romantic places in Rome. The only downside is that it’s often impossible to get a table; plan on making a reservation some weeks in advance.
Salita dei Crescenzi 31 (Centro Storico)
Lunch and dinner; closed Sundays and Saturday evenings
What are the best restaurants in Rome?
It’s often said that it’s impossible to find a bad meal in Rome, but far too easy to get a mediocre one. For short-term visitors, it’s worth doing the research to find the top places to eat, and there are plenty of life-changing bites to be found. Rome is a culinary wonderland, and this list is just a collection of our favorites. For a deeper look at Rome’s food culture with a certified hedonist, check out our food tours of Rome.
How much do I tip in Italy?
Italians do not have the same kind of tipping culture like North America and the UK; giving 15-20% will get you plenty of gratitude but also some strange looks. Instead, just round up your bill to the nearest whole number to avoid change, or plan on leaving 1 Euro per person in cash on the table.