Eat Like Nero, Spend Like Vespasian: Rome’s Best Cheap Eats
It’s a commonplace saying that, while it’s very difficult to find a bad meal in Rome, it’s very easy to find an expensive one. This doesn’t just apply to high-end restaurants: even some humble trattorias, knowing they can exploit visitors’ hunger and lack of local knowledge, charge outrageous prices for a simple plate of pasta. But don’t worry, it’s still possible to do Rome on a budget!
There’s a proper time for a big hedonistic dinner (and we encourage you to treat yourself to one!) but often you just want a good meal at a good price. Luckily, Rome is full of cheap restaurants: old-fashioned osterie that cater to locals, sandwich-shops with gourmet ingredients, or even the occasional affordable spot that’s simply forgotten to adjust its menu for inflation in decades. With some variety of cuisine and location, here are ten of the best cheap eats in Rome.
- Da Augusto
This no-frills trattoria on a quiet piazza in Trastevere is a blast from the past: don’t expect your server to speak English, but also don’t expect to spend more than €15 per person, including water and wine. They do a fantastic rigatoni cacio e pepe, but the prices are best for their traditional Roman meat dishes: roast pork (€8), ossobuco (€9) and tripe (€7.50). The chairs are plastic and the table-cloths paper, but the food itself is top-notch.
One of the ways they keep costs down is by strictly observing the sacred Roman Food Calendar: gnocchi only on Thursdays, salted cod (baccalà) only on Fridays. Try to come on Tuesday for one of the most affordable plates of calamari in Rome. If you need further proof of their old-school legitimacy, check out how terrible their Facebook page is.
Piazza de’ Renzi 15 (Trastevere)
Lunch and dinner; no weekly closure. No credit cards.
- Mordi e Vai
Chef Sergio Esposito’s sandwiches are so good that we ranked his market-stall among our 10 Best Restaurants in Rome 2019. After working as a butcher for decades, he brought his knowledge of meat and traditional cuisine to bear on the humble panino. This is not your usual ham and cheese: beef with amatriciana sauce, chicken cacciatore, and even veal carbonara, all cradled in locally-sourced bread. These standards and a changing list of specials are always €5 or less.
Housed within the Testaccio Market, this stall is constantly thronged with locals and foodies alike. As an added bonus, Sergio also sells cheap beers and little bottles of local wine (slightly more than a large glass for €2.50). There are places to sit, but after you’ve wolfed down your sandwich be sure to wander the marketplace to pick up some cheap fruit for dessert: this is Rome’s local produce shop.
Mercato Testaccio, Via Beniamino Franklin 12 (South-Central stall)
8am-3pm; closed Sundays
- Pizzeria Montecarlo
The most important rule of finding affordable restaurants in Rome is to never eat next to anything famous. It was a surprise and delight, then, to discover this amazing, very cheap pizzeria only a stone’s throw from Piazza Navona (also convenient for Castel Sant’Angelo). With whole pizzas starting at €5.50 (and a half-litre of house wine for less), this may be your best budget meal in Rome.
Don’t be thrown off the multilingual menu (usually another red flag)––this is the real deal. Roman pizza is thin and crispy, with a good amount of char for added flavor, and Montecarlo’s is one of the best examples. Be careful with the toppings: although you might be tempted to load them on, these thin crusts can only handle so much weight. Good bets are cipolla (onion) or Napoletana (anchovies), in addition to the usual offerings.
Vicolo Savelli 13 (Centro Storico)
12pm-1am; closed Mondays. No credit cards.
- Zia Rosetta
The rosetta is the ubiquitous, Roman, rose-shaped bun: soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside when fresh––completely inedible when not. The buns are (thankfully) always great at this Monti sandwich shop, which specializes in panini made from rosette. The gastronomic imagination of their creator (“Auntie Rose”) has produced a huge number of radical fillings, always sourced from high-quality producers. Try the “Cornelia” (eggplant meatballs and almond pesto) or the “Mary Rose” (salmon, avocado and yoghurt sauce).
Most of the cheap places to eat in Rome on this list keep their prices low because they are venerable institutions that cater to a local crowd. Zia Rosetta is new, and also forward-looking. The flavors are inventive, and the aesthetic definitely hipster, as befits this trendy neighborhood. Of course, they sell craft IPA.
Via Urbana 10 (Monti)
Monday-Thursday, 11-4; Friday-Sunday 11-10.
- La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali
After a long day exploring the ancient wonders of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, your exhaustion might tempt you to settle for one of the tourist traps that cluster around these famous monuments. Surprisingly, and with our undying respect, one local spot has resisted the impulse to cash in and continues to serve old Roman food at old Roman prices.
The Imperial Fora are a complex of ancient public squares built by the emperors (now only sporadically open to the public, but visible from the street above). Tucked behind the ancient Forum of Augustus, and less than a 10-minute walk from the Colosseum, the Taverna offers the most affordable food of such quality in the neighborhood. Pasta dishes start at €9 and are prepared with skill and quality ingredients.
Via della Madonna dei Monti 9 (Colosseum/Monti)
Lunch and dinner; closed Tuesdays.
- I Supplì
Rome’s street food par excellence, a supplì is a ball of rice breaded and fried (unlike the Sicilian arancino the rice is mixed with a savory meat ragu.) The best are called “a telefono”, because the fresh stringy mozzarella at their core stretches out like a telephone cord after your first bite. That’s the way they’re served here, at this eponymous tavola calda (hot counter) in Trastevere. One is a snack, two or three are (delicious but unhealthy) meal. At €1.20 each, they’re the cheapest gourmet bite in Rome.
While the supplì are obviously the star attractions, there are plenty of other options, all suitable for the budget traveller: pizza by the slice, fried cod, as well as fresh pasta sold by weight. The counter is always busy, but make your way to the front and order with confidence.
Via di San Francesco a Ripa 137 (Trastevere)
9am-10pm; closed Mondays.
In 2008, local chef Stefano Callegari had the genius idea of splicing the yeast-leavened crunch of pizza with the triangular, white-bread sandwich known as the tramezzino. His marvelous creation, the trapizzino, is Rome’s greatest snack, and, at only €3.50 each, two can be one of Rome’s cheapest meals. This hybrid creation is the Cronut of Italy, and while you might compare it to pizza, a sandwich or even a pita pocket, there’s really nothing else like it.
The sturdy triangle of pizza is filled with a variety of delicious fillings inspired by Rome’s traditional cuisine: pork & caramelized onion, baby octopus & tomato, and even tripe! Their original location in Testaccio has now been joined by outposts near the Vatican and in Termini Station’s Mercato Centrale so you have no excuse not to try this highlight of Rome’s cheap eats.
Via Giovanni Branca 88 (Testaccio)
Piazza Trilussa 46 (Trastevere)
Via Vespasiano 2 [inside Be.Re.] (Vatican)
Via Giovanni Giolitti 36 (Termini Station)
Continuous hours, varying by location.
- Er Buchetto
A few years ago I was visited by my old professor of archaeology; after a long visit to the wonderful Palazzo Massimo museum, we needed some lunch. “Let’s go to that porchetta place, the little hole-in-the-wall with the cheap wine,” he said. Porchetta? Italy’s traditional, mouth-watering pork sandwiches? Near Termini, home of fast-food and rip-off restaurants? “When were you last there,” I asked incredulously. He looked up and thought… “1982.”
Amazingly, it’s still there (since 1890!), and it’s still delicious. Two sandwiches and a half-litre of local wine for under €10 make this one of Rome’s best budget food options, and it’s a welcome oasis of authentic Italian food in the cuisine around the train station.
Via del Viminale, 2 (Termini Station)
10am-3pm, 5pm-9pm; closed Mondays.
How Do I Avoid Getting Ripped Off in a Roman Restaurant?
Never eat right next to something famous; although there are exceptions, you’ll pay a premium to eat right next to an important site. Also, avoid any restaurant that has staff on the street inviting you in: they need you more than you need them. Finally, if they have a big outdoor menu with more than four languages, they’re probably not catering to locals.
The guides of our Rome group and private tours are always happy to offer their recommendations for a good place to eat on a budget. For a curated experience of Rome’s culinary landscape, check out our food tours.