I once wrote down a quote (I can’t remember who it was by) that went something along the lines of: “Sex is like Shakespeare: even when it’s bad, it’s still a damn sight better than the alternative.” The same is probably true of food in Rome: even if you’re in an over-priced pizza joint that’s equidistant from the Vatican, Colosseum and Spanish Steps, it’s still not going to be that bad. And yet, like everything, there are degrees:
11 of the Best Restaurants and Bars in Central Rome
Where to eat near the Colosseum
Possibly my favourite find in the Colosseum area was Divin Ostilia: a tiny wine bar that sells all sorts of Italian wines by the glass (including an excellent Amarone della Valpolicella) and even more by the bottle. In fact, you can even buy them to take home with you. The food is simple but tasty: between us, we tried the Melanzane di Parmigiana, spaghetti all’Amatriciana, Caprese salad, tuna tartare and friarelli. All were good, but the wines were even better.
Meanwhile, for ultra-thin Roman-style pizza near the Colosseum, head to Li Rioni. As we discovered on our first night in Rome a few years ago, after a delayed flight and an apartment check-in process that took an hour, Li Rioni’s pizza oven is fired up till nearly midnight. Thanks goodness.
Where to eat near the Vatican
You can’t come to Italy without indulging in aperitivo, and at drinks o’clock near the Vatican your best bet is to head to La Zanzara. Get your Aperol Spritz on, then expect a raft of little snacks to follow. I’ve not eaten dinner there, but La Zanzara was one of my favourite aperitivo experiences in Rome back in the day. Probably because, had we stayed, we’d have been too full from all the snacks to eat dinner anyway!
Speaking of dinner, afterwards we moved onto Il Sorpasso: a restaurant specialising in high-quality cured hams and Italian cheeses. You can get your pasta at Il Sorpasso too, but the menu is a little more creative – so it’s worth branching out into beef tartare or one of their salads.
Where to eat near the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon
I didn’t spend a lot of time in this area, but I did find one hidden gem: we stumbled across Il Bacaro while wandering through some backstreets looking for replacement flip-flops (long story). It’s half-covered in a canopy of green, leafy, trailing plants that form a soothingly cool natural shade right above the restaurant’s outdoor tables. The prices were reasonable for the area, and the house wine by the glass was delicious. I loved Il Bacaro‘s smoked beef carpaccio. I liked the mosquitoes rather less.
Where to eat near the Spanish Steps
On the street running between Via del Corso (shopper’s heaven; claustrophobe’s nightmare) and the Spanish Steps, Ginger is a popular, bustling lunch spot. They don’t take reservations; you simply turn up, give your name to the person at the front desk, and wait for your table. Efficient, fresh and simple, Ginger has plenty of lunch options – including this hearty porchetta sandwich.
Where to eat near Villa Borghese
After a morning’s culture, taking in the sculptures at the stunning Galleria Borghese, you’ll be in need of sustenance. We found exactly what we were looking for at Al Simeto: a local haunt (the staff spoke almost no English) serving up simple antipasti, excellent pasta (we tried the spaghetti all’Amatriciana and the ricotta and sage ravioli) and lovely wines. We even managed to get our hands on a fabulous bottle of Franciacorta: Italy’s answer to Champagne (just don’t let anyone fob you off with Prosecco instead).
Where to eat near Campo de’ Fiori
While I’m mainly a wine drinker, a cold beer on a hot day is a thing of beauty. For dozens of craft beers on tap, head to Open Baladin – a perfect pick-me-up after shopping at Campo de’ Fiori (a square featuring a market that’s sort of touristy and sort of authentic-feeling at the same time).
For dinner in the same area, you can’t do better than the elegant courtyard at Pianostrada – covered in twinkling fairy lights and ferny foliage. The chefs there are known for their focaccia, which comes laden with all sorts of goodies: from figs and prosciutto to mortadella and rucola. Try also Pianostrada’s “Mediterranean sushi” for an interesting fusion of Japanese and Italian flavours.
Where to eat in Trastevere
Just over the river in Trastevere, you’ll find L’Elementare – a Roman-style pizza joint with a twist. Yes, you can get your Margherita and your Capricciosa, but you can also get some interesting specials. I loved the spicy Datte Foco with ‘nduja sauce, ventricina salami and provolone. While my table-mates preferred the Parmigiana de Noantri with aubergine, basil and stracciatella.
Also worth popping into is Osteria der Belli, close to the touristy Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere. Their fish is excellent – including the sea bass carpaccio, octopus and spaghetti alle vongole – as well as their ravioli. All of which were washed down with local Lazio wine. Saluti!