You came to Rome to see monumental world wonders like the Colosseum and the Pantheon, to gaze slack-jawed at centuries-old works of art, to stroll beautiful piazzas and eat gelato. You did NOT come to Rome to order cheap frozen fare and sour house wine from a menu that’s been poorly translated into six different languages. You’re better than that.
It’s been a long hot day of obligatory sightseeing in Rome’s centro storico; your mission now is to guiltlessly scarf down heaps of pasta in an establishment that’s not a total tourist hellhole. Here are the best spots to grab a bite, a glass of vino, and actually legit gelato in Rome’s city center -- it will taste good, and there might even be locals there!
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Best for: Pasta and a bottle of wine, a stone’s throw from the Pantheon This is a family run traditional trattoria right next to the Pantheon that focuses on Roman pasta classics like cacio e pepe, carbonara, pajata (the sauce is made with intestines), and when in season, Roman-style artichokes. The wine list is spectacular; all of the wines are sourced from around Italy with a bottle for every price range. Sommelier Diego Donati is particularly fond of natural Lazio producers, so order a bottle of wine from Cantina Ribelà.
Best for: Life-changing fresh pasta near the Trevi Fountain Colline Emiliane specializes in cuisine from Emilia-Romagna, a region in northern Italy with arguably the best food in the country (so, maybe the best food in the world?) The focus here is on perfectly-made egg pasta, so thinly rolled it feels like satin. Try to swing reservations in advance -- this is hands down the best restaurant near the Trevi Fountain. The pumpkin tortellini with sage and butter is a near-religious experience.
Best for: Incredible pizza near the Campo de’ Fiori For the the best pizzeria in the center of Rome, head to Emma. The dough is sourced from the expert bakers at Roscioli bakery and the toppings, such mozzarella and tomatoes, are sourced from local vendors. The result is a high-quality pizza. A huge bonus is Emma is open at lunch seven days a week, which is not common in Rome, where pizza is a nighttime meal.
Best for: Creative, seasonal dishes in a sceney space near the The Pantheon This quirky chic spot focusses on ingredients and creativity, with a menu that changes daily with the seasons. Pasta dishes are excellent and made by hand, and the wine list is well-curated with small, natural producers. Plus it’s open all day, so if you can’t get in at lunch or dinner time, you can usually snag a table without a reservation in the late afternoon.
Best for: A quick snack near Piazza Navona Supplizio has dedicated itself to Rome’s ubiquitous street food: supplì, or fried rice balls. These ridiculously addictive morsels are made with the same rice used for risotto. The classic style has a ragu-based sauce with a small ball of mozzarella in the center, but Chef Archangelo Dandini offers a variety of supplì based on classic Italian pasta like carbonara or cacio e pepe.
Best for: Carbs to-go near the Campo de’ Fiori This forno (bakery) is rightfully famous for producing delicious pizza bianca, another of Rome’s marvelous and simple street foods. Pizza bianca is a Roman flat bread, similar to focaccia. Equal golden parts chewy and crispy, with perfect amounts of olive oil and salt, it’s the perfect midday pre-lunch treat. It can be split open and filled or eaten right away, or wrapped in brown paper to go. Just remember to dispose of the paper properly... Rome has a serious litter problem.
Best for: Serious wine lovers near the Campo de’ Fiori This cozy little bar off the Campo de’ Fiori is a oenophile’s paradise: low lighting, tables crammed up against walls of wine, furniture made from wine crates, and one of the most passionate bar owners in the city. Massimo Crippa happily shares his wine knowledge to help patrons pick the perfect bottle from his extensive cellar. He focuses on small, natural producers and has always been a champion of wines made locally in the Lazio region. Small plates are also available for noshing.
Best for: People watching with a glass of vino in the Piazza Navona Thirty feet from the dramatic Piazza Navona, Enoteca il Piccolo may be one of Rome’s smallest wine bars. With less than 20 seats, it makes up for its small size with its great location and people-watching opportunities, from locals walking their dogs to tourists from all over the world.
Best for: A caffeinated pick-me-up by the Pantheon Right on the corner of Piazza della Rotonda facing the Pantheon, Tazza d’oro has been caffeinating locals and tourists alike since 1946. They roast and grind their own beans, which are sourced from the world over. One of the house specialties is granita di caffe, a slushy coffee served with whipped cream that really hits the spot on a hot day.
Best for: Coffee and pastries near the Jewish Quarter To be clear, not all coffee in Italy is good. More often than not it is bitter, burnt, and served alongside horrible industrial pastries. If you are going to have one espresso or cappuccino in Rome, do yourself a favor and go directly to Roscioli Caffè, near the Jewish Quarter. The pastries are the best of any bar in Rome and the coffee is always good.
Best for: An impressive craft beer selection in The Jewish Quarter Created by one of Italy’s leaders in craft beer, Teo Musso, this attractive spot boasts over forty beers on tap -- mostly Italian, plus some rare and international selections. The bar food is delicious and salty (the homemade cacio e pepe chips in particular). During the summer, it’s well known for having some of the best A/C in town, so this is a legit place to go after nearly fainting at the Colosseum.
Best for: Actually good and creative gelato by the Colosseum There is no end to the industrial, artificially colored gelato that can be found in Rome. But there are certain precautions one can take to avoid it: Is the pistachio bright green, and the banana bright yellow? Move along. Head straight to Fatamorgana, an artisanal gelateria with locations throughout Rome, including Monti and near Campo de’ Fiori. The gelato is freshly made with organic ingredients and flavors that range from classic to a little more adventurous, like pecorino and honey, horseradish, or chocolate and tobacco.
Best for: Traditional gelato made in-house near Piazza Navona Another solid gelato option is Gelateria del Teatro has two central locations, with one very close to the lovely Piazza Navona. They make more traditional flavors (the pistachio and hazelnut are personal favorites) and dabble in fruitier flavors like mango and passionfruit. So maybe treat yourself to two scoops.
Sarah May Grunwald is a food and wine writer. She leads food and wine tours in Rome and around the towns of Lazio. She is a certified sommelier and is currently a WSET Diploma candidate. She lives in the Castelli Romani where she tends to a permaculture garden and produces olive oil. She is the owner of Taste Georgia, a Tbilisi based food and wine tour company. Follow her on Instagram @sarah_may_g_ and on Twitter @antiquatours.