Italy; the home of all things wonderful – pizza, pasta, gelato, cappuccinos and sometimes even George Clooney. But then, even within this kingdom of carbohydrates we find the food lovers paradise – Rome.
Once home to the world’s largest empire, this former global capital is now a melting pot of the finest pizza recipes from southern Italy, Procecco and wine from the north-east region, Pesto and Bolognese from the west and central regions and perhaps most importantly, Rome’s own pride and joy, pasta.
So, how do we navigate this colossal city and avoid tourist traps? Well, as everyone’s favourite Danish pop group, AQUA (almost) sang – I’m a carby girl in a carby world. And this carby girl is here to help you out with a list of my five absolute favourite places to eat in Rome.
1. Come Il Latte
If you only remember one item from this list and only take one recommendation, I beg and plead, may it be this one. This gelato is quite simply the best. The taste, the texture, and the quality of the ingredients are to my palate, absolutely faultless. Not to mention the low price of €2.20 for a gelato piccolo (the smallest size) which includes a drizzle of chocolate into the bottom of your cone (dark or white), 2 flavours of your choosing, a dollop of fresh cream (eggnog, vanilla, plain or coffee flavoured) and wafer on top and one last drizzle of chocolate to top it all off.
This may sound excessive but I promise you it all works together perfectly and even those who aren’t gelato lovers will undoubtedly be converted.
Some flavours are permanently available but others change approximately every week. For permanent favours I would recommend the Pink Himalayan Salted Caramel as my number one. This was the first flavour I ever tried at Come Il Latte and I found it very difficult to stray. It’s a perfect balance of flavours and the creamy texture will blow your mind.
Second to this I would recommend either one of the hazelnut flavours or pistachio. The nut flavours (particularly hazelnut) are the most expensive to produce and so many tourist-trap type gelatarias only offer the Nutella flavour. With a choice of three (or sometimes more depending on the rotating options) nut flavours, the artistry and quality of Come Il Latte is again abundantly clear.
For those who are more inclined towards fruit flavours or sorbet I do have to admit that I don’t hang out in your camp too often. However, I can say that the Red Orange (milk free) and Coconut are delectable.
I’m not going to lie, the gelataria probably isn’t going to be on your way to, or in-between any of Rome’s main tourist attractions. Situated at Via Silvio Spaventa 24 it’s about a twenty minute walk from Rome’s central train station Termini and about ten or fifteen minutes from the Borghese Gallery. But really, I guarantee this short detour will be worth it.
Right in the heart of the historic centre of Rome lies Pastifico. From the outside, and the inside for that matter, the shop looks largely unremarkable. But everyday come 1:00pm, locals and tourists flock to this tiny pasta shop to buy their fresh pasta for just €4 per (generous) portion.
Everyday there are two different pasta options, most of the time one vegetarian and one not. The pasta changes daily and you won’t know what that day’s options are until you’re at the front of the queue. That said, the varieties I see the most are:
- Carbonara (a Roman specialty so you know…When in Rome)
- Gnocci with sausage
- Pasta Arabiata (a red, slightly spicy sauce) and
- Eggplant Rigatoni (my favourite)
Regardless of what you choose, the pasta itself tastes as fresh as can be and is on par, if not better (in my opinion, better) than any sit-down restaurant in town.
If you choose to eat-in (there is a small bar area for standing only) then you also receive a glass of the house wine. Alternatively, you can take your to-go box of pasta two minutes down the road to Piazza di Spagna where you can sit down, take in the amazing buildings and watch the tourist circus run around the Spanish Steps.
A queue normally starts forming outside at around 12:40/12:45 everyday. But don’t worry if you’re late, it moves quite fast and in my experience there’s never been a shortage of pasta. Pastifico is also open for dinner, but for the ultimate experience I would recommend going for lunch.
Even a pasta novice could tell that this pasta exceptional and for €4 a head, you really can’t go wrong.
3. Ciuri Ciuri
If your sweet tooth wasn’t quite satisfied by Come Il Latte, Ciuri Ciuri will definitely do the trick.
Ciuri Ciuri is a café specialising in Sicilian sweets, in particular – cannoli. The cannoli is filled when your order it with your choice of the plain ricotta cream or with chocolate chips or candied fruit. Then, both ends are decorated with pistachios, chocolate chips or fruit.
The fresh ricotta and fried wafer shell make this a very rich sweet, but with sizes starting as small as your pinkie finger it won’t keep you up through your afternoon riposo (the Italian’s version of an afternoon siesta, you will find that many small businesses close for this between 12:30-3:00pm).
If cannoli isn’t tickling your taste buds, Ciruri Ciuri had a tantalising selection of other Sicilian delicacies as well as their own gelato and excellent coffee.
Located at Via Leonina 18 the café is right the heart of the vibrant Monti district. This is the oldest neighbourhood in Rome but despite its close proximity to the Coliseum (about a 5-10 minute walk), it remains largely uninhabited by tourists. Rather, every cool Roman either lives here, or wants to. From the vintage shops to the cobble stone streets and perfectly weathered buildings, Monti has that quintessential Italian look and charm that people come from all over the world to see.
4. Rosso Pomodoro
Let me give it to you straight: Rosso Pomodoro is a multi-national chain of restaurants and it doesn’t have that little Italian trattoria feel to it. Given its multi-levelled complex in one of Rome’s busiest piazzas, I honestly never would have looked inside. But, when a friend of mine’s dad who comes from Naples (the birth place of pizza) said it was his favourite, I decided it was worth a try.
And oh my goodness was he right. This is Neapolitan style pizza as it should be – thick and doughy base, a slightly soupy centre, char marks on the bottom and cooked in just a few short minutes in the ultra hot wood fired ovens.
My favourite is the Pizza Margarita or the Margarita with mushrooms. For your first time going I would definitely recommend getting a pizza with a red sauce base. It’s a balanced flavour and not at all acidic like some tomato sauces. It’s also a great example of Neapolitan cuisine.
Rosso Pomodoro has several restaurants in Rome, but the most central is at Lago di Torre Argentina. It’s a large restaurant and I’ve never had trouble getting a table. However, it is worth noting that they do have a take away option.
5. Gelateria Del Teatro
While I hold firm that Come Il Latte is the best gelato in Rome, for a more central option Teatro is well worth a stop.
Teatro has a wide variety of interesting flavours including rosemary, lavender and chocolate and wine. The best flavour I ever had there was a seasonal entry of pumpkin and macaroon, available around October. However, the permanent flavour Sicilian Cake runs a close second, a creamy ricotta gelato with pieces of Teatro’s own cannoli inside. The gelato is homemade on site and it’s not hard to tell. Even through the glass the quality and creaminess can be clearly seen.
Gelateria Del Teatro is located at Via Coronari 65, making a perfect stop off between the Vatican, Piazza Navona, Campo Dei Fiori and the Pantheon. Like Monti, this is a lovely area to walk around.
So there we have it, my favourite five places to eat in Rome. Narrowing it down to five was an almost impossible task; I could honestly go on for days. But the best thing to do to make the most out of your food experience in Rome is to get off the main streets with the menus in six languages and find something truly authentic. When an Italian is making your food with care and tradition, well… That’s Amore.