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RestoReview: Restaurants in Rome

Dear friends & readers,

This is the cityprofile/restoreview you were waiting for. I have lived and worked in Rome and I believe it is one of the most gastronomically accomplished city in the world. Whether you go for traditional Roman food or for innovative cuisine, Rome offers plenty to munch on.  As in every tourist heavy city, there are also many tourist traps.  My task today is to help you avoid them and maximize your foodie experience in Rome. Not an easy task but someone has to do it and it might as well be me!  So, I have divided the restaurants by mealtime and while some of them are in the city center (next to the Spanish Steps or in Via del Corso) others are in other areas of the city that are worth exploring.

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  1. BREAKFAST

Breakfast in Rome is Cappuccino and Cornetto in your local caffe’ (in Italian we would call it “bar” but it has a different meaning in English so we will leave it at “Caffe’”).  My favorite places serve a foamy and rich cappuccino and a flaky but light cornetto:

  • Pasticceria D’Angelo, in Via della Croce.  You can have a cornetto or, if you feel like indulging an “aragosta” (lobster) a pastry very similar to “Sfogliatella but filled with chantilly cream. Not for the faint of heart of the calory counters, but worth the splurge!
  • Antico Caffe’ Vitti, in Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina.  I used to have breakfast there every morning after an all nighter at work :-) They have a great selection of “Paste” or breakfast baked goods and you can also have yours al fresco.
  • Ciampini, in Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina.  If you are looking for a whole wheat cornetto this is where you go. They honestly have the flakiest ones and you don’t feel guilty all day! They also have great gelato in case you are looking for flavors like marron glace’ (French chestnuts) fragolina di bosco (wild strawberries) and zabaione.

2.  LUNCH

Lunch is tricky in Rome because there are so many tourist traps.  One used to be able to select the right lunch place by identifying the restaurants which DID NOT have a menu translated in English. Nowadays, every restaurant has an English menu so it gets really difficult to pick a good place to stop by for lunch.  Some of the breakfast picks also offer sandwiches and other plates for lunch.  I used to go to Vitti, Ciampini and D’angelo for a tramezzino (Roman sandwich) or a salad as well as they were close to my office in Via Borgognona.

  • Gina, in Via San Sebastianello has the best salads. Generous plates of fresh vegetables and great panini are only one of the attractions of this small restaurant. People watching is really the best part of your meal. You may catch a glimpse of Italian beauties Elisabetta Canalis or Sabrina Ferilli alongside Jeff Goldblum and Matt Damon with his family at the table in the back.
  • Gusto Osteria, in Via Della Frezza is a great lunch place if you want to experience many Roman traditional dishes in small portions. They serve “Cicchetti” or tapas that can be shared for the table and showcase some really solid Roman flavors.  You may want to check out also the “sister” establishments in the area as they serve equally good dishes albeit less traditional.
  • Antonini, in Via Sabotino has the best tramezzini and tartine. I usually stuff my face shamelessly there but you might want to check yourself because the dessert section is no joke either.

3.   GELATO AND COFFEE

While espresso is the best way to digest your meal, gelato is my favorite way to transition from morning to afternoon. Whoever tells you espresso is good everywhere in Rome is lying and the same applies to gelato as well. I have seen my fair share of fluorescent green pistacchio and bubble gum pink strawberry gelato sold in Rome.

  • Caffe’ Canova Tadolini in Via del Babbuino has an interesting concept: you can sip your espresso while looking at (sculptor) Antonio Canova’s former studio and his tests of the statues we would sculpt for the Vatican and the European royal families. The coffee is good and the ambiance is spectacular.
  • Gelato di San Crispino with its 2 locations near Trevi Fountain and Pantheon is a Roman tradition.  I like the gelato a lot but the locations often feel like a tourist trap. I usually prefer Ciampini or my favorite gelato place in the whole world…. (drumroll)
  • Caffe’ Giolitti, in Via Uffici del Vicario (near the Parliament) makes the best gelato you can buy in Rome. I usually go for the so called “doppia panna”: the bottom of the cone is filled with whipped cream, then gelato is added and topped with more cream.  Again not for the faint of heart but after all you are on vacation and will burn the calories walking around the city center anyway, so why not?

4.   APERITIVO

While aperitivo is a tipical Milanese tradition, the small bites before dinner are becoming a tradition in Rome as well.  Whether you are looking for aperitivo or just a drink with friends or loved ones there is NOTHING better than the most beautiful winter garden in Rome for your Aperitivo. Dress up and head to Hotel De Russie’ Stravinskij Bar, where you can get the best Bellini of your life (we are talking real peaches not canned puree) and catch a glimpse of the latest Hollywood Stars shooting movies in the Eternal City.

5.   DINNER

Rome is quite a scene for dinner and restaurants change all the time but these are solid picks and have been there forever so you may find them even if you are reading this article in, say, 2022.

  • Dal Bolognese in Piazza del Popolo is famous for great dishes from Emilia Romagna and the wall art.  Many of Italy’s leading painter have give some of their artwork to this restaurant as a present for great meals or just for display.  In the summer Dal Bolognese also offers an al fresco option but you don’t want to do that. The see and be seen area in the second floor dining room where you can catch George Clooney smoking cigars. Reservations are strongly recommended and make sure you order at least 1 lasagna serving, it is heavenly
  • L’Antica Pesa, in Via Garibaldi puts a modern spin to traditional Roman fare.  You may want to order they deconstructed carbonara and save some room for dessert because it is a great experience. In September Antica Pesa will open in Williamsburg and I am counting the days!
  • Quinzi e Gabrielli is in one of the best conners of the city center, in a little alley almost hidden from view.  It is a traditional Roman Restaurant but it focusses also on seafood.  Since Rome does not have access to the sea people are usually cautious but this restaurant has some of the best purveyors!  Many politicians eat there so the food is really impressive. One thing can be said about Italian politicians, they are usually useless but they sure know how to wine and dine their mistresses! (Berlusconi, I am looking at you, you filthy old man!)
  • Filippo La Mantia Restaurant, is quite an experience. The Head Chef Filippo La mantia comes from Sicily, a Region that has more Michelin Stars than any other in Italy.  The food is creative but the flavors are simple. The artistry that goes into every dish is something of a different era but the look and taste are modern and innovative.
  • Taverna Trilussa, is a place where all the stage actors in Rome end their evenings.  After their performances, they head to this traditional restaurant and unwind with flavorful and whimsical food that is cooked very well and a great ambiance. You should try it because in the Trastever District, this is where locals go.
  • La Matriciana, is the place were Pasta all’Amatriciana was born. I have discovered this restaurant last year through my foodie friend and TV/Radio author Roberto Testarmata. Nested in from of the Opera House in Rome La Matriciana is really a great choice for lunch and dinner.
  • Pizzeria La Pariolina is in Parioli, which would be the Upper East Side of Rome and showcases both pizza napoletana and pizza romana (the crunchier and less curvy sister).  The restaurant is not in the city center but it is worth the bus fare because it serves solid Roman Food along with great pizza. I hear the owner is siciliano… so that is your final stamp of approval.
  • Felice Al Testaccio is a restaurant were carbs are great but they are not your only option: Baccala’ (cod) in umido, Stuffed Zucchine, Meatballs and Lamb are great and you should not miss out by only ordering pasta.
  • Ristorante Angelina has two locations but I will recommend the one in Testaccio, an up and coming foodie neighborhood like Williamsburg or the UWS, that I discovered because of my friend Daniele Tonna.  Daniele is one of my best friends, we have shared an office years ago at the beginning of our career and have been in the trenches of a US law firm together. Talk about bonding experience! Anyway going back to Angelina, you should try their Roman BBQ because it is really tasty!