Let me try to convince you to make the trip up to the Montesacro/Talenti neighborhood in the north of Rome, where the food is cheap, the tourists scarce and the true “vita romana” is in full swing.
Eating out in Italy involves a lot of pasta, pizza and predominantly Italian dishes. Besides supplementing their diet with the occasional burger or sushi, many Italians have no problem eating only Italian food day in and day out. So, while finding places that do decent Thai, Indian and Mexican food can be a real challenge, there are a few spots that I love. Keep reading for my Mexican budget picks, a Chipotle dupe and full-on restaurants with a mean margarita.
One of Rome’s most famous neighborhoods, Trastevere is piece of ancient Roman life in the center of the city. It’s location (on the other side of the river) from the rest of Rome’s historic monuments creates an atmosphere of a town-within-a-city. And while it has more than its fair share of tourists and study abroad students, there are also hidden areas to this neighborhood where locals have lived for decades and small quirks that make it a spot in Rome not to be missed. To help you steer clear (for the most part) of the tourists traps, I've created a Trastevere neighborhood guide with a list of my recommendations for places to eat and drink and things to do.
Trastevere is known as a foodie destination in Rome, hence why there are so many food tours dedicated to this neighborhood. It’s almost impossible to choose favorites among its many restaurants, aperitivo spots and bars, but you won’t go wrong by heading to one of these spots.
The Roman Food: Da Enzo
It's a classic for a reason. I've talked about it a lot in the past but Da Enzo is one of my Roman classic faves at this point. It's a *bit* touristy but still serves amazing local food. Try the cacio e pepe, carbonara, coda all vaccinara and DEFINITELY get their tiramisu with a nutella surprise. Make sure to call at least a couple days ahead, otherwise go around 9:00 when the first wave of diners leave.
The Pizza: Ai Marmi
There are a lot of pizza options for you but I really enjoy heading to Ai Marmi for a quick pizza and fritti when I'm hungry and just don't want to commit to a full dinner. You get to see the pizzas being made right in front of you and can get a generous meal for a deal.
The (Gluten-Free) Pizza: Mama Eat
While I haven't been here, I'm dying to try their gluten-free or lactose-free pizza. Having food allergies or intolerances is very difficult in Rome, but at Mama Eat they have a separate kitchen for gluten-free food and the pizza is supposed to be quite good.
The Trattoria: Il Duca in Trastevere
A Trastevere standby, Il Duca gives you everything you need from a Roman trattoria. The carciofi (artichokes) are everything.
The Gelato: Old Bridge Gelato
Some decent gelato in the heart of Trastevere.
The (Better) Gelato: Il Teatro del Gelato
Some great, organic and locally sourced gelato from across the bridge.
Aside from its culinary specialities, Trastevere is one of the nightlight hubs in Rome. You’ll find a lot of Americans here (especially in the most popular piazzas and roads) and even some locals as well. It’s definitely more appealing to younger crowds and those looking to go OUT. Bar hopping is very common, and there aren’t many club options in this neighborhood.
The Craft Beer: Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà
If you like beer and are in Rome, you go to Ma Che Siete. My boyfriend claims it is one of the best beer shops in Rome with about 15 rotating beers on tap with superior "delivery mechanisms". The other would be Open Baladin.
The Aperitivo Hotspot: Freni e Frizioni
Where the cool people go to drink and smoke outside. Inside you'll find a full (vegan-friendly) buffet for their aperitivo. Great cocktails and atmosphere.
The Wine and Meat Bar: La Prosciutteria
There are several of these located around the city and they are serve decent wine, alongside great meats and cheese boards or sandwiches. Go for a glass bottle and enjoy some great Italian products.
The Cocktail Bar: Alembic # Ak bar
Edgy; trend; instagrammable drinks.
Talking a walk around the neighborhood is my first recommendation but after you’ve maxed out on your daily steps, here are some other options.
The Nature Option: Botanical Gardens
A short walk from the hustle and bustle of popular Trastevere, the Orto Botanico of Sapienza University is a beautiful place to wander. The gardens are lush and a nice way to get away from everything in the center. 8€ entrance.
The Religious Relic: Basilica di Santa Cecilia
This gorgeous basilica is dedicated to St. Cecilia, patron saint of music. It has a gorgeous fresco, a buried ancient Roman house and remarkable catacombs that you pay €4 to visit. Another perk of heading here is that you get to see the less touristy side of Trastevere, where things are slightly calmer.
The Hangout: Piazza Trilussa/Piazza Santa Maria di Trastevere
Head to one of Trastevere's main piazzas (Piazza Trilussa or Piazza Santa Maria di Trastevere) to sit outside, drink a cheap bottle of wine and listen to street musicians. In the warmer months there's always a crowd of people mingling and you can really experience Roman nightlife the local way.
The View: Gianicolo
Gianicolo is Rome's second largest hill and offers a great view overlooking the Roman skyline, reachable by stairs from Trastevere. Head up here in between meals or drinks to watch the sunset because the view is worth it.
This definitely isn't an exhaustive list, but it's one that I'm constantly adding to and testing out ;) Keep an eye out here for future updates on Trastevere and new neighborhood guides for other parts of Rome!
To catch everyone up with what's been going on here the past month or so, here's a photo roundup of my time in Rome, my recent trip to the Amalfi Coast and some other fun things!
My friend Jess came to visit last week and we definitely fit a lot in. The morning after she got in, we left for a weekend trip to the Amalfi Coast. I booked a hotel in Praiano, Casa Colomba, which is along the coast between Positano and Amalfi and it ended up being the perfect spot for us. It was nice to be a bit more removed from the crowds in either location and also have easy access to the entire coast. Our room had an amazing view and we actually spent our first day lounging on the rocky Praiano beach, followed by a great seafood dinner in nearby Atrani.
We spent our second day exploring Positano and hanging out on the water there. I love shopping while I'm in Positano because there are so many beautiful clothing boutiques and ceramic shops. I bought a couple of things as gifts and also had to make a last-minute bikini purchase as I left mine back at the room. Thankfully I found one on sale because the prices in Positano are notoriously high!
We rented a boat for a few hours and took it out for a ride along the coast. It was such a fun way to see the area that I hadn't done before and we had a lot of fun. The water there is absolutely unbelievable, so swimming and boating was incredible. We didn't reserve anything in advance; to rent the boat we just checked at a few stands around Praiano and Positano, eventually taking one out from Positano because it seemed easier logistically. Prices run from €100-€300 for a couple of hours to a full day and it was relatively easy to drive without much experience!
American Holidays in Italy
It's always somewhat strange to celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving and the 4th of July in a foreign country and can sometimes leave you missing home more than usual. Depending on the holiday, I'll try to do a fun event with friends and family, while this year for the 4th of July, I actually worked at an American ex-pat event. I helped out at a booth for the company I'm currently doing social media for and ended up having a fun day talking to Americans living in Rome, eating burgers and being surrounded by festive decorations. Thankfully I also had my America-loving boyfriend and my American friend visiting to make it even better.
Beat the Heat
With temperatures in the high 90's in Rome, it's a struggle to go out in the middle of the day. I've been regulating my body temperature the Italian way, with cold caffe "shakeratos" (coffee shaken with ice), midday spritzes and plenty of gelato breaks. We do have airconditioning units in our apartment but compared to being back in the States, here it feels as though you'll never cool down completely. I guess it's just a great excuse for an all-ice cream diet ;)
With visitors I roll out all of the Roman classics and we end up eating out quite a lot. Last week, I made it back to da Enzo 29 and got a plate of Amatriciana and Coda alla Vaccinara. It didn't keep me cool at all but at least we were seated outdoors and I made a reservation 2 days ahead this time. We also heard people asking for the next available reservation and it was ONE WEEK OUT. So people, call ahead at this famous Trastevere spot.
Luckily I can learn lots of Italian dishes from Edoardo's mom, Franca. Jess was very excited to try her hand at gnocchi with pesto and I don't think she was disappointed. A little background though— gnocchi making takes a lot of physical strength and it isn't for the weak of heart. Franca assured us that it's a little easier if you mash the potatoes when they're freshly boiled. It was such a great afternoon and we learned how to make a pretty delicious dish by the end of it.
That's about it! It's definitely been busy around here recently, but everything is starting to slooow down for the hot summer months in Rome. Hopefully this means that I can get back to posting more frequently. Edoardo and I are both really excited for our trip to the States and a little beach getaway that we have planned for August, but I have a lot more to share about summer in Italy before heading out!
Finding a decent restaurant in the center can be hard. Osteria del Pegno is the answer to all of your pasta and meaty Italian dish needs. Located right near Piazza Navona (directly in the center alongside the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain), I've always found this restaurant to be a great option when I need someplace scenic, central and delicious. While it's not the best Roman food you can find in the city, it's a nice restaurant, with friendly staff, good food and excellent wine.
Osteria del Pegno is a family run restaurant that is well known for its quality food and great atmosphere. The owner himself has come out the (many) times that I've eaten dinner there. While I've never tried their lunch, the dinner menu is comprehensive and also sticks to Roman classics and traditional dishes.
The house wine is excellent and the waiters will help you decide on a bottle from their very extensive list. The seating area itself is decorated with aging bottles and you can see that they take pride in their selection.
Both the pasta and meat dishes are fantastic. I've tried their Amatriciana, Carbonara and Ossobuco and all were amazing. Their chef's lasagna wasn't my favorite but probably because that place is taken by Edoardo's mamma's famous lasagna.
You've got to save room for Pegno's desserts, all made in house. Their tiramisu is incredible and you'll always get a complimentary glass of limoncello to end the night.
Not much more to say about this place other than, it's a great choice for those busy days in Rome when you need a decent meal or the times when you want to have dinner out and take a walk in the center.
Thursday - Tuesday 12:00 - 3:00 ; 7:00 - 10:45
Vicolo di Montevecchio 8, 00186
Da Danilo is an unassuming restaurant that’s farther away from the center than other Roman institutions. From the area (Piazza Vittorio), you would never guess that it’s been around for years and has hosted more than its fair share of celebrities. The trattoria is well known for its Roman classics, serving everything from meat dishes to desserts made in house, but it’s best known for its amazing pasta dishes. The Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe are famous around Rome and many people come here just for these.
The Cacio e Pepe (or "cheese and pepper") is something special because it’s prepared right in front of you by your waiter. The pasta is tossed in a giant wheel of parmesan cheese with a bit of the pasta cooking water, while fresh black pepper is cracked all over. To finish it off, a generous helping of pecorino is grated over top. If you’re hungry and watching this show being done for other diners, it’s pure torture.
Carbonara da Danilo is perfectly prepared with balanced flavors and a smooth, creamy consistency. But the standout at this restaurant (and my choice) was the carbonara al tartufo. Truffle oil is mixed in with the sauce and Italian black truffles were grated and sprinkled over top of the pasta. Of the multitudes of carbonaras that I’ve tried in Rome, this is my favorite. Think creamy, eggy goodness with an ever-present undercurrent of rich truffle. If it weren’t €18 for a plate of pasta, I’d go back weekly.
If you’re in Rome and want a reputable place to try out the classics, da Danilo is where it’s at. You can eat some of the best pasta of your life, while gazing at the hundreds of celebrities that Danilo and his family has met over the years at the restaurant.
13 Via Petrarca, 00185 Roma
+39 06 77200111
Ah Italy. The magical promise land where tipping doesn’t exist, your bill is exactly what you ordered off of the menu and there are no cultural obligations to give extra money for your meal. Unfortunately, the stereotype that tipping doesn’t exist in Italy has been spread across the world and Italian waiters now deal with increasingly demanding and disrespectful tourists. While tipping in Italy is different from other countries, especially the USA, there is a system you should know before visiting an Italian restaurant.
In both types of Italian bars (“bar” caffes and bars/pubs), it’s very uncommon to tip. Because the bills in these places are generally on the lower end, it’s not usually expected that you leave a tip. Whereas in the U.S., not tipping your barista could have negative consequences on your coffee order, especially if you’re getting anything more complicated than a cup of filtered coffee, i.e. triple shot soy mocha grande latte. A coffee at an Italian caffe will run you from 80 cents to €1.50 and tipping on that cheap of a bill seems extreme. This goes also for beers, wine and cocktails at bars or restaurants. Unless you’re getting table service at a club and spending over €100, a tip isn’t expected.
Restaurants (dishes being served)
On the other hand, if you’re at a restaurant, getting some sort of food dish, you’ll probably want to tip. Now hear me out: I know most guide books and even people living in Italy will tell you not to tip. If you don’t at a restaurant, you’re not a monster and it isn’t socially unacceptable. But if you leave even a euro for your waiter, you’re letting them know that you enjoyed your meal, the service was good and you respect their time and effort.
You should check if your bill includes a servizio (which is a service fee and thus covers tips) or a coperta (which is usually mandatory per table and has the same effect). If these are included on your bill, you might get away without leaving something extra. But if your restaurant was nice enough to only charge you for water and bread (two things that unfortunately are NOT free in Italy), consider leaving a small percentage on the table. An important thing to note: tips are split equally among all the waiters in the restaurant.
Tipping in Italy: not mandatory but certainly welcome
This post is not to say that anyone that previously has been skipping tips in Italy is a terrible person. Just a light reminder that sometimes it’s worth rewarding good services and experiences and that even a few extra euros goes a long way to the small salaries that waiters have in Italy. Where in the U.S., waiters are paid around $2/hr in anticipation of numerous cash tips, Italians get paid between €5 and €10 per hour with no tips. That means that your waiter could be working an eight hour shift, and making €40 for their entire day. Not always the reality but it happens more often than you’d think.
Have you ever left a tip while traveling here? Or do you believe that not tipping in Italy is a sacred right of tourists, not to be disturbed?