Eating At Restaurants In Rome Is Pricey – Try This Instead
The delis, bakeries, patisseries and markets are where it's at.
Travel to Rome during any time of the year, and you’ll soon learn that there are two ways to explore and experience the Eternal City – either as a tourist paying exorbitant prices for (sometimes just) decent food, or as a knowledgeable traveller savouring the best of the city’s local culinary delights.
The restaurants in Rome tend to lure in tourists (and their pocket full of Euros) with fancy menus and picturesque views – but, as the locals know, the closer a restaurant is located to a bustling tourist site, the higher the prices, and in some cases, the lower the quality of food. That’s not to say that all restaurants in Rome are bad – just that there’s often a better (and cheaper) way to have your fill.
If you’re looking for delicious Italian food showcasing the best of the country’s produce, then consider passing on the restaurants and eat your way through Rome by instead visiting its best delis, bakeries, patisseries, markets and butchers, just like the locals do. Trust me on this one: you’ll never want to leave Rome.
Address: Piazza della Rotonda, 5, 00186
Nearby attractions: Pantheon, Basilica Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, and L’elephante
This little gem is based in the heart of the Piazza della Rotonda, nestled unassumingly under the shadow of the Pantheon. Ignore the various restaurants lining the Piazza, and make your way through the modest entrance and into a veritable cheese and meat heaven.
The front of the shop features an array of gourmet sandwiches and pizza slices, but the real delight is found at the back of the Antica Salumeria, where a counter full of hams, salamis, meats, cheeses and wines awaits.
If you’re lucky enough to get there early and snag one of the few tables available, you can choose from a variety of delicious platters brimming with a selection of cold meats, hams, cheeses, and fresh and pickled vegetables that are served with warm focaccia bread and (if so desired) wine.
Pro-tip: Portions are extremely generous, so only pick a couple of dishes to start and share with your group.
La Renella Panificio
Address: Via del Moro, 15, 00153
Nearby attractions: The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Isola Tiberina, and the Jewish Museum and Synagogue
Regarded by locals as one of Rome’s best bakeries, La Renella can be found tucked away on a small side street in the working-class suburb of Trastevere.
The bakery offers a wide selection of delicious wood-fired savory and sweet goods, but you really can’t go past the zucchini and mozzarella pizza. It’s a simple but delectable combination, and a serious contender for the title of best pizza in Rome.
Pro-tip: Seating on the narrow barstools isn’t the best here, so choose to take-away your food and eat in the pleasant Piazza di Santa Maria Trastevere, which is just a short walk away.
Address: Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40, 00186
Nearby attractions: Trevi Fountain, Piazza Colonna and the Galleria Alberto Sordi
When you find a pasticceria and gelataria frequented by the likes of Silvio Berlusconi, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and the Federer family, you know it must be good.
Giolitti has every flavour of gelato and sorbet you could ask for – but none so good as the pomegranate, with a beautiful balance of sweet and sour. While their biscuits are nothing to write home about, their cakes most certainly are. You can’t go wrong with the ciambella or the rum baba, but special mention must be made of the incredible sfogliatelle (a zesty ricotta filling encased in multiple layers of thin, crisp pastry leaves).
Giolitti is the type of place with so much to choose from, it warrants a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) trip.
Pro-tip: Giolitti has a hefty surcharge fee for any cakes eaten by patrons seated in the café, so take-away is definitely the cheaper option.
Address: Via della Croce, 82, 00187
Nearby attractions: Spanish Steps, Ara Pacis, Piazza del Popolo, and the Villa Borghese
You’ll know you’re close to a Pompi cake shop when you see a huge group of people standing on the street, devouring palm-sized cakes packed in small boxes.
Pompi is best known for its tiramisu, and prides itself on the freshness of its cakes. If you plan on eating your cake within 30 minutes, they’ll supply you with a fresh one. If not, it’s a frozen one that will need a couple of hours to thaw before consuming.
Whichever option you choose, you definitely won’t be disappointed. The fruit tarts are particularly recommended – the fruit topping the tarts give them a refreshing taste that breaks up the sweetness of the rich crème chantilly.
Pro-tip: Pompi cakes are reasonably priced at €3 each for small ones, so don’t be afraid to order a few (or all of them) and give them a try.
Address: Via Merulana, 54, 00185
Nearby attractions: The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the Scala Sancta, and St John Lateran Archbasilica
If you’re looking for a bakery with dazzling displays of edible creations, than Panella is the place for you. Major holidays like Christmas are Panella’s special time to shine, with the store decorated with elaborate edible Christmas trees, Nativity Scenes and Babbo Natale.
Happily, Panella’s creations taste as good as they look, and there’s a huge selection of baked goods that cater to a range of tastes. The cheese pizza is a must-try, with a crispy base and a topping of decadently creamy cheese that just melts in the mouth.
Pro-tip: Panella gets fairly busy, so prepare for a tightly crammed shop and long queues. But it’s definitely worth the wait.
Address: Roma Termini, Via Giovanni Giolitti, 36, 00185
Nearby attractions: Palazzo Massimo alle Terme
Mercato Centrale currently escapes the notice of most tourists in Rome, probably owing to the fact that it’s only been in existence for a few months.
Situated right next door to Termini station, and open from 7am to midnight, Mercato Centrale is more than just a quick food stop for commuters. Bringing together some of Rome’s best food producers and makers, Mercato Centrale has cemented itself as a go-to food source for many locals.
There’s an incredible range available – from prizewinning meat, poultry and game from one of Rome’s best butchers, Roberto Liberati, amazing cakes from Gabriele Bonci, handmade chocolates and sweets from Pierangelo Fanti, along with juicy burgers and crispy chips from Errico Lagario and ravioli and gnocchi from Egidio Michelis. Central food court seating means that patrons can buy whatever they want from any of the stalls and consume it at their leisure.
And the best thing about it all? The food and drink here is cheaper, and tastier, than most restaurants and cafes in Rome. A good cappuccino can set you back anywhere from €5-10 from a tourist café like Caffe Greco. A cappuccino from Mercato Centrale will set you back a mere €1.30.
Pro-tip: Don’t eat much before you go visit (seriously, don’t).
(Lead image: Giolitti/Facebook. All other images: author’s own.)