Espresso & Maritozzo
Most Romans start the day with an espresso, straight up. But you can pick your poison: go for a foamy cappuccino, rich latte, or a perfectly balanced macchiato—and make it a doppio (double). Pair it with a maritozzo, a sweet bun engorged with whipped cream. This breakfast treat dates back to ancient times, which makes sense—the decadence of the maritozzo is fit for any Roman emperor.
Where to Try It
The question remains: where to go to get your morning caffeine fix? No self-respecting cafe proprietor in Rome will sell a sub-par espresso. If you don't mind waiting in line with the Parthenon crowd, then head to La Casa del Caffe Tazza d Oro. This local institution may be firmly on the tourist trail, but they do an undeniably good cup of coffee.
And since you are, in fact, actually in Rome, you should do like that old proverb commands and head to the quaint little breakfast bar Il Maritozzaro, located a two-minute walk from the Trastevere railway station. If you get there early enough you might score a maritozzo fresh out of the oven, the gastronomic equivalent of enlightenment.
Italian Cheeses & Cured Meats
If the weather's nice and you're in the mood for a picnic, stop by a formaggeria, salumeria, or prosciutteria for some quality cheese and cured meats. Prosciutto, salami, mortadella—these are the cold cuts of Italy. Many of the best Roman purveyors of such meat-centric goodness are family-run operations that have been in business for well over a century.
Where to Eat It
For cured meats, visit Salumeria Volpetti, located in the busy Testaccio district in Central Rome. This is a carnivore's paradise, featuring a number of options besides salami and sausages. These include Prosciutto Cinta Senese ( ham from a type of pig reared in Siena), as well as Ibérico ham, Capocollo (cured meat of the neck muscle), pork cheek, bacon, and more. Here you can also find various artisanal olive oils, vinegar, honey, dried mushrooms, and other sundries.
And what self-respecting glutton can forget cheese? Antica Caciara Trasteverina, in the heart of the Trastevere neighborhood, is a family-run deli and cheese shop. The options here are staggering and hail from different regions of the country. Likely you won't recognize half the names adorning the massive wedges of pressed milk curds on display. Go for the decadent burrata (a mozzarella/cream hybrid) or pecorino di fossa, whose delightfully strong flavor is the result of being formed in underground caves and pits.
Pizza by the Slice
Regarding Italian cuisine, pizza is the 800-pound gooey gorilla in the room. In this country, the dish varies from region to region, with Naples laying claim to the world's first pizza. But Romans can do a mean pie as well.
Aside from the circular Pizza alla Romana, you can also find plenty of pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice). And while the square, oval, and even tongue-shaped slices may be different than the triangles you're used to, the utilitarian purpose is the same: it's designed to be picked up quickly and eaten on the go—the quintessential fast food. Be sure to order yours with Rome's unique toppings like potatoes and flor di zucca (zucchini flower).
Where to Eat It
If you are looking for something quick to fuel your city sightseeing adventure, then duck into one of Rome's many fornos (a pizzeria/bakery hybrid) for a quick and crispy slice.
For more specific locales, you can try Casa Manco, in the Testaccio Market. For one of the most influential pizza joints in all of Rome, head to Pizzarium for their crowd-pleasing square slices topped with simple, quality ingredients like mozzarella, onions, tomatoes, and potatoes. If you're coming during lunchtime pair your slice with a suppli' (rice croquette). And for a heavenly pizza bianca (white pie dressed with nothing more than olive oil and salt), head to Antico Forno Roscioli
If you want to a modern twist on Roman pizza, dine at Trapizzino Trastevere. In 2009 the proprietor, Stefano Callegari, created the trapizzino, a triangular slice cut open and filled with savory fillings like chicken cacciatore and eggplant parmesan. Think of it as Italy's answer to Japan's temaki roll.
Cacio e Pepe
The word "pasta" is a big-tent term that comprises many incredible dishes. The ones to try in Rome encompass the Italian ethos of quality ingredients prepared simply to achieve pasta heaven. A prime example is cacio e pepe (it literally translates to "cheese and pepper"), which is a sauce comprised of just four ingredients: pasta water, black pepper, Parmigiano Reggiano, and pecorino cheeses.
The result is a creamy pasta with a kick that pairs nicely with a Sicilian Chardonnay. A variation is bucatini all'amatriciana: this classic doubles down on the spice factor by not only including black pepper but dried chiles as well (cured pork and tomatoes round out the sauce). Pair this one with a dark and tannic Sangiovese red.
Where to Eat It
For a great, old-school cacio e pepe go to Da Felice, in the Testaccio neighborhood. It's been serving up traditional Italian staples like this since 1936, with an added bonus that the waiters toss the pasta and sauce tableside. For bucatini all'amatriciana, you can head to Trattoria Antonio Bassetti, near Piazza Navona. It's a humble little family-run place that has been serving its delicious sauce for three generations.
Italian gelato is all about one thing: the sheer variety of flavors. That means no finicky sweet tooth is left out of this party. There are plenty of places to find great gelato in Rome, too, including gelaterias serving up creative riffs on traditional standards.
Where to Eat It
A prime example of an envelope-pushing gelateria is Fatamorgana. Here you'll find forward-thinking flavors like chocolate & tobacco, yogurt-cumin, baklava, basil-walnut-honey, rose petal & lavender, and more. Also, the owner has celiac disease so this joint is officially gluten-free. There are a few locations across Rome but the most atmospheric is in the ancient Monti neighborhood, right on a piazza.
For a truly homemade gelato experience in a romantic setting head to Gelateria del Teatro, situated on the ivy-clad Via dei Coronari. Through a window, you can peer into the kitchen and watch the artisans at work as they prepare gelato using only the freshest ingredients sourced regionally. This includes Sicilian pistachios, lemons from the Amalfi Coast, and licorice from Calabria. Even their espresso gelato is fresh-brewed. Go for decadent flavors like raspberry sage and lavender lemon. Or really indulge with the fondente al Nero d’Avola (dark chocolate and red wine from Sicily).
For a time-tested experience, head to Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi, located near the Termini Train Station. This cavernous Mecca for gelato has been in business since 1880 and is now operated by the great-grandson of the original founder. It's always bustling with locals eager to indulge their sweet tooth.
Know that an authentic Italian gelato is a model of artisanal pride and craftsmanship, with no artificial colors or flavorings. A local tip says that any gelato whose colors are too bright is likely spiked with artificial ingredients. Also, to guarantee optimum quality, always go for seasonal flavors.
We all know tiramisu as a standard dessert at any and every mom and pop Italian restaurant outside of Italy. But there is something truly special about tucking into this classic in its country of origin. Rome, in particular, has some good places to enjoy this coffee, chocolate, and mascarpone delicacy.
Where to Eat It
Without a doubt the most famous spot is Pompi. Inside this charming shop on Via Albalonga near the Re di Roma metro station, you'll find glass-door refrigerators displaying a wide variety of tantalizing tiramisus for take-away. There's a variety of styles including classic, strawberry, banana, and pistachio.
Another place to find great tiramisu is Pasticceria Barberini on Via Marmorata in the neighborhood of Testaccio. They serve quick and cheap teacup-sized tiramisus that are as adorable as they are delicious. Fun fact is that many restaurants and pasticcerias (pastry shops) in Testaccio do great tiramisu, so it's hard to go wrong.
Ready to plan your trip to Rome? Check out these great itineraries.
Food & Wine in Italy - 8 Days. On this trip, you'll eat and drink your way through one of the world's great culinary capitals. Explore Bologna's edible delights, from Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese to local prosciutto. In Tuscany, visit medieval villages and sip Chianti in sun-filled plazas. End the trip in Rome, where you'll try your hand at making the perfect pizza.
Venice, Florence, Amalfi Coast, and Rome - 13 Days. Immerse yourself in Italian culture and Renaissance art on this 13-day itinerary. View ornate palaces in Venice, go wine tasting in Tuscany, and enjoy rocky beaches and grand villas on the Amalfi Coast. End in Rome, where bohemian city neighborhoods, world-famous Sistine Chapel, and ancient Roman ruins await your exploration.
Explore Rome - 5 Days. Discover the historic and modern highlights of the Eternal City in this 5-day tour. Hear stories of gladiators in Rome's ancient Colosseum, tour the iconic Pantheon and visit the world-famous Sistine Chapel. Explore the Galleria Borghese, enjoy an espresso in the Piazza Navona, and unwind at night with homemade pasta and a glass of wine.