My girlfriend Betty is an absolute Italy czar. She’s spent every summer there for the past 20 years or so and went to four-year university at The American University of Rome. She’s fluent in Italian, a dual-citizen, cooks like an Italian, and has some great tips for any of you that are traveling to the country in the future. I’m not taking the credit for this information, it’s just too good to not share.
Traveling in Rome:
- Only take WHITE cabs. They will be marked on the side and the top with TAXI. There is a FLAT FEE from Fiumicino airport into the center of Rome, about 48 euro. They can not charge extra for baggage, they can not charge extra because of traffic. Taxis are extremely unionized in Rome and their jobs are stable and precious. Also, check any change given to you by the cabbie; they are notorious for giving out fake money. I have gotten about 20 euros in fake money from taxis in Rome.
- If they try to scam you, say you will call the Guardia di Finanza (U.S. equivalent: IRS) on them.
- Watch your pockets on public transportation. Public transport is overcrowded and there are pickpockets everywhere. They see Americans as walking bags of money, and they will snatch your iPhone with no problem. The main tactic for pickpocketing is bait and switch, so if a stranger tells you to look this way, check this, or you dropped this, be wary.
- There are no open container laws in Rome. You can walk the streets with a bottle of wine, a bottle of beer, or a cocktail. Buying a beer from a corner store is infinitely cheaper than buying the same beer from a bar. So, buying a couple of beers and walking through the city is no problem at all.
- DO NOT tip anywhere in Italy. Italians don’t tip and a lot of Roman waiters and waitresses get offended by tips. If you feel weird about not tipping, leave a few euros. Nothing over 10.
- Italians don’t really understand the Capitalistic intent of happy hour. Happy hour at most bars in Italy is 3 pm to 11 pm. Enjoy.
- Generally speaking, the food in Rome is sub-par on a good day. Restaurants are a dime a dozen, and the closer you get to tourist hot spots, the higher the price goes and the lower the quality drops. It’s not uncommon to get typical plates that are made incorrectly or lack key ingredients because they think you won’t know any better. Read up on the foods you want to try and hold restaurants accountable. If they try stiff arming you, say you want to speak to the owner. The Italian restaurant owners are always there. Stick to places you have read about or heard about as being good from Italians.
Food, Drink, Historical Hotspots
Trastevere: Located on the South Western banks of the Tiber river, between the Vatican and the city Center, Trastevere is the ancient ghetto of Rome. Similar to Brooklyn and Harlem, this neighborhood become wildly popular with students, artists, musicians, and poets in the 90s, and today it is one of the most eclectic and fun neighborhoods in Rome. The streets are lined with bars and restaurants. I wouldn’t suggest eating here as most of the restaurants are aimed at tourists. The food is low quality and expensive, they cut corners by leaving out key ingredients like salt and oil. Yuck. Best avoid. I would say head here around 8 pm, enjoy an Italian aperitivo (discounted cocktails and buffets of light pre-dinner food for anywhere between 8 and 15 euro).
Freni e Frizione: Via del Politeama, 4/6, 00153 Roma, Italia
Right on the edge of Trastevere, close to everything that is going on, a short walk from the infamous Camp dei Fiori. Famous in Italy for its vintage decor and vintage car themed cocktails. Amazing aperitif food and drinks, great location. Great fun! Get here early, before 8.
Mr. Brown: Vicolo del Cinque, 29, 00153 Roma, Italia
Near and dear to my heart, I lived in the building directly next to Mr. Brown’s. If you go, check out the huge, wooden door to the right. I lived in there :'( This place is the ULTIMATE dive bar as in the whole place smells like vomit, bleach, and cigarettes. It is pure chaos. The bartenders are mean as all hell, but it’s their thing. They make the best strawberry mojitos in the entire world. Order the strawberry mojito. Just do it. Go early, it gets wild late at night, the crowd spills into the street and you can’t get in. I’m pretty sure cocktails are 5 euro before 10 pm.
Bum Bum di Mel: Via del Moro, 17, 00153 Roma, Italia
Huge, Brazilian style cocktails made with fresh fruit. This place sells itself.
Ristorante Da Augusto: Piazza Dè Renzi, 15, 00153 Roma, Italia
Located directly off of Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, where the first catholic church in Italy is located. Go check out the church (my favorite in Rome) then head here for lunch. This is the only place you should eat at in Trastevere. No menus, no table cloths, limited seating outside, and no sign, this place is a diamond in the rough. There is huge tourist trap restaurant next to it– do not eat there. Da Augusto’s menu changes every day, they make limited quantities of awesome, famous Roman dishes (carbonara, amatriciana, cacio e pepe, grilled rabbit with potatoes, chicken stew), and once it is gone, it’s gone. So go for lunch.
Taverna Trilussa: Via del Politeama, 23-25, 00153 Roma, Italia
Right down the street from Freni e Frizione, but you’ll see that “right down the street” means nothing in Rome. This place serves award winning pasta. Literally. They placed 3rd in the nation for their Mimosa Ravioli dish. They have strange hours and are only open for dinner, meaning doors open at 7. You won’t need a reservation, but go early. Amazing pasta. They do this thing where they serve pasta in the pan they cooked it in. So good.
Flavio Ve L’avevo Detto: Via di Monte Testaccio, 97, 00153 Roma, Italia
Located in the Testaccio neighborhood, which was essentially a giant ancient Roman trash pile so high it turned into a hill. This restaurant serves typical Roman dishes. Excellent food, great for a sit down dinner. House wine is cheap and delicious.
MòMò Republic: Piazza Carlo Forlanini, 10, 00100 Roma, Italia
A giant hospital turned restaurant and bar with amazing decor and outside seating. Dress is upscale but the prices are moderate. Amazing food, huge selection, excellent service. One of a kind ambiance, you feel like you’re in Miami. It’s a one stop shop, you can eat inside then go outside and drink and have a good time. Take a taxi here. It’s off the beaten trail in the Monteverde neighborhood.
RossoPomodoro: Largo di Torre Argentina, no street number, you’ll see the sign.
A slow food movement restaurant that specializes in authentic Neapolitan food. Get the pizza. This place is actually a chain but it’s amazing. Its the closest you’ll get to Neapolitan pizza in Rome.
Pizzeria da Simone: Via Carini, 50.
This place is off the beaten path for sure. It’s located near The American University of Rome (my alma mater) in the Monteverde neighborhood. You can take the 44 or 75 bus from Piazza Venezia to the second Carini stop and it will let you off LITERALLY in front of this place. You can not miss this place. They have the best pizza by the slice and the best supplì (fried rice and cheese ball). I mean the best I have ever had. They are 1.20 euro each. Get a million. Eat them all. They also have fresh pasta, pizza, fried goodies, veggies, roasted pig, veal meatballs, fish, etc. It’s a tavola calda meaning everything is sold by weight and there is no place to sit. Get your food and take a walk to the Janiculum hill and eat while you stare out at the beautiful Roman horizon. BRB while I seethe with jealousy.
Dom here. If you’re traveling to Rome you most likely did your homework, but even self-proclaimed experts like myself still get tripped up – like the time I got into a sheisty cab and got ripped off 🙁
Take these tips as you need them, but I can tell you from experience (having visited these restaurants as an outsider), you’re in great hands.
What are your favorite restaurants in the Rome area?