Rome restaurants

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Antico Arco

Price guide: Expensive
expert-rated restaurants in Rome
Best for Romance -
Expert overall rating:4.6 (out of 5)

Perfect for a splurge, this is one of the best of Rome’s creative Italian restaurants.

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One of the things I like most about eating and drinking out in Rome is the fact that most of its restaurants, trattorias, snack bars, cafés, gelaterias and wine bars are one-offs, many of them family-run. Although you will find quite a few McDonald's and other foreign imports scattered around the place, the Eternal City has not been invaded by lookalike food and beverage chains. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that Romans take their food and drink seriously: after all, a bowl of spaghetti all’amatriciana can be as much of a work of art, in its own way, as the Sistine Chapel.

However, if you were last in town 20 years ago or so, you’ll probably be shocked by how expensive eating out has become. Those charming trattorias with outside tables on a vine-shaded terrace still exist – but these days you’re unlikely to be able to eat a proper meal in them for less than €25 a head. There are, however, a whole range of cheaper (and quicker) options, from the filled rolls that just about any alimentari (grocer) will make up for you, to takeaway pizza (pizza rustica) and even one or two more exotic options, inclusing sushi and falafel.

You'll have a better experience if you bear the following points in mind:

  • Roman mealtimes tend to go from around 12.30-2.30pm for lunch, and 8-10.30pm for dinner. If a place opens much earlier in the evening, it's usually a sign that it caters to tourists rather than locals. The only exceptions are pizzerias, which tend to open around 6.30/7pm.
  • Service is generally not included (check the bill or ask if you’re unsure), but Romans tend to be stingy tippers: 5 per cent is considered generous.
  • In Italy, the word 'bar' doesn't necessarily refer to a place that does mostly alcohol; it covers daytime cafés too ('café' or 'caffé' also exists in Italian, but it's considered a bit posh). So if you're looking for the nearest place for a coffee, the correct phrase would be 'Dov'è il bar più vicino?'. Wine bars sometimes use the English term (eg 'Trimani Wine Bar'), sometimes the Italian word 'enoteca' - though bear in mind that this can also refer to a wine shop.
  • In bars and cafés, table-service prices are usually at least double what you would pay standing up (or perching on a stool) at the bar. The difference will be even greater in tourist hotspots like Piazza Navona. So if all you need is a quick shot of caffeine or a tramezzino (sandwich) on the run, it's worth developing the Roman habit of doing it standing up. The standard drill in this case is to work out what you want, pay for it at the till, and then present the receipt to the barman when you order. If the place is quiet or it's your local, it's often fine to pay afterwards. 
  • Coffee is an art and a religion in Italy, and its variants are set in stone (no orange-flavoured mochaccinos here). A standard espresso is simply 'un caffè'. (Note that the double-strength 'caffè doppio' that is so popular in the UK is not really an Italian thing, though they'll do you one if you ask for it). An espresso with a dash of milk is 'un caffè macchiato' (if you want it with hot frothed milk, ask for it 'macchiato caldo'; if you just want a drop of cold milk, it's 'macchiato freddo'). A cappuccino is, of course, 'un cappuccino'. If you like less milk, ask for 'un cappuccino scuro'. Note also that Italians only drink cappuccino in the morning, and never after meals: the standard meal-closer is always un caffè. Other variations include: latte macchiato - hot milk with a dash of coffee; caffè lungo - a diluted espresso, with about twice as much water; and caffè americano - a very diluted espresso, equivalent to an English mug of coffee. If you want the barman to add milk to any of these, indicate the coffee and say 'Me lo macchia, per favore?' (literally 'Can you stain it for me, please?'). 
  • Roman restaurants - as opposed to pizzerias - split into three main categories: 'ristoranti' (singular. ristorante), 'trattorie' (sing. trattoria) and 'osterie' or 'hostarie' (sing. osteria or hostaria). In general trattorias and osterias tend to be more basic, often family-run places, with traditional local cuisine and lower prices. However there's a lot of overlap between the three: trattorias can be fairly creative and upmarket (like Trattoria Monti), and sometimes a gourmet restaurant will blur lines further by appropriating a street-cred moniker - like Glass Hostaria in Trastevere.
  • Fixed menus (billed as 'menu fisso' or 'menu degustazione') are not as widespread in Italy as they are, say, in France, and they don't always represent a significant saving on ordering à la carte. The exceptions are the good-value lunchtime menus that are often offered by upmarket places, designed to attract local office workers.
  • There's no need to order an antipasto (starter), primo (usuallly a pasta or rice course) and secondo (main course). You can have one, two or three courses, and even start with a primo and order an antipasto to follow.
  • You can take kids to even the most upmarket restaurant. If the little one(s) need a high chair, ask for 'un seggiolone (se-jo-LOW-nay), per favore'.
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I've lived in Rome since 1984. I've been going to some of the places on my list pretty much since the beginning; others are more recent openings, or newer discoveries.

The main criterion for inclusion here is that I like the place. This could be because of the food, or the service, or the wine list, or the atmosphere, or because it offers good value for money: more often it's a combination of these and other factors.

It may come as a surprise to see two local trattorias at the top of my overall rankings, alongside Rome's top gourmet restaurant, La Pergola. But that's because these scores don't follow the classic gourmet guide criteria, which put culinary excellence above all other factors. An excellent trattoria deserves to be ranked as highly as a Michelin-starred gastronomic temple, if it does what it sets out to do brilliantly: to offer genuine, local food and good wine in a congenial setting. And value for money always counts for a lot in my book.

But I'm just one person, and I can't try out all these places every week - so if you've had a bad (or indeed an exceptionally good) experience in any of my recommendations, please let me know by sending in a comment.