If you’re eating at restaurants in Rome, you’re going to wind up eating at a trattoria (or, more likely, several). Originally, a trattoria was a mid-priced, family-run restaurant, something between a ristorante and osteria in terms of expense and formality. In reality, it’s come to mean pretty much any restaurant in Rome that’s serving up Roman dishes and isn’t overly expensive (or any others that want to pretend that’s the case — hi, all you places with tourist menus!).
So, as with any other kind of dining in Rome, if you want the very best… you should have an idea of where to go.
When I’m craving an amazing cacio e pepe or Roman artichoke or saltimbocca, these are the places I head to.
(Do note that while these places all have very good food, they’re not all always top-notch with service: brusque waiters are part of the trattoria’s charm. Truly. It’s as traditional as carbonara).
The best… no-frills trattoria
Hostaria Romana is old-school: the tables are crammed together, past diners have scrawled their signatures on the wall, and if two people at your table order the same pasta, it’s spooned out of a pan right at your table. Fortunately, the dishes are old-school, too. Nothing here is going to blow your mind with creativity, but that’s not the purpose of, say, a like-your-nonna-romana-made-it amatriciana: We’re talking simple ingredients done well.
On that basic (but oh-so-difficult, if other trattorias in Rome are any indication!) promise, Hostaria Romana delivers. Which is especially surprising given its location right around the corner from Piazza Barberini, or tourism central. Even more surprising? The waiters here are actually nice. Go figure.
In season, don’t miss the artichokes. When I ate there in December, I ordered both the alla giudia (fried) and alla romana (braised) styles. They were both delicious. (Who said you have to settle for just one option?).
Hostaria Romana is located at Via del Boccaccio 1, right near Piazza Barberini; it’s open daily except Sundays for lunch and dinner. For dinner, reservations are recommended.
The best… trattoria at a tourist sight
Note that I didn’t say “touristic trattoria.” That’s because Armando al Pantheon has the rare distinction of being practically on top of one of Rome’s most popular sights — yet remains a favorite with snazzily-dressed Italian businessmen and guidebook-toting tour groups alike.
And for good reason. Despite the trattoria’s fame over the course of a half-century of business, Armando’s hasn’t gotten lax: both the quality and prices remain good. Anywhere else, it would be a solid choice. In the culinary mess that makes up the Pantheon area, it’s a gem.
Don’t miss the amatriciana, although any of the pastas are a good bet. And while most trattorias in Rome (including even those on this list) have fairly mediocre desserts, you could definitely do worse than the torta antica Roma, above.
Armando al Pantheon is located at Salita dei Crescenzi 31, right around the corner from the Pantheon; it’s open daily for lunch and dinner, except for Sunday and for Saturday dinner. Reservations recommended, particularly for dinner.
The best… trattoria requiring a bib
Did you know that was a thing? No? Me neither, until I ate at Da Bucatino for the first time. The amatriciana swims in so much sauce here, they’ll (sometimes) give you a bib to eat it with.
Yes, it’s a little gimmicky, but that’s the only gimmicky thing you can say about this place. Da Bucatino is the quintessential Roman trattoria, down to the hit-or-miss service, reliably solid (if not life-changing) dishes, help-yourself antipasti bar and no-frills, casual atmosphere. And don’t get me started on how much better it is than its (inexplicably) more famous neighbor, Da Felice.
Da Bucatino is located at Via Luca della Robbia 84/86 in Testaccio. It’s open daily for lunch and dinner, except on Sundays. Dinner reservations recommended, but not always essential.
The best… trattoria built on a dump
That’s a thing? Why yes. Yes, it is.
Flavio al Velavevodetto has been one of my go-to spots for years. It still is. Despite a brief slump in quality, it’s now better than ever, serving up classic Roman dishes made from high-quality ingredients. The mixed fritti are as light and airy as tempura, the cacio e pepe among the best in Rome. The service can be iffy, and some dishes a little overpriced, but, really, it’s one of the most reliably excellent spots you’ll find in Rome.
Then there’s the fact that it’s on top of an ancient dump. You heard me right: The trattoria is built into Monte Testaccio, the hill made of broken Roman amphorae (and where the neighborhood gets its name). On the ground floor, a glass wall lets you peek at all the detritus of yesteryear while you eat. Let’s just say their trash was much prettier than ours.
Another plus? There’s a lovely rooftop terrace for summer dining. Ancient Roman vessels inside, lovely Roman breezes outside… what’s not to like?
Flavio al Velavevodetto is located at Via Monte Testaccio 97, in Testaccio; a second location has opened in Prati, near the Vatican, at Piazza dei Quirita 4/5. Both restaurants are open daily for both lunch and dinner. Dinner reservations recommended.
The best… upscale trattoria
Known to guidebooks, food bloggers and culinary television shows alike, Roscioli is an institution. Such an institution that, for years, I thought, “Everyone knows this place already — it’s not like I’m discovering anything new, or sending people to some hidden gem, by eating there.”
Which remains true. The problem: I was missing out by not going earlier.
Luckily, I recently rectified the situation. And, yes: Roscioli is every bit as good as all of its evangelists would have you believe. It’s not just that the pasta is perfectly cooked or the cured meats melt-in-your-mouth delicious; it’s that the ingredients are top-notch and super-fresh. If you think you’ve had “burrata” before, for example, you haven’t had it till you’ve ordered it at a place like Roscioli, where it’s served split open and gushing with cream.
The catch, of course, is that Roscioli has the prices to match: a carbonara, generally in the realm of €9 or €10 at traditional trattorias, is €15 here. But just take a look at the carbonara (pictured at top) and tell me if you wouldn’t happily pay a little extra for that. (This, by the way, was a half-portion size).
Some of the seating is a little spotty. The entrance area is especially crowded and, well, anything but relaxing. But if you’re seated up front, here’s the bonus: you’re next to the meat and cheese counter, which means you’ll get to watch Rome’s most elegant grandmothers coming in to choose prosciutto di Parma or a rose-petal cheese (just €75 a kilo!).
Is Roscioli a down-home spot for simple cuisine and a cheap bill? No. In fact, including it on a list of “trattorias” at all is a bit of a stretch. But if you want to experience some of the finest versions of Rome’s most classic dishes (again — that carbonara!), and you’re willing to pay just a little bit extra, this is your spot. And, with countless enthusiasts behind Roscioli, you don’t just have to take it from me.
Roscioli is located at Via dei Giubbonari 21, near Campo dei Fiori; it’s open daily except Sundays for lunch and dinner. Reservations for either meal are a must.
The best… trattoria on a tram line
This is how good Cesare al Casaletto is: So good that I’ve utterly failed to take a single publishable photograph of it. That’s because I’m so excited when my food arrives, any plans of taking a moment to snap that perfect shot fly out the window faster than Pavlov’s dog salivates. And believe me, every time I go, I go with this plan in mind and a DSLR in my bag. Every. Time.
Suffice it to say that the photo above, which is of one of Cesare’s more creative (and heavier!) plates — cacio e pepe reimagined as an antipasto of fried gnocchi in a pecorino-and-black-pepper sauce — simply does not do this place justice. Frankly, I almost left the subhead as “The best… trattoria,” full-stop, but, you know, didn’t want to be hyperbolic or anything. (Ha).
Here’s why Cesare al Casaletto is great: Most trattorias in Rome, including every place mentioned above, flub something. Often, it’s the meat courses. Sometimes, it’s the service. But not Cesare. From start to finish, you can expect a top-notch Roman meal. At a good price. With friendly (!!!!) servers.
Which is why this place is massively popular — with locals, and also, increasingly, with tourists. That says a lot, particularly since, located at the very last stop on the number 8 tram, it’s well off the beaten path. It couldn’t be simpler to get to; you can get on the tram at Piazza Venezia, and riding it to the end takes about 25 minutes. Still, for many people, the idea of going “all the way” out to Monteverde while on a vacation in Rome is a little bit of a mental block. And I get it.
If you want the very best Roman food the city has to offer, though, you won’t regret making the trek. I promise you.
Cesare al Casaletto is located at Via del Casaletto 45, and is open daily except Wednesdays for lunch and dinner. There’s no website; call +39 06536015 for reservations, which are highly recommended for dinner.
If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.