One thing that should be eternal about the Eternal City is great Italian food. But that doesn’t mean pizza Napoli or pasta marinara every night when you’re in Rome.
These 10 restaurants range from a cozy trattoria through an experimental bistro to the city’s most Michelin star-spangled establishment.
What do they have in common? Not spaghetti bolognese on the kids’ menu. They’re all highly regarded for the Italian culinary niche they serve.
1. La Pergola
He may be “a German in Rome,” says the Michelin Guide of La Pergola’s head chef, Heinz Beck, but his Roman and Mediterranean cuisine make him “more Italian than most of his colleagues.” Nice compliment, especially when accompanied by three Michelin stars – more than any other restaurant in the city.
Eating here is as much a theatrical as a culinary experience. But the showmanship shows off the cooking. Serving “The Sea,” Beck’s signature dish, a waiter pours a “wave” of seafood broth over a freeze-dried “rock” of scampi claws and potato, which then dissolves into the “seabed” of barnacles, white shrimp and Venus clams.
The oldest bottle on the wine list dates to 1888, and there’s a water menu with 29 choices – try asking for “the tap.” Meals from $133 (€125).
La Pergola, Via Alberto Cadlolo, 101 Rome Cavalieri, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts. Tel: +39 06 3509 2152
2. Antica Pesa
“One of Rome’s most loved restaurants by the international jet set,” is how the Italian food guide Gambero Rosso describes this chic trattoria. Robert De Niro and Madonna are among the members of that illustrious group pictured in attendance on the restaurant’s walls.
Apart from the opportunities for star-spotting, it’s the subtly modernized traditional trattoria dishes that appeal at this renovated ancient warehouse.
The Monte San Biagio burger was created in honor of the restaurant’s returning American clients; the roasted pork and mozzarella “millefeuille” with pear sauce is an intriguing meaty take on what is normally a dessert. Dishes from $17.50 (€16).
Antica Pesa, Via Garibaldi 18. Tel: +39 06 580 9236
Born in Naples but with a working stint in Tokyo, Imàgo’s chef Francesco Apreda weaves Asian ingredients into his Roman and Neapolitan dishes. Sake-glazed black cod, roasted pigeon with black tea and cappelletti pasta with smoked eel and cocoa powder exemplify his cosmopolitan and gently experimental approach to haute cuisine.
One of Rome’s oldest luxury rooftop restaurants, Imàgo has a 360-degree view across the historic center of the city from its position atop the Spanish Steps, as well as one Michelin star. August former diners at Imàgo – in previous incarnations – include JFK, Grace Kelly, Federico Fellini and Audrey Hepburn.
Its shining marble floors with antique wooden inlay, mirrored tables and soft background music create an elegant, La Dolce Vita atmosphere, with a hint of decadence. Dishes from $36 (€33).
Imago at the Hassler, 6 Piazza Trinita dei Monti. Tel: +39 06 6993 4726
4. Pipero al Rex
Meat-lovers, lick your lips. But don’t just expect juicy fillets to be thrown into your cage at Pipero – you’ll also get to try unusual meats cooked with subtle blends of spices, fruits and herbs.
The tasting menu includes raw goose with an apple and mustard topping, rabbit in boiled zucchini, snails with garlic, lentils and whiskey and piglet served with a beer and cherry sauce.
Young chef Luciano Monosilia’s sophisticated way with flesh won Pipero al Rex a Michelin star after only two years. Dishes from $24 (€22).
Pipero al Rex, Via Torino 149. Tel: +39 06 481 5702
The secret of Gigetto’s popularity? Its crispy fried artichokes.
Addictive carciofi all giudia – crispy fried artichokes, a specialty of Roman-Jewish cuisine – are a big reason for the popularity of this quintessential osteria, a kind of Italian version of the tavern.
Set in the heart of Rome’s ancient Jewish quarter with a spectacular view over the Porticus Octaviae ruins, this simple but appealing place is also big on atmosphere. Those golden, round artichokes take some beating, but the cod croquettes and stuffed courgette flowers dissolve just as deliciously on the tongue. Dishes from $15 (€14).
Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavia, Via del Portico d’Ottavia 21/a-22. Tel +39 06 686 1105
Unfastidious food-loving Romans reserve a special place in their hearts for this laid-back, excellent-value trattoria. Tripe, oxtail stew and marrow-rich ossobuco are some of the unabashed dishes on offer.
You’ll probably also eat the best bucatini all’amatriciana – the classic Roman pasta dish with tomato-and-pig’s-cheek sauce – in your life here.
“Just like you get at home,” is Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera’s accurate description of what Lilli, one of the dwindling family-run trattoria in Rome, serves up. Dishes from $8.50 (€8).
Trattoria Lilli, Via di Tor di Nona, 23. Tel: +39 06 686 1916
7. Fish Market
The fish at Fish Market virtually flop their way here from the port.
“The fish is affordable and (has) zero-food miles. It comes directly from the fishermen’s nets in the port of Anzio to the table,” says Italian food and wine magazine Gambero Rosso of Fish Market.
To order here you line up, market-like, at the counter, where a net’s worth of fresh fish is on show, write what you want on a piece of paper, pay in advance, then sit down to be served. It’s a fun and efficient way to dine and this trattoria is so popular it doesn’t take reservations.
Set in the young, popular neighborhood of Trastevere, overlooking the Tiber River, there’s a modern, Scandinavian-style design and a lively atmosphere. Dishes from $8.50 (€8).
Fish Market Trastevere, Vicolo Della Luce, 2. Tel: +39 320 391 0934
8. Ristorante Roof Garden
What makes dinner here special is not just the exquisite Italian and international food, but the panorama over the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. It’s arguably the best view of any restaurant in the Italian capital, including Imàgo’s.
Changing every day, the tasting menu is strong on fish. The tartar of Carloforte tuna, from an island off Sardinia with a tradition of trapping the fish, is served with a delicate avocado sauce – sounds improbable but the two subtle flavors really complement each other.
Other specialties include risotto with langoustine sauce and salt cod with zucchini flowers. Former premier Mario Monti and the French actor Alain Delon are said to be among regular diners. Dishes from $20.50 (€19).
Ristorante Roof Garden, Hotel Forum Roma, Via Tor De’ Conti 25. Tel: +39 06 679 2447
Tiny Marzapane, with its simple black-and-white interior, is one of the most popular experimental eateries in Rome.
Oysters topped with sugared ginger and vodka and piglet in strawberry sauce are among the dishes you can watch being prepared in the open kitchen-cum-laboratory. You can get gourmet salads and sandwiches at lunch, tea with pistachio and ricotta mousse in the afternoon and salami aperitifs in the evening. Dishes from $16 (€15).
Marzapane, Via Velletri 39. Tel: 39 06 6478 1692
10. Arancia Blu
Vegans and vegetarians were long ill-served in the Italian capital but finally the vegetable is receiving its due.
Combining Italian cuisine with Asian and Middle Eastern influences to spicy, creative effect, Arancia (meaning “orange”) Blu is one of Rome’s top vegan restaurants.
You’ll get egg-free mayonnaise with lemon and ginger on the avocado, almond and cumin salad. Mustard ravioli and saffron and pepper trennette pasta are more experimental. Dishes from $10 (€9).
L’Arancia Blu, Via Cesare Beccaria, 3 Piazzale Flaminio. Tel: +39 391 350 9971
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2013. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.