I have been in Rome for the past week and have been picking up a bunch of restaurant tips for people who might find themselves in the hungry in the "Eternal City". I have roamed (pun intended) around the main viales, narrow vias, and tiny vicolos day in and day out. Before coming I found a Gourmet Collector's Edition on Rome from 2003 and circled all of the places that I wanted to try. I also used a few of my family's trusted guidebooks, but those were not as descriptive or telling. Here are a few of my discoveries on where and how to eat in Rome. There will be more names and addresses to follow.
First, you must try all of the typical Roman pasta dishes. Cacio e Pepe is a simple dish of spaghetti with grated cacio, a local ewe's milk cheese, and black pepper. Amatriciana is a tomato-based pasta sauce with rendered guanciale (cured pork jowl). I have had spaghetti, penne, and rigatoni with this type of sauce and they are all great. Alla Gricia is also made with guanciale but with pecorino romano, and no tomatoes. And of course, carbonara. Carbonara is a heavier sauce of egg yolks and pancetta. It is hard to go wrong by eating one of those dishes, and they all usually come out to be about 8 or 9 euros.
For lunch I really would recommend sticking to panini and pizze if you are on a budget. Rome calls what we would think of to be focaccia "pizza bianca". You can find it "stuffed" with different ingredients and they make great sandwiches for no more than 3 euros. The best one I had was at the famous il Forno in Campo di Fiori. It was strozzaprieti cheese, walnuts, and arugula. Yum.
As for meat dishes, stick to simple things. Saltimbocca a la Romana, meat with sage and ham in a wine sauce is a sure bet. If you want to try some different traditional foods, head down to Testacchio, which lays to the south of the city on the Aventine hill. Besides visiting the Pyramid of Caius Calus and the tombs of Shelly and Keats in the Protestant cemetary, you should definitely make a stop at Checchino dal 1887 for Coda a la Vaccinara. It is an oxtail stew with tomatoes and spices and even some chocolate (apparently).
There is no need to eat dessert in a restaurant in Rome. We have been to many different places and the desserts are always average, yet they are almost always 9 euros (and very small). Instead, go to a gelateria and have an ice cream for about 4 euros. Our favorite of the week was Gelateria dei Gracchi located on the via Gracchi in Prati, a few blocks from the Vatican. It is a hidden parlor, more known to the locals than to tourists, and the flavors are phenomenal. The Ricotta and Pear, Chestnut and Rum, Persimmon, Apple and Cinnamon, Cream of Pinenut, and Date and Fig are ALL to die for.
Next time I will follow up with a short list of my favorite restaurants and shops to buy artisinal goods.