When I am preparing to travel to Italy, I start to experience that tingle of anticipation well in advance. You know what is coming if you’ve been there. Not only are you going to be exposed to amazing history around every corner, you’ll experience a lifestyle that is the polar opposite of North America. It’s laid back, relaxed, people linger over their coffee, loiter over lunch, and they don’t even think about having dinner before 8:00 p.m. (though more typically 9 or 10 pm). They are tranquil and unhurried, and even walk slower than we do (though I suspect this is partly a survival technique so as to not break an ankle on the crooked cobblestones).
Roman street in Monti districtIt takes me a bit of time once I arrive to adapt. At first, I am charging down the streets, weaving around the slower paced Italians, and jumping off sidewalks to get around them a little quicker. So where am I going in such a hurry? I’m on VACATION! Eventually, I force myself to slow my pace and start taking in the world around me. I see ancient nonnas sitting with their friends, laughing and holding their day’s market haul between stocking-clad legs. I see friends hanging outside cafes, dragging on their hand-rolled cigarettes, and gesturing wildly as they talk. I see children racing across piazzas, chasing each other with wild abandon, or kicking a italian nonnassoccer ball, dreaming of being the next big Italian star (at least, that is how it appears to me). I see ancient walls soar on either side of me, in washed out pastels of yellow, salmon, and terracotta with window boxes holding tumbling, colourful displays of flowers. The plaster is peeling, the cobblestones are a rollicking sea to navigate, and fountains line the streets, spilling fresh cold water, and you can just stick your bottle under the ancient faucets to slake your thirst. It definitely keeps the dogs happy in the sticky, sultry heat of summer.

Breakfast, perhaps, is not so leisurely, although it is always social. Each morning, as I would go for my cappuccino, I would see Italians standing shoulder to shoulder at the bar counters of their local cafes. They would order their morning cafe, grab a pastry, and munch away until their espresso or cappuccino arrives. Then, they throw back their coffee, and are on their way. It’s quick, but always social, with the air abuzz with conversation.

Lunch and dinner, however, seem to require a bit more time, a bit more attention. There are a dizzying number of restaurants in Rome, from quite large to tiny cubby holes. Most serve amazingly delicious food. My rule of thumb for choosing a restaurant is first of all, stay away from the large piazzas and squares. The restaurants lining these huge piazzas are typically (not always, of course) touristy, with jacked up prices. Eat within view of the Collosseo? Not a chance. Dine with a view of the Trevi Fountain. No thank you. Instead, I love to dive into a tiny side street, and find a tiny little restaurant that either is not super busy with tourists, or is full of Italians (always a sign of a good spot with authentic, simply prepared, and delicious food).
Here are a few of the restaurants I dined at while in Roma, and really enjoyed the experience, and the food:

Broccoletti
ristorante de Fabrizio Cuicci Giuliani
Via Urbana 104 (Rione Monti)
I had two lovely meals at this charming little eatery on the same street as my Roman lodging. The first time I had spaghetti with clams and lime. Extremely simple and extremely delicious. And the fresh bread was amazing. On my second visit, I sampled the linguini ai frutti di mare (seafood linguine) and it was equally delicious with delicate flavours and a light sauce that only highlighted the seafood rather than masked it. After two visits, each time I would walk by, the owner (Fabrizio) or my waiter would call out “Ciao!” with a friendly little wave. Just lovely. It is moderately priced, and has a good selection of wines.
Photos of Broccoletti, Rome
This photo of Broccoletti is courtesy of TripAdvisor

La Fraschetta
Via d Cappellari, 64 (Campo de’ Fiori)
This is a wonderful little restaurant with no outdoor seating. Not that I cared. The atmosphere was wonderful and the staff friendly. I visited this restaurant twice. The first time, the soccer match was on the TV, which created wonderful entertainment. Oh, I don’t mean the soccer! I’m referring to a boisterous Italian lady, who was obviously a HUGE fan, was watching the screen with a mix of excitement and trepidation. When Roma scored, she was out of her seat, exuberant and high-fiving whoever was close by. Awesome!

On my first visit, my friend and I split an appetizer – the meat and cheese platter. It was massive. A large board arrives with salami, prosciutto, and mortadella spilling over the sides. It was complemented by generous slices of three different cheeses – buffalo mozzarella, pecorino, and the third, I`m not sure, but it was amazing. Then, we still had our pastas coming! Sara had spaghetti alla carbonara, and I had spaghetti alle vongole (my favourite, spaghetti with clams). Washed down with a bottle of lovely red recommended by our handsome waiter, we left feeling full and happy.

My second visit was to meet some friends for a very Roman 10 p.m. dinner, and included yet another shared appetizer. This time, it was simply the cheese plate. The variety of cheese came with honey and a marmelatta – it was the best cheese plate I have ever, ever had, with the honey and marmelatta complementing the cheese beautifully. For my main, I tried the veal saltimbocca (which translates literally to `jumps in the mouth“). It was luscious and melted in my mouth, and was just the right amount after my lovely cheese plate.

Wine bottles in Italian restaurant

L’Asino d’Oro
Via del Boschetto 73
As Italy embraces the slow food movement, L’Asino d’Oro is one of its stars. I had my best meal in Roma here at this lovely ristorante. It was too busy for me to sit outside, so the gracious waiter kindly seated me close to the door, as it was a rather sultry September evening. I started off with a cold glass of Orvieto white wine, and the simple sounding green fig omelette. The taste, however, was anything but. It was luscious and the flavours of the roasted figs married with the fresh eggs in a way that has stuck with me over a month later. Such a simple dish – such outstanding results. Then, I had the roasted lamb shank with onion. I love the translation for lamb shank – agnello stinco – so when the lamb was put down in front of me and the waiter announced “stinco” in booming tones, I had to suppress a grin. May I say, however, that it was mind-numbingly good. The onion is roasted in its skin, and when you press on it, the soft, roasted centre oozes out and makes the buttery lamb even better. If I had room, I would have tried one of their delectable desserts. Instead, I opted for an espresso, and even without sugar, it was the sweetest, smoothest espresso I have ever had. Bravo on all fronts! My entire meal, with wine and water, was a reasonable €32 — and worth every penny.

Il Fico
Via de Monte Giordano, 49, Roma
http://www.ilfico.com
I met up with a couple of new friends to try Il Fico. It is tucked in a side street and so the outdoor seating was peaceful and the night air languidly warm.

My favourite dish so far is the tonarelli cacio, pepe, and ricotta. This simple pasta is absolutely delicious with simple ingredients that blend to create a creamy pasta that is not at all soupy or “saucey” – every bit of the sauce clings to the strands of pasta. We ordered a litre of the house white, which was quite good and very reasonable at €10. After we had eaten our fill, the waiter brought us complimentary limoncello and biscotti. I had hoped to make it for a second meal, but alas, did not. I will have to return on my next trip to Roma.
Photos of Ristorante Il Fico, Rome
This photo of Ristorante Il Fico is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Miscellanea
Via Della Palombella | 34/35 (Pantheon), Rome, Italy
I visited this friendly and bustling restaurant twice during my stay in Roma. No, it wasn’t the absolute best food I had in Roma, but it was very good. I chose the torta rustica, feeling like a change from pasta. The savoury quiche-like torta was delicious and came with a green salad and buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes – a very filling portion and an amazing value for the money. A lovely limoncello followed my meal, on the house. I was also serenaded by an old Italian guy with a grey ponytail. He was so exuberant and entertaining, singing old Italian standards, that he made me laugh. So I was more than happy to part with a couple of euros after his performance.

La Cicala e la Formica
Via Leonina, 17, 00184 Roma,
The name of this restaurant translates to the Grasshopper and the Ant (I think!). I came here for dinner at the recommendation of the lovely Albertina, the Roman gal I was staying with while studying in Roma. Albertina knows the family that runs this lovely little restaurant, and she assured me they use local, fresh ingredients prepared in typical Roman style. I was not disappointed! The waitress, first of all, was lovely – very friendly and arrived in a very timely fashion to take my order. I ordered the lamb ragu with broad noodles and a glass of the vino rosso alla casa (house red wine). The wine was fantastic, with a wonderful depth of flavour. The lamb ragu was buonissimo! I almost wanted to order a second plate. The restaurant faced out onto via Leonina, with lots of foot traffic going by, which was great for people watching as I savoured my meal.

La Vacca m’Ubriaca
Via Urbana 29/30, Rome, Italy
This is a charming little spot just steps away from my Roman apartment. I stepped inside during a thunderstorm, and I’m glad I did. Quaint and charming with friendly staff, I started my visit with a complementary little glass of prosecco! A nice touch unheard of back home. This was my first experience with fiori fritti (fried zucchini flowers). I have been told many times that this is a very Roman dish, and a must try while I am in Roma. Always wanting to try something new, I dig in. My zucchini flowers are stuffed with anchovies, then battered and deep fried – toe-curlingly delicious. I loved these little flavour bombs so much, I went back two days later for more. I also tried the eggplant parmesan. This dish often gets a bad rap because the eggplant can be quite greasy – not the case here. The eggplant was pleasantly crispy on the outside, creamy inside, with a beautiful tomato sauce. For dessert, the tiramisu – creamy and delicious. The young owner then came out to see how our meal was. He was very friendly, and chatted with us for a few minutes, before moving on to ensure his next table of customers were equally as happy.
Photos of Hosteria La Vacca M'briaca, Rome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This photo of Hosteria La Vacca M’briaca is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Dodo Ristorante
Via dei Serpenti, 87, Rome, Italy
This modest little restaurant was very close to my Italian school so we visited it quite often. The food was good, the service quick, and the prices reasonable. There is one lady that works there with dark, short hair who is so completely lovely and super friendly. On my last visit, I ordered the pizza with fresh buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and arugula. The entire pizza was then drizzled with olive oil. Well, I have to say this was the tastiest pizza I had while in Roma. It was so flavourful and the crust thin and crispy. It was so yummy, I ate the entire thing! I washed it down, of course, with a glass of the house white wine. Brava!

Little restaurant in Trastevere
Che peccato! I’m incredibly disappointed that I lost the business card for this charming little eatery in Trastevere. I had the best spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) during my entire stay in Roma. The dish hadRoman doorway just a touch of spice that I so love with this dish. If I find it at some point, I will blog about this wonderful little spot in the future!

Basically, there are countless wonderful spots to eat in Rome. Have fun exploring, delve into the tiny side streets, and embrace the incredible Roman cuisine. And have dessert! Walking on cobblestones burns way more calories than on pavement!