Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Italy >
Jan 12, 2009 12:05 PM

Rome in March

My wife and I are heading to Italy at the end of March, hopefully beating the Easter crowd. We went to Florence/Venice/Milan in 2006, and will focus on Rome (about 5 days), Naples, Amalfi Coast (too early in season?) and Umbria this time.

It will be the first time for my wife, but I visited Rome 8 years ago on my own. It is truly a magnificent city, but I was somewhat disappointed in the food. Perhaps it is the season (summer), perhaps it is the location (Centro Storico, Termini), or perhaps I succumbed too soon in the heat, but I had a hard time finding eateries with a favorable tourist/local ratio. The food is decent and cheap, better than what an average tourist eat in many US cities. I would be content if it is Florence or Venice, but I expect more in Rome. Where do Romans eat? I normally have no problem finding great bistro in Paris full of Parisians just 2 blocks from major sights.

I just started browsing this board, and collecting ideas. So far the short list includes:
* Antico Forno Campo de Fiori (take out)
* Al Bric
* Armando
* Trattoria Monti
* Paris
* Sant’ Eustachio and Tazza de Oro (coffee)
* Pizzeria Buffetto (pizza)

I am sure the list will grow as I spend more time on the board. It has served us well in the past. Meanwhile I am counting on the collective wisdom of the board for the following questions:
1) What areas are good for just walking around at evening, and discovering good trattoria with traditional food and lots of locals?
2) We are not big meat eaters, and will focus on pasta and vegetable anti-pasta. We both love seafood though, particularly fish. Can someone recommend a good place for seafood? Where can we have Sardinia style pasta with bottarga? Or shall we wait till we get to Naples?
3) We want to have one special occasion meal, to celebrate, well, just being in Rome. It would be at the end of a busy sightseeing day, and we want it to be relaxed, not having to “live up with the service level”. Would Antico Arco be a good choice?
4) Where can we sample authentic Roman Jewish food?

Thanks in advance.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Yes to Antico Arco. You won't be disappointed. Been there before, be there in May and the time following the May visit.

    1 Reply
    1. re: austx03

      Thanks, any idea how much would it cost? Their website did not list price.

    2. Where the Romans eat is, I assure, not necessarily where you want to eat. Romans eat Roman food at home or at their local trattoria. When they go out, they often want something different, while you probably want something more traditional and authentic. It's not, of course, that simple, but many of the best restaurants in Rome have a large foreign clientele, and it would be wrong to hold it against them.

      You don't say where you ate on your previous trip, or what you ate, so it's impossible to evaluate your experience, but I can say this: many people don't get Roman food because it seems too simple and not what they are expecting. Do some reading about Roman food.

      The Campo de' Fiori/Pantheon/Piazza Navona area is full of restaurants and trattorias and tourists and heavy-drinking young people, as well as some very beautiful streets and attractive restaurants. I would not expect to wander around and walk into any place wonderful. It may happen, but it's a long shot. Study and reserve.
      Tuna, on lower via Veneto, is wonderful for fish. Paris is fine for the basic Jewish menu. Armando is nice but not as good as Monti, and even Monti, which is very good, is not as indispensable as some reviewers suggest. Sant'Eustachio and Tazza d'Oro are very good, if you're already in the neighborhood. Baffetto is a great favorite of many people, but it's a mystery to me. The pizza is good, but the place is uncomfortable and always crowded. There are several Sardinian restaurants, but I'm not really up on them. I wouldn't expect to find Sardinian bottarga on the menu in Naples. You can also take a plane to Cagliari as a day trip and have lunch there. It's quite close.

      You will find a lot of locals in peripheral neighborhoods eating near their homes. Most locals can't afford to live in the neighborhoods where the tourists go. So just choose the restaurants you like, familiarize yourself with the warning signs of tourist traps, have an idea in advance what should be on the menu, and relax.

      Antico Arco would probably be fine for your special occasion.

      6 Replies
      1. re: mbfant

        Points well taken. No I do not remember where I ate. I was not even using a guide book, just wandering around and it was 8 years ago. The lesson: one stil needs to do the homework, even in Rome. I hope it will be different this time around, with the help of this board.

        1. re: foggy_town

          Do your homework ... it is TOTALLY worth it. Rome is a beautiful, breathtaking city with lovely, warm Italians, but you can eat poorly and pay a lot of money if you are not careful. Read this board carefully, make your list, reserve ahead (call & confirm when you get to Rome) and don't forget to have back up spots ... you will have a WONDERFUL time!! Ciao!! Peggy D

        2. re: mbfant

          I see Tuna mentioned in another thread. Can someone characterize it? Is it an old school tratorria, or modern? Is it expensive? Seafood is usually more expensive than meat, but we are heading to the interier (Umbria) and will be away from coast after Rome. We changed our travel plan to skip Naples this time.

          1. re: foggy_town

            It is a very stylish restaurant with a conservative kitchen, all seafood. There is an antipasto of raw seafood and one of cooked --- succession of many small plates. The pastas are hearty, paccheri with scorfano and little tomatoes, spaghetti alle vongole. The fried calamari are delicate. It is expensive but not top-tier expensive, just expensive because it has top-grade fresh fish. You would almost certainly have two courses, not three, but might want dessert.

            1. re: foggy_town

              Since you're heading to Umbria, plan on being able to order fish -- lake fish -- even in the interior; carp and pike are on many menus. I had known the names of these fish, but I don't believe I had eaten them until our Umbrian trip. Delicious.

              You don't mention the dates of your trip, but depending on the time of year, you may discover even more fish being offered in Umbria if my experience in Tuscany is any guide.

              In 2001, I visited Arezzo in March and made an interesting discovery. I know that Tuscany has a coast line where the cuisine includes fish and shellfish preparations, but Aretine cuisine is very heavily into meat. Therefore, it was something of a shock that on this -- my third trip to Arezzo -- I was seeing special, page-long menus featuring fish/shellfish exclusively inserted into to every restaurant menu. Not being Catholic, I didn't pick up on the significance of these additions. Answer: It was Lent.

              1. re: Indy 67

                One thing we noticed on our last trip to Italy is that top-flight seafood has become the default luxury option to the local cuisine in many places. Also pristine food from out of region. For example, in Mantova, Parma and Bergamo, which all have substantial cuisines of their own, restaurants serving very expensive and excellent seafood are very popular - even restaurants noted for the local dishes will offer these items elsewhere. In Mantova, for example we ate at a slow food establishment and feasted on marinated local fresh water lake fish and classic rice dishes, while the table across from us ate platters of amazing scampi (prawns). In Bergamo (another inland location), we watched table after table be served seafood plateaus, and we ourselves ordered a fish (at a ridiculously exorbitant price. The amuse buche they served included lovely buffalo mozzarella (obviously flown in). So if you are dining in the top tier you will see out of region items like these. But the price will be high, so watch out (I think our fish was delicious but cost around $75 - would we order it again - no).

                BTW on many trips to italy, including in Rome, we ate a lot of wonderful grilled trout - that was never expensive - so keep an eye out for that alternative. too, if you dont want to spend an arm and a leg.

          2. When you order your coffee drinks at Sant' Eustachio, if you don't sugar, tell them ahead of time, otherwise, they will put a little sugar on the bottom of the cup before pulling your espresso.

            1. march is the best month to visit rome. deb and i have been doing it for years.
              one piece of advice i would give: don't sweat the details. learn your neighborhood and go from there. find a restaurant you like and return. return customers are held in high regard.

              1. An excellent area for "windowshopping" restaurants is the area west of Tiber known as Trastevere. My wife and I love this part of Rome. The food is amongst the cheapest in Rome, and they serve a lot of traditional Roman dishes. My favorite so far is Da Lucia. They serve one of the best and simplest dishes I've had in Rome; Spaghetti Alla Gricia. Perfect for lunch. Also, you can't leave Rome without having their Panna Cotta for dessert. It's been know as one of the best in the city.

                A fun tip is to hang at the square outside the Santa Maria in Trastevere church just before lunchtime, and follow the priests when they go to eat. They know their way through old Rome like no guidebook.

                Best regards from Norway

                3 Replies
                1. re: Stig

                  You CAN leave Rome without having ANYBODY'S panna cotta! The standard in food in Trastevere is not that great, and especially in the cheap places. Da Lucia has many devoted fans. In my opinion it's fine if you're already in the neighborhood, but I certainly wouldn't recommend going to any trouble to go there. But I do recall it has excellent crème caramel, much more traditional in Rome than panna cotta.

                  1. re: mbfant

                    Hehe. This is a good example of different experiences. I'll go out of my way to get to Da Lucia. If I stay at a hotel near the Spanish Steps, I'll jump a cab to have dinner in Trastevere. I have quite a list of places I like to return to there. You might say that the dishes are simpler than many of the highend places, but the atmosphere and friendlyness of the locals are great. I love the late walks through the old city after dinner.

                    As for the Panna Cotta remark, what's the point?

                    1. re: Stig

                      Oh, I was just taking you literally, and I find panna cotta people think it's a really important local food, which it is absolutely is not. And there ARE panna cotta people :-)

                      As for Trastevere, I'm sure everybody would like to know what else is on your list. I only ever go to Paris, l'Obitorio, and occasionally La Gensola. Il Ciak is good, but the menu and atmosphere aren't what I'm usually looking for. I also like Checco er Carettiere, but it's awfully expensive for essentially an oversized trattoria. Otherwise my husband and I have been consistently disappointed by other places we've tried in Trastevere, unless, of course, I'm forgetting something. Enzo and Spirito Divino are on my list to try.