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Jan 14, 2010 11:42 PM

Cheap Rome

My three girlfriends and I are planning to go to Rome for the first time for spring break this year. Unfortunately we're all college students with strict budget concerns. We'll be there for a week and I'm hoping we can still get some good food on the cheap. I'm not sure what the name of the area we're staying in is, but I know it's near the Pantheon. What are the best places to eat cheaply but really well nearby? Is there a particular place that wouldn't be too radically expensive but is worth a bit of a splurge on our last night? Where is the best gelato?

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  1. We had amazing gelato at GELATERIA FRIGIDARIUM, which is located at Via del Governo Vecchio, 112, near Piazza Navona and not far from the Pantheon. I am still craving their dark chocolate orange gelato that had chunks of real orange in it.

    1. Just off the Piazza Navona, at via del Teatro del Pace, 32, the hole-in-the-wall "Lo Zozzone" serves up pizza bianca --- cheap, good and open 23 hours a day.

      What's your definition of "splurge" and "radically expensive"?

      1. Was in rome in Oct and found that all of the neighborhood trattoria's had great food and great prices. Stick with the cafe's and trattoria's and you won't pay too much. Did not have a bad meal the whole time we were there.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ncgrammie4

          You clearly lucked out, but that's a risky strategy. There are cafés and cafés (known locally usually as bars), and the more modest neighborhood trattorias often use cheap ingredients and give better food and service to neighbors than to clients they perceive as just passing through.

          But many bars are indeed good for quick sandwiches, and some even have hot food. There are also some good tavola caldas, where you can even have dinner cafeteria style, but I'm not up to date on them. Volpetti Più would be one, but probably not that cheap.

          As for the OP's gelato question: there is a longish list of candidates for "best" gelato, but passions flare on this subject as on no other (except maybe soccer). I had superb gelato yesterday at the elegant Ciampini bar on Piazza S. Lorenzo in Lucina, and then walked past Giolitti, Palma, San Crispino, and Fiocco di Neve (all near the Pantheon), each of which has been called the best. People get particularly worked up over San Crispino -- it seems to inspire love or hate, never indifference. I like it. They are all very good, and there are others in other parts of town.

          1. re: ncgrammie4

            To ncgrammie4: I agree whole heartedly with your comment about trattorias. We just recently spent 19 days in Italy visiting 5 cities and the best meals we had were at trattorias. We ate in some upscale "4-star' restaurants which were fine, but the "home cooking" we encountered in various trattorias was amazing. I find if you make a concerted effort to speak some Italian, show the staff that you are serious about eating good food and do not make silly demands, you can get a meal that is just as good as the one the native Italian at the next table is eating.

          2. My favorite cheap eats in Rome always seem to emerge from bakeries...many offer simple sandwiches on pizza bianca, or otherwise embellished breads (topped or filled). The Antico Forno on the Campo di Fiori has a small shop next door offering sandwiches at lunchtime, and the bakery itself has pizza al taglio (with toppings, sold by weight) only at lunch. At the Roscioli bakery on via dei Chiavari, you can get porchetta on their wonderful breads. Pretty close to Roscioli is the fried fish place on the little Largo dei Librari (called Filettaro a Santa Barbara)--it's also quite inexpensive.

            Another tasty pizza al taglio place not too far from the Pantheon is the shop on via Florida, 24....right at Largo Argentina, across from the archaeological site/cat sanctuary. Try the pizza topped with bresaolo & rucola. Again, it's sold by weight, and they'll warm it up if you like. It has a few stand-up tables, IIRC.

            Cul de Sac, a tiny wine bar on piazza Pasquino, is very near piazza Navona...good for a whole meal, or just snacks and's the sort of casual place where you don't feel you have to order multiple courses.

            Remember to stand at the bar to drink coffee--it's cheaper that way, a wonderful budget indulgence (around 2 euros, most places).

            1. You should definitely hit student-y San Lorenzo, a few minutes' walk from Termini station, a hip, cool neighborhood with a somewhat radical past, that has gentrified significantly yet is still a lot of fun. Rice milk gelato and world music record shops sit comfortably side-by-side, along with traditional old grocery stores and old time bars, plus loads of cheap clubs and bars that fill up after 10 or 11 pm, just about every night.

              For really good seafood, an affordable splurge, go da Franco. Fish was very fresh, everything was tasty, portions generous, and their set menus include everything listed (not a choice of pasta dishes or mains, but everything listed is what you get).

              Da Franco ar Vicoletto
              Via dei Falisci 1/b, Rome
              Phone: 06/4957675

              For absurdly cheap, and again tasty and plentiful food, there are a couple of osterie in San Lorenzo that are worth the trip. On a couple of occasions I have had three courses, bread, wine and water, for the princely sum of €16, ordering the most expensive things on the menu. I also remember that the perfectly drinkable house plonk was €1 for a quartino, €4 a litre. My favorite was at the end of via degli Equi, on the left side of the little piazza formed by the fork in the road with via dei Campani and via dei Lucani. I'm sure it must have a real name, but the the sign just says "Osteria".

              Also, some people claim that the best pizza is in San Lorenzo. Formula Uno is the place of choice, cheap and cheerful. I like the wafer thin pizza at Vecchia Conca better (via Carlo Alberto, by Santa Maria Maggiore), but there they cost 9 even 10 euros, which is enough to send my Roman friends gasping for air. At F1, they cost maybe 5 or 6, and are very good.

              Bar Marani (via dei Volsci 57) is the heart of the old radical/hippy area, though now in a very genteel way. People still sit and read Il Manifesto, the communist paper, here in the morning. Nice space to sit outside if the weather's good, and good ice creams, too. They close rather early given how busy San Lorenzo get at night.

              If you're looking for night life options, head for the church square in San Lorenzo and strike up conversations and see where the other people hanging out are headed. Most of the bars are concentrated on and around via dei Volsci.

              Finally, whether in San Lorenzo or elsewhere, don't forget the aperitivi that many bars do (like the ones on very popular, more touristy Campo de' Fiori). For the price of a drink, you can also graze at the free buffet they put out. Choose your buffet well and you won't need dinner afterward. The place on the piazza by San Lorenzo church is a popular spot, as is