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?
Over the past six months or so, restaurants in Rome have been competing for the budget conscious lunch crowd by offering moderately priced prix fixe menus and plentiful buffets. It has always been easy to eat cheaply in Rome, where shops selling high quality, inexpensive, and fresh pizza al taglio and panini are abundant. But now you can get an even wider selection of food at seemingly discounted prices. Here are some places I recommend:
RosticceRì: Chef Massimo Riccioli’s new-ish rosticceria/tavola calda/raw bar/deli/take away place does inexpensive snacks and meals in two locations (Piazza Testaccio and Corso Rinascimento). The concept is a bit over the top and trying to be all things to all people doesn’t always work out, but so far, the food is good, quick, and moderately priced. The offerings vary pretty widely, ranging from arancine allo zafferano to sushi and sashimi (strange, I know). The Testaccio location offers discounts on Saturday evening orders and both stores provide home delivery.
Filippo La Mantia: Have all the caponata, escarole, fish carpaccio and involtini di pesce spada you want–along with about 20 other dishes–at this fine dining restaurant in the Hotel Majestic on the Via Veneto. For dessert there are cannoli and cassate siciliane. Beverages are unlimited. €38 may not sound like a bargain, but consider that three little cannoli at dinner cost €20. In this light, the all you can eat lunch buffet is a definitely bargain.
In addition to the prix fixe and all you can eat buffet choices, there are also lots of cafeteria style dining options and street food places where you can eat filling portions of excellent pasta or savory snacks for around €5.
Baciamo le Mani
Via Cardinale Marmaggi 12 (Trastevere)
A Sicilian rosticceria serving panelle, pane ca’ meusa and sfincione, all for under €5 each.
Via della Seggiola, 12 (Largo Argentina)
This bar/tavola calda/gelateria serves hot meals at lunch with lots of great pasta and veggies. A full meal followed by a gelato runs around €10.
Largo Argentina, 30
Yeah, that’s 3 f’s. This landmark espresso bar also serves prepared food cafeteria style at lunchtime. Cold pastas, salads, fish, and meat dishes are made with high quality ingredients. A full lunch will cost €8-10. Don’t miss the coffee!
Via Catanzaro, 30/36 (Piazza Bologna)
This cafe serves typical Sicilian snacks and desserts. The arancine (fried rice balls) are to die for. For €5 you can eat a pizzetta or arancina and a cannolo siciliano.
Via Flaminia, 42 (Piazza del Popolo)
Via Marcantonio Colonna, 38 (Prati)
“Arancina World” serves a huge array of arancine, ranging from the traditional ragu’ filled to the creative squid stuffed (ink and all). Grab a savory Sicilian bite followed by a typical sweet for under €5.
This legendary bakery serves excellent pizza by the slice ranging from €0.50 to €2.50 for a generous portion, depending on toppings. They also serve light prepared meals and sandwiches in the back for €5-8.
Via Merulana, 271
Ridiculously good kebabs, felafels, salads, and hot dishes for under €5 or less each.
When I was in Rome in January this year Da Michele Pizzeria in Via D'Umilta by The Trevi Fountain had pizza slices for 1 Euro which should be great value for a lunch meal. If you go looking for some places in the side streets away from the main tourist piazzas, you should be able to find some more good value meals. The area from Piazza Navona down to the river in the direction of Castel De Angelo has a lot of places to chose from.
One of the better restaurant experiences with good prices was Ar Galletto with great pasta and more. Right by the Campo Di Fiori in Piazza Farnese.
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
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
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. http://www.anticofornoroscioli.com/Ro... 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 wine....it'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).
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.
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.
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"?