Best of Best Rome restaurants
I hope the chowhounders are not too disappointed in my report, as I do not have detailed descriptions of every dish I ate in Rome. I found it unusual that some tourists were photographing each dish. Now I realize it is to jog there memory upon returning home.
We arrived in Italy on 6/21, spending 5 nights in Taormina. I have written my account of these days on the Taormina forums. Now, on to Rome.
6/26: We flew domestic Alitalia from Catania to Rome, a short and pleasant flight. Despite my obsessing over luggage weight, there was little problem on either Alitalia flight w/ excess luggage charges. During the first flight, the counter agent checking the luggage became flustered when, after stating we had excess luggage, I explained that she had miscalculated our allowance. On the return flight, we were about 6 kg over, and the gate agent winked at me and let it go.
Luggage took a while to collect in Rome. Rome Cabs was waiting for us, and provided good service. Our check-in at the Rome Cavalieri was uneventful. We received the rooms that I had booked and were promised. The view from the 8th floor overlooking the Vatican and old city is unbelievable. Our rooms were reasonably sized, with nice balconies.
We were hungry, having skipped breakfast and lunch, so we went to the club for some food. They were transitioning between lunch and tea. We were able to cobble together a reasonable heavy snack to hold us until dinner. We were a little tired from travelling, so we gave in to the kids request to visit the pool. By the time we got to the pool, thunderclouds had rolled in, so we stayed for less than 30 minutes.
Our visit to La Pergola did not start off the Rome segment of the trip well. Tables near the window have the same spectacular view of the city that we had from our room (one floor down). Our table was located too far from the window to enjoy the view, but we knew we were not getting the best table. It is unfortunate that some restaurants have to pretend to be more than they are. The service was overly formal and stiff. Despite having read in several places that jackets were required, several tables had men without jackets. Our first course was okay. My wife’s zuchinni blossom was a work of art, w/ a zucchini blossom sitting atop a custard of zucchini. My pasta was tried to cleverly hide the sauce inside the pasta. The delicate tiny ravioli of fresh pasta had a delicious sauce inside, and was “dry” or unsauced on the outside. Unfortunately, this is where the dinner went awry. The waiters ignored our requests for more bread for the children. The main course was a disaster. My fish was sitting in a pool of astringent red, inedible sauce (possibly cranberry and rosemary). The fish looked like it had been boiled in a bag (sous-vide gone astray?). While there were sufficient numbers of waiters, they seemed to be ignoring our table. Perhaps I should have called over the manager at this time to rescue our dinner, but we had had enough. We left without dessert. Having visited many of the world’s finest restaurants, we were looking forward to Pergola, but were sorely disappointed. The concept of hospitality was completely lost on the staff this evening.
We and the children were tired, so we went to bed, from our perch overlooking the eternal city.
6/27: We had breakfast in the club. While we loved our room, the club served a limited menu. There were only 3 hot items: inedible French toast (possibly dug from the ruins, based upon its hardness); runny scrambled eggs, and greasy bacon and sausage. There were a few pastries based upon the croissant (chocolate, almond paste, etc) and some cut fruit. They also had prosciutto and smoked salmon. I was disappointed that there were no Italian pastries or hot Italian breakfast offerings. The coffee was good- freshly made to order. Overall, the breakfast was adequate, but could be vastly improved.
We visited the Capitoline museum in the morning. The children loved the statues, and the tapestries were well-preserved and beautiful. I am not certain why this museum fell off the radar during other trips to Rome, but it definitely is worth several hours. We walked to the Pantheon in the hot midday sun. After cooling our heels in the Pantheon, we walked to the Piazza Navonna in search of lunch. We found a highly recommended pizza joint, closed for lunch. We chose another nearby restaurant, Coco and Mimi’s, which was very good, considering how we chose it. We ate a hurried lunch so that we could make our 3pm Villa Borghese reservation.
Check-in at Villa Borghese was more thorough than flying domestic Italian airlines. By following the recommended check-in time (30 minutes before entry), we had 30 minutes to wait in the heat – I think 15 minutes is plenty of time to allow for claiming tickets before entry. The museum is spectacular. The rooms are packed with statues, mosaics and paintings, and the ticket policy guarantees that there will not be hoards of others. The museum is located in the park. The park is much like Central Park in New York. Anyone is allowed access to the park – only the museum/gallery is restricted. The children enjoyed renting a motorized 4 passenger “surrey” to explore more of the park. We found a nice pond where boats could be rented.
Back at the hotel, the children wanted to cool off in the pool. The pool attendants are a bit militant regarding checking in hotel guests. Our hotel room included use of the pool. I have read that others are charged. There should be a better way to determine who pays and who doesn’t, so the guests don’t have to wait for the pool attendants to check their books. Perhaps if the pool in included, the front desk can issue time sensitive ID – wrist bands w/ your dates of stay. Weather allowed only 1 hour in the pool. The indoor pool was being repaired during our visit.
Just when I was about to give up on dining in Italy, we found Imago. Located atop the Hassler, the view is panoramic while being in the heart of the city. The restaurant was formal but not stuffy, with an emphasis on making guests feel welcomed and a desire by the staff to put on a good show and help the guests enjoy. We tasted several appetizers, all very good, with martinis. We even ordered extra appetizers, and the waiters adapted comfortably. Our pasta and main courses were delicious, and perhaps tasted even better because the service was superlative. We barely had room for dessert, and left Imago, happy and sated.
Walking down the Spanish Steps, the children wanted to take a handsome cab. After negotiating a fare for less than half the initial asking price, we were taken to the Trevi fountain, magical both in the day and especially at night. After the kids had their gelato fix, we headed back to the hotel.
6/28: We ate another non-descript breakfast at the club, followed by a little pool time. We could not squeeze lunch in before our Vatican tour, so we gave the kids Italy’s universal snack, gelato. We unfortunately chose a touristy place near our tour guide’s designated meeting place, not realizing till later that we were within 100 yards of Old Bridge Gelateria. The touristy place (not Old Bridge) put a small dollup of gelato on each cone, charging 3 euros/cone. We met our Vatican tour guide, Daniella Hunt, at about 12:30pm. She helped guide us through the crowds to get to the ticket window. If you have pre-ordered tickets, there really is no line to get Vatican tickets. You just walk up to the window and claim the tickets. My wife and I had visited the Vatican before, but Daniella breathed life into the statues, mosaics, paintings, walls, and of course, the ceiling. She was a great tour guide, engaging both out children while keeping me and my wife interested. We hit the highlights of St Peters Basilica and square, before getting a gelato refill at the Old Bridge – huge portions, reasonably priced, and of good quality.
We visited the club upon returning to the hotel, so we could refill fluids and confirm evening dinner plans. The concierge services at the Cavalieri seem to be its weakest link. Before the trip, I asked the concierge to make our dinner reservations. After unanswered several emails, I made them myself directly with the restaurants via email. This was much easier than I thought, and definitely easier than asking (3x) for the concierge to make these reservations. On this evening, I asked our club concierge to call the restaurant to confirm. I am still dumbfounded by her arguing with me that “it was not necessary” to call and confirm. When she finally did, she was told by the restaurant that they had cancelled the reservation because I had not reconfirmed earlier. She “re-made” the reservation.
We found Il Convivio Troiani down a tiny street and alley. The waiters seemed distressed that I did not want an aperitif, but rather was considering ordering a bottle of champagne. Despite asking for the wine list 5 times, I did not get it until after I had ordered, about 1 hour later, and too late for the celebratory champagne. Ordering was an ordeal. Perhaps we should have taken these cues and left. However, we were having a pleasant conversation with 2 other tables, as we seemed to have been seated in the “American” room. Our adjoining tables had visitors from NYC and the Midwest. After my daughters had finished their pasta dishes and were still hungry, I guess we threw a real curve ball by asking for second portions of pasta. It took over 1 hour for our table to recover and receive our main courses. This was our worst dining experience in Rome and Italy. The pastas were okay, but the main courses were not good. My wife’s bouillabaisse was fishy. The children’s lamb had a strong mutton flavor. The meal overall was exhausting, due to the poor communication, service, and time between courses. This was the only time during my 2 weeks in Italy that I wish I had spoken Italian. We were glad to get back to the hotel and enjoy our wonderful view of Rome by night.
BTW, due to our extensive use of taxis, we noticed that some cab drivers (usually those called by restaurants) had 10-15 euros on the meter before we entered the cab. The majority of cab rides to and from the hotel, and within Rome, cost 10-15euros. All drivers used meters – some just seemed to start at a higher level and possibly ran faster.
6/29: We ate a quick club breakfast and met our tour guide at the Forum. This was my favorite part of the trip. Daniella brought us back through the centuries to ancient Rome, building the forum up while weaving stories about the temples and the buildings we passed. I think I also located where our hotel dug the French toast they served every morning at breakfast (just kidding). We ended in the Colisseum, again, with Daniella adding a new dimension to this ruin. I wish we had had Daniella to guide us in Siracusa (Sicily).
After the Colisseum, we headed into the Jewish Ghetto in search of lunch. We found Piperno, and ordered the caracofa that were great, zucchini blossoms that were leaden, greasy and fishy w/ anchovy, fried mozzarella balls (which were okay, but did we really need fried cheese w/ all the other grease?). All the pastas sampled were very good. This restaurant offers a great example of Jewish Roman cuisine, but it could do a better job perfecting (and lightening) the fried dishes.
We wandered around until we decided we would find no suitable dress shops in these areas, and took a cab back to the hotel. The children enjoyed the afternoon in the pool.
After the last evening’s disaster, we were a little gun-shy trying another restaurant. Like good divers, we had planned the dive, so we would dive the plan. We arrived at Il Pagliacciio a few minutes after 8pm. The children liked the booth seating. We were pleased to discover that the waiters had passed their hospitality courses, making for an enjoyable evening. To our gelato and carbo-loading daughters’ delight, the bread basket was kept filled throughout the night. (BTW, the children do not weight 500 pounds each, and have not had coronary stents placed,… yet). The food here was exquisite. Each appetizer and main course delighted and sometimes challenged your senses. The waiters pleasantly answered questions about the interesting food. Considering the service, sophisticated atmosphere, and phenomenal food, this restaurant deserves another Michelin star. Perhaps Michelin could divvy up Pergolas stars to restaurants that deserve them.
6/30: Our last day in Rome. My wife was looking for a new dress for her birthday party in New York in 2 days, so we headed to via Condotti. Many stores and three dress purchases later, the shops were starting to close for lunch. We headed to the Trevi fountain for another look, and revisited the Pantheon. We then hunted for a highly recommended pizza restaurant, open for lunch. We found Pizzeria Monte Carlo in a small alley, with the help of a taxi driver. The place was very busy. The pizzas were thin, as advertised, and pretty good. Given a wood-burning stove and the right ingredients, I could do far better making pizza myself. We ended the meal w/ gelato around the corner at Frigidarium. This was our second try of this gelateria, and we found the quality to be the best in Rome. It is definitely worth seeking out when around Piazza Navonna.
We headed “home” for our last relaxing afternoon at the hotel. We had booked spa appointments at the hotel. I experienced my most relaxing massage (ever) in St. Marteen, and was wondering if the Italian version of a message would differ in any way from the standard. I was first given a robe that barely went below the waist – it would have been amusing parading around the hotel in that. The message was good and differed from French and American messages. The back was messaged from the front, with long strokes. Overall, I’d rate the massage an A-. The spa at the Rome Cavalieri seems somewhat disorganized. The “waiting” area is less than relaxing, without anything to drink and a few couches placed in a room off from the main hallway.
Our last dinner in Rome – we were worried, as we had only batted 500 in Rome. And Agate e Romeo seemed to have an eclectic menu online. We were greeted warmly and the waiter did not seem to mind that we wanted wine instead of the apparently mandatory aperitif that was offered elsewhere. The children loved the breads, and everyone ate the amuse bouche of sweetbreads (I told the children they were chicken nuggets). Each course offered intriguing yet very palatable flavors. The children and we were very satisfied with appetizers, pastas and main courses. Interestingly, the sommelier suggested a much less expensive wine then the one I was inquiring about. The Italian pinot noir was quite good, reminiscent of a premium Santa Barbara wine. We ordered multiple desserts to sample, and were not disappointed. I was very full before dessert, and it was hard to resist the cheese course. The waiters gladly served a half portion. I had a pleasant chat with Romeo towards the end of the meal, and bought a bottle of his olive oil. We were glad to end our Rome trip on a high note.
7/1: We awoke early, finished our packing and went to the airport w/ RomeCabs. This driver did not speak much English, but safely brought us to our destination. I asked the customs agent at our point of entry to stamp my duty free forms, and he refused. When I told the duty free agent in out terminal, she told me I had to go out again and get the stamp, which I was not willing to do for $100.
My take home hints for Rome:
If you need a tour, email Daniella Hunt at Mirabilis Tours to see if she can accommodate you. She was very good at bringing the ruins to life.
I spent hours trying to figure out the best way to visit the Vatican. Your do not need to waste this time. You do not need to hire someone to guide you or help you “skip the line.” Just order tickets through the Vatican website, and you can “skip the line.” This may not be obvious when you arrive at the Vatican, but you can walk right up to a ticket window, passing the poor folks who could not plan ahead, and claim your pre-ordered tickets. The 1-2 mile line outside can be avoided w/ pre-ordering.
The Rome Cavalieri has great views (8th floor), and good pool facilities. The breakfasts are certainly not gourmet, but reasonably acceptable, and it is nice to have club access throughout the day (need to book club level -7th and 8th floors). The concept of concierge is lost on the hotel, both through the main hotel and club.
Cab service in Rome in general is reasonable. I could probably save a few bucks by arguing about meters that are started before we get in the cab. RomeCabs is a good method of transfer to and from the airport –both reliable and reasonable.
All ATMS in Rome had a 250euro/ transaction limit. So, you may be stuck paying multiple transaction fees/day if you need a lot of cash. I highly recommend getting a Capital One Venture card – because they charge NO foreign transaction fees, and use a good conversion rate. They were difficult to work with, but I hate getting charged 2.7 to 3% by AMEX and Visa/M/C for euro to USD conversions.
Regarding high-end dining in Rome, Agate e Rome and Il Pagliaccio tie for best dining experiences. They each had fantastic food and service. The surprise loser was La Pergola – hit or miss food (good appetizers, bad main courses) w/ crummy service. Imago was great also, tying the other two good restaurants for great service, w/ very good food, but falling to second place due to “not as creative” dishes. Convivio Troiani was horrible –service and food was less than one would expect for a good restaurant. Il Piperno was good for what it is – a different style of cooking. The artichokes were amazing, but the other fried food could be made lighter/less greasy. The pastas were all very good. The supposedly great pizza in Rome, at Pizzeria Monte Carlo was good but not great. For gelato, I would vote for Old Bridge and Frigidarium.
Regarding all of my research on Tripadvisor and Chowhound, I learned a few things that were helpful, but much was not. This learning process was very inefficient. It would be much more time efficient to organize Tripadvisor forums into subjects, so that one does not have to troll through hours of musings to get to the useful data (ie, suggested subject headings: money exchange, Vatican entry, Vatican tours, cabs, electrical outlets, gelati, pizza (by slice), pizza, etc.). Despite my obsessing where to dine, I should have mapped out the location of some of the restaurants, especially the smaller places that are not well-known. Part of Rome’s charm is its many small and winding streets and squares, but it is very confusing to find the smaller locations, so pre-map at home and save yourself the aggravation.
The purpose of this trip was to celebrate a milestone birthday for my wife. The grand finale was celebrated in New York, upon our return, at Bouley restaurant in a party including 40 family members. I have been going to this restaurant for over 20 years. They have moved at least 3 times. I have never had a bad meal, although not every dish is fantastic. My children had their first upscale meal out at Bouley – they were 9 months old, and amused themselves after eating lunch by sitting on the floor and rolling rolls to each other. The waiters did not mind, considering the big tip. My wife’s birthday party was fantastic – everything served was phenomenal. Despite serving to a “crowd,” every dish was perfectly prepared. The broth in the shrimp appetizer was mind-blowing, and the duck entrée was the best duck I have ever eaten. Unlike other trips to Italy, we finally found some restaurants that compete w/ the great restaurants of the world.
Thanks for reporting back. Its worthwhile to see your side by side report on these high-end restaurants. glad that you had several enjoyable experiences. Its sad but true that even better restaurants standards can slip , especially, or so it seems to me,when they are serving first time/only time customers. I also would have been very disappointed experiencing some of the things that happened to you especially at such a high price point. Just glad that you had some good eveings that redeemed the experience and your milestone trip
My husband and I ate at the Mirabelle July, 08. I think a one star Michelin. The food of course was very good but the true spectacle is the service, the somellier (complete with a display of very impressive looking medals on his chest) and that stupendous view. We ate on the terrace on a warm evening, indulged in the services of the somellier and sat back for the ride, it was a truly magical evening. THe view is to die for, you see all of Rome in that extraordinary ambient light. Book the terrace, and book late, they are likely to sneer at a booking earlier than 9.00pm, this is ROme after all. Have a wonderful evening.
Thank you for the most recent comments. Just to correct some info, we are planning dinners at the restaurants (not lunches). I would like to know where the above respondents would recommend as their favorites outside of the places I have chosen.
When I was researching prior to my post, I found an interesting opinion regarding this topic. The author opined that great "authentic" food is found in people's homes, and not in restaurants. As all who read and write on this website likely share the desire to find "best " ingredients and have done so at home, it is difficult to find a restaurant that seeks out all the best ingredients for their dishes, especially with the restauranteur's competing interest in containing costs.
That being said, I value any advice for great locals-type restaurants that we may visit at lunch.
I would second Colline E. for lunch and suggest Gensola in Trastevere, Checchino dal in Testaccio, Roscioli off the Campo (the restaurant - not the bakery down the street. Forno is terrific for pizza slices and bread, there is a small hot buffett but its really a "sit down" lunch spot). All four are diverse choices that will reflect a more "authentic" Roman experience for lunch.
If you open up possibilities for dinner, consider Antico Arco up on the Janicolo - interesting takes on traditional dishes. Less stuffy and formal than those on your list while offering a high quality, alternative fine dining experience in Rome.
The "in home dining" experience in Italy was chronicled the past year or so in the NY Times Travel section. You might do a search there for the article.
Thank you all for your advice. Based upon your opinions and our reading of menus, we chose:
Il Convivo Troiani
Agata e Romeo
Colonna also appeals to us, and maybe we can get there for lunch one day.
Agata e Romeo seems to have a funky, limited current menu posted on its website, but based upon reviews, it sounds like it should not be missed.
re: jen kalb
I'm not looking to waste money. We are celebrating a special occasion, and love great food.
I grew up in NY, but now live in a small town. Whenever we travel, we try to find the best restaurants to sample. In NYC, my current favorites remain Le Bernadin, Bouley and Gotham Grill. We ate at French Laundry last year, but have not tried Per Se yet because my 10 year old daughters wouldn't eat much of what they serve.
re: jen kalb
I agree with Jen's comment. While I enjoy upscale, noteworthy restaurants for special meals, I think you are selling yourself short. I believe you will miss (avoid?) the very special flavor of Rome when stuck in the chic spots noted. All are very upscale, well regarded. But going to one is certainly enough. In recent years, I have dined at all on your list, save Imago. I can honesly say the length and costs and pretension of the lunhces you plan will be considerable and will detract from your 5 days in Rome. I fear that the spots on your list emulate themelves so the overall experience will, like colors in the wash, bleed into a uniform pattern.
Why not consider more down-to-earth but equally lauded here places? BTW, I and several others here were not impressed with the luncheon experience at Agata. They try hard but a long aftenoon invested there was time that could have been enjoyed elsewhere with far more fun, without the ponderous and pretentious experience. Get out and enjoy Rome - please don't be tethered to only once-a-year dining destinations!
I wasnt really making any particular point by my comment. It just seemed like an awful lot of luxe eating and a small fortune,. Ive had my share of top tier dining over the years, and find it a bit tiring. I have also been less pleased in Italy than elsewhere with elaborate restaurant experiences whereas I have always loved the blessed simplicity and good tastes and ltraditiona cuisine restaurants.. Also, many of these high rated places serve international/french oriented dishes and could literally be anywhere on the face of the globe not in Italy at all. But I am very interested in hearing about OPs experience, especially about some of them - Agata, Convivio and Il Pagliaccio - that I could actually imagine visiting.
I join in endorsing
1. Il Convivio (my favorite for fine dining, with a wine steward who can match perfectly a wine to your meal),
2. Agata e Romeo, and
3. Checchino dal 1887 (in Testaccio)
Four your 4th and 5th choices, I'd seek out restaurants that have typical local cuisine, the kind which you can't get elsewhere on the face of the earth:
-- another in Testaccio for the tripe (research on the board for suggestions; I liked Trattoria Da Oio a Casa Mia on the Via Galvani; try the lamb organs in sauce or the Spaghetti Carbonara
-- either Armando al Pantheon, or Vecchia Locanda (between the Pantheon and Piazza Argentina),or La Campana -- and none of these places will break the bank
-- a place in the Ghetto with the unique Roman Jewish cuisine (I'd suggest Piperno, though I haven't been there in 8 years. I'll let other Chowhounders help)
I do not see La Terrazza (Eden Hotel) mentionned anywhere when discussing good restaurants, and we liked this restaurant 12 years ago. Has it declined recently? Also, Agata e Romeo's online menu seems limited, yet it seems to be a popular favorite. For those who have eaten at A e R, which dishes are memorable?
There are several in this category I've never been to (Imago is next on my list to try), but my five would have to be Pergola, Pagliaccio, Convivio, Agata e Romeo, Colonna. The last three show deeper roots in the local cuisine. I also thought Baby was great the one time I went. It's roots are on the Bay of Naples.
Rome has 1 restaurant on the San Pellegrino 100 Best Restaurants in the World list: and that is "La Pergola".
What the Romans mean:
A quite good overview from Roma Gourmet:
That said, some restaurants with several Michelin stars can be low value, because they are so expensive and the food is good, but not exceptional. If you want exciting food done by a great chef find some reviews that shows you to the right place, not just a stuffy place for rich folks.
You often get better value going to a place like this:
A list from Katie Parla's blog:
A terrifying one:
thanks for the shout out jostber. i would like to point out that the link to my "best" restaurants list is over a year old and needs an update. that said, here are some places I would recommend if cost is no object and you want a special dining experience:
il convivio troiani
checchino dal 1887
I guess you will find a lot more when you do a search of the boards, or maybe just read some topics from the last months, but here are a few names to start you out with - all have fans and non-fans, but you can search for these names and find the relevant discusssions:
La Pergola and Il Pagliaccio are definitely the two top places in Rome for "cost is no object" eating. Then there are Colonna, Agata e Romeo, Il Convivio, La Mantia at Majestic, Baby at Aldrovandi, Imago, Mirabelle.
Please note that best restaurant/best food are different for everyone and in Rome, or in Italy in general, you will often find "best food" (as in authentic preparations) in restaurants not on this level. But in these restaurants (above) you are likely to find best raw materials and modern, innovative preparations (which is not a bad thing) in beautiful settings with formidable service.