I have been hesitant to post this list because it has always been a kind of insider secret that I have passed along to a few friends who were visiting Rome. Having lived there, I experienced all of these restaurants first hand, multiple times and I can tell you that the list is, arguably, the best extant guide to Roman dining (or, at least, a pretty good list). You will not go wrong with any choice here.
10. Al Pompiere – #38 Via S. M. dei Calderari. Walk-up to this large well-lit restaurant in an old palazzo. Nice menu with the usual suspects and excellent service. Great dinnerware. Never had a bad meal here. Probably English. Mid High-priced. Rating 9.5
9. La Taverna degli Amici – #36 Piazza Margana – Great looking place. In the center, near Campo de Fiori. If it is warm enough, eat outside under the vines. Traditional Roman cuisine. Very romantic. The #1 date place in Rome. No English. Mid-priced. Rating 9.5 (Stroll over to the Campo and admire the Dante statue and large crowds)
8. Al Moro – #13 Vicolo delle Bollette. In the city center, behind Via Corso. Classic Roman trattoria famous for hosting the famous. Italian politicians, movie stars, etc. Small and tightly packed. Noisy. If you can afford it, ask the maitre d to order for you. Spaghetti al Moro (special carbonara) is delicious. Carciofi alla Romana. Succulent pork. Probably speak English. Mid High-priced. Rating 9.5 (Afterward walk to the nearby Trevi Fountain and throw a coin over your shoulder for good luck. Then go to Giolitti for a gelato.)
7. Giggetto – #21 Via de Portico d’ Ottavia. This place is great for lunch. It’s in the Jewish ghetto near the ruins of the Portico d’ Ottavia and Piperno. Great, if spicy, cacio e pepe. Delicious baked eggplant parm. The usual fried judeo-roman specialities. Good veal chops and cannelloni. Be careful with the wine on the tables. Order something you like instead. For red, a ’97 Barolo goes with just about everything and is smooth and inviting. Dine in or out. Probably some English. Mid-priced. Rating 10 (After lunch, it’s a short walk across the river to Trastevere.)
6. Remo – Pizza Joint. Testaccio. Any cab driver will know where it is. This is arguably the best pizza in Rome. Like most Roman pizza, it has a thin crust. Delicious with mushrooms, eggplants and sausage (Pizza Remo). Crowded. No reservations. Arrive early (before 8:30) and you won’t have to wait. Drink beer and have mouth-watering crostini as an appetizer. No English. Low-priced. Rating 10
5. Al Callarello – Atop Via Aventina – End of Via Santa Rosa (Near FAO): Romantic atmosphere, but crowded. Classic Roman trattoria. Dine in or out. Neighborhood place with no tourists. Just Romans and internationals working at the FAO. Wonderful antipasti, delicious pizza, and great main dishes. This place has a big menu. Recommend spaghetti with white clams and the veal with lemon. Also, try the fried calamari – light and mildly spicy. No English. Low, Mid-priced. Rating 10
4. Da Benito – Via Flaminia Nuova: This place is outside the traditional city center up past the Olympic Stadium, but it is the best fish restaurant in the city. It is upscale but there will be very few tourists. This is a Roman restaurant. Let the waiters choose for you (orata, sea bass, trout) but make sure you have the fresh (the fried is good too, but the fresh is outstanding) mixed fish appetizer. Have a delicious white wine and relax. This place is absolutely worth the trip. Outstanding! No English. High-priced. Rating 10
3. Antico Arco – Piazzale Aurelio: At the top of the Gianicolo Hill above Trastevere. Nouvelle Romana. Warm ambience. Cacio e pepe (pasta w/ cheese and black pepper) is stunningly good. There is nothing bad on the menu. Appetizers are delicious and change often. And the desserts are fantastic. Try the apple tart and the molten chocolate cake. They speak English. High-priced. Rating 10 (After dinner, walk along the Passegiata Gianicolo and check the great views overlooking the city.)
2. Piperno – #9 Via Monte de Cenci: In the heart of the old Jewish ghetto. Upscale Judeo / Roman specialties. Filetta di baccala (fried cod), Carciofi alla judea (fried artichokes), Fiori di zucca (fried zucchini flowers) and the best spaghetti with white clams in Rome. For fun, try the dessert Palle del Nonno (Grandpa’s Balls). They speak English. Medium High-priced. Rating: 10 (Stroll in the area to see some of the oldest working buildings and fountains in the city.)
1. Perilli – #37 Via Marmorata (Testaccio): The number one best restaurant in Rome for authentic Roman cuisine. This is a neighborhood place (décor very simple, noisy) and has very few tourists. No English, but they’re very friendly and will understand you. Best dish: The carbonara – this is pasta with raw egg and cheese. It is peppery and so mouth-watering good, you will probably go back twice. Also great: Porcini mushroom, rabbit, oxtail, strachetti, amatriciana, artichokes alla romana, veal cutlets, and eggplant parm (only in season). Low, Mid-priced. Rating: 10 (This is a classic, delicious Roman trattoria) P.S. Check out the food shop Volpetti next door. Stock up on cheese and olive oil.
Notes: Avoid Trastevere for dining – it is over-priced and over-rated. Some of these places will be in the guide book, some won’t. For wine, it depends on what you’re having, but in a pinch, a crisp Orvieto white usually serves one well. And for red, a ’97 Barolo (if you can afford it) is maybe the best wine ever. Tipping isn’t expected or required but it’s nice to round up on the bill.