I often get asked what my favorite restaurant in Rome is, or which are in my top 3. This is very difficult to answer, obviously. Pizza, fine dining, informal trattoria-style… there are so many types of restaurants, prices and formats to choose from. I have a number of favorites for each category.
But don't be fooled into thinking that my list of usual Rome hangouts is vast and varied. To the contrary. I rely on only a handful of trusted venues. Despite the excitement surrounding new openings and the food scene in my city, I have to also take into account wallet and––well, life. Reality is not like it often appears on Instagram.
I'm an entrepreneur, journalist and television host, but the laundry's not going to hang itself. Food shopping, cleaning the house, making exciting and nutritious meals for a rugby-playing, hormone-busting boy and working three full-time jobs take time out of my restaurant reporting. Driving to and from school/work/errands takes big chunks of time out of my potential venue-scouting. Not to mention trying to find a parking spot. All this is quadrupled when it rains in Rome, or when workers go on a transportation strike. Raising a teenager as a single parent requires furthermore dedicating time and attention to sometimes small yet important things. There are times when my son needs help with homework. Sometimes he just wants to cuddle (God bless him for still having moments like that!). There are other times when he needs me to just listen.
There are days when I fall asleep in my clothes on the sofa at 8 pm. I have to put alerts in my phone to remind myself to drink water, take a bathroom break, go out for a walk. Trying to squeeze in press events at new restaurants and staying out after 11 pm on a school night can be overwhelming if not downright impossible. And what if the place turns out to be disappointing? All that precious time I could have spent with family gets wasted on bad finger food and watered down Spritz.
And that's why I'm a creature of habit. That's why when I actually do carve out a night to dine out with girlfriends, or when my son and I manage to peel ourselves off the floor on Fridays, we tend to not stray from the well-known, from the comforting welcome we're reserved at those places where we’re considered regulars.
These are my tried and true places, the ones where I feel welcome. Where it's OK to occasionally drop in without a reservation, or where I am perfectly comfortable eating at a table for one.
What follows is a list of the 10 restaurants in Rome, divided by category, where I can be most often be found at, enjoying favorite seasonal dishes, or trying out new menu suggestions, alone or in the company of someone special.
I love sitting at either the bar counter or the small tables set up against the cheese counter, with prosciutto legs jutting over my head. This is a place where I feel at home. I always order the same thing: burrata with semi-dried tomatoes, a plate of pata negra Joselito 5 Jotas, and chef Nabil Hadj Hassen's stellar carbonara. I wipe out the entire bread basket (baked at the forno around the corner) and I finish off with un caffè at the owner's coffee bar next door.
This Centocelle deli-meets-restaurant is the brainchild of Vincenzo Mancino, an epicure who has made it his mission to scout out the region’s best ingredients. This means that the front of the shop sells prime quality cured meats, cheeses, bottled sauces and canned goods, wine, craft beer, bread, pickles and jams, organic eggs and flour: all from Lazio. The the dining room adjacent to the shop is a superb restaurant whose menu changes with the seasons. I always order a plate of pasta (the amatriciana is out of this world, as are the ravioli, sourced at Pastificio Secondi) but meals here always open with a ridiculous charcuterie board, considering how Vincenzo knows what I like, and indulges me (be sure to ask for the homemade mortadella). In the evening I always have one of Simoneìs pizza in teglia, that is baked in tin pans and served sliced.
Young Spanish chef Alba Esteve Ruiz has fully immersed herself in the flavors of Rome. Her kitchen offers both steadfast Rome tradition in beautifully presented surprises, and creative Iberian digressions. Click here to read about a recent meal I had at Marzapane.
Rome hosts a variety of acclaimed Michelin Star restaurants. When I set budget aside in favor of a unique luxury experience, I head over to Metamorfosi. Colombian chef Roy Caceres presents an eclectic style that’s––like the name implies––in constant evolution, so the creative offer is never the same. I love to let the staff choose what I’ll be eating that day, with the exception of a handful of evergreen dishes, like the glazed eel and the mushroom and hazelnut risotto “wrapped” in a thin edible veil.
Pizza and street food
I could eat Trapizzino's triangular pizza pockets filled with cucina romana every day of the week. In particular, the chicken cacciatore is my absolute favorite. Just writing about it makes me salivate. The supplì rice balls are also amazing. Remember when a decade ago Rome's best loved street food franchise offered two Trapizzino sizes? Now you can find Trapizzino in New York's Lower East Side.
Natural "mother" starter, whole-grain stone-milled crusts, organic and strictly seasonal ingredients in the toppings, pies served sliced: a pizza format that actually revolutionized the classic pizzeria concept in many ways. Starterd in Bologna by two Calabrians, the franchise now has 8 outlets in Italy and 2 in London. I'll take their "margherita" topped with mozzarella di bufala from Caserta any day, but my heart belongs to their pie topped with 'nduja from Spilinga (spicy spreadable sausage), fiordilatte and tomato.
Wine bars with food
Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi
I like the way fourth generation cheese maker Beppe Giovale thinks: essentially, cheese needs wine and wine needs cheese. That’s why this place can’t be defined as simply a "wine bar" or a "cheese shop." It's a lot of both things, offering sensational raw milk cheeses, many of which are made by Beppe; phenomenal butter, great Piemonte products, including foie gras, hazelnuts, white truffles (in season now), cured meats, heritage breads, as well as a fine selection of wine.
My family started purchasing wine and spirits from this family wine merchant in the Sixties. I’ve watched brothers Alessandro and Riccardo raise their grandfather Emidio's legacy to what Bulzoni is today: no longer just a very well-stocked neighborhood wine shop, but a superior quality beverage resource as well as a fine dining venue. I love to walk here after work for hearty aperitivo, which––given the number of small plates served along with my glass(es) of wine––becomes early dinner by Rome standards. My go-to pintxos include crostini with smoked burrata and blistered tomatoes, and Fiocco della Tuscia cheese melted over seasonal vegetables drizzled with cooked wine must. Great wine list, notable natural labels and a fine Bulzoni brand too.
Out of town
Sora Maria e Arcangelo
I don't like the word favorite, but this is pretty much the place I could eat at every day of my life, if I could. I discovered this delightful restaurant in Olevano Romano in 2011 and have been coming here regularly since. I even filmed a Lazio episode ending of my show here. We were so relaxed and at ease after the meal we ate that we actually drank all the wine and in the episode ending you can see us all laughing, tipsy and happy. Giovanni Milana is one of the kindest, most passionate cooks I know. Aided by his mother in the kitchen, Giovanni interprets local ingredients and recipes with respect and admiration. Every time I come for lunch, I always order at least one portion of the giant signature cannelloni.
The masterminds behind this sensational Campagnano restaurant open since 2005 are Marco Pasquali and his wine Ines Cappelli. Their own farm supplies the kitchen with fresh, seasonal ingredients, that go into simple, wholesome and delicious dishes. Always on the menu, in addition to seasonal rotations, is an excellent gricia (pasta with cured pork jowl, pecorino and pepper), lamb with roast potatoes, meatballs with a mix of veal and pork, as well as very good braised oxtail. I always have the giant fritto platter, which features potato croquettes, apple and pear fritters, potato and mortadella balls, cubed and breaded mozzarella, and the best onion rings on the planet.
If you see me in any of these restaurants, do come say hello!
Top 10 favorite Venice restaurants I can be spotted at