The best breakfast place in Rome used to be the daily market at Campo de’ Fiori. Few things beat fresh organic fruit sans pesticides and genetic modification. Sadly with the proliferation of large market halls, the smaller vendors have moved or disappeared, and so the market has changed. It now functions more as a tourist attraction, with kitsch and trinket stalls instead of fresh food. There are a few holdouts thankfully, so you can still get some fruit among the stupid tshirts and tchotchkes. It can however double as a place to practice your Italian language skills, but you will likely need to insist as many vendors simply speak to you first in English.
Most importantly though, and this goes for most retailers and vendors throughout the city (and country), if you find a stall at the market (or for that matter a restaurant or shop) whose food you enjoy, become a regular customer. Vendors (and restaurateurs) appreciate loyalty and patronage. They will reward you for your continued contributions, however little, to sustaining their business. Not only will this perhaps result in free piece (or bag) of fruit (or other items) every now and then, but could even result in a friendship which is the real point of continued patronage.
It’s pretty obvious as to why, but to hammer home the purpose of cultivating a relationship with an Italian is multifaceted. A local can show you the city like none other, can introduce you to things a guide like this would never be able to provide, and as a friend, will supply the impetus for you to return again and again.
:Il Fornaio: This bakery is located just north of Campo, just before you reach Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle on V. d. Baullari. It is recognizable by the giant salami/mortadella that they park near the door. It has a great variety of pastries and also makes nice sandwiches for lunch. If you’re into cookies, try the Occi di Bue (Eye of the Ox), Mandorlati (chocolate and almond), or the Brutti ma Buoni (Ugly but Good!). The Sfoglia Romana is fantastic, and the Napoletano is unparalleled among all bakeries (according to MM – he’s done the research).
The best way to have lunch is to take a sandwich or some pizza away from a place and sit on a piazza somewhere. It isn’t a opportunity you get in many cities in the US, and people watching is a way of life in Italy. Join the independent and mobile elderly (another thing you won’t find too often in the States) and have lunch in the sun while the tourists stroll by. A favorite spot, need you ask, is right in front of the Fontana di Quattro Fiume in Piazza Navona.
:Mickey’s (aka Miscellania):
Mickey’s is known primarily to American students as a drinking spot, but the sandwiches there are delicious. The salads are excellent as well. Make sure to ask for the salsa rosa for your sandwich. It’s a great condiment. The lunch hour is usually pretty packed, so we recommend going either early or late if you don’t want to wait.
To find it, face the Pantheon and take the road to the right. It will be there at the intersection with V. d. Palombella, literally kitty-corner from the rear of the Pantheon.
Just over the Ponte Sisto and down the road to the right (Via di Ponte Sisto). If you head up to the next piazzetta (Piazza San Giovanni di Malva) it’s on the left behind you. E’s favorite pizza in Rome. It does some killer Salsiccia e Broccoli, Salsiccia e Patate, and Salsiccia e Ricotta.
Obica is a “mozzarella bar” but also serves salads and pastas. They offer a number of different mozzerelle from different regions (a mixed plate of 4 is popular: smoked, Battipaglia, Gaeta and Salerno) as well as a la carte choices. They use suppliers who cut the mozzerelle by hand because you can often taste the iron in the mozzerelle cut by machine. Definitely worth a visit. Obica is Neapolitan slang for “here it is.”
While facing the Pantheon, turn around and take the road to the right. It’s up a bit on the left. Order the size of cup (“coppa“) or cone (“cono“) plus the number of scoops at the register near the candy in the back. It’s up a couple steps. Best gelato and mousse in Rome.
A chain located almost anywhere. Famously 2 franchisees (presumably) compete with one another just off Campo de’ Fiori on Via Dei Baullari. Always a good, albeit touristy, place. Try the Creme Caramel.
:Spirito di Vino:
Via dei Genovesi 31 in Trastevere
(head into Trastevere down Viale Trastevere (the big road where the tram runs) and make a left at Via dei Genovesi. A couple blocks down on the left is SDV).
In our opinion, this is easily the greatest restaurant in Rome. This bold statement is backed by the confluence of a number of aspects, not limited to atmosphere, service, and ambience but also considering location, history, and of course, cuisine. Best described as a place where French cuisine meets Italian ingredients and recipes, it has unparalleled wines and amazing selections in every course. It is a rather popular restaurant and so reservations are recommended (you can make them thru the website above).
There is typically only one seating per night as the place is a celebration of food. It has won the Slow Food Movement’s top honors and boasts a wine cellars with 6,000+ bottles to choose from. Francesco, the sommelier (the person who orders and maintains the wines sold in the restaurant and usually has extensive knowledge about wine and food pairings, which he does) is professionally trained, has impeccable taste, and is a close personal friend. It wouldn’t hurt to tell him that “Matt & Bett” sent you. Interestingly, sommelier is from the French for “beast of burden” which Francesco would have you believe he is – and probably accurate considering how hard he works.
Romeo is the owner and Francesco’s father. Speaking both perfect Queen’s English and American Slang, he will keep you entertained while describing anything on the menu for you. His wife, Eliana is the head chef and an amazing and kind woman. If you’re lucky, and there late enough, she’ll poke her head out of the kitchen, usually to a round of applause.
Don’t miss the wine cellar, and the Mura alla Romana (or Roman Wall) which is an excellent example of the ancient Roman construction techniques. It consists a leveling layer of brick on top of every 3 feet or so of rubble in concrete. Also, don’t miss the facts on what Vatican museum and Capitoline Museum statues were found down there…
We recommed anything on the menu, twice. If you go for one course, stick to the Secondi but at least stay for the Creme Brulee. Best plan of action though is to make an evening of it, make reservations for 8 or 830pm, have each course and a nice bottle of wine. You won’t regret it.
Just in front of Santa Maria Della Pace.
Relatively inexpensive. This is also an excellent lunch choice, where you can sit out in front of a great Baroque church and enjoy good pizze and foccacie. I recommend the Saltimbocca Neapolitano which is a unique calzone made with fresh buffalo mozzarella, rocket, cherry tomatoes, and of course prosciutto. E recommends the Pizza Diavola (devil Pizza). If you like it spicy, this one is for you. Also, this place has good service and tasty foccacia breads for appetizers (hence the name). Note: Google Maps says it is “permanently closed” but don’t believe the hype. MM just ate there in 2016.
:Pane Vino e San Daniele:
Located on Piazza Mattei just across from the Turtle Fountain on the edge of the Jewish Ghetto, this place has fantastic prosciutto (di San Daniele) and mozzarella choices. The setting is nice and the staff is very very friendly. Their polenta (cornmeal) & pasta options are decent but not made in-house. They have some great wine options as well.
A couple of blocks due north of Piazza Navona, it is located at Number 80 on Via dell’ Orso, which is a block south (and a little east) of the Tiber.This place is cheap and has an amazing Antipasti della Casa. Literally, that is all you need to order. They do about 15-30 different antipasti and will bring plates full of each to your table until there is no room left. An excellent choice, and usually rather crowded, so you know it’s good!
Finally, at any place you decide to eat, we recommend you do so first with your nose. The sense of smell is the strongest memory-recall system we have (no surprise there), and so taking a moment to take in the scent of the place will lock that experience in for you.