You'll find restaurants of international renown here and an infinite number of trattorie and rosticcerie that offer good meals at moderate prices. The main meals are from noon to 3pm and 8 to 11pm, but you can get food at other hours at the more informal trattorie and rosticcerie. Many restaurants throughout Rome offer fixed-price meals that include two courses, a dessert, a house wine, and service.
Rome also has many specialty restaurants that represent every major region of the country. The dishes they serve carry such designations as alla genovese (Genoa), alla milanese (Milan), alla napolitana (Naples), alla fiorentina (Florence), and alla bolognese (Bologna).
For a quick bite, go to a bar. Although bars in Rome do serve alcohol, they function mainly as cafes. Prices have a split personality: al banco is standing at the bar, while à tavola means sitting at a table where you'll be waited on and charged two to four times as much. In bars you can find panino sandwiches on various kinds of rolls and tramezzini (giant triangles of white bread sandwiches with the crusts cut off). They are traditionally put in a kind of tiny press to flatten and toast them so the crust is crispy and the filling is hot and gooey; microwave ovens have unfortunately invaded and are everywhere, turning panini into something resembling a soggy hot tissue.
Pizza a taglio or pizza rustica indicates a place where you can order pizza by the slice. Pizzerie are casual sit-down restaurants that cook large, round pizzas with very thin crusts in wood-burning ovens. A tavola calda (literally "hot table") serves ready-made hot foods you can take away or eat at one of the few small tables often available. The food is usually very good. A rosticceria is the same type of place, and you'll often see chickens roasting on a spit in the window.
A full-fledged restaurant will go by the name osteria, trattoria, or ristorante. Once upon a time, these terms meant something -- osterie were basic places where you could get a plate of spaghetti and a glass of wine; trattorie were casual places serving full meals of filling peasant fare; and ristoranti were fancier places with waiters in bow ties, printed menus, wine lists, and hefty prices. Nowadays, fancy restaurants often go by the name of trattoria to cash in on the associated charm factor; trendy spots use osteria to show they're hip; and simple, inexpensive places sometimes tack on ristorante to ennoble themselves.
The pane e coperto (bread and cover) is a 1€ to 3€ ($1.45-$4.35) cover charge that you must pay at most restaurants for the mere privilege of sitting at the table. Most Romans eat a leisurely full meal -- appetizer and first and second courses -- at lunch and dinner and expect you to do the same, or at least a first and second course. To request the bill, say "Il conto, per favore" (eel con-toh, pore fah-vohr-ay). A tip of 15% is usually included in the bill these days, but if you're unsure, ask "È incluso il servizio?" (ay een-cloo-soh eel sair-vee-tsoh?)
You'll find at many restaurants, especially larger ones, a menu turistico (tourist's menu), sometimes called menu del giorno (menu of the day). This set-price menu usually covers all meal incidentals -- including table wine, cover charge, and 15% service charge -- along with a first course (primo) and second course (secondo), but it almost always offers an abbreviated selection of pretty bland dishes: spaghetti in tomato sauce and slices of pork. Sometimes a better choice is a menu à prezzo fisso (fixed-price menu). It usually doesn't include wine but sometimes covers the service and often offers a wider selection of better dishes, occasionally house specialties and local foods. Ordering a la carte, however, offers you the best chance for a memorable meal. Even better, forego the menu entirely and put yourself in the capable hands of your waiter.
The enoteche (wine bar) is a popular marriage of a wine bar and an osteria, where you can sit and order from a host of local and regional wines by the glass while snacking on finger foods (and usually a number of simple first-course possibilities) that reflect Rome's fare. Relaxed and full of ambience and good wine, these are great spots for light and inexpensive lunches -- perfect to educate your palate and recharge your batteries.
Further, we recommend that you go to a different part of town for dinner each night. It's a great way to see Rome.
A final word: All Roman restaurants are closed at least 1 day a week (usually Sun or Mon, but it varies). Also, beware of August, the month when most Romans go on their holidays. Scores of restaurants close down, displaying only a lonely chiuso per ferie sign.
Italian Menu Terms
Abbacchio -- Roast haunch or shoulder of lamb baked and served in a casserole and sometimes flavored with anchovies.
Agnolotti -- A crescent-shape pasta shell stuffed with a mix of chopped meat, spices, vegetables, and cheese; when prepared in rectangular versions, the same combination of ingredients is identified as ravioli.
Amaretti -- Crunchy, sweet almond-flavored macaroons.
Anguilla alla veneziana -- Eel cooked in a sauce made from tuna and lemon.
Antipasti -- Succulent tidbits served at the beginning of a meal (before the pasta), whose ingredients might include slices of cured meats, seafood (especially shellfish), and cooked and seasoned vegetables.
Aragosta -- Lobster.
Arrosto -- Roasted meat.
Baccalà -- Dried and salted codfish.
Bagna cauda -- Hot and well-seasoned sauce, heavily flavored with anchovies, designed for dipping raw vegetables; literally translated as "hot bath."
Bistecca alla fiorentina -- Florentine-style steaks, coated before grilling with olive oil, pepper, lemon juice, salt, and parsley.
Bocconcini -- Veal layered with ham and cheese, and then fried.
Bollito misto -- Assorted boiled meats served on a single platter.
Braciola -- Pork chop.
Bresaola -- Air-dried spiced beef.
Bruschetta -- Toasted bread, heavily slathered with olive oil and garlic and often topped with tomatoes.
Bucatini -- Coarsely textured hollow spaghetti.
Busecca alla Milanese -- Tripe (beef stomach) flavored with herbs and vegetables.
Cacciucco ali livornese -- Seafood stew.
Calzone -- Pizza dough rolled with the chef's choice of sausage, tomatoes, cheese, and so on and then baked into a kind of savory turnover.
Cannelloni -- Tubular dough stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables and then baked in a creamy white sauce.
Cappellacci alla ferrarese -- Pasta stuffed with pumpkin.
Cappelletti -- Small ravioli ("little hats") stuffed with meat or cheese.
Carciofi -- Artichokes.
Carpaccio -- Thin slices of raw cured beef, sometimes in a piquant sauce.
Cassatta alla siciliana -- A richly caloric dessert that combines layers of sponge cake, sweetened ricotta cheese, and candied fruit, bound together with chocolate buttercream icing.
Cervello al burro nero -- Brains in black-butter sauce.
Cima alla genovese -- Baked filet of veal rolled into a tube-shape package containing eggs, mushrooms, and sausage.
Coppa -- Cured morsels of pork filet encased in sausage skins, served in slices.
Costoletta alla Milanese -- Veal cutlet dredged in bread crumbs, fried, and sometimes flavored with cheese.
Cozze -- Mussels.
Fagioli -- White beans.
Fave -- Fava beans.
Fegato alla veneziana -- Thinly sliced calves' liver fried with salt, pepper, and onions.
Focaccia -- Ideally, concocted from potato-based dough left to rise slowly for several hours and then garnished with tomato sauce, garlic, basil, salt, and pepper, and drizzled with olive oil; similar to a deep-dish pizza most popular in the deep South, especially Bari.
Fontina -- Rich cow's milk cheese.
Frittata -- Italian omelet.
Fritto misto -- A deep-fried medley of whatever small fish, shellfish, and squid are available in the marketplace that day.
Fusilli -- Spiral-shape pasta.
Gelato (produzione propria) -- Ice cream (homemade).
Gnocchi -- Dumplings usually made from potatoes (gnocchi alla patate) or from semolina (gnocchi alla romana), often stuffed with combinations of cheese, spinach, vegetables, or whatever combinations strike the chef's fancy.
Gorgonzola -- One of the most famous blue-veined cheeses of Europe -- strong, creamy, and aromatic.
Granita -- Flavored ice, usually with lemon or coffee.
Insalata di frutti di mare -- Seafood salad (usually including shrimp and squid) garnished with pickles, lemon, olives, and spices.
Involtini -- Thinly sliced beef, veal, or pork rolled, stuffed, and fried.
Minestrone -- A rich and savory vegetable soup usually sprinkled with grated parmigiano and studded with noodles.
Mortadella -- Mild pork sausage, fashioned into large cylinders and served sliced; the original lunchmeat bologna (because its most famous center of production is Bologna).
Mozzarella -- A nonfermented cheese, made from the fresh milk of a buffalo (or, if unavailable, from a cow), boiled, and then kneaded into a rounded ball, served fresh.
Mozzarella con pomodori (also "caprese") -- Fresh tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, basil, pepper, and olive oil.
Nervetti -- A northern Italian antipasti made from chewy pieces of calves' feet or shins.
Osso buco -- Beef or veal knuckle slowly braised until the cartilage is tender and then served with a highly flavored sauce.
Pancetta -- Herb-flavored pork belly, rolled into a cylinder and sliced -- the Italian bacon.
Panettone -- Sweet yellow bread baked in the form of a brioche.
Panna -- Heavy cream.
Pansotti -- Pasta stuffed with greens, herbs, and cheeses, usually served with a walnut sauce.
Pappardelle alle lepre -- Pasta with rabbit sauce.
Parmigiano -- Parmesan, a hard and salty yellow cheese usually grated over pastas and soups but also eaten alone; also known as granna. The best is Parmigiano reggiano.
Peperoni -- Green, yellow, or red sweet peppers (not to be confused with pepperoni).
Pesci al cartoccio -- Fish baked in a parchment envelope with onions, parsley, and herbs.
Pesto -- A flavorful green sauce made from basil leaves, cheese, garlic, marjoram, and (if available) pine nuts.
Piccata al Marsala -- Thin escalope of veal braised in a pungent sauce flavored with Marsala wine.
Piselli al prosciutto -- Peas with strips of ham.
Pizza -- Specific varieties include capricciosa (its ingredients can vary widely, depending on the chef's culinary vision and the ingredients at hand), margherita (with tomato sauce, cheese, fresh basil, and memories of the first queen of Italy, Marguerite di Savoia, in whose honor it was first made by a Neapolitan chef), napoletana (with ham, capers, tomatoes, oregano, cheese, and the distinctive taste of anchovies), quatro stagione (translated as "four seasons" because of the array of fresh vegetables in it; it also contains ham and bacon), and siciliana (with black olives, capers, and cheese).
Pizzaiola -- A process in which something (usually a beefsteak) is covered in a tomato-and-oregano sauce.
Polenta -- Thick porridge or mush made from cornmeal flour.
Polenta de uccelli -- Assorted small birds roasted on a spit and served with polenta.
Polenta e coniglio -- Rabbit stew served with polenta.
Polla alla cacciatore -- Chicken with tomatoes and mushrooms cooked in wine.
Pollo alla diavola -- Highly spiced grilled chicken.
Ragù -- Meat sauce.
Ricotta -- A soft bland cheese made from cow's or sheep's milk.
Risotto -- Italian rice.
Risotto alla Milanese -- Rice with saffron and wine.
Salsa verde -- "Green sauce," made from capers, anchovies, lemon juice and/or vinegar, and parsley.
Saltimbocca -- Veal scallop layered with prosciutto and sage; its name literally translates as "jump in your mouth," a reference to its tart and savory flavor.
Salvia -- Sage.
Scaloppina alla Valdostana -- Escalope of veal stuffed with cheese and ham.
Scaloppine -- Thin slices of veal coated in flour and sautéed in butter.
Semifreddo -- A frozen dessert; usually ice cream with sponge cake.
Seppia -- Cuttlefish (a kind of squid); its black ink is used for flavoring in certain sauces for pasta and also in risotto dishes.
Sogliola -- Sole.
Spaghetti -- A long, round, thin pasta, variously served: alla bolognese (with ground meat, mushrooms, peppers, and so on), alla carbonara (with bacon, black pepper, and eggs), al pomodoro (with tomato sauce), al sugo/ragù (with meat sauce), and alle vongole (with clam sauce).
Spiedini -- Pieces of meat grilled on a skewer over an open flame.
Strangolaprete -- Small nuggets of pasta, usually served with sauce; the name is literally translated as "priest-choker."
Stufato -- Beef braised in white wine with vegetables.
Tagliatelle -- Flat egg noodles.
Tonno -- Tuna.
Tortelli -- Pasta dumplings stuffed with ricotta and greens.
Tortellini -- Rings of dough stuffed with minced and seasoned meat, and served either in soups or as a full-fledged pasta covered with sauce.
Trenette -- Thin noodles served with pesto sauce and potatoes.
Trippe alla fiorentina -- Beef tripe (stomach).
Vermicelli -- Very thin spaghetti.
Vitello tonnato -- Cold sliced veal covered with tuna-fish sauce.
Zabaglione/zabaione -- Egg yolks whipped into the consistency of a custard, flavored with Marsala, and served warm as a dessert.
Zampone -- Pig's trotter stuffed with spicy seasoned pork, boiled and sliced.
Zuccotto -- A liqueur-soaked sponge cake, molded into a dome and layered with chocolate, nuts, and whipped cream.
Zuppa inglese -- Sponge cake soaked in custard.