Rome is as renowned for its antiquity as it is for its culinary prowess. It comes as no surprise then that that the two go hand in hand, with many of the city’s restaurants holding close ties to a legendary monument or archaeological treasure in the city. Many eateries found near iconic sites (think the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica) are pure tourist traps but there do exist notable ristoranti that are true representatives of Italy’s gastronomical excellence.
A good number of them are named after their neighboring attraction: Alfredo all’Augusteo (Piazza Augusto Imperatore, 30), Rinaldo all’Acquedotto (Via Appia Nuova, 1267), Armando al Pantheon (Salita dei Crescenzi, 31), Massenzio near the imposing eponymous basilica in the Roman Forum (Largo Corrado Ricci, 2/6), Ara Pacis in honor of the ancient altar in Richard Meier’s modern museum (Largo dei Lombardi, 8), La Ciambella, literally translated as “donut,” the nickname of an ancient curving structure near Largo Argentino (Via dell’Arco della Ciambella, 80), Passetto after the papal escape route that snakes towards Castel Sant’Angelo (Via Giuseppe Zanardelli, 14), and so on.
Let’s begin our food tour in the historic center of Rome, in the splendid setting of Piazza Navona. Restaurant 4 Fiumi overlooks the square and Bernini’s celebrated Fountain of the Four Rivers, with the obelisk of Domitian at its center. The 17th-century church of Sant’Agnese in Agone completes the postcard-esque panorama. Recommended dish: fettuccine with shrimp and porcini mushrooms.
A short walk from the piazza brings you to classic Roman trattoria Da Luigi, situated beside the austere 15th-century palazzo which once belonged to the Borgia family. Their fiori di zucca alla Balestra (grilled zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies) are one of the menu highlights.
If you’re hungry after a lengthy tour of the Vatican Museums, head to La Veranda, housed in a 14th-century building complete with spectacular, frescoed vaults, as seen in the Oscar-winning film The Great Beauty. Indulge in their red shrimp tartare with burrata cheese from Andria. Not far away is the roof garden Les Etoiles (Via Giovanni Vitelleschi, 34), an extraordinary observatory that overlooks Castel Sant’Angelo and the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. A glimpse of the elusive Vatican Gardens is also within view.
0,75 (Via dei Cerchi, 65) is a great option for tourists who’ve just wrapped up sightseeing at the Circus Maximus, the ancient “Formula One” track of chariots. Save room for dessert, especially their pistachio and almond mousse.
Past the Mouth of Truth and the Theater of Marcellus is Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavia (Via del Portico d’Ottavia, 21/22), the reigning king of the deep-fried artichoke, carciofo alla giudia. The restaurant sits in the shadow of Portico of Octavia, an ancient complex commissioned by Augustus in honor of his sister. The neighboring Giardino Romano (Via del Portico d’Ottavia, 18) specializes in Jewish-Roman cuisine, and possesses a dining room that boasts ancient Roman ruins. Further towards the Roman Forum and Piazza Venezia you’ll find InRoma (Via dei Fienili, 56), which has a terrace with an envy-inducing view of Santa Maria della Consolazione church, the Capitoline Hill, and the Tarpeian Rock. Recommended dish: a Roman favorite, carbonara.
Near Largo di Argentina? Ristorante Sant’Anna with its Ionic column at the entrance (recommended dish: farfalle alla Pierrot), and Osteria Romana da Simmi, a few steps from Campo de’ Fiori and Sant’Andrea della Valle (the church featured in Puccini’s Tosca) never disappoint.Da Pancrazio (Piazza del Biscione, 92) is carved out of the walls of the 1st-century BC Theater of Pompey, where it is believed that Julius Caesar was slayed. Recommended dish: ricotta and chocolate pie.
Strategically positioned next to the Caravaggio-filled churches of San Luigi dei Francesci and Sant’Agostino is charming Al Duello (Vicolo della Vaccarella, 11), and Clemente alla Maddalena (Piazza della Maddalena, 4), the latter nestled in the magnificent urban corridor that stretches from the Rococo church of Santa Maria Maddalena to the Pantheon, the only standing Roman monument that remains entirely intact from when it was first constructed nearly 2000 years ago. Recommended dish: Octopus with Castelluccio lentils.
If you're strolling along glamorous Via Veneto, craving a slice of la dolce vita for yourself, Harry’s Bar is a must. Its famous not just for its former clients like Sinatra and Fellini, but also for its privileged location between the walls of Porta Pinciana. Recommended dish: salad with lobster, valerian, and paprika.
Venturing outside the historic center? In the formerly working-class neighborhood of Testaccio you'll find Consolini, known for its terraces with significant vestiges of Roman antiquity, the arch of San Lazzaro among them. Recommended dish: fillet of brillfish encrusted in potato and artichoke. Also in the district is Checchino dal 1887, built inside Monte dei Cocci, an artificial hill composed of broken and discarded amphoras (ancient terracotta oil jugs). Adventurous diners should order rigatoni con la pajata, a classic Roman dish consisting of pasta with lambs' intestines.
Last but not least, Appia Antica is home to numerous restaurants that are associated with archaeological hot spots. Cecilia Metella (Via Appia Antica 125/127/129) resides next to the mausoleum of the eponymous Roman noblewoman, and Hostaria dei Liberti (Via Appia Antica, 167) features an Augustan-era columbarium-style mausoleum, where diners are invited to unwind, complete with a menu of ancient recipes, slightly reinterpreted in a modern key, like their chicken with leeks, balsamic vinegar, and garum.