How To Eat Like A Local In Rome + Best Restaurants!

A plate of fish and fries on a table.

As someone who explored Italy a lot in my college days, I’ve moved on from just sightseeing to fully enjoying the amazing food in Rome. From my adventures, I’ve figured out how to eat like a local in Rome, order the perfect meal, and understand those tricky Italian menus. Wondering about how Romans dine versus Americans? I’ll tell you about navigating menus, busting food myths, and recommending the best dining spots in Rome.

Did you ever find Roman dining etiquette confusing? Or were you shocked to learn that some American Italian favorites are actually myths? I took my husband to Italy and he was stunned to find out there was no pepperoni pizza here. If you’re traveling to Rome and looking for an authentic food experience, my post will help you eat like a local pro.

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Understanding the Roman Menu

You should know that ordering at restaurants can seem a bit confusing when you go for the 1st time so I will explain as simply as I can. Mom and Pop Italian restaurants called trattorias, which are the best places to eat will give you a menu. English or not you will read sections on it that say Antipasto, Primi, Secondi, and so on. These are the courses for dinner, Italians don’t normally eat all of the courses. 

  • Antipasto (appetizers) are things like cheese, cured meat, and veggies with wine.
  • Primi (1st course) is usually soup, rice, or pasta.
  • Secondi (2nd course) will be meat or fish and usually is the most expensive course.
  • Contorni (sides) The items in the 1st and 2nd courses do not usually come with sides so if you want some you have to add them separately, these are sautéed vegetables, salads, or fries.
  • Last is Dolci (dessert) which will be tiramisù, cakes, or pies paired with an espresso.
  • Note* if you ask for water they will bring you bottled and charge you for it. If you want free water ask for tap water which is safe to drink.

You can keep it simple and order a Secondi with some Contorni or elevate it and get a Primi, Secondi, and Contorni. Or get the whole shebang for a nightlong and expensive Italian Dinner!

Also see: What To Know For Your First Trip To Rome: Here Are 10 Tips!

What’s Not on the Menu in Italy

It may come as a surprise that many dishes acclaimed in the U.S. as Italian staples are virtually non-existent in Italy. The items listed below are all not part of traditional Roman cuisine. Instead, these creations cater more to international palates than to the authentic Italian dining experience.

  • Caesar Salad
  • Spaghetti with Meatballs
  • Chicken Parmigiana
  • Garlic Bread
  • Fettuccine Alfredo
  • Pepperoni Pizza
  • Italian Dressing

Also see: Rome Bucket List: 50+ Ultimate Things To Do

Must-Try Foods in Rome

Two croissants on a wooden tray.

1. Croissants/ Breakfast Pastries

The 1st of the foods you must try when visiting Italy are sweet pastries. They are pretty much all Italians eat for breakfast along with a cup of coffee (cappuccino) so be prepared to have a light breakfast.

If you don’t want to eat sweets in the morning, my favorite is grabbing a warm croissant. They are buttery and flaky with a crisp to them. You can get croissants filled with different things like chocolate or jams but I like plain. 

Tip – to order a plain croissant ask for “Vuoto” which translates to empty.

A cup of coffee sitting on top of a table.

2. Chocolate/ Hot Chocolate

Hot chocolate in the morning to go along with your croissant is a must, especially if you are not a coffee drinker like me.

You can order it at any coffee shop but beware if you order it from anywhere else they might get it confused with melted chocolate.

The kind you might dip strawberries into. I made this mistake once and the lady looked at me weirdly when I proceeded to take a drink of the tiny cup of melted chocolate.

Also see: Best Hotels To Stay In Rome!

A plate of spaghetti with mushrooms on it.

3. Carbonara

A major thing you should be aware of is that Italians love to eat their pasta cooked al dente. This means the pasta is not fully cooked in the water and is still a bit chewy.

If you do not know this you may have assumed they did not fully cook your food. Not all places do this but you can ask to have your pasta fully cooked if this is a problem for you. 

Carbonara is a yummy pasta dish with bacon or sometimes ham with a creamy sauce added to it. It’s very delicious and filling.

Two pizzas on a table next to a glass of water.

4. Pizza

The pizza in Italy is truly like no other and I can easily have some every day. While pepperoni is not a thing there is a close match if you’re a spicy lover. It is called  “pizza alla diavola” (devil pizza) which includes spicy salami, tomatoes, and mozzarella.

My favorite and classic around the world is the Margherita pizza which is just mozzarella cheese. I love to add red pepper flakes to mine to give it a bit more zest which is how I eat pizza at home.

Tip- pizza shops do not have red pepper flakes or parmesan cheese. You can but rarely find red pepper flakes in grocery stores but I bring mini packs from home with me.

A plate of lasagna with bread on it.

5. Lasagne

Lasagne is my all-time favorite Italian food. To me, you can find no other like how they make it in Italy and I could tell there were major differences in how we make it here compared to there in my 1st bite.

It’s cooked with bolognese sauce instead of tomato sauce and they use a cheese sauce compared to ricotta cheese.

Once you’re done eating, do as the Italians do and swipe your plate clean with a piece of bread and enjoy the last bites. 

Also see: 12 Beautiful Main Squares In Rome You Need To See!

A white plate with fish and rice on it.

6. Risotto

Risotto is rice cooked in broth, coated in a cheese sauce, and topped with a number of different things.

Here mine is topped with fish filets but they also have shrimp, mushrooms, and veggies.

When I 1st tried risotto I thought it tasted like cheese pasta but instead of pasta rice! How cool.

Also see: Best 3 Day Rome Itinerary + Pompeii Day Trip Complete Guide!

A plate of fish and fries on a table.

7. Fritto Misto

Fritto Mistro is popular on the coastlines of Italy since it is a seafood dish.

This tasty meal is a mixture of fried seafood and vegetables that include calamari, octopus, zucchini, cauliflower, small fish filets, and scallops.

You can pair this with fries and ketchup and have a nice fried seafood comfort meal. You can order this as street food or in a seaside restaurant. 

Ravioli on a blue plate with parmesan.

8. Ravioli

Ravioli is another pasta dish you must try in Italy. It’s made with fresh ingredients, usually covered with a type of sauce and stuffed with cheese, meat, or vegetables.

It is known to be a square shape however you can get them in many other shapes like round, folded, or tortelloni.

Also see: 3 Days In Rome Budget Breakdown That’s Actually Affordable!

A sheet of paper with a bunch of raspberries and pistachios on it.

9. Cannoli

Cannoli is a pastry that is in the form of a shell and stuffed with a filling of different kinds. You can also get different topping options to pair with it.

I am not a big fan of them but many people love them. You can pair them with fruit and nuts or just powdered sugar. 

Also see: Your Simple Guide To Visiting Pompeii From Rome!

Three slices of bread on a wooden cutting board.

10. Bruschetta

Bruschetta was a dish my mom ended up making after she got back from her Europe backpacking trip when I was a kid.

It is simple to make, you just need toasted bread with olive oil spread on top and add pieces of tomato, basil, and mozzarella cheese chunks with salt, pepper, and garlic.

The Italians eat it as their Antipasto but she would make it for lunch. 

Also see: 10 Interesting Vatican City Fun Facts You Need To Know!

Gnocchi with walnuts and kale on a white plate.

11. Gnocchi

I was surprised at the concept of Gnocchi when I 1st tried it in Italy. It tastes like a mixture of potato and pasta but it’s just all potatoes in the shape of what looks like pasta.

I thought how cool are these? You can use it as you would any pasta dish and in soups. It makes for a great hardy meal and can be very versatile. 

Also see: How To Take An Easy Rome DIY Walking Tour!

A glass of lemonade next to a bottle of limoncello.

12. Limoncello

Next is an alcoholic drink called Limoncello. It’s an Italian lemon liqueur mainly produced in southern Italy but sold all over.

You can use it to make chilled mixed drinks or try it as a shot. Small bottles are sold in gift shops and make great souvenirs for friends and families. 

Also see: 10 Things To Buy In Rome At A Bargain!

A person holding an ice cream cone in front of a canal.

13. Gelato

You didn’t think I would make a “Eat Like A Local In Rome” list and not include gelato, did you? You absolutely can not go to Italy and not eat gelato.

There are tons of dairy and fruit flavors like chocolates, hazelnut, french vanilla, mango, strawberry, coconut, and coffee.

But my very favorite is stracciatella. It is simply a mixture of vanilla with chocolate drizzle on top that hardens and is mixed into it. Making it like a chocolate chip ice cream. To find a long list of different types of gelatos you can find in Italy read here. 

Best Places to Eat in Rome

Now that we’ve tantalized your taste buds with some must-try Italian delicacies, it’s only fitting we guide you on where to find these culinary treasures in Rome. Whether you’re hunting for the perfect plate of gnocchi, a refreshing sip of Limoncello, or a crunchy bite of bruschetta, Rome’s culinary landscape offers a plethora of options.

Best Restaurants for Dinner

  • La Pergola: With its panoramic views of the Eternal City and a Michelin-starred menu, La Pergola offers an unparalleled dining experience. The exquisite flavors and artistic presentation of dishes set it apart as a must-visit for any food lover.
  • Roscioli: A fusion of traditional Roman cuisine with a modern twist, Roscioli serves up dishes that are both hearty and innovative. The ambiance combines the rustic charm of Rome with a sophisticated dining feel.

Best Pizza Place

  • Pizzarium Bonci: Famous for its gourmet pizza slices, Pizzarium Bonci is a pilgrimage site for pizza enthusiasts. Featuring a variety of toppings that change with the seasons, this spot offers a unique taste of Rome with every visit.

Best Gelato Shop

  • Gelateria del Teatro: Nestled in the heart of Rome, Gelateria del Teatro is where traditional techniques meet quality ingredients. With flavors ranging from lavender peach to Sicilian almond, your taste buds are in for a treat.

Best Café

  • Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè: Boasting a rich history dating back to the 1930s, Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè is renowned for its special blend of coffee. Whether you prefer your brew strong and black or creamy and sweet, this café offers the quintessential Roman coffee experience.

Also see: The Best Way To See The Colosseum In Rome!

Where To Stay In Rome!

Your stay should feel like a part of your Roman adventure, cozy, full of comforts, and unforgettable moments. Here’s where to crash in Rome, no matter your needs.

Best Modern Hostel: A social vibe with a modern design, affordable, and lively experience ideal for solo travelers, friends, and digital nomads. Great communal spaces like a garden, bar, and rooftop. Its central location in Rome makes exploring the city’s beauty easy.

Best Hotel with View: A luxurious stay with breathtaking views of Rome. Located near the Spanish Steps, it’s perfect for those seeking a picturesque stay surrounded by historical landmarks, exquisite eateries, and chic boutiques. Right in the city center.

Best Family Vacation Home: A cozy homey stay with spacious, modern rooms perfect for families or large groups. Known for privacy, comfort, and space, including kitchens for simple meals. Is located close to public transport and major sights.

Final Thoughts- How To Eat Like A Local In Rome

Learning how to eat like a local in Rome lets you taste great food and dive into the city traditions, plus learn how Italians are all about quality and keeping things simple. What Italian food is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy exploring!

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