A morning of walking up hills and over cobblestones builds up a fierce hunger, and there’s nothing like a Roman lunch to satisfy it.
Lunch in Rome can take many forms, from the classic trattoria to pizza by the slice to snacking at a wine bar. Romans usually eat around 1:00 p.m. Most restaurants offer lunch, the exception usually being sit-down pizzerias. So whether you’re looking to feast on cacio e pepe and fried meatballs, or just a simple sandwich, here are seven of the best places to get lunch in Rome enough for a whole week of eating.
1. Enoteca Corsi
There aren’t many places like Corsi left in Rome. A family-run spot right in the center of Rome, the three tavern-like rooms are lined with wine bottles, old posters and other accumulated memories from more than 80 years in the same spot. Only open at lunch, Corsi serves a small menu of traditional Roman homestyle cooking.
Start with superlative pasta with chickpeas, or in the summer, refreshing cold pasta with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. As second courses, Corsi specializes in baccalà (salt cod), oven-roasted or stewed with tomatoes. If salt-cod isn’t your thing, there’s veal with a pile of roasted potatoes, so tender and deliciously greasy that you’ll always wish there were more of them. Enoteca means “wine shop,” and Corsi has an ample list, but many guests opt for a jug of house wine straight from the barrel.
2. Da Danilo
The most difficult part about eating at Danilo is deciding what to get. An ever-so-slightly upscale trattoria, this is a place where the menu encourages over-ordering. Start with polpette all’amatriciana (tiny meatballs served in a sauce of tomato, guanciale and pecorino cheese) or a tartare of Italian beef prepared table side. Save room for pasta, though. The carbonara is one of the best in the city, and someone in your party needs to try the strozzapretti with a tomato sauce enriched with cured lard.
But if theatricality (and cheese) is what you seek, get the cacio e pepe. A classic Roman dish of fresh pasta with pecorino and abundant black pepper, at Danilo they wheel a whole wheel of pecorino to your table and toss the hot pasta in it to order.
Perched near the top of the Gianicolo hill in the beautiful residential neighborhood of Monteverde, Litro (Via Fratelli Bonnet, 5) is the perfect spot for those looking to sip and snack for lunch. A modern wine bar, Litro offers an ever-revolving selection of vino, especially hard-to-find ones, but many are available by the glass. The food is meant to be eaten with wine, and so the emphasis is on salads (including a heavenly one of raw artichokes and slivered Parmigiano), expertly-curated cheese boards and generous plates of cured meats. All of it is best eaten on the outside patio.
4. Osteria Bonelli
There are some rules at Osteria Bonelli: You don’t get separate glasses for water and wine, there’s only one menu (a chalkboard easel that the staff plop in front of your table), and sweatpants are the preferred attire. It’s all part of the fun at this raucous, uber-Roman joint located way outside the city center.
Bonelli serves belly-busting portions of cucina romana, for prices so affordable you’ll think there’s been a mistake when the check arrives. The best dishes are the secondi (main courses), including nutmeg-scented fried meatballs, roasted pork shank you can cut with a spoon, and even stewed horse. To settle the stomach afterwards, the waiter will offer you a shot of Jägermeister.
Insider’s Tip: Be sure to call ahead, as it gets quite packed at lunch.
5. Mordi e Vai
Mordi e Vai makes sandwiches. But these aren’t normal grab-n-go’s. Located in the Testaccio market, former butcher Sergio Esposito founded this stall with the idea of taking classic Roman dishes and making them into messy, delicious sandwiches. The daily selection might include everything from simple, perfect boiled scottona (heifer) with chicory to veal alla carbonara to a whole squashed artichoke. If you pay for a sandwich with a five-euro bill, you’ll probably be getting change back. There’s now a second location near the Re di Roma metro stop (Via Appia Nuova 221).
If you consider a Mordi e Vai sandwich a mere snack, head across the street to Agustarello. Testaccio is Rome’s former meatpacking district, and still contains many traditional restaurants that specialize in Roman hoof-to-snout cuisine. Agustarello is barebones, with just a few tables and the owner in the kitchen. Think plebeian dishes like coda alla vaccinara (tender stewed oxtail in a sauce spiced with pine nuts and bitter chocolate). Adventurous palate? Try pajata. That’s the much-beloved Roman dish of calf intestines, still stuffed with curdled milk.
7. Antico Forno Roscioli
The bakery of the now-famous Roscioli empire, Roscioli Forno is the place to go if you think the best lunch is one that involves a large tray of pizza. Roscioli makes Roman-style pizza by the slice. Meter-long tongues of thin, crispy dough, topped with everything from tomato sauce to sausage, rest on the wooden counter. Direct the knife-wielding guy how much you want of what, and he’ll hack you off slices, weigh them, and print you a receipt so you can pay at the register. Space is limited and there’s always a crowd, so sometimes the best thing to do is get your pizza wrapped in wax paper and eat it while you stroll around the center of town.
What could be better than a traditional Italian pasta lunch, complete with wine? That’s exactly what’s in store for you on our Testaccio Neighborhood Food & Market Tour. But that’s not all—before and after the big meal, you’ll continue tasting your way around Testaccio, meeting some of our friends who have proudly carried on their families’ culinary traditions for generations.
Despite the name, Giancarlo was actually born and raised in Boston. He now lives in Rome, where he works as a freelance journalist. Passionate about Rome’s food, history and culture, he can usually be found with a good book and, depending on the time of day, an espresso or an Aperol Spritz. Never Campari.