If you’re visiting the Eternal City anytime soon, there’s just one rule of thumb you have to live by: when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
And that goes for dining out too! Don’t stick with the normal tourist fare—immerse yourself in all aspects of Rome’s culinary culture instead! From what to order (and when), to must-try local specialties, we’ve got some great tips on how to eat like a local in Rome.
1. Never have cappuccino with a meal
Every time pizza is ordered with a cappuccino on the side, an Italian gets chills down their spine. Why? Because cappuccino is exclusively a morning beverage.
If you want to eat like a local in Rome, no food apart from cornetti or sweet breakfast pastries should ever be ordered with a cappuccino. Instead, once you’re finished with your lunch or dinner, order an espresso. That’s how we Romans do it.
2. Get your pizza for lunch by the slice
Rome is packed with things to see and do, which means you won’t always have time for a proper sit-down lunch. The good news? You can enjoy one of Rome’s signature foods—pizza al taglio (literally translated “pizza by the slice”)—on the go! Crispy, thick and with myriad toppings, pizza al taglio is worshipped in Rome.
All you have to do is get yourself to a pizzeria al taglio, grab a number, and choose how many slices you want of the different types of pizza. The pizza you choose then gets weighed and you’re given a receipt to pay. Once you’ve paid, you get your pizza and you’re free to enjoy it on the go!
3. Don’t dine too early; Romans show up late
Like the Spanish, Romans are known for dining out late. Restaurants are usually open for lunch from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., and they open back up for dinner around 7:30 p.m. until 11:30 p.m.
But if you want to eat like a local in Rome, don’t reserve for right when the restaurant opens! Instead, dine with the locals: Romans usually sit down for lunch around 1:30 p.m., and we show up for dinner around 9 p.m. In summertime, you can even expect us to go out for dinner at 10 p.m.!
4. Take time to enjoy your food
Nobody likes slow service. But we’re no fans of being rushed in and out of a restaurant either. Enjoying your food is part of the whole “how to eat like a local experience.” Which means that the minute you sit at your restaurant table, it’s time to relax and enjoy!
No need to order right away: take your time to go through the menu, and ask away if you’re undecided! Order a glass of wine, and just sit back and relax. When the food comes, enjoy every bite, because that’s how we do it in Rome!
5. Stay away from the tourist traps
Part of experiencing Rome like the locals is dining where the locals do! Do you see many locals having lunch in Piazza Navona? Are there any Romans having their lunch break at the Trevi Fountain? No. Because, with very few exceptions, most of those restaurants are tourist traps.
Pictures on the menu, food on display and crazy prices are things NOT to look for when searching for a restaurant in Rome. Instead of dining right in a touristy spot, stay off the beaten track, and get lost in one of the side streets. That’s where you’ll find authentic, top-quality food.
6. You don’t have to order a five-course meal
How much food should you order when eating out? You’ll see that menus are divided into antipasti (starters), primi (first courses), secondi (main courses), contorni (side dishes) and dolci (desserts). But the idea that you have to order one dish per section is an urban legend! Romans usually order a starter, a first or second course and dessert.
7. Trattorias, osterias and ristorantes are not the same
While all three of them serve amazing food, it’s the experience (and the check) that’s quite different. A trattoria is a rustic, no-frills, family-run restaurant that serves Roman specialties. From cacio e pepe to carbonara, this is the place to taste authentic Roman cuisine.
In the past, osterias were meeting points for pilgrims who wanted to have a meal. They brought their own food and ordered wine from the osteria. Today, osterias are very much like trattorias: Roman specialties, informal service, generous portions and a rustic setting.
Ristorantes, on the other hand, offer a professional service, more sophisticated (and expensive) food, and a more curated setting.
Our tip? Grab lunch in a trattoria or osteria and stop for dinner at a ristorante!
Ready to try eating like a local in Rome for yourself? Our Testaccio Neighborhood Food & Market Tour is the perfect experience for curious foodies just like yourself. Discover one of Rome’s most storied neighborhoods, where you’ll visit the bars, trattorias and gourmet shops that locals have been frequenting for generations. By the end of the experience, you’ll walk away with a deeper understanding of just what, exactly, it means to be Roman (and eat like one, too).
An Italian globetrotter with a gigantic crush on Rome, Federica has been travelling the world since birth and has lived in NYC, Tehran, Rome, Houston, Istanbul, London and Budapest. She loves sharing her passion for Italy’s food and culture, and has a personal travel blog about how to live la Dolce Vita around the world.