/In Rome, Not All Dishes Are Created Equal

In Rome, Not All Dishes Are Created Equal

Mezze maniche all’amatriciana at Roscioli.

It took me a long time to come to terms with a critical dining fact in Rome: even at “the best” restaurants, not all dishes are created equal. Some can be excellent, some good, others terrible. And a restaurant need not be flawless in order to be considered beyond reproach by local gastronomes or even critics. It can even hold a Michelin star and turn out very lame dishes. Open Colonna’s insipid Jumbo Quail comes to mind: popcorn encrusted quail called “Jumbo”, cuz, you know, in America everything is supersized and everyone eats popcorn (or so I was told by my server).

I used to visit restaurants and order whatever I was in the mood for but eventually learned to look around at what others were eating, ask the advice of the server or chef, and make my decision based not on what I wanted to eat but what the restaurant wanted to serve. Having grown up in the restaurant business in America, I always assumed that running a good business meant doing everything on the menu equally well. But that’s simply not how things work here; things are just different (understatement). Here are some hard-earned tips that will help you get the most out of your Roman dining experiences.

Get the fritti
Order the fried things is generally my advice in all gastronomic matters, but in these places, the fritti are so good, you absolutely must order them: Sforno, La Gatta Mangiona, Pizzarium, Tonda (avoid the artichokes unless the Roman variety is actually in season-Feb-May).

Mezze maniche with sausage and pecorino di fossa at Trattoria Monti.

Don’t skip the antipasto
The raw, cold, and hot antipasti at Tempio di Iside could make a meal on their own (but leave room for more!). These starters are expensive but well worth the investment. Trattoria Monti’s sformatini (a sort of flan) are always very good.

The crowd pleasers
If you are dining with a group and need to satisfy a lot of tastes, there are some crowd pleasers out there that are accustomed to dealing with varied dining habits and also do a lot of dishes very well. Enoteca Provinicia Romana comes to mind.

Skipping these dishes would be a horrible horrible mistake
Some places excel at one or more dishes to the point that there is little point in ordering anything else. For example, at Er Quagliaro you must order quail. Da Danilo’s carbonara and strozzapreti with lardo and pecorino di fossa are amazing. L’Arcangelo’s suppli’, cacio e unto, and gnocchi alla matriciana are excellent. You would be insane to miss Vitaliano Bernabei’s porchetta at Panificio Bonci. And the burrata, carbonara and amatriciana at Roscioli are perfect. The primi at Trattoria Monti are always great and the oxtail at Checchino is, as well.

2016-01-07T03:37:43+00:00 November 23rd, 2010|Categories: Restaurants, Rome & Lazio|33 Comments


  1. adrian November 23, 2010 at 8:18 am - Reply

    Is that Mezze Maniche w/sausage and pecorino di fossa from Trattoria Monti? I had that.

  2. nyc/caribbean ragazza November 23, 2010 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Interesting. In L.A. I would go to certain restaurants for certain things. Life is too short to eat a bad meal.

    Of course when dishes are super uneven at a restaurant, that is not a good thing and I tend to stay away from places like that. Especially if it’s a Michelin/high end restaurant.

    When suggesting restaurants in Rome, NYC or L.A. (places where I have lived) I always mention what they are known for.

  3. Hande November 23, 2010 at 11:09 am - Reply

    I also always tell what to order when I give restaurant recs, not only in Rome. That is also the reason why I always order the tasting menu in finer restaurants, at least the first time I go – I reckon they are offering what they do best and get that.

  4. Larryconlin November 23, 2010 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    Following your guidance, I embraced my gluttony, ordering too much, eating what I can, in order to at least experience the basics. I made the mistake of ordering the artichoke at Piperno, but was pleasantly surprised nonetheless.

  5. Rebecca Winke November 23, 2010 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    So true in Umbria, as well. Umbrians do Umbrian food fantastically, other regions’ food passably, foreign food criminally. You kind of have to do your homework about the region’s specialties to have an amazing meal every time. Luckily the region’s specialties include truffles, pork, Sagrantino, and olive oil. Hard to go wrong 😉

  6. Petulia November 23, 2010 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    Did you really love the carbonara at Da Danilo? We went with some friends and no one really loved it so much to go back again..

  7. Katie November 23, 2010 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    @adrian yes! i forgot to put the name of the places where i ate the pasta. duh! now added.

    @nyc/caribbean ragazza “Life is too short to eat a bad meal”
    so true!

    @hande im all about the tasting menu, too. i think someone on chowhound once said tasting menus are for poseurs or something like that. i couldnt disagree more!

  8. John November 23, 2010 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    Oh, you’re soooo right! I notice you have made a lot of research on the subject 🙂

  9. semsa denizsel November 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    I think I need to come back. We haven’t been to some of the places you mentioned in this post.
    But I know for a fact that Cacio e Pepe at Roma Sparita, L’Arcangelo’s suppli, and the burrata and carbonara at Roscioli are really really perfect. Bliss!

  10. janie November 23, 2010 at 5:45 pm - Reply

    Great advice-we’ve sent friends to restaurants, told them what to order, they order something else and are unhappy!

  11. Shelly November 23, 2010 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    katie – those pics are making me drool and think of colline emiliane in rome and donna rosa in positano. bring on the sausage, amatriciana, carbonara, pacio e pepe …

  12. MegRhi November 25, 2010 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    I’d comment, but I’m busy popping large vats of popcorn to eat at Thanksgiving dinner.

  13. Jessica November 30, 2010 at 1:57 am - Reply

    Great post… this is a side of restaurants in Rome that isn’t often discussed. Thanks for bringing it to light! And wonderful photographs.. makes me want to hop a plane to Rome right now..

  14. Denisa November 30, 2010 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    Great advice. As my family is in Italy and I go home each year, many people ask me to recommend places to eat in Rome. I will now direct them to you as you as you, as always, are the place to go for advice on great AND genuine Italian cuisine.

    Buon Natali! Auguri!

  15. The Worst of 2010, Rome Edition December 28, 2010 at 8:59 am - Reply

    […] L’Arcangelo: I had a terrible meal back in May, which sparked a massive controversy when the Italian blogosphere finally noticed my less than complimentary post months later (well done guys!). Apparently irreverence and hyperbole doesn’t translate…Several trips back have redeemed the restaurant and now, it makes my list of favorite restaurants in Rome. Just more evidence to support the theory that in Rome, you can’t just choose what you want off of a menu, you really must know what to order. […]

  16. The 2011 Rome Dining Checklist January 4, 2011 at 11:43 am - Reply

    […] next twelve months. If you intend to visit Rome in 2011, I can start you out with some advice on how to order, and suggest some of my favorite places to eat and drink (don’t forget the pizza!). There […]

  17. shayma March 6, 2011 at 1:04 am - Reply

    oh Katie, how i swoon when i think of the cacio e pepe at Roma Sparita. And as much as i dislike the new Da Felice, i love their cacio e pepe, too. and my own personal fave- at Da Francesco in Pza del Fico. lots of other really great tips here! x shayma

  18. Brigit March 27, 2011 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the informative post! I’m heading to Rome in May and want to be sure to dine well while I’m there. However, I’m on a tight budget (the classic broke college student) and am wondering if you have any suggestions for restaurants lower in price range? I know this is harder to do in Europe since dining is such a different experience than here. Any suggestions would be great! Thank you.

  19. Katie March 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    @Petulia yes i love it. i really really love it.

    @Brigit i write this post on dining ages back: http://www.parlafood.com/eating-on-a-budget-in-rome/

    and you can always eat pizza for relatively cheap. here are some suggestions: http://www.parlafood.com/a-guide-to-romes-boutique-pizzerias/

    finally, check out the €12 lunch (Tues-Fri) at L’Asino d’Oro: http://www.parlafood.com/lasino-doro-reopens-in-monti/

  20. metin April 23, 2011 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    Hi Katie,
    I”d like to hear your opinion about Maccheroni (piazza delle coppelle).

    Buona Pasqua

  21. […] If you wish to go out for dinner, DON’T choose the area of the Spanish Steps: the quality of the restaurants is not the best and they are also very expensive. Trastevere, for example, is undoubtedly a better choice. In this area, one of the not-to-be-missed restaurants is ” Da Cencio La Parolaccia “: standing for “The dirty word”, La Parolaccia is the only place in the world where you pay to be insulted, but you will have fun as hell. Find out that In Rome, Not all dishes are created equal! […]

  22. Martin Wm. Goldman May 28, 2012 at 11:27 pm - Reply

    We will be four returnees to Rome in four weeks. Your suggestion for a memorable lunch near thecSpanish Steps,we have been to La Rampa, and dinner near the Piazza navona. Thanks

  23. Michael in Seattle June 16, 2012 at 2:19 am - Reply

    You might want to add a comment here about Roma Sparita no longer being on your “recommend” list, to put it mildly. 🙂

  24. Ruth August 27, 2012 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    Can you suggest some restaurants in the Trastavere area that are not touristy?

  25. Rick Perkins October 16, 2012 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    I have lived around the corner from Roscioli since 1977 and I have to say that all the attention they have received from the food crowd appears to have gone straight to their heads. They do have some good things. Expensive but good. But Swoooooon. Really? They have become unbearably self important and I am waiting for one of the brothers to simply explode in a swollen Monty Python moment.
    Whats with the Cacio Peppe fetish anyhow that started to grip the Roman Nation around the mid 90s? I think I was at a dinner party around that time when a famous Roman Poetess and very good cook served it for a fancy dinner. The company was all over it and for the next six months no one spoke of anything else but Patrizia’s Cacio Peppe.

    • Katie October 16, 2012 at 9:32 pm - Reply

      Bursting at the table is definitely how I want to go. Please note the spelling of the dish in question: cacio e pepe.

  26. […] exquisite. Come back the next and it is served in a pool of loose, watery cheese sauce. Or worse, order the “wrong thing” and suffer dire consequences. (Yes, most Roman restaurants are only really good at a fraction of things on the menu.) […]

  27. […] You can’t find a bad meal in Rome. It’s true that everything tastes good on vacation. But if you compare the ingredients and dishes found on Roman restuarant tables today to what typified the city 2 decades ago, you’ll be surprised by the tangible decline. The center of Rome is particularly plagued by very mediocre restaruants. Luckily, there are still a handful that keep it real, though bear in mind that even the great places excel at some dishes and not at all of them. For a round-up of where to eat well in Rome, check out Katie Parla’s Rome and for more on how to order the “right thing” in Roman restaurants, visit this post. […]

  28. […] it was served in a pretty piazza or made by people I liked just didn’t make sense anymore. I learned to order the “right” thing and to subvert my own whims in favor of what a rest… I still test random dishes and eat in places of dubious quality, all for the sake of research. I […]

  29. […] just research where to eat, I also made a list of what we should order where, because apparently even the best Roman restaurants are notorious for doing just a few things well and all sympathies to the sucker who orders blindly when in […]

  30. […] run down of the best dishes at Katie's favorite restaurants - In Rome, Not All Dishes Are Created Equal - Parla […]

  31. […] In Rome, Not all Dishes are Created Equal […]

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