Culinary Treasures of Rome: Discovering Hidden Foodie Hotspots

You’re a traveler, not a tourist. You want to skip the famous attractions and find the hidden gems. You like to explore on your own and you know that the best meals are usually served off the beaten track. You’re looking to experience Rome the way locals do. If this sounds like you, keep reading for some recommendations on how to discover Rome’s lesser known culinary treasures.

Rome is a city of famous vistas, architecture, historical sites, and food. The food scene here has been evolving for thousands of years, but many things have remained the same since the days of Ancient Rome. Fresh vegetables, olive oil, and seafood continue to make up much of the classic Roman diet today. 

Traditional Roman Cuisine 

Roman food is a cuisine with a rich history. Distinct from other Italian culinary traditions, Roman food is characterized by a handful of core ingredients and the cultural influence of the people who make this city home. Roman cuisine evolved over centuries with the expansion of the Roman Empire. The use of staples like grains, olive oil, and wine became widespread, and innovations such as garum (fermented fish sauce) contributed to the distinct flavors of Roman dishes. Over time, the cuisine absorbed influences from conquered territories, resulting in a rich culinary tradition that continues to influence Italian food today.

It’s important to remember that some things are classics for a reason. There are certain Roman dishes that, however famous they may be, are not to be missed during your trip. The key is to find the places that do these things well and stick to authentic Roman recipes and methods. For example, Rome is celebrated for its four classic pasta dishes: cacio e pepe, carbonara, amatriciana, and pasta alla gricia. Carciofi alla giudia are traditional Jewish-style fried artichokes that have become a signature dish in Roman cuisine. Baccala (salt cod), oxtail, and tripe are other Roman classics you shouldn’t miss while visiting this city. 

Exploring Hidden Foodie Hotspots

As with many of the world’s best food cities, some of the best spots are off the beaten path. While Rome boasts numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, there are also some foodie favorites that are much more low-key. Being such a popular destination for tourists from all over the world, Rome is, unfortunately, full of restaurants selling inauthentic or just low-quality food, places designed to entice tourists but where you won’t find many locals. A few blocks away from the major attractions, you’ll find some hidden gems. La Matriciana is one of Rome’s oldest restaurants, at roughly 150 years old. They pride themselves on locally produced ingredients. Enzo and Tonnarello are other local favorites, with Enzo boasting the “best carbonara” in the city. You can find your own favorite Roman hidden gem by venturing off the beaten path and keeping a look out for restaurants with smaller menus absent of photos, displays, or many languages on their menu (all signs they cater to tourists, not locals).

Speaking of hidden treasures: among Rome’s eateries are some cafes and restaurants that will store your luggage for you while you wait to check in to your hotel or travel to the airport. Check out the list of hosts, here

Culinary Diversity in Rome 

Rome is a diverse city. While the city’s cuisine is decidedly Italian, there are distinct variations among Rome’s major neighborhoods, and global influences throughout. 

Trastevere – Trastevere offers a mix of traditional Roman and authentic Roman-Jewish cuisine. The area is known for its trattorias and osterias serving dishes like cacio e pepe, carciofi alla giudia (Jewish-style artichokes), and Roman-style pizzas.

Testaccio – A true foodie paradise, the Testaccio neighborhood not only has a fantastic food scene, but it’s also less popular among tourists. It’s known for its authentic Roman cuisine and the Testaccio Market, where one can find fresh produce, meats, and other local products. The district is particularly famous for its offal dishes, such as pajata (intestines of a milk-fed lamb) and trippa (tripe). 

Esquilino – Esquilino is one of Rome’s historic districts, home to landmarks like the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Due to its multicultural population, Esquilino offers a variety of international cuisines, reflecting the diverse backgrounds of its residents. The Mercato Esquilino, a large indoor market, is a great place to explore different culinary traditions, including Middle Eastern, African, and Asian influences. While you can find traditional Roman dishes, the neighborhood’s culinary landscape is characterized by its global flavors.

If there’s a particular area or cultural influence you want to explore more in depth, you can’t beat the experience of a Rome food tour. Tours led by a knowledgeable local guide will give you an intimate look at some of the city’s lesser-known dishes and places to eat. You can choose a tour based on a number of preferences and factors: explore a specific neighborhood; dive into the best of Roman wines; or try your hand at traditional pasta-making. It’s a great way to experience Rome in a way you wouldn’t be able to on your own. 

Pasta making

Unique Roman Culinary Experiences

Some of the best bites in Rome don’t come from a restaurant. 

Street Food Delights – In Rome, you’re probably spending a lot of your time on the move, whether you’re trying to make your way to all of Rome’s iconic sights, or exploring the city’s nooks and crannies on foot. Either way, you’re sure to work up an appetite, and Rome’s street food scene will have you covered. Suppli is one of the most loved street foods in Rome;  similar to an arancini, they are fried rice balls filled with sauce and mozzarella cheese. You can also try a focaccia sandwich with mortadella or sausage, or a “trapizzino,” a triangular pizza sandwich with all kinds of filling, made for eating on the go. Of course, traditional pizza by the slice is another great option. 

Artisanal Gelaterias – Your Roman holiday isn’t complete without some gelato. While you’ll find gelato shops all over the city, and many that cater to the tourist crowd, there are some truly special gelaterias that are known for their authentic style and notable flavors. Neve di Latte, FataMorgana, and Gelateria Teatro are among the best, offering a limited selection of traditional recipes and creative must-try varieties.. 


Traditional Osterias – An osteria is similar to a wine bar. An osteria typically serves simple, local, and seasonal food along with a selection of wines. Osteria Bonelli is located a bit farther out from the tourist hotspots, and offers traditional pasta and meat dishes at an affordable price. 

Culinary Events and Festivals 

For a really special experience, you might choose to plan your trip around one of the city’s annual festivals. Taste of Roma, usually in late September, is an enormous food festival that celebrates the best of everything the city has to offer. For pizza aficionados, la Citta della Pizza is a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of that most beloved food. Attendees can sample pizza varieties from across Italy during this springtime event. Carnevale is an Italian Mardi Gras, taking place before the season of Lent, where people celebrate with parades, live entertainment, and of course, food. 

These are just a few of the food and cultural celebrations taking place throughout the year in Rome. The best way to experience the city is to do a little research ahead of time, and then go explore on your own!