This past August, my family was lucky enough to travel to Rome and Sicily, a dream vacation that checked all the boxes: Culture, coastlines, family roots, and carbs. So very many carbs! Today’s highlight reel is an attempt to capture Part 1 of the trip, three-and-a-half days in Rome. Part 2 was Sicily.
If you are going to Rome, there is something you need to know right off the bat: Everyone who has been there or lived there will send you The List. The first list I received was almost four years ago, after I told my friend Nell, who was living in Rome with her family, that we were planning a visit. A few minutes later, a four-page single-spaced word doc arrived in my inbox. It was a working file that her husband Jesse had been compiling, and it broke down his favorite eating spots by category (pizza, pasta, gelato, lunch spot, dinner spot, traditional trattoria, date night, etc.) I saved that list for four years, and it was the first I referred to when I began strategizing our Rome eating itinerary. I cross-referenced it with Rome-guru (and DALS contrib) Katie Parla’s Open-in-August List and Elizabeth Minchilli’s Eat Italy App, and before we took off from JFK, I had a customized google map color-coded by source and food type. I felt ready.
That is, until we arrived. Once people got wind of us being in Rome (thank you, instagram) I couldn’t stop the lists from coming. My college roommate Cara sent me one; Andy’s coworkers, Leigh and Maria each sent him one — Maria’s came in the form of her customized google map. My friend Adam even sent me one that had been sent to his friend from the Times columnist Frank Bruni. (Is this how rumors start?) All this was, of course, a good thing, and more often than not, a wonderful thing. But there was the moment when we found ourselves in Monti after our obligatory walk by the Colosseum, and it was lunchtime, and we were starving. Even though I had about 800 recs from my collective lists, we walked by La Bottega Del Caffe just as a waitress was serving a bowl of pasta that was the color of the sun to a woman who was very obviously a regular there, sitting in the ivy-shrouded patio reading a novel…
…and almost all of us at the same time said “Let’s go there.” What followed was my favorite meal of Rome: We started with a simple bruschetta made with the deepest red tomatoes, and that yellowy pasta, also known as carbonara. Would I have found this place if I stuck to my lists? Eventually I guess (Elizabeth Minchilli later told me it was one of her favorite local spots and she had written about it), but I liked the lesson it taught me. It’s ok to follow your instincts in Rome — in Italy — because it’s hard to go wrong. So there you have it…
Rome Highlight #1: ALL THE LISTS!
Highlight #2: Carbonara at La Bottega Del Caffe
Good for: Lunch or Dinner near the Colosseum
Highlight #3: Pizza at Forno Campo de’Fiori
Where: Historic District/Campo de’Fiori
Good for: Breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, when you’re near the Pantheon or Piazza Navona or wandering Rome’s Historic District.
On the other hand, if a restaurant is on every single list, it’s probably a good idea to check it out. That was the case with the pizza at Forno, made in a historic bakery in one of the more touristy corners of the Campo de’Fiori piazza. It’s sold by the slice, which is good, because you’ll want to try as many different varieties as you can. The crust is flat and crispy and topped wall-to-wall with thinly shaved potatoes, or mushrooms, shredded zucchini (Phoebe’s favorite) or just a thin layer of fresh tomato sauce (pizza rosso, Abby’s favorite). They have counter service, too, so you can order your slice — it gets crowded, but not terrible — then walk around the market at Campo de’ Fiori or sit on a bench and partake in the joy. It was close to our apartment, so went here all three days, sometimes more than once. There’s almost no wrong time to grab a slice.
Highlights #4, 5, 6: The Roman Ghetto
Good for: Low-key breakfasts, afternoon exploring, authentic Roman-Jewish dinners
We stayed in an airbnb in the heart of Rome’s historic district, on Via Arenula, a street that was exactly between Campo de’Fiori and Piazza Navona and on the edge of the Ghetto. Our instinct for the first two days was to head north and west, in the general area of the more famous destinations — Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navano — but in retrospect I wish I spent more time in the Ghetto, the area right on the banks of the Tiber river that is home to some incredible ruins including the Teatro Marcello (ca. 13 BC), as well as the Great Synagogue and some of the best Roman-Jewish cuisine in the city. We had espressos and pastries at Bar Toto one morning, next to a table of 80-something men who looked like they had been meeting there every morning for decades…
…and the next morning we hit the more new-school Le Tartarughe , which sold sandwiches, pastries and coffee and offered window views of the Fontane Delle Tartarughe (Turtle Fountain). If I lived in Rome, this would be where I’d go to meet a friend for coffee or read the morning paper. For dinner, we went to Giggetto, sat outside, and ate their famous fried artichokes while gazing at the Portico D’Ottavia. Three months later, Abby still brings up the bolognese she ordered there.
Highlight #7: A Stroll on Via Giulia
Where: South of Campo de’Fiori/Just off banks of the Tiber
Good for: Breaking free from the August crowd and heat OR for a lovely walk.
Hey guess what? Rome is HOT and CROWDED in August. Heard that somewhere before? I did, maybe a hundred times before we took off. Everyone kept telling us not to go — We’d be sorry! We’d be so hot and miserable! Nothing was open! — but every time we listened to our friends on this point, we ended up giving up on Rome entirely. (It’s a long story, but if we are taking a big trip in the summer there are only a few weeks it’s possible to do so.) We finally bit the bullet, did our best to track down an airbnb with air conditioning, and committed to drinking lots of water. We vacation in South Carolina in August, I said to Andy. How bad could it be?
OMG was it hot and crowded! (Why didn’t you tell me?) This is what Trevi Fountain looked like at about 11:00 in the morning on the day we arrived. And no amount of gelato would cool me down — trust me when I say I tried. Lucky for me I had those LISTS, and the one from Nell recommended taking a walk down her favorite street in Rome, Via Giulia (shown before Trevi photo). It’s about a half mile long, cobblestoned, and packed with centuries-old churches, stately homes, and, an ivy-dripping entrance arch that was designed by Michelangelo. (Michelangelo!) My favorite part by far, though, was the shade and the silence. It was such a nice break from the heat.
Highlight #8 & 9: Gelato-ing Like a Local
Where: Alberto Pica, Campo De’Fiori
You know what else was a nice break from the heat? We were in Rome for only three full days and managed to hit five or six different gelato spots. (Do the math: That works out to 1.75 gelatos/day.) If we’re going to be technical about my favorite cone, I think Abby’s blueberry cheesecake shown above from Fatamorgana (multiple locations) is the hands-down winner.
But if we’re going by a different metric, i.e. the feel-like-a-local metric , I’d go with Alberto Pica (specifically Phoebe’s pistachio) mostly because it was a block or two from where we were staying and it was never crowded with tourists, its ancient facade was shrouded in flowers and greenery, and just felt so neighborhoody. We loved sitting outside in the afternoon after walking eight hundred miles and devouring our well-earned cups.
Highlight #10: Spritz & Chips
Where: Literally Everywhere
Good for: Mainlining all vacation long
You can only imagine how many Aperol Spritzes we drank. (And if you followed my trip on instagram, you don’t have to imagine.) For the uninitiated, the drink is made from prosecco and aperol, served with an orange wedge, and it came as no surprise to me that I fell in love with the cocktail all over again in the country that invented them — especially since it was one of the few drinks that reliably came with a generous amount of ice cubes. (I will never understand this about you, Europe.) What did surprise me was how much I loved the little bowl of salty chips that often came alongside the drink, whether we were at Bar Toto in the Ghetto, a beach bar in Taormina, or a cafe in Palermo. Once I was back home, that combo was my go-to starter move for the rest of the summer, and I plan to revive it as soon as the weather gets warm again.
Highlight #11, 12, 13: All the Rosciolis!
Where: Three locations, Campo de Fiori, Rome
Good for: Espresso in the morning, pizza for lunch, shopping for a home-cooked dinner
Steps from our airbnb, Roscioli Caffè (P.zza B. Cairoli, 3) was the first place we dragged our jet-lagged bodies to after dropping bags off in the apartment. It boded well for the trip: Fresh almond pastries, stuffed doughnuts called Bombes, espressos and cappuccinos you throw back at the modern counter, impossibly fruit juices that were served with saucers underneath them. You can sidle up to the counter or you can get served in the back room. Next door is Roscioli the Salumeria (Via dei Giubbonari, 21) with a restaurant in the back (we never made it there, but word on the street says you should) and around the corner is…
…Antico Forno Roscioli (Via dei Chiavari, 34) the bakery and pizzeria which, somehow we didn’t find until the last hour we were in Rome even though it was a stone’s throw from our apartment…
…Naturally, we made the most of that hour even though we had just finished a slice from Forno: our order was pesto and burrata.
Highlight #14: Cooking In
…but of course, every good meal begins with the foraging: in our case, that meant the open-air market in the piazza di San Cosimato in Trastevere, as well as the Mercato Testaccio a huge market that sells everything from produce and meat and fish to sandwiches and pizza and salads (while you are there, grab a sausage and spinach sandwich from the iconic Mordi & Vai) and the shops that line Campo de’Fiori. (See way more details about this dinner here.)
Highlight #15: Tavernaccia
Good for: Dinner
I loved my friend Ted’s reaction when I told him I was going to Rome in August. Instead of the customary you’ll-be-sorry routine, he said “That’s great! You’ll actually be able to get a reservation at Tavernaccia!” He was right. This place is on everyone’s list, but we had no problem snagging the reservation from New York a few days before our vacation. (Pro tip: Always secure a dinner plan for Night 1 of vacation in advance. It makes the transition so much smoother.) I didn’t take the photo above (thank you @plateselector) but that’s a good snap of the vibe — and just the vibe I wanted for my first night (ok fine, for every night) in Rome: Traditional. Half the patrons were Americans, though, so just know that going in. It did not take away from the night: We dined on their famous Roman classics: bruschetta, lasagna, Amatraciana and toasted our first real meal in Italy.
I’m almost afraid to ask: What did I miss? As always, feel free to comment.
Related: DALS takes Sicily.