In a world full of rising populism and polarizing news cycles, it seems like there’s only one thing that we can all agree on—that Italian food is incredible. As our tour guide put it, Italian food is the “comfort food of Europe.” Pasta, pizza, and bruschetta all originated as go-to meals for the lower classes because they’re cheap and easy to make. Millions of people flock to Italy each year to get a slice of the pizza, literally. So why is it so difficult to find excellent dishes in the Eternal City?
When prepping for our trip to Rome, one of the things I heard over an over was “it’s really easy to get stuck with bad food.”
I heard nightmare stories about paying fees to sit at a table, getting half frozen pizzas, almost getting in fights with unfriendly Roman waiters. It made the winding streets of the city sound like a fun house of dripping carbonara and broken artichoke hearts.
We find these stories to be tragic and unacceptable. So here to demystify the menus for you . . .
Foolproof Tips to Avoid Bad Food in Rome:
(We got gathered these from our tour guide and others locals we met and tested them ourselves!)
- Take Side Streets
The further you are from the main attractions and roads, the cheaper, less busy, and yummier the food will be. Don’t be afraid to get lost in the beautiful streets, it’s the best way to discover the city.
- Avoid Menus with Too Many Options
If their menu takes up a whole poster board, our guide told us that it’s unlikely their dishes are made with locally-sourced, fresh ingredients. He then told us that food travels 27 miles on average from farm-to-plate in Rome. I don’t know how to corroborate this second fact, but we have confirmed the first—smaller menus are the way to go. They also help with making decisions!
- Check the Menu for Asterisks about Frozen Food
This is the easiest way to avoid bad food in Rome. Sometimes restaurants cut corners to offer more dishes and use frozen ingredients. The good news is that they are required to mark it on the menu by law. After we were told this, we started seeing asterisks everywhere. Watch out.
- Try to Avoid Menus in English
This a pretty good tip for any tourist in any non-English-speaking country. Take a second before you travel to look up the names of seasonal dishes you’re interested in trying.
- If they offer Fettuccine Alfredo, run away.
This is not an Italian dish. This is a trap! However, if you’re looking for something similar, try cacio e pepe (which I unabashedly ate three times during our trip), or fettuccine al burro.
- Don’t Skimp with Your Food Budget
Make sure your budget (and belts) allow enough room so you don’t have food-grets. If you don’t want to dish some money for the food, why are you in Italy?! We found a plate of pasta ranged from 9-15€ and wine was 4€ per glass. If you’re on a strict budget, we suggest saving enough for at least one nice sit-down meal per day and supplementing with baked goods for breakfast, grabbing some pasta-to-go (we loved Pasta Imperiale!), picking up a pizza, or buying some antipasti and wine at the grocery store for a picnic.
Following these tips, we didn’t have a single bad bite of food our entire trip!
Did these tips help? Do you have more advice (or scary restaurant stories 👻)? Let us know below!