In Rome there’s a saying, una vita non basta — a single lifetime is inadequate for experiencing this city. To really do the Italian capital and its food justice, you need a trip that lasts somewhere between a month and a year. But with a big appetite and a little planning, it is possible to eat extraordinarily well in a single day.
The itinerary laid out below is ambitious at best and gout-inducing at worst, so jump on and off the carbonara train as you wish. There’s a lot of grazing, rather than full, sit-down meals, to help mitigate the sheer quantity of food. If you do hit every single spot, you’ll be grateful for the time spent walking between venues. If you prefer to cab it, the it Taxi and myTaxi apps are handy tools for booking local transport. Now, lace up some comfortable (and ideally fashionable) shoes, charge up your phone, snag a few transit tickets, and a grab a bit of cash. Partiamo!
9 a.m. Breakfast at Regoli
Roll into Pasticceria Regoli, a century-old pastry shop in the Esquilino district where the blue tiled-walls and the staff’s vintage smocks evoke another era. I love this place for old-school breakfast pastries, especially their maritozzi — oblong yeasted buns split open and over-stuffed with a bold amount of whipped cream. Place your order at the pastry counter, pay at the register, and ask the staff to send your selections over to their coffee shop next door where you can sit down to eat this messy confection — ideally with an espresso or cappuccino. You’ll need to pay for the coffee at the register first, then take your receipt to the barista who will fill you order. Then take your coffee to your table. There are a lot of steps involved, but it’s worth the effort. Pasticceria Regoli, Via dello Statuto, 60, 00185 Rome
10:30 a.m. Savory Second Breakfast at Mercato di Testaccio
Rome has more than 100 public markets, but the Mercato di Testaccio is my favorite spot for grocery shopping and people-watching. By mid-morning, the bright, covered market space has mellowed — the older shoppers have long since finished, and the students from the nearby architecture school haven’t yet broken for lunch. Before you delve into your second breakfast, visit Silvia and Gabriele Vittori at Box 68 (every stall has its own number) to pick up some ripe apricots or figs (depending on the season) and for a crash course on which fruits, vegetables, and edible weeds are in season around Rome. Further into the complex is the Sartor family’s butcher stand (Box 61-70), where if you’re lucky you can watch as Signore Sartor breaks down a lamb in record time.
Now, time to graze: At Box 90, Artenio Fanella bakes superb personal pizzette. Get one garnished with a ruby slick of tomato sauce, but save room for a sandwich from Mordi e Vai at Box 15. There, former butcher Sergio Esposito serves buns filled with meats and offal, essentially sandwich versions of classic Roman secondi. The #1, allesso di bollito, is tender brisket served with or without cicoria, bitter greens spiked with a touch of chile — get yours with. Mercato di Testaccio, Via Aldo Manuzio, 66C, 00153 Rome
12 p.m. Pre-Lunch Snack at Trapizzino
While you’re in Testaccio, pop over to the place where the trapizzino was invented in 2009 when baker Stefano Callegari merged the triangular shape of the popular tramezzino sandwich with a slow-leavened pizza dough. The result, a clever fast-food sandwich filled with hot Roman classics (spicy simmered beef, tongue with salsa verde, beef meatballs), has become such a hit that there are now a half-dozen locations in Rome, plus two in New York City. Get the chicken cacciatore filling, a stew of tender dark meat seasoned with herbs, vinegar, and wine — one of my top bites in town. Trapizzino, Via Giovanni Branca, 88, 00153 Rome
1:30 p.m. Lunch at Two Boncis
Trionfale, the neighborhood just north of the Vatican, is pleasantly tourist-free and residential, a refreshing break from the hordes of shuffling tour groups that crowd much of Rome’s center. Start your tour at Pizzarium. Since opening here 15 years ago, Gabriele Bonci’s pizza-by-the-slice takeout joint has become a globally acclaimed landmark where cold-fermented dough made with heirloom wheat flour is topped with artisanal, organic, and biodynamic toppings. The choices change daily, and sometimes hourly, but Pizzarium’s signatures (like the sounds-simple-but-isn’t combinations of tomato and oregano, or potato and mozzarella) are always available.
Wander down another Trionfale side street for your second course at another Bonci endeavor, Panificio Bonci, the chef’s pocket-sized, slightly mellower bakery. Unlike Pizzarium, which specializes in creative pizza taglio that might turn tradition-driven locals off, Panificio Bonci trades in super-Roman bakery classics like loaves of bread, cookies, cakes, pastries, and some prepared foods; bakeries can’t make it selling bread alone these days. There’s pizza by the slice, too, but the toppings are less exciting than those at Pizzarium. There’s no table service here, either, but order at the counter and take your food outside to the wooden bar. Poultry might seem like a weird order at a bakery, but trust me: Go for the spectacularly good roasted chicken. The skin and meat are perfectly seasoned and the potatoes served alongside are drenched in rendered fat. Pizzarium, Via della Meloria, 43, 00136 Rome; Panificio Bonci, Via Trionfale, 36, 00195 Rome
4:30 p.m. Gelato at Gelateria dei Gracchi
At the original location of this superb and justifiably swarmed gelateria (there are three others around town), packs of teens, grannies, and lawyers from the nearby courthouse crowd around the long display case waiting for their number to be called. Be sure to snag a ticket outside the entrance before joining the queue. Order two scoops: the rich and slightly chunky pistachio and silky, boozy zabaione, a custard spiked with Marsala wine. Gelateria dei Gracchi, Via di S. Pantaleo, 61, 00186 Rome
6 p.m. Aperitivo at Il Goccetto
It’s time for a rest, aka aperitivo time. This is the perfect opportunity to take a load off while priming your stomach for the main event: dinner. (Aperitivo’s snacks and bitter aperitifs are actually meant to spur the appetite.) Get to Il Goccetto when it opens at 6 p.m. for any chance of finding a seat inside, or else join the chain-smoking regulars on the pavement outside beneath the painted VINO e OLIO sign. Order one of the more than 20 wines by the glass listed on the board behind the counter — maybe a Fiano from Campania or Ribolla from Friuli — and pair it with the apple, celery leaf, and primosale salad to stoke your appetite. Il Goccetto, Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 14, 00186 Rome
9 p.m. Trattoria dinner at Cesare al Casaletto
You may hear people referring to this essential trattoria as “Cesare al Casaletto” or “Da Cesare” or “Trattoria Da Cesare.” In Rome, nomenclature can be confusing; the place goes by many names. Whatever you call it, if you’re going to do one blow-out meal of classic cucina romana, do it here. At this slightly modernized trattoria you can check off just about all of the Roman food boxes, from luscious cacio e pepe to tender grilled lamb chops to delightfully bitter seasonal greens.
Begin, though, with a parade of fritti like polpette di bollito (fried meatballs of pulled simmered beef) and croquette di melanzane (eggplant croquettes). Although most of Cesare’s menu is super traditional, there are a handful of novelties worth trying, like fried gnocchi served in a pool of cacio e pepe sauce. Next up, Rome’s classic pastas and flawless offal like roasted pig’s liver or oxtails simmered in a celery-tomato sauce. I come to Cesare al Casaletto for all of this, plus its stunningly affordable wine list featuring natural labels from Italy, France, and Slovenia.
If Cesare looks far away on the map, don’t be intimidated. It’s easy to get there from the centro storico: it’s a 15-to-20-minute taxi ride or 30-to-35-minute tram ride from Piazza Venezia. Cesare al Casaletto, Via del Casaletto, 45, 00151 Rome
After midnight: Cocktails at Jerry Thomas Project
For a stiff after-dinner drink, head to the Jerry Thomas Project back in the city center, where this 30-seat lounge has been ground zero for Rome’s craft cocktail movement since it opened in 2009. The faux-speakeasy is dark and smoky — it’s registered as a cultural association (they ask you to sign up for a membership card when you arrive), which keeps it from being subject to Italy’s non-smoking laws or 2 a.m. last-call (it’s open until 4 a.m.).
Advance-booking is essential, and upon entering you’ll be shown to one of the handful of barstools or a well-worn vintage couch. There, you’ll choose from a menu of classic drinks — many of which were first mixed by the bar’s 19th-century American namesake — as well as original cocktails featuring spirits and vermouths made in collaboration with Piedmont-based Distilleria Quaglia. I usually go for an Italian classic like the Monsieur Negroni, which uses housemade gin and vermouth and swaps out the standard Campari for JTP’s own bitter red liqueur. Jerry Thomas Project, Vicolo Cellini, 30, 00186 Rome
Late night or very early morning or whenever: Ali Baba
Dinners may seem late here — what with the standard 9 p.m. sit-down time — but when it comes to true after-hours dining, Rome has surprisingly few options. The sparse post-midnight food scene is mostly carts parked near nightclubs, and what they serve is only borderline-edible, even by drunk standards. For delicious late-night sustenance, visit Ali Baba, a 24-hour Syrian kebab shop on the ground floor of a modern residential block in southeastern Rome. Order assorted kibbeh and brik (savory phyllo pastries), followed by lamb or chicken kebabs sliced from vertical spits and wrapped in house-made lavash.
Look around: The crowd of street sweepers, tipsy club kids, elderly men, and chefs post-service all eating together under the flickering glow of Ali Baba’s blue neon sign is a perfect cross section of Rome. Ali Baba, Via Carroceto, 96, 00178 Rome