Piazza di Spagna, just like other famous places in Rome, has become a tourist sanctuary. When you get hungry, it’s easy – there are dozens of restaurants in every street and on every square. But what if you’re not just hungry, what if you want to enjoy a good, authentic meal and atmosphere as well? That’s tricky! Yes, I always say you won’t find a bad restaurant in Italy and you will eat well everywhere, but some places are just better than others. How do you find them? Let me give you three quick tips:
1. There are locals eating at lunch and dinner time
This is the most important sign. Romans who live in tourist areas are very picky about where they eat. If you can see an Italian family with kids eating at the restaurant, it’s a good sign the place is not just your average restaurant that serves only foreigners. Italians usually have lunch between 1 and 3.30 pm, and the best time to check it out is about 2 pm. See any locals?
2. No frozen pasta and seafood
If you think in every Italian restaurant and trattoria the pasta is home-made, you’re wrong. In many (if not in most) tourist-area restaurants the pasta is industrial – no home made stuff based on Grandma Maria’s recipes. When you look at the pasta menu, it should say “fatta a casa” – home made.
With seafood, it’s a little bit more complicated. The European Union regulations require that seafood gets frozen before it’s served in restaurants. (Another useless EU regulation, if you ask me.) Which means that all seafood you eat in Italy has been previously frozen – the difference is how. In an average tourist restaurant, you get industrial seafood – blah fish that had been sitting in the freezer for three months before the poor thing made it to your plate. In good Italian restaurants, the seafood is completely fresh – bought and delivered in the morning on the same day, and then put into ice to comply with the rules. If you can’t see an ice counter with fish and seafood anywhere in the restaurant, it may not be a place where you want to eat.
3. So what about Piazza di Spagna?
As you know, Piazza di Spagna is my current home, and I’ve been scouting the area for good restaurants that serve locals. I have my favorite “lunch places” (quick, easy, affordable) and “dinner places” (more upscale, stylish, more expensive). A lunch place you can trust on Piazza di Spagna is “Ristorante alla Rampa”. Very helpful, polite waiters dressed in black bow ties and white jackets (typically Italian). Always at least one Italian family with kids at lunch time, and a couple of businessmen from offices located on the Square. Home-made pasta (try my favorite ravioli ricotta e spinaci with tomato sauce), and delicious fresh seafood. Steaks are pretty good too, and they have an excellent salad bar, the only one in the area. Enjoy!
Stay tuned for more live reports from my Chique Italian summer! In the meantime, you can read previous live reports here.
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