Checkered tablecloths, parmesan perfume and endless spaghetti carbonara. Yes, get your mouth watering because this is what awaits you when you arrive in the capital of pasta. And when you get there, you're sure to make one (or several) stops in the Vatican, because after so much art you'll work up an appetite.
So that you don't get caught with an empty stomach in the middle of such a touristy area without knowing where to go, I recommend you take a gastronomic tour of the Vatican where you'll taste various Italian specialities and sample a wide range of wines. You will also visit a pizzeria with more than 80 proposals. And if you are looking for more options, here is a list of my favourite places:
1. The best pizzas in a family atmosphere, at Nicò
If you're looking for a good, varied menu in an authentic restaurant, try Nicò, a cosy restaurant in the Prati neighbourhood (just a few metres from the Vatican) where you can dine surrounded by Romans and hardly hear any tourists.
It's a place frequented mostly by families living in the area and young people studying in the area (there are several high schools and colleges nearby), so you'll find good prices and good quality.
Here you will be able to eat the typical Roman pizza, the thin one, with crispy edges. You'll finish the whole thing without getting a feeling of fullness (which is what happens with the thicker pizzas). The most classic is the margherita (tomato and mozzarella) but let the waiters advise you or even order different pizzas so you can try a bit of each.
- Where: Viale Angelico, 6.
- Why I like this place: It's one of those family-run places, very authentic and very "neighbourhood", with a very good quality standard and atmosphere.
- Recommended if... you're looking for a traditional Italian dinner with a wide variety on the menu to choose from.
2. Snack and breakfast, at Panificio Marè Prati
If you still haven't had enough croissants (you can never have enough) I invite you to stop by this hidden gem (I say hidden because it has a very small entrance and goes completely unnoticed) to buy the best pastries you'll ever taste in Rome. As well as selling to the public, this historic bakery supplies pastries to many restaurants and bars in the city.
The prices are ridiculous. A "cornetto de cioccolato", my favourite, costs 40 centimes. You won't be able to take just one, sorry! Just think that with all the walking you've done and with all the walking you still have to do, these calories will hardly settle in your body. You'll find it in Viale Angelico, 88 and you'll have to descend a short flight of stairs to paradise. Here is its website to whet your appetite: Panificio Marè Prati.
- Where it is: Viale Angelico 88
- Why Ilike this place: the wide variety of sweets and the quality you'll find here are unbeatable. And the prices too!
- Recommended if... you want to nibble on something sweet when you're in the area but you're not looking for somewhere to sit down. Everything here is takeaway.
3. Get the best pasta dishes to go at Pastasciutta
Never has a takeaway pasta dish been so good. The last time I went on a guided tour of the Vatican Museums I left hungry and short on time. Taking advantage of the fact that there were not many people around Castel St Angelo, we decided to buy a couple of pasta dishes to take away and eat them on the bridge, overlooking the river.
We went in with low expectations, but we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the pasta and its sauces. They have all kinds of varieties of pasta and accompaniments, so in a matter of seconds they prepare the dish you want (you can see how they do it through the glass) and before you know it, you have it ready to take away in a box.
Consider this option if you feel like eating quietly in the flat or hotel where you are staying or if you prefer to do as I did and look for the scenery you want to enjoy during your meal in the streets of Rome. This is their website.
- Where it is: Via delle Grazie, 5
- Why I like this place: Few places offer such a good, fast and cheap service.
- Recommended if... you're in a hurry (and hungry) and you don't want to give up eating typical Italian pasta, well done.
4. Sandwiches with gourmet cold meats, at Bono Roma
Who said that something as simple as a sandwich couldn't be as delicious as the most sophisticated menu? We know the Italians are masters of bread production, but mix it with a five-star charcuterie and the result can be epic.
For a quick but tasty meal, Bono Roma stands out. You can take one of the incredible "Paninos" on their menu to go and eat it in any of the magical corners of the city. My favourite is the Monti, which has mortadella, brie cheese, pistachio pâté and rocket. You really have to try any of the delicacies on the menu.
- Where: Via di Porta Cavalleggeri, 109/111.
- Why I like this place: the ingredients are first class, the service is fast, the staff very attentive and the price is very affordable.
- Recommended if... you want to try a typical Italian "panino italiano" of great quality and enjoy the best cured meats.
5. Rome also has great sushi and the best sushi in town is at Temakinho
Are you tired of pasta and pizza if you've been in the city for a few days? Don't worry, I'll never admit it out loud, but I admit it's happened to me too. If you've had your fill of pasta, pizza, lasagna, risotto and gnocchis, you're more than justified in looking for something a little more exotic.
And if you like sushi, you're in luck because near the Vatican is the best I've had in Rome. Temakinho is a chain of Brazilian-Japanese fusion restaurants (exotic, I warned you!) that makes amazing rolls and cocktails that invite you to spend the night sitting on the terrace. The building is also worth a visit: it's a typical three-storey classic Italian palazzo converted into a restaurant with a trendy design.
- Where: Via dei Serpenti, 16
- Why I like this place: I think I'd be repeating myself too much if I said it's one of the tastiest Asian dishes I've ever had, but I have to insist - irresistible!
- Recommended if... you feel like trying something different and visiting one of the trendiest restaurants in Rome right now.