Italy’s ancient capital is brimming with history at every turn, and this extends to its restaurants and eateries too. We explore Rome’s most historical culinary haunts from a 500-year-old family-run trattoria to the city’s oldest gelato joint.
Restaurant, Romanian, $$$
Dating back almost 500 years, family-run La Campana, a traditional trattoria tucked down an alleyway not far from the famous Pantheon and the Piazza Navona, lays claim to the title of Rome’s oldest restaurant. First mentioned in 1518 and founded by namesake Pietro de la Campana, the venue was first a winery and then an inn, but La Campana’s rich history isn’t the only reason thousands flock to the restaurant each year, its classic Roman cuisine is a major attraction too. Must-try dishes include its artichokes alla Guidia, tagliolini with fresh anchovies and pecorino cheese and coda alla vaccinara, a hearty oxtail and vegetable stew.
The traditional indoor setting at Checchino dal 1887 | Courtesy of Checchino dal 1887
Owned and operated by the Mariani family since the late 19th century, Checchino dal 1887 is famous in Rome for its history and offal-based fare. Nestled in the heart of the city’s trendy Testaccio neighborhood, the popular restaurant offers several different menus including a regular version and a vegetarian tasting menu. For a real sense of Checchino dal 1887’s history, guests should check out its historical tasting menu featuring dishes like rigatoni con pajata (pasta with tomato sauce, lamb intestines and pecorino). To end, classic desserts and cheeses are served with perfectly paired wines and liquors.
Serving its delicious gelato for nearly 140 years, Palazzo del Freddo was founded by Giovanni Fassi and remains as popular as ever today, even opening a number of branches in South Korea in more recent years. Beyond its 30 flavors of gelato, Palazzo del Freddo also offers a number of other ice cream-based goodies like cassata, tartufo and ice cream cakes in flavors like pineapple, hazelnut and banana alongside special signature desserts and refreshing crushed ice drinks. In colder months, the gelateria serves hot chocolate, sweet crepes and hot ice cream.
Opened in 1890 by Giuseppe Tozzi when he moved to Rome from his hometown Montereale in Abruzzo, Ristorante Peppone is a popular, ‘old school’ resaurant today run by the original owner’s great-grandchildren. Combining the cuisines of Lazio and Abruzzo, the restaurant’s menu features a mix of both traditional fare and reinterpretations of classics based on seasonal produce, with standout dishes that include spaghetti with black truffle pearls and saltimbocca alla Romana, a local Roman take on the classic veal saltimbocca. There’s plenty of wine, whiskey and rum to accompany Ristorante Peppone’s delicious fare, while desserts include classics like tiramisu and panna cotta.
A million Italian restaurants across the globe have Ristorante Alfredo alla Scrofa to thank for one of their best known dishes. Opened in 1907, the restaurant is where its namesake and original owner Alfredo Di Lelio invented the classic pasta dish, fettucine alfredo, before selling it on to its current owners in 1943. Three spacious dining rooms decked out in photographs of politicians and Hollywood stars who have eaten at the restaurant welcome guests, while beyond its must-try fettucine alfredo, other mouthwatering dishes include mushroom risotto and grilled sea bass. In addition to the original Rome restaurant, Alfredo alla Scrofa has also ventured into other locations including Brazil, Kuwait and Greece, with a series of sister restaurants named Alfredo’s Gallery.
Located in Rome’s hip Monti neighborhood, La Carbonara ,a lively, welcoming osteria that encourages guests to write their comments on its walls rather than in a guestbook, first opened its doors in 1906 and offers a menu geared towards foodies who like their cuisine Roman and full of robust flavors. Naturally, its spaghetti alla carbonara is a must-try, but plenty of other palate-pleasing dishes are served from familiar gnocchi and scaloppine to more adventurous coda alla vaccinara and tripe. La Carbonara also offers a large selection of prosciutto to enjoy with its heartier dishes alongside an extensive wine list featuring selections from across Italy.
Nestled on the edges of Rome’s historic Jewish quarter, Ristorante Piperno was first founded in 1860 by its namesake Pacifico Piperno and boasts the title of the Roman Ghetto’s longest-standing restaurant. Piperno owes much of its renown to its location. Its artichokes alla Giudia is amongst its most popular dishes, though its signature fresh pasta like seafood tagliolini and other specialty dishes like battered salt cod are bound to delight diners too. Delicious desserts like bitter chocolate fondue and homemade gelato are complemented by a huge wine list and a number of classic Italian grappas.
Founded in 1930, Er Faciolario might not boast quite the longevity of some of the other restaurants featured here, but it’s nevertheless a worthy contender for any foodie visiting Rome. Classic Roman cuisine is the order of the day, and guests can choose from tempting first course fare like ricotta and spinach stuffed ravioli or spaghetti with clams followed by hearty main courses like saltimbocca alla Romana and house specialties like fagioli con le cotiche (beans with pork rind). The restaurant also doubles as a pizzeria, and there’s a huge number of pizzas to try, from a classic Neapolitan topped with tomato, mozzarella and anchovies to a hearty pie topped with mushrooms, gorgonzola and red chicory.
First opened in 1900, Giolitti may not be Rome’s oldest gelateria, but it’s certainly one of its most popular and has welcomed many a sweet toothed foodie in its past 100 plus years of business. More than a hundred different flavors of ice cream are served from the familiar to the experimental, think champagne and pomegranate, alongside other refreshing treats like ice cream stuffed biscuits and decadent sundaes like the coppa giolitti with chocolate, cream, zabaglione, whipped cream and hazelnut. Other dessert-friendly fare like Sicilian-style cassata, semifreddo and mont blanc are offered too.
Open since 1934, Ristorante Nino is one of the ‘youngest’ restaurants featured but a worthy destination for lovers of hearty Tuscan-inspired fare dished up in beautiful surrounds. A welcoming dining room decked in orate wood paneled walls greets guests and sets the scene in which to try Ristorante Nino’s signature dishes like ribollita (a hearty Tuscan soup of bread and vegetables) and Florentine-style T-bone steak. Save room for Nino’s signature dessert castagnaccio (a chestnut-based cake), and don’t leave without trying a glass or two from the restaurant’s Tuscany-focused wine list.