Rome Tip: Cheap eats survival guide


One of the best gelato cafes in town, on Via dei Serpenti.
One of the best gelato cafes in town, on Via dei Serpenti.

By Sav D’Souza in Rome—

Don’t want to get trampled by meal costs when in Rome? Read on for my tried, true, and tested cheap eat survival tips.

1) Watch out for package deals.

Stay away from what I call the “slashers”: Anything that touts itself as an all-inclusive “Bar/Restaurant”  or has a menu decreeing that it offers pizza/gelato/pasta.

It’s also best to steer clear of any restaurant that boasts an all-singing/all-dancing agenda. Surcharges here are the norm and food is pretty lackluster.

Lets face it.  If you’re in Italy, you’ve come to experience the good food that the country is renowned for, not some sub-standard chain-like grub where posted food photos aren’t even prepared in a kitchen (many, believe it or not, are microwaved!) Many bar/restaurant places offer only average food and can be quite pricey.

So, here’s the deal: Always look for a “ristorante” or “trattoria.” Likewise, head to a real gelateria for ice cream.  You can sing and dance while you’re there.

2) Be smart about prices. Ask ahead for “house specials.”

Restaurants often tempt diners with “house specialties”… that are often posted on placards without prices. If your dish isn’t on the menu, and you don’t ask about price before ordering, you risk ending up with indigestion when the bill arrives. Also, “market price,” (common for fish and seafood dishes) can mean anything, expensive or cheap, so ask ahead.

This doesn’t only apply to upscale restaurants. Some unscrupulous vendors will charge a pretty piece for the simplest of snacks, like a sandwich and a cola. Others charge a hugely inflated price for bottled water with your meal.

Antica Boheme, on Via Napoli, is an example of a good Trattoria.

Antica Boheme, on Via Napoli, is a good Trattoria.

3) Be specific about food quantities.

In Rome, you have to be a bit vigilant and assertive when ordering food by the quantity. For example, in many pizzerias, your slice is cut to order. You may only want a small slice, but some vendors (if they recognize you as a tourist) will try to cut off a large slice of pie (which will cost a heavier slice of your budget).

Italians are direct, so speak up if you only want un piccolo.

4) Beware of extras.

In some restaurants (and most with fixed-price menus), you will get charged for a basket of bread. To add insult to injury, the bread might also be stale. Some establishments charge for water, or add on a cost for additional dinner guests or alcohol. Know what you’re paying for ahead of time. And if you don’t care for bread, send it back!

5) Take it away.

To-go prices in Rome are much cheaper than sit-down prices. Sure, sipping a cappuccino while hanging out in a lovely outdoor café is romantic and chic, but it will typically cost three times more than if you order your espresso to go or drink it standing at the bar (as most locals do).

Share your dining tips!

Do you have any tips for saving money on food in Rome? Let us know below!

About the author

About the author: Sav D’Souza is a freelance journalist currently based in Rome. He has worked as a journalist in Hawaii, Prague, and London and contributed features to the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, SA Sports Illustrated, Prague Post and CNBC Europe. He is a demon pool player, enjoys a round of golf, playing poker, and the occasional gin and tonic.

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10 thoughts on “Rome Tip: Cheap eats survival guide”

  1. Going to Rome in May, single mum with 13 year old daughter, on a budget but choose to eat with the locals. Staying near Termini Statiom. Any advice, really appreciate. Thanks

    1. Also going to Rome in early May. Single.
      Found good hotel bargain at Taormina hotel near Termini
      Station on Via Principio Eugenio. Gelato show across
      the street. Good luck!

    2. Try Sfizio Pizza Via Giolitti 77 at the corner of Via Gioberti close to Termini Station. Clean place with menus between 5 to 15 Euro.

  2. Stand up cappuccino 1 euro. Sit down cappuccino 3 euro. Once or twice not a big deal. After a couple of days however, that adds up to a couple of meals.

  3. Wow, thanks for the info. On our travels we usually try to eat where the locals go if it’s god enough for them then it’s good enough for us :) Your tips will certainly help me on the trip to Rome I’m planning for December 2009. Thanks!!!

  4. If you are need of some refreshment while out sightseeing, don’t buy food or drinks from one of those street vendors, as they can be expensive (especially if situated near major tourist attractions).

  5. Rome is an excellent place to eat, but it requires a little searching to find your own favourite place. My tip is to stay off major roads and take a turn down the sidestreets where you are likely to find small places that serve food to the locals. As I’ve spent a lot of time in Rome, I’m familiar with the rewards this kind of search brings. As for the bread charge, it is essentially a cover charge per person which you receive bread in return for. You’re going to pay it anyways, so if the bread is good eat it and ask for more, if required. Excellent neighbourhoods to eat in are Testaccio and Trastevere, but again stay off the main roads and anywhere that looks like it is filled with tourists.

  6. Thanks for the tips. I was surprised by the bread charges when I visited Rome last year. Even if you don’t ask for it they bring bread (and bread sticks!) to your table. I wish we had known that you could send them back.

    The food was excellent, however!


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