How to avoid tourist trap restaurants in Rome
Just a few weeks ago, an otherwise satisfied customer confessed that he wished we had included a list of the worst restaurants in Rome in the handbooks we provide to our guests. This gentleman confessed that a bad experience had put a damp on his Italian adventure.
While we cannot exactly name names – it would amount to libel, after all – what we can do is give you a rundown of what to look for in a restaurant that is only trying to profit off of tourists.
We’ll make sure to include the following in the guides we leave at the apartments we manage!
The restaurant is right by a landmark
You’re really paying for the exclusive views when you pick this kind of place – the food will not be the owners’ priority because they count on customers (ie. travelers) being only there that one time and then… be gone.
Where are the Italian customers?
If you find yourself sitting in a place where no one is a local, it means Romans avoid it like the plague. Usually for a very good reason.
The shorter the menu, the better
A real Roman (or Italian, for that matter) place will work mostly with seasonal ingredients. Offering artichokes in March or strawberries at Christmas (outlandish examples, but you get the idea!) means those products are frozen. And we can very well eat frozen food at home, don’t we?
“Bouncer-waiters” try to get you to go in
A member of staff is standing outside the restaurant and trying actively to attract your attention? Keep walking. No reputable mom-and-pop place would hire someone just for this… They would be needed inside the kitchen, or serving tables!
Fear the giant menu (with pictures of the food available)
There is nothing wrong with a menu in the restaurant window, or by the door – we actually think it’s helpful and avoids embarrassing situations where you sit, look at the menu and then leave because you didn’t find anything interesting. What is problematic is the other kind of menus, those that are more billboard-like. When you see them, you’ll recognize them straight away.
Menus are translated in other languages
Again, there is nothing bad about trying to be helpful to foreigners visiting, but when several translations are on the menu you’re perusing, that’s the sign that authentic food is not the focus of the establishment you’re in.
Pay attention to the opening times
An authentic restaurant will close between lunch and dinner, so that, among other things, the kitchen can be cleaned thoroughly – laws are super strict here. And speaking of dinner, Romans tend to have this particular meal anytime after 8PM.
If you want to have dinner anytime between 5PM or 6.30PM because this is your personal preference, know that authentic restaurants will not be ready with their line then, and the menu will barely have been decided by the chef.
When you do find something that will sit you at those times, it will indeed be at a place that caters to foreign visitors.
(pro-tip: it’s not like Rome is going to let you starve if you’re hungry: try some of the city’s delicious street food or experience the joy of the aperitivo!)
Finally, the most important thing for you to keep in mind. Use Google Maps to locate restaurants around your accommodation: if they have some, read the reviews and particularly those made by Italians (Google will translate automatically for you).
The same applies to TripAdvisor: look for best-rated places beforehand, and have a list ready when you come to Rome.
Lastly, don’t forget that the folders in the apartments we manage do contain local tips: every restaurant you’ll find listed in our binders has been suggested by one of us at From Home to Rome!