By Rick Steves
Rome is a tough city. Many don't like it. And many who do like Rome seem to enjoy it because of their evenings. For a romantic yet affordable meal that will leave you with tasty and treasured Roman memories, consider these places (check an up-to-date guidebook to make sure they're still around at the time of your trip):
The colorful Trastevere is getting pretty touristy. Still, Romans join the tourists to eat on the rustic side of the Tiber River. You can eat with tourists enjoying the ambiance of the famous square; or wander the back streets in search of a mom-and-pop place with barely a menu.
For home cooking Roman-style, Trattoria da Lucia lets you enjoy simple, traditional food at a good price in a great scene. It's the quintessential rustic, 100 percent Roman Trastevere dining experience, and has been family-run since World War II. You'll meet four generations of the family, including Giuliano and Renato, their uncle Ennio, and Ennio's mom — pictured on the menu in the 1950s. The family specialty is spaghetti alla Gricia, with pancetta bacon.
While touristy, the Campo de' Fiori offers a classic romantic square setting. And, since it is so close to the collective heart of Rome, it remains popular with locals. For atmosphere over food value, circle the square, considering each place. Bars and pizzerias seem to overwhelm the square.
Nearby, on the more elegant and peaceful Piazza Farnese is Osteria da Giovanni ar Galletto. Angelo entertains an upscale local crowd and has magical outdoor seating. Regrettably, service can be horrible and single diners aren't treated very well. Still, if you're in no hurry and ready to savor my favorite al fresco setting in Rome (while humoring the waiters), this is a good bet.
Osteria Enoteca al Bric is a mod bistro-type place run by Maurizio, a man who loves to cook, serve good wine, and listen to jazz. With only the finest ingredients, and an ambience elegant in its simplicity, he's created the perfect package for a romantic night out. Wine-case lids decorate the wall like happy memories. With candlelit grace and few tourists, it's perfect for the wine snob in the mood for pasta and fine cheese. Aficionados choose their bottle from the huge selection lining the walls near the entrance. Beginners order fine wine by the glass with help from the waiter when they order their meal. While Al Bric can be pricey, feel free to establish a price limit (e.g., €30 per person without wine) and trust Maurizio to feed you well.
Trattoria der Pallaro, a well-worn eatery that has no menu, has a slogan: "Here, you'll eat what we want to feed you." Paola Fazi — with a towel wrapped around her head turban-style — and her family serve up a five-course meal of typically Roman food, including wine, coffee, and a tasty mandarin juice finale. As many locals return every day, each evening features a different menu.
Osteria da Mario, a homey little mom-and-pop joint with a no-stress menu, serves traditional favorites in a fun dining room or on tables spilling out onto a picturesque old Roman square.
Ristorante Enoteca Corsi is a wine shop that grew into a thriving lunch-only restaurant. The Paiella family serves straightforward, traditional cuisine at great prices to an enthusiastic crowd of office workers. Check the blackboard for daily specials. Friendly Juliana, Claudia, and Manuela welcome diners to step into their wine shop and pick out a bottle. For the cheap take-away price plus €2, they'll uncork it at your table.
Rome's most famous and venerable ice-cream joint is a minute's walk in front of the Pantheon. Gelateria Caffè Pasticceria Giolitti is good, with low take-away prices and elegant Old World seating.