You Should Probably Eat Pizza in Rome
Updated: Nov 28, 2018
One of the greatest things about being in Italy is that it feels socially acceptable - even advisable - to eat pizza several times a week. (To be one hundred percent honest, there was one day when I realized I’d eaten pizza for all three meals. This felt extreme.) As a result, it’s easy to start to get to know Rome’s pizza scene if you’ve been here for just a few weeks.
Rome has two types of pizza. One is the personal pizza, which - when done well - is super thin, crispy or even charred around the edges, with evenly spread ingredients. It’s round and more similar in shape to the pizza you get elsewhere in Italy as you go north, but thinner. The other type is pizza al taglio, which are these giant (they can be 5ft long coming out of the oven) focaccia-like pies that are shaped like long rounded rectangles. The toppings are sometimes covering the pizza and sometimes seem more like they’ve been sprinkled on top. The toppings are important in this pizza, but it’s really about the dough. It’s thick, chewy, ideally crispy at the edges. You order this pizza by weight, so you sort of point and say “piu grande” or “piu piccolo” and arrive at the right size.
Both types of pizza are great but they are very different experiences. Pizza a taglio is kind of like eating an open faced sandwich. In fact when we were in Prelibato an Italian woman came in, ordered a small piece to eat as she walked, and the woman behind the counter folded it and wrapped it so that it looked like she was headed out the door with not a slice of pizza but a panino. Pizza from these places is warmed up for you, but nominally. You’re eating a room temperature slice, no melty cheese. Also a surprising number of pizza a taglio pies don’t have tomato sauce. Some pizza a taglio places have seating, but plenty just have some counter spots to perch at while you chomp through your square slices before you head on your way. You can see where the New York pizzeria experience came from, even if the pizza style is totally different.
The thin crust personal pies are served in sit down pizzerias. It seems you can order these pies to go, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the restaurant (we only discovered this by watching someone pick up a stack of pizzas as we paid our bill one evening). Honestly though with this super thin crust, you’d want to eat it in the restaurant, immediately. I am partial to this pizza experience. The flavors are so good. The pizza is hot, the cheese is melty, and it’s all made to order and brought to your table right out of the oven. Yum.
Here are some of our favorite spots in Rome.
A neighborhood place in Testaccio (just across the bridge from Trastevere) where the people at the tables around you are very likely to all be Italian. The pizza is super thin and the flavors are impeccable. Savory sausage, spicy salami, peppery arugula, and perfectly poached eggs. But I almost wished I had ordered the margherita because the cheese/sauce/crust combo was so delicious.
I’d say the pizza is a tad bit better than Il Grottino’s but since this place is a bit of a destination the service is a bit more gruff. The place is larger and they pack people in. They seem to be kind to the neighborhood folks including little old Italian ladies ordering pizzas to go and couples who joke with the waiter and then order off menu, but they’re more indifferent to the tourists. The pizza is thin, crisp, and the flavors are awesome, but for overall experience I’d trade the slightly better pizza for the much better experience of Il Grottino.
Another major destination spot in Trastevere, they often have a wait for tables that line Viale di Trastevere -- though sometimes you can skip it if you don’t mind sitting inside, and since it’s on a busy street with traffic and trams, and the place is named for the marble slabs for tables inside anyway, this is not a bad option. You can tell they are used to a busy night because they store the menus in the spokes of the sidewalk umbrellas so there’s always one nearby. The pizza is excellent, though a notch below the Testaccio options on this list (Il Grottino and Da Remo). A real advantage is they open earlier than most other dinner options (630pm) so if you have a tired kid or sight-saw through lunch, it’s handy for that. Either way the fact that the house wine only comes in a 1 liter option and is €9 means you’re bound to have a good time.
Get the Red Cow Margherita pizza. (This is actually a cheese that will factor into our trip later on when we visit the Red Cow Consortium in Emilia-Romagna, though we didn’t know that at the time.) The crust is crispy and flavorful, the cheese is plentiful (not always true for thin crust pizzas), and the flavors are bold. There’s a little outdoor seating area on a quiet piazza. We went at the end of the lunch hours after the rush and the service was quick. Turns out this place is part of the Roscioli empire (see below) so I guess it’s no surprise that we loved it!
La Pizza at Mercato Centrale
If you find yourself taking the train into or out of Rome or sightseeing in the neighborhood, leave some extra time for a trip to Mercato Centrale at Termini Station. The haute food court style set up has a variety of different offerings, but only one of each type. We went for the pizza because it was Neopolitan style and we’d just nixed the idea of an overnight trip to Naples (going to Termini for pizza seemed slightly easier than going to Termini to catch a 2h train to go to Naples for pizza). The pie was really a perfect version of itself, and the doughy, chewy crust was a nice change from the Roman style pizzas we’d been eating.
And for pizza a taglio:
Yes it’s touristy, but Roscioli is one of our favorite places in Rome generally, as they have incredible baked goods and prepared foods. The pizza al taglio is just one of the things on the list of things they do well. They tend to have lots of mixed meat and veggie options like salsiccia e cavolo (cabbage) which was surprisingly awesome. (Cabbage appears to be in season these days, we’re eating a lot of it!) There are a few spots to perch inside and outside, or get it to go and bring it home for later. If you have a piccola, like WP, hope they haven’t run out of their pizzette piccole, tiny rounds of pizza dough. The man helping us when we first went there spotted WP in her carrier and handed her one, and the child held onto it like it was gold the whole 30min walk home, taking careful bites until it was gone. She has never held onto another piece of food (or anything?) for more than about 20sec so that was quite a testimony.
I was sort of losing interest in the ubiquitous pizza al taglio after having some mediocre ones but then we went to Prelibato. It was incredible. The bread is just amazing, perfectly cooked, and super high quality toppings. There are only three seats so you may have to get it to go, and it doesn’t appear to be near much else, but if you feel like a pizza pilgrimage, this place is for you. Pick up a fruit tart or some of the other baked goods while you’re there.
Pizza In (or, like, whatever is near you)
It might not be awesome, but having a solid pizza a taglio place near you is key, because they generally open early and serve late, and so if you miss the lunchtime window it’s a great place to get an off-schedule meal. We picked up pizza a taglio from Pizza In our first night in Rome after flying in from San Francisco and getting to our apartment at 830pm and I was totally thrilled to have this place a 2min walk away. These places also generally have a pasta or two and a veggie or two that you can add on as a side. Quick, easy, done.