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Monday, July 13, 2009

Cheapest Restaurant in Rome

We happened upon the small restaurant da Giovanni one evening when we were staying around the corner from it at a friend's studio on the Lungotevere between Trastevere and the Vatican. "Oh, she said, you mean Rome's cheapest restaurant." And, so it has been forever designated in our list.

Billing itself as "Osteria con cucina," or an "osteria" (more on that later) "with kitchen", da Giovanni is very small - maybe 8 tables - and in the past two years has remodeled a tiny bit and raised its prices a tiny bit. But it still remains very inexpensive, true to the Roman cuisine and good. It won't compete with higher-end trattorias in Rome, but you're bound to find a good meal here for just a few Euro. In fact, the take-out pizzeria next door could cost you more.

Recently we had (as we always do) a pasta with red sauce - always good, if not exciting (pastas run Euro 3-4.50). And, as usual, we ordered the involtini - thinly sliced roasted veal rolled up with a filling of carrots and spices with a red sauce (Euro 5.00). This time the veal wasn't as tender as in the past, but it was still tasty. We saw fellow diners ordering the eggs with asparagus - a main course (!). The portions are not large (thankfully, in our opinion). There is a printed menu with English translation, but the best bet is the daily items that are on a handwritten part of the menu - in Italian only. Some of the other prices (all in Euros) are: soup 2.50, daily plates 4.50-6.00, fish 5.50-12 [I'm not sure we've ever seen anyone order the fish], roasts 4.50-5, sides 2-2.50, desserts (usually only fruit) 3, and wine 4.50 for .75 liter, bread 1. You can follow the advice of our then teen-age son in Prague in 1989 when he ordered the top 2 most expensive things on the menu and figured he'd do fine.

I concur with an Italian review: :"If you're looking for an elegant, romantic restaurant and for unusual recipes, don't come to da Giovanni. This is a restaurant for those who love true Roman cooking with a very low bill. The decor is basic with tables practically on top of each other. The primos are well prepared, and don't forget the main courses, obviously in the Roman culinary tradition."

You might have to fight a bit for a table at da Giovanni. It's popular with Italians. There are no reservations and no inside waiting area. But the service is at da Giovanni is quick. Go when the tourists ebb or the weather is nice and you don't mind waiting. Note: waiting on the street is somewhat hazardous - it's narrow and has traffic. Showing up about 7:15, before they open at 7:30 (promptly) is a way to get seated as well.

via Lungara 41A (near the Mazzini Bridge on the Trastevere/Vatican side of the Tiber), noon-3 p.m. and 7:30-10 p.m., closed Sundays

Competing with da Giovanni for cheapest restaurant is Trattoria Ada e Mario, described in Rome the Second Time, on pp. 211-12. It's in the Appio Latino area. Because it's off the tourist track, it doesn't get the same kind of traffic, but it's usually pretty hopping. Ada e Mario has a small outdoor patio in front as well (that's it, in the photo). It's not too far from San Giovanni in Laterano, if you're in that area.

For great food (dishes, restaurants, take-away), see Katie Parla's blog, - and photos that make you want to eat your monitor.

We welcome other candidates for "Cheapest Restaurant in Rome" - only criteria (in addition to low price): the food is cooked on premises and is good.

A P.S. on "osteria." An osteria at one time was a very cheap, plain pub-like drinking hole, the word deriving from "host" or "inn." We always thought of it as one step below a trattoria, which traditionally is one step below a "ristorante" or "restaurant." (Those of you who've read Rome the Second Time and the sidebar on "one glass trattorias" understand the distinction.) But Roman friends and we were lamenting together recently that very high class places now call themselves "osterias" because it's now considered chic. So goes the language.


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