Let me preface this by saying I am in no way, shape, or form a gourmet. Being from Thailand, I have also not fallen head over heels in love with Italian cuisine (*gasp* No!! How can you not like pasta? It's like noodles).
Don't get me wrong, I like the food here. I AM head over heels in love with the fresh fruits and vegetables. I can also, very happily, subsist on prosciutto, bresaola, tomatoes, and cucumbers (aka my at-home lunch).
Perhaps because I can get affettati (cold cuts) on the cheap and gorge on seasonal fruit (currently, peaches and strawberries), I am somewhat stingy with my "eating out" budget. The average per-head for a mid-range restaurant here is 30-40 €, so the cost of each leap of faith is on the high side. As such, I've gravitated toward il cibo di strada (street food).
Here are my 3 go-to places (the few dining establishments in Rome I've revisited on a semi-regular basis).
Alright, I know this place isn't exactly on the Spanish Steps (where I make a point not to eat). Both locations are a bit out of the way, where selfie sticks are nowhere to be found. However, it is totally worth making a trip.
Even though I'm a pretty adventurous eater, I cannot finish a whole plate of trippa alla romana (yes, trippa is tripe) or lingua in salsa verde (and lingua is tongue). I need to be initiated to such delicacies in small portions, which makes Trapizzino's formula pretty darn perfect.
Onto a very delicious triangular-shaped hunk of pizza bianca (aka bread), these guys dollop "traditional roman cuisine." The flavors range from plain old sausage or chicken, to squid and innards. On stock is also a very decent selection of birra artigianale (artisan beer). Although there's seldom an available chair to sit on, the food is definitely worth it.
By the way, you can always combine a stop at Trapizzino with other activities. Ponte Milvio has a flea market on the first Sunday of every month, and the covered market in Testaccio is always worth a look-see (wine, cold cuts, cheap shoes–there's something for everyone). Once you've pre-burned the calories, you can refuel guilt-free for around 10€ (+/- 5€, depending on how many you can eat).
This humble joint seems to be a lunch-time go-to place for many an office worker bee. At a little less than 5€ a slice, these thin-crust pizza al taglio are hard to beat.
Yes, you'll have to eat on the sidewalk.
Yes, you'll have to wait in line.
People do it anyway, and despite the ominous-looking wait, they work so fast you'll be filling your stomach in no time. Though not exactly in the historic center, they are central enough and easily reachable via public transport.
Once you're done, head around the corner to Come il Latte, and finish off your meal with some gelato.
While I'm not too fond of their name, I am a huge fan of their pizza, especially when I've got the urge to forsake the super-duper-thin-crust roman-style pizza found everywhere else (aka the type you'll find at Pinsere). When pizza is one's main snack food, it helps to differentiate.
Though not as thick as pizza napoletana, the fluffy-crust pizza as StrEATart is very easy on the jaw, and their toppings are definitely different from what one finds elsewhere (I recommend the Rucola e Porcini...given, one can never go wrong with porcini mushrooms.)
Okay, I admit, they made the list mainly because they're around the corner from my house, on Piazza Buenos Aires (where there is both a convenient Taxi stand, and a not-so convenient bus and tram stop). Nearby are the mid-end shopping establishments on Via Po, where you can find made-to-order shirts, a shop dedicated to olive oil, a fresh pasta shop, several butchers, and a bunch of decent cafes.
Via Po is also a reasonably short walk from Villa Borghese (the museum within which is a must-see for Art History fans).
So there you have it, the very few pearls of wisdom I've gleaned over the past few months. Do you have a favorite (cheap) place to eat in Rome? Let me know in the comments!