Of all the things I expected to learn on my trip, learning where to get the best coffee and gelato in Rome never entered my plans. But there I was in Rome with an expert local guide (Vanessa Barg of Gnosis Chocolate) and that is exactly what I discovered. The New York Times recently also bestowed the best coffee on this place - saying that it might just be the most expensive in the world - when you add in the cost of the flight - and it would be worth it.
Near the Pantheon on the Piazza Sant'Eustachio is il Caffe Sant'Eustachio. There you will find what many believe to be the best coffee (espresso) in all of Rome. What makes it so? First - you are in Rome. Second is the presentation. Third is the price (only 1 Euro - about $1.50). Finally there is the coffee itself - deep, rich, and fragrant without being bitter with a crema
that has to be experienced to be believed. Light and airy and a lot of it. They "regular" way of serving is with sugar and that is how I recommend you take yours first. Later you may try without sugar, but first try it the way they recommend you drink it.
The other important thing to know about ordering coffee at Sant'Eustachio (and, in fact, ordering just about any food or beverage in any location other than a sit-down restaurant) is that you queue up to pay first, and then present your receipt at the counter where they will make up your order.
The entrance signs for Sant'Eustachio lighted at night
The presentation of the coffee at Sant'Eustachio
Now because I was with a local guide whose family frequented the place regularly, I was invited to have one of those wonderful experiences that make any trip extra special. We were invited into the back to see the roaster - a wood-fired roaster. No roasting was going on that day but we got to see the roaster and some of the beans up close.
Two shots of the wood-fired roaster at Sant'Eustachio
View Google Map for location of Sant'Eustachio
This is the obligatory tourist shot of me in front of the Pantheon
It turns out that the best gelato in Rome is also not far from the Pantheon. Now, while I can tell you how to get from the Pantheon to il caffe Sant Eustachio, I can't tell you how to get to Giolitti. It is very close to the Pantheon and if we were to meet out front I would be able to guide you there. (Anyone who is interested in having me personally escort them in Rome for this culinary adventure - contact me privately.)
What makes Giolitti so special? Everything, actually. Not just the gelatao - which is phenomenal. The shop itself is inviting and warm, the selection of flavors tremendous, the price is affordable, and did I mention the creme chantilly? Wow. You can select from several sizes of cones and cups and to eat in or take out. All but the smallest cone allows you to select two or more different flavors. This is the hardest part of going to Giolitti - selecting flavors. The best approach seems to be themed - there are several different nut flavors (including gianduja/hazelnut, noccio/walnut), several different chocolates, at least two different coffees, and dozens of fruits. I chose gianduja, dark chocolate fondente, and espresso. This was topped with a dense yet ethereally light cloud of whipped cream unlike any other I have ever tasted. The only disappointment was the cone itself. I had the medium size (three flavors) and the cone was pedestrian and covered in a chocolate-like substance that was almost certainly a compound coating. Don't eat the medium cone dipped in "chocolate." The small cone was very good, however.
The gelato selection at Giolitti
From a dining perspective I can also recommend the restaurant Giogetto in the old Jewish quarter of Rome, just next to the Tiber river. One of the specialties of Giogetto is artichokes, and our dinner included stuffed squash blossoms (with fresh mozzarella and anchovy), a whole artichoke deep fried, and pasta with - you guessed it, artichokes in an olive oil and garlic sauce. A little salad and a bottle of the house red. Heaven.
My dinner setting at Giogetto - artichoke, squash blossom, plate, and wine glass