Vegetarians and Artists Unite at Il Margutta

9 Jul

Il Margutta

Il Margutta was quite a discovery for me! This “RistorArte,” as it calls itself, is a restaurant specializing in vegetarian cuisine, with a great lunch buffet for €15. I tried it out last week with my artist friend Ele and I was not disappointed.


I had been hearing about this place for years, but for some reason hadn’t ever been there. In fact, they’ve been dishing up vegetarian fare since 1979, which is probably why they are so well-known.

Just a quick aside about my experiences with vegetarianism in Rome. Generally in Italy, I’d say it’s not too hard for vegetarians to manage, since there’s such a nice selection of fresh vegetable dishes and non-meat pasta dishes at most restaurants. However, I have to say that I’m always amused by some Italians’ concept of the definition of vegetarian. When I used to work with university students, we’d take them all out to eat on various excursions, and among the 80-100 of them there were usually 5-10 vegetarians. I’ll never forget the time when we had specifically requested vegetarian plates and they were served cannelloni with meat sauce.

“Where are the vegetarian cannelloni?” I asked.

“Those are,” was the reply from the waiter.

“But this is clearly meat sauce, so there must be some mistake,” respond I.

“Oh, but there’s just a little meat in it. We thought that was ok.”


This also has happened with broths and sauces where meat and bones are included in the cooking process and then removed before serving. So, depending on how “strict” of a vegetarian you are, it’s always best to double-check what your particular restaurant’s concept of “vegetarian” actually is, before digging in.

Which is why vegetarians in Rome are probably relieved to have a place like Il Margutta, where they don’t have to worry about having to explain what it all means. There’s a lovely buffet of, as they claim, over 50 dishes to choose from. It didn’t seem like that many to me, but in the end between soups, salads, veggies and desserts, there probably are. You only get one trip to the buffet so you’re instructed to “load up your plate.” Besides this mixed plate, you also get soup, fruit salad, desserts, bread, water, fruit juice, and espresso. Considering prices here in Rome, with pizza al taglio and a drink that could run you upwards of €8 in some places nowadays, this is a pretty good deal. As far as only getting one trip for the main buffet, actually it’s fine because like most things in Italy, we’re talking mainly about quality and not necessarily quantity… so don’t go expecting a stuff-your-face AYCE fest. The selection is good and the food is delish. The plate is a generous size and I wouldn’t have been able to go back for seconds anyways. In the photo below, you see about 1/3 of the buffet.


I really enjoyed this place and will definitely be going back. It’s very convenient for tourists as well because it’s tucked away on Via Margutta which is parallel to Via del Corso and not far from Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps… all places the average tourist is likely to visit and probably build up an appetite in the process. However the atmosphere inside is very low-key and laid back, so you won’t feel the tourist crunch. There were mainly locals there when I went, and a couple of tables of tourists who were obviously “in the know.”

Besides the buffet, you can also try various fixed-price degustazione menus (there’s also one for vegans) or order from the seasonal menu. The food they serve is almost entirely organic as well (70% of the menu items).

What I haven’t mentioned yet is the art component of the “ristorarte” concept. First of all, the furnishings and overall ambience is colorful, funky and hip.


The restaurant is like an art gallery and features various artists at different times. When I ate there last week, there was a show by Bob Marongiu, which I found really amusing. Think huge, cartoon-style paintings in bright colors using pop culture/icons like the Pope and the person you see below. Not giving any clues, but the first commenter to correctly identify said subject gets a gold star for current Italian pop culture knowledge. I recognized this person right off the bat and got a kick out of it. I couldn’t decide if I liked this one or the Benedetto with rosy pink cheeks the best.

Want to give it a guess? Check it out:


Il Margutta, Via Margutta 118


22 Responses to “Vegetarians and Artists Unite at Il Margutta”

  1. Giulia July 9, 2007 at 1:26 pm #

    Aaaaaagh, who is that?!! I think I know who the person in the other photo is (second one down) with the donkey and the sheep though. lol

  2. Shelley, At Home in Rome July 9, 2007 at 1:34 pm #

    Giulia: Hmmm… I hadn’t even noticed the person in the 2nd photo. A blonde woman… this narrows it down to … Michelle Hunziker? No idea. What’s your guess?

  3. Giulia July 9, 2007 at 1:37 pm #

    Yes, Michelle Hunziker was who I was thinking!

  4. Shelley, At Home in Rome July 9, 2007 at 1:43 pm #

    Giulia: Great minds think alike!

    And, in further gazing at the “mystery” painting… I saw something else that was hidden to me at first. Can anyone else spot the advertising going on in the background? Very tricky, people!

  5. Giulia July 9, 2007 at 1:47 pm #

    I see it…great… now I can’t get that “Fanta” song out of my head! lol

  6. Valerie July 9, 2007 at 2:05 pm #

    Looks fantastic! Regarding vegetarian dining, friends of mine ordered a vegetarian pasta dish that came out with pancetta in the sauce. When I pointed out, as you did, that there was meat in the sauce the waiter responded, “Oh no, signora. That’s not meat. That’s pancetta!” Yeah. Okay. 🙂

  7. Michelle July 9, 2007 at 2:18 pm #

    This is one of those places I’ve always wanted to try in Rome. Along with another vegetarian restaurant not far from the station in Rome that is supposed to be fantastic. Right now the name escapes me. As for the issue of asking for things “senza carne,” I think the problem is that “carne” is often interpreted as beef in Italian. So “senza carne” to some Italians can mean that prosciutto or pancetta is OK. The reasoning is “But it’s not beef!” Same goes for asking “senza formaggio” on your pizza. I’ve been told “It’s not cheese. It’s mozzarella.” Better to get specific!

  8. vegqueen July 9, 2007 at 2:27 pm #

    Margutta USED to be a great place, but in my opinion it has totally gone downhill in the last 6-8 years. Back in the day it cost something like 12,000 Lira for the lunch buffet which used to be a serious vegetarian buffet. What they offer now is more like the apertivo buffet you get for free when you buy a drink during happy hour.
    Sorry, but i find it ridiculously overpriced for mediocre-low quality food.
    You might want to try Arancia Blu Via dei Latini, 55/65 (not cheap but high-quality, creative food), or the vegetarian paradise Jaya Sai Ma (Sai Baba Cultural Center) Via A. Bargoni, 11-18 which is inexpensive and VERY good.

  9. vegqueen July 9, 2007 at 2:29 pm #

    ps- looks like lele mora to me!

  10. erin July 9, 2007 at 2:37 pm #

    YAY! Thanks so much for telling us about this place! I’m already trying to get a list of veg-friendly places to visit! Love the Fanta too

  11. Michelle July 9, 2007 at 2:59 pm #

    I think Arancia Blu (mentioned by VegQueen) is the place I was thinking about that is not far from Termini in Rome. In Milan there’s a place called Il Girasole near Cadorna that offers an organic vegetarian buffet. It’s not cheap (maybe 10 or 12 Euros but I think you CAN go back for seconds) but it’s definitely more creative than your typical aperativo buffet. And serious about the vegetarian factor. When I worked near Cadorna, I used to always get a “vaschetta” there to take away for 6 Euros and I thought that was a good deal. Just FYI for any veggies traveling to Milan.

  12. Shelley, At Home in Rome July 9, 2007 at 4:45 pm #

    Val: That’s the kind of thing I’ve seen happen before. I think it’s funny, but I know it’s not funny to vegetarians. Michelle’s advice to “get specific” is good.

    Michelle: Thanks for the tips! If anyone has experience in this department, it’s you!

    Vegqueen: Benvenuta! And thanks so much for sharing your experience/opinions. I had no points of comparison for this restaurant, but it sounds like your places might have more/better food at lower prices. Perhaps this place has become too trendy and rides on the success of its name.

    AND… drum roll please…. you get the gold star!

    Erin: Prego! If you try any of the places mentioned by Vegqueen, do a post and let me know about it.

    Michelle: Judging by the comments, maybe €15 isn’t such a great deal after all. However the prices in Rome for eating out have gone crazy, so I think I’m losing all sense of comparison. €6 sounds like a great deal.

  13. nyc/caribbean ragazza July 9, 2007 at 4:45 pm #

    Pancetta is okay for vegertarians? LOL

    Hard core Vegans must have a tough time in Italy, huh?

  14. kataroma July 9, 2007 at 5:07 pm #

    I haven’t been to La Margutta myself but we sent some Indian vegetarian B&B guests there recently and they loved it. I love Arancia Blu in San Lorenzo though. Really great, creative food and a fabulous wine selection which even includes some decent Australian wines (I had the Wirra Wirra cabernet sauvignon!) Also, not far from my house which is always good.

  15. Sierra July 9, 2007 at 6:18 pm #

    I had encountered the same problem while travelling through Italy. I asked for vegetarian dishes but usually there was some kind of meat in there. After a while I just decided to go with it and not make a big issue out of it. I suffered no ill effects and got back on track once I got home.

  16. jessica in rome July 9, 2007 at 6:27 pm #

    I was going to guess Gerry Scotti the Italian Who Wants to be a Millionaire guy, but it does look more like Lele now that you mention it. Great post!

  17. rachael July 9, 2007 at 7:18 pm #

    I’ve no idea who it is, but love the fanta elephant!

  18. Jul July 9, 2007 at 10:22 pm #

    Oh yum!

    I was lucky when we lived in Milan and never got served meat bits – I think they have a better sense of what ‘vegetarian’ really means there. Germans seem to love to try to serve speck to vegetarians, though. What’s up with that?

  19. christina July 10, 2007 at 9:30 am #

    Heh. Same thing in Germany with “vegetarian” dishes. I heard of someone who ordered soup, being assured it was vegetarian and it arrived with bits of bacon floating around in it. “Oh, that’s just to give it some flavour!” the waiter said. 🙂

  20. Enthusia July 10, 2007 at 5:14 pm #

    lol–your intro reminded me of that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where they’re talking about someone being a vegetarian, and they say, “What you mean, you don’t eatta meat? No matter, I make-ah lamb!” my family is filipino and is the same exact way with seafood.

  21. james February 23, 2009 at 4:27 pm #

    No one has mentioned my favorite near the Gesu and Victor Emanual, BIBLOTHE Yummmmmmmmmm

  22. Anon October 10, 2013 at 2:43 am #

    I’ll say, this restaurant was one of mine and my husband’s few disappointments on our trip to Rome last year. We were so excited to try an entire vegetarian/vegan restaurant (we’re both vegetarians), and the food was just…boring. We were really sad, because we’d budgeted it as our splash-out’ meal in Rome for dinner, and it was absolutely forgettable.

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