The Best Places To Go In Italy For A Quick, Cheap, And Tasty Lunch, Per Rick Steves

Italy's culinary landscape doesn't begin and end with upscale trattorias marinating pasta in a cheese wheel. The cuisine in this European country might be some of the best around the globe, but it's also available for an affordable price — if you know where to look. White tablecloths and meticulously attired servers don't always dictate quality cuisine, and you can still indulge in the seasonal flavors and local delicacies on a budget at the corner side deli or delicatessen. European travel expert Rick Steves has curated a systemized method for scoping out the freshest finds in the streets of Italy that are quick, affordable, and will most likely be the most exquisite examples of authentic Italian fare sampled by visitors. 

There's a time and a place for lunch at an elegant bistro, but it's also incredibly convenient to have the option of snatching a little of this and that from local markets to curate the perfect picnic spread for lunch — not to mention it's a budget-saving hack that will positively impact your bank account. There are a few rules Steves tends to follow when perusing the streets of Italy in search of a fresh, quality, and affordable option for lunch. The best part about Italy's food scene is you're guaranteed seasonal, homemade delicacies, even without splurging on a five-course meal. From neighborhood markets and rustic pizzerias to picnic lunches in front of the Trevi Fountain, there's more than one way to eat your way through this food-loving European country.

The budget-friendly guide to eating right in Italy

Italy has countless ways of showcasing its globally adored cuisine, many of which require little more than a few euros from your back pocket. According to Steves, the Italian equivalent of an American deli is a traveler's best friend for eating in Italy on a tight budget. In Italy, this sometimes means visiting a rosticceria, a high-quality type of fast food, with hot and cold meals ranging from pasta to roasted meats. A tavola calda is another of Steves's favorite local lunch gems. The on-the-go alternative to bustling sit-down restaurants, a tavola calda is essentially a "hot table" of meats and veggies displayed in a buffet-style arrangement. Hot dishes like pasta, vegetables, fish, and pasta are all pre-cooked for customers. The prices might be lower at these local establishments, but they never sacrifice quality. 

Of course, you can never go wrong with the classic picnic spread that never goes out of style. Visit your local alimentari (neighborhood grocer), which goes hand in hand with Italy's tavola calda. These quick counters specialize in a delicious medley of customized sandwiches, as well as an assortment of kitchen staples, like regional cheese, olive oil, bread, and cured meat. Steves suggests trying a little of everything from these local vendors to create an elevated version of a lunch box. Pizza rusticas or a paninoteche (sandwich shop) are a few of his other top picks for an affordable and healthy lunch on the go. 

Budget-friendly places to seek out in Italy

The hardest part of planning a trip to Italy? The ratio of time to quality restaurants just doesn't align. With thousands of innovative culinary establishments spread across this boot-shaped country, it is impossible to try them all, even after several visits to Il Bel Paese. However, there are some that deserve a front-row spot on a food lover's bucket list and should earn top ratings based on quality and affordability. Schiaccia Passera specializes in one of Florence's most famous on-the-go lunch items: the panini. This delicatessen even earned itself a shoutout from the New York Times, which recommends customers try the signature La Passera and the veggie-based La Chiavi — both served on Tuscany's famous schiacciata bread. Custom, made-to-order paninis are also available for those who are picky with their sandwich fillings. Best of all, you can try either for under 10 euros. 

Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina is another non-negotiable wedged in the streets of Rome. This family-owned Eternal City staple has made a name for itself as a must-visit destination for cheese lovers thanks to its thousands of cheese varieties and cold cuts. Customers receive the best of both worlds at this local salumeria that doubles as a wine shop, kitchen, and bakery. A few selections of cold cuts and cave-aged cheeses from the deli section paired with the artisan breads displayed in the window front are all it takes to create the lunch spread of your life.