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Autogrill's Ciao Ristorante

Autogrill is an Italian company that is best known for its snack bars and fast-food restaurants along Italy's autostrade or motorways. It also operates airport snack bars, Burger Kings, Spizzico pizza parlors, and hundreds of other foodservice locations throughout Italy.

My own favorite Autogrill brand is Ciao Ristorante, a chain of self-service restaurants with some 170 branches in Italy--including airports, autostrade, railway stations, and downtown shopping districts.

Ciao Ristorante in Rome Termini Station

ABOVE: The Ciao Ristorante in Stazione Termini is up a flight of stairs. Look for a sign just beyond the station's ticketing lobby.

In Rome, I've eaten at three Ciao locations: in Termini Station, on the Via del Corso, and at Fiumicino Airport. All three restaurants have offered decent food and great value. Here's a sample dinner tray from the Ciao Ristorante at Termini Station, where I dined several times on a recent solo trip to Rome:

Dinner at Ciao Ristorante in Termini Station

The dinner above (three types of pasta, a large salad with mozzarella, a roll, a slice of torta della nonna, and a large bottle of San Pellegrino water) cost just over 11 euros, which is a bargain by Rome's standards. But for me, the real benefit of having dinner at Autogrill was avoiding the depressing experience of eating alone in a sit-down restaurant with table service.

What to expect at Ciao Ristorante

Ciao Ristorante is what Americans would call a "cafeteria." (In Italy, the word "cafeteria" has a different meaning than it does in some other countries, so we'll stick with the Italian term "self-service" in this article.) It's designed with a "free-flow" configuration, which means that you can wander freely between different islands or stations (pastas, meats, salads, desserts, drinks, etc.) until you're ready to leave the food area via the check-out line.

If you're on a tight budget, the pasta island is the place to go: On a typical day, Ciao has several different pasta options, ranging from inexpensive primi piatti (first courses) to pasta platters that combine several types of noodles and toppings.

If you're hungry and can afford to spend a few more euros, head for the meat, poultry, and fish station, where you can get anything from a "Mega Schnitzel" with potatoes to a freshly-cooked veal cutlet or chicken breast.

Ciao Ristorante's salads are excellent, and the baked desserts are even better: I've had slices of flourless chocolate cake and torta della nonna that were the equal of tortes in far more expensive restaurants. (If you're wandering past a Ciao Ristorante in the late afternoon, you might want to stop in for a slice of cake with coffee.)

More tips:

  • At Ciao Ristorante's meat and vegetable station, skip the baked fish and other steam-table items unless your tastes were formed in a school cafeteria. Instead, choose an item that's cooked to order.

  • Try the regional specialties that Ciao Ristorante features every day. (These are often advertised on a sign or placard by the restaurant's entrance.)

  • If you're catching a morning flight at Fiumicino Airport, the Ciao Ristorante in Terminal 3 (formerly Terminal B) is a convenient place for breakfast. It's less crowded and frantic than the airport's stand-up bars tend to be, and you can assemble your own a la carte breakfast from fresh fruit and other items as well as the usual coffee and croissants.

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