Italy’s Next Best Dining Destination? Roadside Rest Stops

Dozens of new Alt Stazione del Gusto restaurants are being planned along Italian roadways—with a menu by famed Italian chef Niko Romito, who has several Michelin-starred restaurants to his name.

The counter area and table at Alt Stazione del Gusto in Rome

The hip Alt Stazione del Gusto in Rome is a far cry from roadside snack stands of yore.

Photo by Erica Firpo

Elevated cuisine that’s much tastier and healthier than your standard rest stop snacks is coming to Italy’s autostrade (highways). This fall, Enilive, an Italian sustainable energy company, and acclaimed chef Niko Romito (the name behind multiple Michelin-starred restaurants) partnered to launch the gourmet Alt Stazione del Gusto in Rome. Roughly translated to “taste station,” Alt is an electric vehicle charging station with culinary acumen and a bit of cinematic flair, something that could only be dreamed up in the bel paese.

Located in Rome’s EUR district, six miles south of the city center, the neighborhood is an enclave of 1930s rationalist architecture that is nothing like the baroque Rome most visitors know. (It was originally planned as a “new Rome” for the scrapped 1942 World’s Fair.) Alt’s 1950s retro-style drive-in diner motif fits perfectly into the dramatic lines of the stark ’30s architecture here. More futuristic are the Teslas, Taycans, Q8s, and Fiat500es lined up in the parking lot flanked by Enilive charging stations—while they charge, their owners can head inside for Romito’s iconic and award-winning bomba.

A paper-wrapped bomba on a white plate at an Alt Stazione outpost

Chef Niko Romito’s famed bombe are available both as sweet and savory options at Alt Stazione outposts.

Photo by Erica Firpo

Why a bomba? Romito’s revamp of the classic fried dough ball is literally the bomb, in the very best way. Romito, an introspective chef who waxes philosophical about food and recipes, is laser focused on healthy eating. To create the perfect bomba, he spent years researching flour and yeast, and experimenting with bread making and frying to develop a healthier bomba, one that incorporates extra-virgin olive oil and cocoa butter instead of lard. Filled with sweet cream and dusted with powdered sugar, Romito’s bombe (plural for bomba) are light and transcending. But up until recently, the only way to enjoy one was to visit Reale, Romito’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Castel di Sangro in central Italy’s Abruzzo region, or one of his signature restaurants in the Bulgari Hotels (in Paris, Tokyo, Dubai, Rome, and Shanghai), or to wait for a pop-up. Now Romito’s taken bombe on the road.

Alt is next level. Along with the sweet dough balls, the diner’s menu includes pasta, toasts, savory sandwich versions of the bomba stuffed with succulent pork and house-made mustard, and Romito’s signature fried chicken. “I wanted to use the concept of whole fried chicken but working first and foremost with steam cooking. So I really respect the raw material and made this very light frying where there’s no type of breading at all,” explains Romito in a phone interview.

View from parking lot of an Alt Stazione del Gusto roadside restaurant in Rome

The plan is to open 100 Alt Stazione del Gusto restaurants along Italian roadways over the next four years.

Photo by Erica Firpo

Sustainability is also part of Alt’s menu. Every detail has been optimized for efficiency. Along with electric charging stations, the diner takes an eco-conscious approach with the help of Enilive. Solar panels produce the majority of Alt’s energy, and there are air and water filtration and recycling systems in place. In the kitchen, Romito follows standardized practices to ensure quality, which includes the bombe—they are crafted in Romito’s lab in Abruzzo, frozen, and transported to Alt, where they are heated and filled upon customer request, instead of sitting out on a counter all day.

“My goal is to offer something that is simple and upholds quality in taste and health,” says Romito.

Additionally, Alt’s staff is made up of students trained at the Accademia Niko Romito, the chef’s vocational culinary school. With a pay-it-forward ideology, Romito’s team will then train the next generation of Alt staffers.

The new Alt Stazione del Gusto in Rome is now open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and it will soon be joined by additional Alt Stazione del Gusto outposts on all of Italy’s autostrade, with a plan to open 100 restaurants over the next four years. Expect new venues to begin opening in 2024, starting in major cities in Italy—though no specifics yet on exactly which destinations will be next. Those looking for an Alt experience outside of Rome can find two stand-alone Alt diners (minus the charging stations) in Castel di Sangro about 125 miles east of Rome and in Montesilvano, on the eastern coast of the country.

Erica Firpo is a journalist with a passion for art, culture, travel, and lifestyle. She has written and edited more than 20 books, and her travel writing has appeared in Yahoo Travel, Discovery Magazine, BBC Travel, the New York Times, Travel + Leisure, Fathom, Forbes Travel, and Huffington Post.
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