A Culinary Conquest: What to Eat in Rome, Italy
Photo By: unknown
Photo By: unknown
Photo By: unknown
Photo By: Andrea Di Lorenzo ©www.andreadilorenzo.it
Photo By: unknown
Eating Your Way Through the Eternal City
Every visit to the Italian capital should include long, wine-fueled meals that celebrate the city’s specialties, like guanciale-laced pastas, simmered meats and sauteed vegetables. But Rome’s food culture has changed over the past decade as new dining formats and street-food inventions have emerged to deliver local flavors in inventive ways. The city’s best bites no longer reside exclusively within the walls of historic trattorias, but are also found in wine bars, cafes, bakeries and market stalls. Here are some of the best of Rome’s edible offerings.
Chefs Francesca Barreca and Marco Baccanelli have created a destination restaurant in the Centocelle district on Rome’s eastern periphery, drawing diners from across the capital to taste their updated versions of Roman comfort food. Blending local ingredients and modern techniques, Barreca and Baccanelli create new classics like oxtail terrine and fried tripe for innovative dishes that fit perfectly into their Roman context without feeling forced or tedious.
Go to: Mazzo
For nearly four decades, La Tradizione, near the Vatican, has amassed one of the city’s finest collections of artisanal cheeses, cured meats and marinated fish, all sold to take away. In early 2016, the beloved gourmet shop’s owners opened a wine bar and restaurant a couple of blocks away in order to offer guests the full range of their deli selection, as well as classic pastas like cacio e pepe and seasonal desserts, served at lunch, aperitivo (a low-key, pre-dinner happy hour of sorts) and dinner.
Go to: Secondo Tradizione
Flavio al Velavevodetto
Flavio De Maio’s passion for cooking pulled him away from a career in computer programming and into the kitchens of Testaccio, a neighborhood in Rome where the cuisine is dominated by offal and the cheapest cuts of meat. De Maio’s food, which is served in cavernous dining rooms and outdoor terraces built into an ancient ruin, sticks close to the local traditions and is mostly meaty (the restaurant raises its own cows and lambs). Start with guanciale-based pastas like carbonara and amatriciana, but save room for the braised oxtail and the fried lamb chops.
Go to: Flavio al Velavevodetto
Though its kitchen is far from kosher — all of Rome’s cured-pork-laced pastas appear on the menu — Piperno is well-known for its cucina ebraica, Roman Jewish classics, like carciofi alla giudia (fried local artichokes) and tortino di alici ed indivia (anchovy and endive casserole). When the weather is warm, Piperno’s patio is a lovely and rather secluded place to eat, tucked away in a charming piazza on the edge of the Jewish Ghetto near the Tiber River.
Go to: Piperno
Gabriele Bonci, a former chef, launched himself into baking at a young age, but only began following his true passion with the opening of Pizzarium in 2004. This 500-square-foot shop serves Rome’s ubiquitous street foods, including pizza by the slice and supplì — rice croquettes that Bonci has elevated to an art form through the use of exquisite artisan flours and other top-notch ingredients. Most of the menu changes to reflect the seasons and the whims of the kitchen, but you’ll always find a handful of classic pizza toppings like potato with mozzarella, and tomato with oregano.
Go to: Pizzarium
Pizzeria Emma elevates the thin-crusted Roman-style pizza to a gourmet level with prestigious flours, long fermentation and high-quality toppings from Italy and Spain. Try the pata negra pizza topped with hand-sliced Spanish ham, or the Napoli, a margherita pizza spiked with Sicilian anchovies. The menu also includes salads, cheese plates and pasta dishes, as well as fried starters.
Go to: Pizzeria Emma
This two-room trattoria in the San Lorenzo district opened in 1991, but it feels like it has been there for generations. The well-loved, family-run operation serves two regional cuisines: meaty Roman classics like simmered oxtail, and seafood dishes like rice, potato and mussel casserole from southern Italy’s Puglia region. The wine list highlights organic and natural producers from Italy.
Go to: Tram Tram
With more than 2,500 gelato shops in Rome, the sheer range of choices can be overwhelming. But there is a handful of gelaterie that rise far above the rest. At Otaleg, Marco Radicioni and his team use exclusively natural ingredients in their artisanal gelato and sorbet — a surprising rarity in Rome these days — which they churn in full view of their customers for ultimate transparency. In classic Roman style, small cups include two scoops, so pair classics like zabaione and dark chocolate or venture into creative territory with flavors like hazelnut-Gorgonzola or vanilla-ginger.
Go to: Otaleg
When it opened more than a decade ago in Rome’s historic center, Salumeria Roscioli introduced a new dining format to the Italian capital: the wine bar-restaurant-gourmet shop combo. The dining rooms, spread over two floors, serve the same cheeses and cured meats displayed at the deli counter near the entrance, as well as delectable pastas from the canon of Roman classics: cacio e pepe, gricia, carbonara and amatriciana. Thanks to its location, Roscioli isn’t exactly a well-kept secret, so book well in advance.
Go to: Salumeria Roscioli
Shortly after opening in the posh Parioli district, Metamorfosi was awarded one Michelin star for its modern cuisine and professional service. Although the menu draws on some Italian concepts, Colombian chef Roy Caceres and his internationally trained kitchen crew aren’t confined to local flavors, often looking to Scandinavia, South America and Japan for techniques and inspiration. Opt for the tasting menu to experience the restaurant’s greatest hits, like a deconstructed carbonara, and innovative dishes like sweet red shrimp with tart green strawberries.
Go to: Metamorfosi
The Roscioli family established themselves as master bakers in central Rome more than four decades ago, earning a loyal following at their eponymous bakery, Antico Forno Roscioli, and a popular salumeria. In early 2016, the family inaugurated their first cafe, which serves breakfast pastries, sweets and coffee in the front and a more ample menu in the back, featuring cheeses, cured meats, club sandwiches and a handful of pasta dishes. In the evening, the back room becomes a craft-cocktail bar.
Go to: Roscioli Caffè
Agaveria La Punta
Opened by the team behind popular cocktail bars The Jerry Thomas Project and Freni & Frizioni, this mezcal-centric bar celebrates the flavors of Mexico. While smoky mezcal — not to mention the bar’s tacos and tostadas — isn’t particularly Roman, Agaveria La Punta harmonizes local ingredients with imported spirits to create drinks that feel quite at home in this corner of Trastevere.
Go to: Agaveria La Punta
Celebrity baker Gabriele Bonci followed up on the success of his landmark pizza-by-the-slice joint with an eponymous bakery that sells sweet and savory classics from his native Rome: cornetti (flaky breakfast pastries), crostate (jam tarts), bread loaves and flatbreads filled with sliced meats. Place your order at the counter and ask for your items da portare via (to take away), or take your tray outside for a Roman-style snack on the fly. The pizza con mortadella (mortadella served on the local flatbread) and pollo arrosto (roast chicken) are nearly mandatory.
Go to: Panificio Bonci
The Jerry Thomas Project
In spite of its size — only around 30 seats in a cramped ground-floor room — The Jerry Thomas Project has influenced the way young people perceive and consume Italian spirits and cocktails throughout Rome and the world. The menu at this pioneering speakeasy-style lounge celebrates Italian flavors with classic cocktails like the signature Negroni made with the house’s own brand of gin. To snag a space, book ahead and be sure to visit the Jerry Thomas Project website for a password clue, which you’ll be asked for before being admitted.
Terre e Domus
Positioned in a pair of light-filled dining rooms overlooking Piazza Venezia and the Imperial Fora, Terre e Domus is a celebration of hyperlocal flavors. A joint venture between Chef Marco Pasquali and the Provinicia di Roma (Roman province), Terre e Domus serves only dishes made with ingredients culled from Rome and its environs. Even the water and wine come from near Rome. Look for local specialties like vignarola (a seasonal stew of artichokes, peas, lettuce and favas), cacio e pepe (pasta dressed with a Pecorino Romano and black pepper sauce), and abbacchio fritto (fried suckling lamb).
Go to: Terre e Domus
Stefano Callegari, one of Rome’s top street-food innovators, invented trapizzini in 2009. For these innovative sandwiches, Callegari fills triangular slices of pizza bianca, the city’s unique flatbread, with Roman and Italian classics like braised oxtail, tripe simmered in tomato sauce, tongue with garlic-parsley sauce and chicken cacciatore. Callegari’s invention has been such a hit that the Testaccio flagship has been joined by locations in Ponte Milvio and Piazza Cavour, with plans for further expansion in Italy and abroad.
Go to: Trapizzino
Opened in the residential district of Monteverde in 2014, this cafe and wine bar instantly became a point of reference for serious wine drinkers eager for bottles from small producers from Italy and France. The ever-changing wine list embraces natural wines and reflects the owners’ dedication to pouring vino made with the least amount of human and chemical intervention — and lowest environmental impact — possible. There is a small but well-curated list of Italian cocktails made with small-batch liquors, and the food menu features salads, carpaccio, cheeses, cured meats, pastas and plenty of vegetarian options.
Photography courtesy of Andrea De Lorenzo
Go to: Litro
Part cultural center and part restaurant, Doozo hosts art exhibits, lectures and a shop in its dining rooms on the edge of Monti. The lunch menu features combination menus aimed at local businesspeople in pursuit of a quick and economical lunch — a limited sushi selection, a few tempura options and a handful of soups are served at midday — while the dinner menu offers a vast selection of sushi, soba and udon as well as seasonal tasting menus. There’s a lovely garden in the back for alfresco dining.
Go to: Doozo
Italy’s early 20th-century colonial ambitions immersed the country in East Africa. As a result, the Ethiopian community in Rome is well-established and thriving. Though many restaurants serving Ethiopian food fall into the familiar trap of diluting flavors to please the Roman palate, Chef Kuki Tadese of Mesob doesn’t shy away from spices and heat in her excellent and economical vegetable, chicken and meat stews. Mesob’s dishes are served on housemade injera, a tangy, spongy sourdough flatbread, atop communal platters that promote sharing.
Go to: Mesob
Pizza may be Italy’s most-famous export, but Rome’s unique thin-crusted style is barely known beyond the city’s borders. This simple regional genre reaches its apex at Da Remo in Testaccio, where the thin and crispy pies are baked in a wood-fired oven. Order pizzas with sparse toppings — like the tomato-and-mozzarella-topped margherita — to avoid stressing the thin base, and always start the meal with assorted fried starters and simmered beans.
Go to: Da Remo
Chef Arcangelo Dandini capitalizes on Rome’s cibo di strada (street food) craze at Supplizio in Rome’s historical center. Not to be confused with a food-truck purveyor of street food (food trucks haven’t really taken off in Rome), this brick-and-mortar space offers seating and a pleasant atmosphere for enjoying portable fried snacks like rice-and-potato croquettes.
Go to: Supplizio
Cesare al Casaletto
The decades-old Cesare al Casaletto got an injection of spirit and flavor when Leonardo Vignoli and Maria Pia Cicconi took over after years in the fine-dining world. Their influence is evident in the restaurant’s vast and impressive — but affordable — wine list. The menu, on the other hand, is pure Roman comfort food, free of any pretense. The kitchen has a flair for fried starters, which should be followed up with pasta like spaghetti alla gricia (with cured pork jowl, Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper) and mains like suckling lamb, served roasted, grilled or fried.
Go to: Cesare al Casaletto
Mordi e Vai
Retired butcher Sergio Esposito and his wife, Mara Cipriani, opened Mordi e Vai in Box #15 in the Testaccio Market in 2012. It didn’t take long for the shop to become a pilgrimage destination for the city’s hungry chefs, students and budget-conscious diners. Fans come for sandwiches filled with hearty, homemade Roman specialties, each served for a fraction of restaurant prices. Esposito and Cipriani have a flair for offal and beef dishes like rognoncini (kidneys with onions) and allesso di bollito (simmered brisket). There are also a few vegetarian options like tender artichokes served on crusty bread with slivers of Pecorino Romano cheese.
Go to: Mordi e Vai
Four generations have dutifully served local classics in this set of dining rooms decorated with art collected since the restaurant’s opening in the early 1920s. The passage of time has taken its toll on the family of owners — they are notoriously dismissive of newcomers — but the kitchen is as devoted as ever to delivering Roman classics according to strictly followed seasons. In the fall, look for a wonderful array of raw, grilled, sauteed and fried wild mushrooms, followed by winter’s artichoke dishes.
Go to: Al Moro
Armando al Pantheon
Just 100 feet from the Pantheon, this institution has been serving Roman classics to a loyal clientele of local artists, politicians, expats and travelers since the early 1960s. The Gargioli family serves traditional Roman fare, focusing on simple pasta classics like gricia (guanciale, Pecorino Romano and black pepper) and ajo, ojo e pepperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chile). The main courses showcase meat, including lamb, veal, simmered beef and grilled intestines, with a limited number of pescatarian specials served on Fridays. There are seasonal vegetarian dishes, too. The small dining room books up quickly, so reserve at least a week in advance.
Go to: Armando al Pantheon