aying I was raised In Rome is simplistic. When I talk about growing up here, it’s not merely geographical. I actually became the rotund, Mediterranean person I am today — complete with healthy mandolin-shaped derrière — thanks to my mother’s cooking and the many, many restaurants that over the years trained my taste buds and molded my body into its present shape. I moved to Roma from the United States — where I was born — when I could barely walk, and my first words spoken were in Romanaccio, the first solid meal after formula, risotto alla pescatora. Promising.
I have always fancied finding new restaurants and enjoying a meal out. In the numerous years of “research,” I’ve had favorites and changes of heart. I’ve tried styles, and accepted fads (I never bought into nouvelle cuisine, though). I am an omnivore, and Rome is the right city for that kind of addiction.
Here is my shortlist of Rome favorites, Academy Awards style:
FAVORITE RESTAURANT: Trattoria Monti, Via San Vito 13A | Tel. +39.06.446.6573
On most days, the tables — fewer than a dozen — are all served by Enrico and Daniele Camerucci, the handsome sons of the chef, Franca. She’s the smiling Signora in the open kitchen at the end of the room. It’s a family place, and it feels like home. Inconspicuous façade, simple regional fares from Le Marche, home-style portions, excellent wine list, friendly ambiance and a high level of courtesy and service. I always choose well when I go with the day’s choice of “tortino” (seasonal vegetable flan-like radicchio, leek or artichoke). Favorite starters include the grouper-stuffed ravioli or the homemade gnocchi. The rack of lamb and the fried stuffed olives “all’Ascolana” are a must, but remember to leave room for dessert.
FAVORITE OSTERIA: Da Lucia, Via del Mattonato, 2B | Tel. +39.06.580.3601
Lucia is a family owned informal dining establishment, a little difficult to find but worth the effort. The interior has family pictures, lots of ancient kitchen implements, and the service is warm and friendly. The style is vino e cucina, so there are usually few standard dishes and two or three specials. Be sure to start with the house antipasto and the outstanding roasted vegetables: eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, white broccoli, and olives. I suggest you have the classic Amatriciana here, it’s the best in the area. For the main course try coniglio ai carciofi (rabbit with artichokes). For dessert you can finish off with Lucia’s homemade tiramisu and panna cotta with fruit and get away with €20 plus wine.
FAVORITE PIZZA: Remo, Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice, 44 | Tel. +39.06.574.6270
It doesn’t get any better than this in Rome. Once you bite into the perfect thin crust Roman-style pizza, you’ll overlook the paper tablecloths, the noisy crowd and the stacked tables. What shines through instead, is the quick and friendly service and the divine pies. Don’t forego the typical fried starters while you wait for the pizza to land: supplì, fiori di zucca (fried zucchini flowers), olive ascolane and filetti di baccalà (fried cod fillets). The pizza menu is quite comprehensive, I always go with either the steadfast Margherita or the house specialty Pizza Remo: a Margherita base with sausage and olive oil preserved mushrooms and eggplant. The calzoni and crostini are very good too. Desserts aren’t as stellar.
SECOND-FAVORITE PIZZA: Pizzeria Ai Marmi aka “er cassamortaro,” Viale Trastevere, 53-59 | Tel. +39.06.580.0919 | Open for dinner only
The marble tabletops of this rather stark-looking pizzeria and neon lighting have awarded Pizzeria ai Marmi the nickname er cassamortaro, which is Roman slang for “the coffin-maker.” The pizza here is more than decent, but what’s best is the warm and friendly atmosphere. The place is always packed, even the summer when the pizzeria doubles its seating capacity with numerous tables outside. It’s first come first served, so don’t hope to make a reservation.
FAVORITE PLACE FOR PASTA – 3 winners:
1. Quinto Quarto for gricia con le pere, Via della Farnesina, 13 | Tel. +39.06.333.8768 | Closed Sun.
The limited number of place-settings, the daily supply and careful food preparation assure authenticity in Quinto Quarto’s Roman cuisine. The kitchen employs only certified local products, such as buffalo meat from the Amaseno valley, lentils from Ventotene, potatoes hailing from the northern Viterbo districts, fresh Roman artichokes, “marzolina” cheese produced in the province of Frosinone, bread from Genzano and Lariano, Gaeta olives, Sabina olive oil, hazelnuts from Lazio’s Monti Cimini, to mention a seasonal few. The wine list is graced by bottles of local Cesanese del Piglio, Cabernet di Atina, Mater Matuta Casale del Giglio, and Frascati DOC Superiore. But the star dish here is the delightful grigia (a tomato-less Amatriciana), which the portly chef in his small kitchen behind a glass wall adds with slices of fresh pears.
2. Felice a Testaccio for tonnarelli cacio e pepe, Via Mastro Giorgio, 29 | Tel. +39.06.574.6800 | Closed Sun.
In antiquity, much of the Tiber River trade took place in the Testaccio neighborhood, and the remains of broken clay vessels — amphorae — were stacked creating the artificial Monte dei Cocci hill, which today is a source of much archeological evidence as to the history of ancient everyday Roman life. Nowadays, Testaccio is the pulsating center of food-related activity long after the slaughterhouse was relocated. Here you can find inspired butchers, resaturateurs, bustling trattorie and crowded nightclubs. Felice means “happy,” and that’s what you’ll be once you taste the goods in Testaccio’s most renowned ristorante. Besides the red meats, or the roasted lamb, which is other worldly; it’s the house cacio e pepe which draws the most clientele. The simple cheese and pepper creamy dressing is tossed into just-drained tonnarelli (handmade egg noodles) right at your table, and served with a smile. So who cares if it’s a bit on the pricey side…
3. Tram Tram for spaghetti tomato and basil, Via dei Reti, 44/46 | Tel. +39 06 490 416 | Closed Mon.
Mom’s cooking in a turn of the century tavern decorated like a tram: the place is known for its warm atmosphere, honest traditional cuisine, and the excellent home-cooked flavors. Interesting dishes include: the house fava bean puree with sautéed chicory (fave e cicoria), or the very refined and tasty cod-laced potato gnocchi (Gnocchetti di patate al baccalà). Don’t miss the involtini di pesce spada: fresh swordfish roll-ups stewed in a savory tomato sauce; the calamari and shrimp casserole, or the anchovy and vegetable terrine. But it’s the exquisitely simple spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce (Spaghetti Pomodoro e Basilico) that keep me coming back here, despite the usual battle for a decent parking spot. The wine list is well organized and beautifully stocked. On a negative note: Sometimes the wait to be served is a bit too long. Be sure to book ahead!
FAVORITE NEW ENTRY: Flavio al Velavevodetto, Via di Monte Testaccio, 97/99 | Tel. +39.06.574.4194 | Open daily
A great new find in the busy Testaccio district, Flavio offers good seafood, typical Roman dishes, and pizza. The kitchen is run by Flavio De Maio, ex-chef at Felice; before his recent arrival the restaurant was simply known as Ristorante Velavevodetto, which means “I told you so,” my favorite new mom-line. The quality of the food and dishes on offer make it hard to skip courses: complimentary bruschetta arrives at the table when you take your seats. Starters include homemade fettuccine with fresh moscardini, or the signature ravioli alla Velavevodetto, stuffed with ricotta and spinach. Entrées feature terrific mixed dishes, including involtini, meatballs, and oxtail, which all come dressed in a tasty tomato sauce. While the frittura di paranza offers a lightly battered assortment of fish, prawns, and squid in generous portions. If you’ve left room for dessert, the homemade semifreddo is topped only by the tiramisu. Meal prices start from €30 per person plus wine, of which you can choose from an extensive list.
FAVORITE FISH PLACE: Romolo al Porto, Via Porto Innocenziano, 19 Anzio | Tel. +39.06.984.4079 | Closed Wed.
Move over Quinzi & Gabrieli, Tempio di Iside and La Rosetta (regarded as Rome’s top fish restaurants). Hello Romolo! There are a number of great city establishments that offer excellent seafood, but I like mine to travel the least amount of miles from the fishing net to my plate. So, to sate my seafood fix, I drive down to Anzio, where Romolo has been unfailing in his 40-year service. Have the staff (Marco & Walter) advise you on the day’s catch; and if you’re lucky you can escape the decibels of the restaurant’s din and land a table overlooking the pier. You can’t go wrong with Romolo’s antipasto assortment, which comes warm and crudo. The complete series is composed of 25/30 samples served in succession, and the flavor combinations are unique and rich. If you go the entire sequence, you won’t order much else. Should you want to, don’t forego the house zuppa di pesce (fish stew), the spaghetti with baby octopus, pine nuts and pecorino; or the linguine with spiny prawns, calamari, squid and mullet hard roe. Good wine list and some excellent beers. The price is around €75 per person.
FAVORITE MEAT PLACE: Augustarello a Testaccio, Via Giovanni Branca, 98/100 | Tel. +39.06.574.6585
Steps away from the ex-slaughterhouse, Augusto (Augustarello for his friends and aficionados) is one of Testaccio’s most informal dining establishments. Honest, down to earth and affordable, Augustarello’s faresis homemade and hearty. I come here to satisfy my carnivore instinct, ordering alternatively, Coda alla vaccinara (stewed oxtail), trippa (tripe), animelle e muscoletti (a “salad” made with nerves and lamb sweetbreads), salsicce con cotiche e fagioli (pork sausage with pork rinds and beans), pajata (a dish made with suckling lamb’s intestines), and whatever seasonal vegetable has been sautéed that day. I always also leave room for the homemade tiramisu or the crostata di visciole, Augustarello’s signature sour cherry tartlet.
FAVORITE STREET FOOD JOINT: Dar Filettaro, Largo dei Librari, 88 | Tel. +39.06.686.4018 | Closed Sun. | Open only from 6 p.m. to 11:40 p.m.
If your weakness is fried food, you can’t forego this baccalà shrine. At the far end of a tiny square on Via dei Giubbonari – a stone’s throw from Campo de Fiori — you’ll find a small joint, where you can go crazy on “filetti di baccalà” (cod fillets). These are eaten piping hot all year round, either seated at a table in the square or, if you like, wrapped in paper while you walk around the Campo Marzio neighborhood. This fish friery is one of the last remaining faithful to the old tradition, in which the menu consists of one single specialty and little else (gallinella salad in the summer, puntarelle in the winter, beans all year round). Not much has changed over the years, except that the filets don’t come wrapped in newspaper anymore, and though the prices have gone up (€4 per fillet), it’s money well spent. Be patient, the wait is mandatory. If pressed for time, just walk inside and head straight to the woman in back, give her 4 coins in exchange for a paper-wrapped fresh fillet. That and a chilled beer — there’s no better therapy for that kind of money. The only negative is that the place is only open at night.
SECOND FAVORITE STREET FOOD JOINT: Pizzarium, Via della Meloria, 43 | Tel. +39.06.3974.5416 | Closed Sun.
You’ll have to elbow your way to the counter, but Gabriele Bonci’s pizza creations served by weight deserve applause. After tasting a slice of his pizza al taglio, and a sip of Belgian beer (or any of the 50 labels on sale here) all you’ll want to do, beside have some more, is shake the man’s hand. Bonci’s secret is in the natural leavening of the dough, which once baked is crisp on the outside and deliriously soft and fluffy on the inside. Favorite toppings include: bufala and basil; sautéed broccoli rabe and sausage; speck and smoked provola, cherry tomatoes, porcini and parsley; artichoke & gorgonzola; pumpkin purée, smoked cheese and bacon. The pizza topped with the creamed leeks or the roasted potatoes are among the most popular, and with good reason. A nice hike from the Vatican, or inches away from the Cipro Metro stop.
FAVORITE GELATO: Gelateria del Teatro, Via di San Simone 22, alley off Via dei Coronari | Tel. +39.06.4547.4880
Only high quality ingredients are used here. I walked into the middle of an argument once between one of the owners and a peach supplier, truckload of peaches idling nearby. The fruit was not top choice apparently, and the gelato artisan simply refused to buy. “No peach ice cream today, sorry,” he mumbled, as the disgruntled farmer walked out the door. Apart from the hallmark “pure” chocolates and standard gusti, the winter flavor combos include Langhe hazelnut, organic fig and cheese; best Bronte pistachio ever; dark chocolate and Nero d’Avola; honey and gorgonzola. While the summer flavors shine in the delightful spumante and wild strawberry; white peach and sage; raspberry and lavender, and the latest: Pachino cherry tomatoes, or the divine white chocolate and fresh basil.
FAVORITE PEOPLE-WATCHING SPOT: Linari, Via Nicola Zabaglia 9 | Tel. +39 06.578.2358
This is a pastry shop, café, sandwich place, chocolatier, and gelateria all contained into one convenient roadside store. Linari makes the best cappuccino in the area, so it’s a great place to begin your day with a typical Italian-style breakfast. And packed with nothing but locals. I like to sit at one of the sidewalk tables, and eavesdrop on the morning conversations while I pretend to read the paper. The bejeweled signora in cashmere rubs elbows at the espresso counter with the fishmonger on a break from the nearby covered market, the tanned 60 year old playboy in the sockless loafers flirting with the young cashier, the pimply teenage dodging class, the secret lovers brushing hands unseen… it’s all there, and it’s all true.
Linari is also a great place to stop if you’re looking for a souvenir, for example handsomely packaged crates of limoncello, chocolate bonbons, grappa and other made-in-Italy sinful stuff.