November 30, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Keys to Trastevere

By |2018-03-21T19:00:17+01:00April 26th, 2014|"In Cucina"|
Despite exploitation, Trastevere still offers Rome scenes par excellence.

omans settled Trastevere between 750 and 500 B.C. mostly to ensure the city strategically controlled of both sides of the Tiber. But monument-hungry Romans were so busy building across the river that they mostly ignored the outpost. Local citizens (mostly fishermen) soon developed an idiosyncratic culture that gradually acquired a unique and eclectic flavor. Trastevere grew into a city-within-a-city characterized by narrow, winding alleys, rooftop dwellings, hidden churches and informal nightlife. Beginning in the late 1960s, it also became home to an international body of artists, students and expatriates.

Despite wildfire exploitation, the bohemian “rive gauche” of Rome still retains some of its ancient charm.

Food-wise, Trastevere offers tiny osterias tucked in cobbled streets, established seafood shrines, lesser known pastry shops, and local hangouts only insiders know to put on their maps. But it can be tawdry vortex. Get sucked in and there’s a fair chance you’ll end up at someplace costly and inauthentic.

A little common sense can save the day. Follow the locals. Casual evenings can begin with a drink in a moonlit piazza, sitting on someone’s Vespa, or in a secluded courtyard, and move on to a hearty roman meal or a simple crisp pizza, and end in wee hours of the night in one of the rione‘s many bars and nightlife hangouts.

Aperitivo & Pizza

Freni e Frizioni From auto repair shop (“Brakes and clutches”) to trendy cocktail bar. Hip and crowded come sunset, it offers a relaxed, vintage ambiance, a handsome “aperitivo hour” buffet spread and a fine mixology team. • Freni e Frizioni Open daily 6:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. | Via del Polietama, 4. Tel. +39.06.4549.7499.

Litro This newly-opened natural wine tabernacle seats 20 in a delightful 1940s style bistro interior (40 more in an outer courtyard). Located in Monteverde vecchio, just above the Trastevere madness, it’s already become a favorite aperitivo haunt, with a daily rotation of selected small Italian labels — six whites, seven reds, and daily specials by the glass or bottle. Also up for grabs are orange and dessert wines, bubbly, plus tasty accoutrements (interesting microbrews and mezcal cocktails, too). • Litro Open Mon.-Sat. 7:30 a.m. to midnight | Via Fratelli Bonnet, 5. Tel. +39. 06.4544.7639.

Panattoni (a.k.a. Ai Marmi) Marble slab tables have earned it the moniker “marbles” (Roman for tombstones). Packed every night, it whips out crisp, thin crust pizzas from busy wood-burning ovens. Nice fried starters, especially the zucchini blossoms and the filetto di baccalà (battered cod fillet). On balmy summer evenings, seating outside is a must, albeit noisy and crowded. No credit cards, no reservations, no website. • Panattoni Open Thur.-Tues. for dinner only, ’til late | Viale Trastevere, 55. Tel. +39.06.580.0919.

Cucina Romana

Trattoria Da Teo Cucina romana classics including a divinely eggy carbonara, good coda alla vaccinara (stewed oxtail) and other offal dishes (tripe, et al). The smart owners know their hearty fare can be overwhelming, which is why they offer “half portion” mascarpone mousse topped with wild strawberries. • Trattoria Da Teo Open Mon.-Sat. lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday | Piazza dei Ponziani, 7 /a. Tel. +39.06.581.8355.

Fine Dining

Antica Pesa Perfect for a romantic dinner or a clandestine tête-à-tête. The menu includes modern takes on cucina romana classics — tortino di coda alla vaccinara (oxtail stew pie), burrata cheese with red prawns, pasta “ajo and ojo” (garlic and oil) spiked with shaved bottarga, and anglerfish “saltimbocca.” The beautiful courtyard is a celebrity hangout. • Antica Pesa Closed for lunch Monday | Via Garibaldi, 18. Tel. +39.06.580.9236.

Osteria Fernanda A promising split-level place with a few outdoor tables for summer evenings. Chef Davide del Duca mans the kitchen and offers stellar modern cuisine (recent specials have included ricotta cheese wrapped in kataifi shreds with eggplant and sweet pepper sorbet, seafood “crudo di mare,” amberjack fish tartare paired with frozen mozzarella di bufala powder, passion fruit and seaweed.) But the Amatriciana is the star, featuring balsamic vinegar, which further rounds out and exalts the classic dish’s flavors. Lunchtime three-course tasting menus go for a mere €12, while the evening 5-course tasting menu runs an affordable €36. Charming staff and free wi-fi. • Osteria Fernanda Open Mon.-Fri. lunch and dinner; Saturday dinner only. Closed Sunday | Via Ettore Rolli, 1. Tel. +39.06.589.4333.

Enoteca Ferrara Fine, creative dining with wines at reasonable prices. Eclectic is the word: sea urchin salad with lemongrass, grenadilla and orange slices, artichoke ravioli with sweet anchovy sauce, and flambé jumbo prawns. • Enoteca Ferrara Closed Sunday evening in summer; Tuesday in winter | Piazza Trilussa, 41. Tel.+39.06.5833.3920.

La Gensola Many consider this the neighborhood’s best seafood place, and the cuisine leans heavily on Mediterranean flavors. A sampling: fresh tuna “meatballs,” scallops au gratin with squid ink, homemade tagliatelle with sun dried tomatoes, baby calamari and peperoncino, and turbot with tomatoes, red onion, and capers. Also, delightful “crudo” platters enhanced with dribbles of olive oil and fresh mint. In the dining room, chef Claudio Dordei enjoys a gracious assist from wife Irene and their kids. • La Gensola Open daily (except Sunday in summer) | Piazza della Gensola, 15. Tel. +39.06.581.6312.

Glass Hostaria Popular Italian-born, American trained Cristina Bowerman is the brainchild behind this Michelin star-awarded spot. Worth a trip are the foie gras ravioli with amaretto and apple, the beef tartare (with orange, capers, tobiko, wasabi) and micro-veggies, and the sumac lamb with tubers, crème fraîche and purple potato chips. Boasts elegant, modern décor, soft lighting, a phenomenal wine list and excellent desserts. • Glass Open Tue.-Sun. for dinner only. Closed Monday | Vicolo del Cinque, 58. Tel. +39.06.5833.5903.

Osteria del Belli Sardinia and fresh fish is all you need to know. Outdoor seating overlooks a typical, charming Trastevere piazza. Best of the menu includes sea bass carpaccio, reef mullet tartare, Sardinian malloreddus, spaghetti with jumbo clams, grilled scampi and the catch of the day baked in a salt crust. Cucina romana classics are also abundant. • Osteria del Belli Sardinia Open Tue.-Sun., lunch and dinner. Closed Monday | Piazza di Sant’Apollonia, 11. Tel. +39.06.580.3782

Street food

Sisini La Casa del Supplì The line outside says it all. For supplì maniacs (like me), this tiny place ranks high. Firm ragù risotto with a melted mozzarella heart, shaped into a bullet, breaded and then fried, produces a crisp crust, and a rich, supple, savory filling laced with ribbony strands of milky mozzarella. • Sisini La Casa del Supplì Open Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Closed Sunday | Via San Francesco a Ripa, 137. Tel. +39.06.589.7110.

La Renella More than just a bakery, La Renella has wood ovens that shell out cookies, biscotti, cakes, and savory pizza sold by the slice. Favorites pizza toppings include roast potatoes and rosemary, Gorgonzola and fresh pears, broccoli rabe and smoked provola cheese. Great vegan pizza options (with no dairy). Leave room for at least one slice of the house crostata with ricotta and chocolate. • La Renella Open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. | Via del Moro, 15. Tel. +39.06.581.7265.

After dinner

Bar San Callisto Grab one of the few outdoor tables, crack open a Peroni beer, and get ready to apply for Trastevere citizenship. The artisan gelato is limited to a few flavors, all of them good, and served with freshly whipped cream. In winter, hot chocolate powers the younger (cannabis fueled) crowd. End the night with the house specialty, sgroppino: Amalfi lemon gelato spiked with chilled vodka, served with a spoon and a straw. • Bar San Callisto Open Mon.-Sat. 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Closed Sunday | Piazza San Callisto, 3. Tel. +39.06.589.5670.

Ma che siete venuti a fa’? Rome’s top beer pub offers a wide choice of ales and microbrews — to go with a geeky beer crowd and tasty nibbles. Name means, “What the hell are you here for, anyway?” • Ma che siete venuti a fa’? Open daily 11 p.m.-2 a.m. | Via Benedetta, 25. Tel. +39.06.6456.2046.

About the Author:

Eleonora Baldwin lives in Rome dividing her time between food and lifestyle writing, hosting prime-time TV shows, and designing Italian culinary adventures. She is the author of popular blogs Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino and Casa Mia Italy Food & Wine.