all photos by Erica Firpo.
Good eaters and great places
A few months ago, Darius commented in a somewhat surprised tone that when I plan my days meandering around Rome, I’m led by my stomach. First food and then art. Umm, duh….
All my life, I’ve aspired to be a great example of a buona forchetta, which roughly translates to “good fork”. A buona forchetta is essentially a gourmand. Someone who knows what they want to eat and when they want to, and truly enjoys food in every element of their life.
I’m lucky because I’ve had a little help. I grew up with a vivacious family who talked about food – where to eat the best this and that – non stop. And I spent a substantial amount of time (read: too much) with a needy boyfriend who’d ask me on a date by saying “Che vuoi mangiare? What do you want to eat?”.
With that it mind, it was pretty easy when Insider asked me to share my favorite places to satiate my cravings. From a great carbonara to an incredible cocktail, from old school to avant-garde and offbeat, here are my favorite eats in Rome.
Il Matriciano, Felice a Testaccio, and Trattoria da Danilo
I love the charm of an old school Roman restaurant but more importantly, I love Roman cuisine and the GOAT of pasta dishes- carbonara, cacio e pepe and amatriciana. Il Matriciano has an unbeatable bucatini all’Amatriciana, the cacio e pepe at Felice a Testaccio is both a show and taste, and Trattoria da Danilo’s carbonara makes me feel at home. All have a yesteryear vibe, and you half expect Alberto Sordi from I Maccheroni to show up.
I talk a lot about Retrobottega, probably because it is Rome’s foodie trifecta: restaurant, wine bar, and pasta lab. Chefs Alessandro Miocchi and Giuseppe Lo Iodice have pioneered Rome’s next-gen trattoria here by combining culinary tradition with innovation and style.
I particularly love coming for the produce. Every week, Alessandro, Giuseppe, and their team head out to the countryside to forage for vegetables and herbs that they incorporate into flavor-forward dishes. I also love the design; it’s an absolute left turn from the contemporary interiors and open kitchen too many restaurants favor these days. Keep in mind they’re not serving cacio e pepe here, but next door at Retropasta, Miocchi commands a team dedicated to hand-making “forgotten” or less familiar pastas. Peek behind the scenes with a counter seat for lunch. Morning to evening, Retrovino,the backstreet wine bar, doubles as a café in the morning and is the very epitome of cool enoteca in the evening.
To be honest, I resisted SantoPalato for ages, only to take myself out to lunch at this tiny retro styled trattoria and utterly captivated by a polpetta. It was perfect from its crunchy exterior, delicious coda alla vaccinara and mind-blowing celery-and-peanut sauce. As you may have guessed, SantoPalato is a bit of neo-trattoria in vibe. Though firmly grounded in tradition, chef Sarah Cicolini turns out surprises like her divine polpetta.
Thank you, chef Roy Caceres. I’d love to write you a love letter to Carnal, but you’ve already written a love letter to Latin American. Tiny Carnal has just a handful of tables, an open kitchen, and a rustic design. Its seasonal menu mixes traditional flavors in tapas-like portions. My daughter loves the empanadas, but I believe in full immersion with Caceres’ eight-dish tasting menu, with portions of yucca, tacos al pastor, pluma di maiale, and more.
Pizza and Sandwiches
Remo Pizzeria, CasaManco, Trapizzino and Mordi & Vai
Pizza is a big deal in Italy and I love all of the iterations. First and foremost, I love pizza Romana, personal pizza with a slightly burnt, thin crust. Everybody has a favorite sit-down pizzeria and mine is Remo Pizzeria. Busy, brusque, cheap, and cheerful, I always start with Remo’s supplî, a deep-fried rice ball, which I find can calm even the grouchiest of people.
When I don’t have time but need a bite, it’s all about pizza al taglio (by the slice and weight). In the mornings, I usually pick up some hot and salty pizza bianca (white pizza, kind of like focaccia but much better for my daughter’s midday snack. Most forni (bakery) have pizza, but lately, my favorite is family-run Casa Manco, because Paola and Andrea are in love, creative (hummus on pizza, yes), and rise their dough for 100 hours before even thinking about using it.
If I have patience and time, I’ll queue up at Mordi e Vai, a sandwich stand in the Testaccio Market (Box 15) that serves the tastiest panini filled with Roman flavors like trippa (tripe) and lesso di scottona (tender slow-cooked beef). Finally, I’ll end the evening at Trapizzino(Testaccio or Trastevere), whose pizza pockets are stuffed with delicious Roman-inspired condiments like lingua in salsa verde (veal tongue in green sauce) and picchiapò (braised beef in a tomato-onion sauce).
Roscioli Caffe and Regoli
There is nothing quite like an excellent cappuccino (or in my case, latte macchiato) and a homemade pastry. Enter Roscioli Caffe, the coffee outpost by Rome’s famed bakers, the Roscioli brothers. Along with spectacular coffee drinks, the pastries are divine. The cornetti are made on-site, as are the rest. Look for the old-school, hard-to-find Roman dolci (dessert) like granatine.
I love coming to Regoli in the early morning. The line up seems to be the same customers asking for the very same orders for more than a century. Makes sense because Regoli never disappoints with its classic Italian dolci like maritozzi, mostaccioli, profiterole, and mignons.
My Old Faithful
While I should perhaps keep Hostaria Farnese to myself, it’s the place I go when I miss my zia’s home cooking. It’s a charming, cheap, and cheerful osteria. My all-time favorite order is saltimbocca alla romana (pan-sauteed veal, sage, and prosciutto), carciofo alla romana (braised artichoke with mint), and puntarelle (chicory sprouts in a vinegar-anchovy sauce). Book an outside table and you’ll have a great view of Palazzo Farnese.
I love cocktails, so Drink Kong is always on my list of places to go in Rome. Kong is considered the best bar in the city and not just because it’s ranked No. 19 on the World’s 50 Best Bars. It’s because owner Patrick Pistolesi loves what he does; he is a bartender’s bartender. He talks to you, as do his disciples, who are behind the counter making conversation and mixing up cocktails based on flavor and color. I also love walking into Kong because it’s like walking into another world where “Blade Runner,” manga, neon, and arcades meet.