A reader asks:
“Do you have any advice for inexpensive, authentic Roman restaurants in the center of town?”
Annie Shapero responds:
Here’s the bad news: Rome is a gaping hell mouth of overpriced restaurants aimed at the hungry, innocent traveler.
The good news is that real Roman cuisine is actually a cucina povera, or poor man’s fare—a savory waste-not want-not approach to Italian cooking that utilizes the plant and animal parts you weren’t expecting. It’s hearty and filling, and like Southern soul food in the US, it’s tastiest at its cheapest… even in the center of town.
Near Piazza Navona, Da Francesco (Piazza del Fico, 29), Da Tonino (Via del Governo Vecchio,18 ), and just Alfredo e Ada (Via dei Banchi Nuovi, 14) offer no nonsense trattoria style dining that shouldn’t run you over €15 a person (including wine!)
In Trastevere, Da Augusto (Piazza de’ Renzi, 15) is the bonafide classic.
From Campo de’ Fiori, follow the scent of deep frying to Filetti di Baccalà (Largo dei Librari, 88), which is named for its specialty, fried slabs of salty cod served alongside puntarelle salad, a crispy curly hybrid of celery and romaine hearts, made from the stalks of chicory and garnished with garlic, oil, and anchovy paste.
In Rome’s grimier neighborhoods, you’ll spend even less. Testaccio and Garbatella (both within walking or busing distance from the Piramide Metro stop) have snubbed the made-for-tourists makeover and are well worth exploring for local “character.” Agustarello (Via G.Branca, 100) has been lauded by locals and the travel media alike as cheap and tasty. They do half portions too!
In Garbatella, Il Grottino del Traslocatore (Via delle sette chiese, 2) is best in the summer when tables spill out on the sidewalk. Otherwise, it’s a steamy basement setting serving huge portions of la cucina romanesca… which does include guts of all varieties in addition to the sumptuous spaghetti alla carbonara, matriciana, and gricia. This is not for the weak at heart.
Rules of the road:
1. At the Roman trattoria or osteria, portions are big and prices are low. You get what you pay for where service is concerned, but hey—you asked for authentic.
2. Order house wine only.
3. Ask for half portions.
4. Ask for their recommendations, not the menu.
5. Don’t ask for a receipt until they’ve quoted you a price. They often write it on the paper tablecloth.