Rome Q&A: The best neighborhood for “real” Roman cuisine?


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.

Annie Shapero lives, writes, and eats in Rome. Annie wrote hotel reviews for EuroCheapo’s guides to hotels in Rome, Florence, and Venice.

About the author

Annie Shapero was born and raised in the cosmopolitan oasis of Columbia, Missouri. A call to the big city brought her to Chicago, where she pursued a degree at DePaul University's theatre conservatory. Four years of "rigorous, professional" training and a minor in Italian language led her to her next destination: Rome, a city of natural born tragedians with a flair for comedy. There she put her dreams of Broadway stardom on hold and took up a wild series of careers (including "marketing strategist" for an edible Egyptian insecticide). Eventually, she found her niche: writing for "WHERE Magazine Rome." When not in Rome, Annie hops about the Mediterranean, indulging in the local gastronomic and dance traditions. Ole´!

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7 thoughts on “Rome Q&A: The best neighborhood for “real” Roman cuisine?”

  1. I went to Ar Grottino der Traslocare in Garbatella last night on the Largo delle Siete Chiese. It was a bit pricey. €13 for a bowl of Pasta, and €7 for 375ml of the house red. The food is authentic, and the shelves above the tables do serve as the pantry for the kitchen. I’ve eaten nearby with better food, faster service, and paid less. But even though it’s off the beaten path, they do have a tourist menu and a menu in English.

  2. Pingback: Rome Neighborhood Spotlight: Trastevere | Budget Travel Tips - EuroCheapo

  3. Ok, now I’m hungry!! I definitely agree. When in Rome, drink the house wine. And, order whatever the chef or owner says is their best dish.

  4. Thanks for the great advice, I’m glad to know that there are still some great and accessible non-touristy tourist locations left in Rome!

  5. I am commenting on this piece just because of something I discovered fifteen minutes ago. Two years ago I asked the NYTimes, an advice about making a Thanksgiving dinner in Italy. I had not received any reply whatsoever, in fact I was fairly fed-up with the Times behaviour, however as I googled myself (so pathetic … but I had a reason to do it) I actually found out that Ms. Shapero, the author of this good piece about Rome, had been very kind and wanted to get in touch with me. She even went as far as authorizing the NYTimes to email me with her email, however I don’t think the Times goes that far in terms of e-bbs customer service. If Ms. Shapero reads the comments to her pieces, I’d appreciate if she could get in touch … i know it’s way past Thanksgiving, and 2006 at that, but thank God it’s Thanksgiving every year.

    Thanks a mill

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