Living and dining out in Rome is fantastic. The majority of the city’s restaurants serve local cucina romana, which draws its origins from late 19th century preparations and stems from peasant culture and inventiveness. And that’s a good thing. For a bit. Then, after the nth plate of cacio e pepe – so in vogue now overseas – the Rome resident’s palate requires variety.
Traditional menus don’t necessarily equal quality, there are reckless restaurateurs in Rome who wave the term ‘traditional’ and ‘artisanal’ to attract diners but these are often the same restaurant owners who find shortcuts to save money and skimp on quality. On the other hand, there are – fortunately – excellent Roman cuisine restaurants that elaborate on those dishes borne of poverty and elevate them to gourmet level.
But again, if eating out means finding a prevalence of amatriciana, coda alla vaccinara and tripe on the menu, there will be times when digressing from these dishes becomes a necessity.
Pizza is a great solution and Rome is blessed with quite the pizza scene, baking both pies in wood-stoked ovens as well as offering squares of pizza sold by the slice. Juice bars, street food and gluten-free options are also viable alternatives. But Rome deserves to enrich and integrate its dining offer with different solutions, overcome the cucina romana prejudice, while still paying homage to historically solid culinary traditions.
Today we showcase a few restaurants that in addition to quality cucina romana have something different to offer besides spaghetti carbonara.
Acino Brillo in Garbatella – Lovers of cucina romana will not be disappointed: in this wine bar located in one of the city’s most architecturally handsome quartieri popolari, Roman dishes are present on the menu but don’t play a starring role. Here, I come for the outdoor seating (available year round thanks to ambient heaters) in the quaint little square next to the turn-of-the-century housing development “lotti” and the interesting menu: goat cheese wrapped in crispy phyllo pastry with pear chutney and pink peppercorns; strozzapreti pasta dressed with pistachio pesto and shrimp, topped with slivered almonds; or the great quarter-pounder beef cheeseburgers complete with toasted bun, caramelized onions, fried egg and crispy bacon. There’s a fine seafood offer on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Ditta Trinchetti in Trastevere – This informal and cozy eatery offers a welcome alternative to the usual neighborhood standards. The menu changes seasonally but you may be lucky and happen to find spaghetti with butter and anchovies on the menu or chance upon the homestyle cannelloni with spinach and ricotta filling. Entrées may feature straccetti (sauteed thinly sliced beef) with artichokes or arugula and cherry tomatoes plus great salads, a varied wine list and classic desserts.
Enopolium in Prati – The desire of the three young partners Jimmy, Enrico and Valentino was to transform the offer of their restaurant (housed in what used to be an ex-car dealership) from a classic “pastasciuttari” (a menu based primarily on pasta) to include interesting new solutions like a piatto unico, a complete meal platter that you can build by selecting a starch, a fiber and a protein from a choice of daily specials, or vegan burgers, juices and salads, and the unique ‘food on a stick’ option. Think any food – fish, meat, burgers, tartare, fried croquettes, falafel, veggies, cheese and even dessert – and it is aptly grilled, fried or stuffed and comes served on a skewer with homemade sauces and a smile. A good beer and wine selection, too.
Pianostrada Laboratorio di Cucina in Trastevere – Behind the counter of this teeny place are four strong, committed and delightful women. The business started as a panini & salads joint but has become so much more than that! Located in a hidden alley in the heart of Rome’s bohemian district of Trastevere, Pianostrada now offers magnificent and simple adaptations of classic Roman dishes twisted on their axis enough to render them altogether new and exciting. Their pasta dishes include inventive tonnarelli with toasted garlic, peperoncino, olive oil, baby squid and pecorino cheese or spaghetti alla gricia topped with crispy leek and orange. Sandwiches, burgers, sliders, salads, smoothies and excellent biscotti complete the ever-growing offer.
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, journalist, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her show “ABCheese” is broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso. She loves guiding culturally curious, food-passionate travellers seeking experiences in Italy beyond the guidebook.