Although I've been to Italy's capital many times, it was only until recently I figured out how to get the most out of this city eating and drinking wise. Obviously, you will want to steer clear of the super touristy zones such as Trevi fountain, the Spanish steps, the Colosseum/Forum and focus on the more authentic Roman quarters such as Trastevere, Testaccio, Ponte Milvio and the Jewish Ghetto on either side of the Tiber (Tevere) river. Here are some of my favorite places to eat and drink in Rome.
Thanks to Sici, Mario, Memfi and the lovely barista of Bgallery cafe for these great recommendations.
Checchino dal 1887 (Via di Monte Testaccio 30, Testaccio)
My first stop on my latest trip to Rome was Checchino dal 1887 with my friend Mario Farulla. Checchino has been family run since its inception, with the latest generation being headed by manager Simone Mina. Checchino is in fact the oldest restaurant of Rome still run by the same family.
Simone explained that Checchino was born in 1870 on Monte Testaccio (also called Monte dei cocci), an artificial mound in Rome made of testae (cocci in Italian), fragments of broken ancient Roman pottery. In the beginning, Checchino sold only wines, salumi and other uncooked goods. The restaurant was located in the cellar, the perfect spot for storing wines due to its nearly constant and cool temperature throughout the year. Then in 1887, the family obtained its first Osteria con cucina license, and took advantage of its proximity to the slaughterhouse which opened in 1890 and remained active until 1975.
Checchino became famous for serving the quinto quarto, which means the fifth quarter, the offal of butchered animals. Until modern day, the division of meat in Rome was made in the following way: the first quarto was sold to the rich nobles, the second for the clergy, the third for the Bourgeoisie and the fourth was for the soldiers. The lowest class proletariat could afford only the entrails, the quinto quarto.
The poorest workers at the slaughterhouse, the vaccinari (ancient term for butchers), were often paid with these leftovers, which they brought to the nearest eateries to cook up. This is exactly how the traditional cuisine of Checchino was born. This poor Roman style cooking has not only had influence on restaurants in Rome but has also sparked a new trend, a renaissance of "quinto quarto" trattorie including the iconic Trippa in Milano.
One of Rome’s most historic dishes, the Coda alla Vaccinara (oxtail stewed in tomato sauce with guanciale, celery, pine nuts and other ingredients) was invented at Checchino. Not surprisingly, this is their best dish, which takes over 6 hours to cook on a low flame. The meat is so tender, it melts in your mouth. Also, don't miss out on the great Roman cheeses and cured meats.
The service is impeccable at Checchino, with the elegant Simone clad in a flamboyant but elegant jacket and tie leading a group of white jacketed waiters. I was impressed with their wine serving ritual, which I've only seen a few times in Michelin-starred restaurants. In addition to a great selection wines (600!), you can choose from a wide range of grappas from Nonino to finish your meal. If you're lucky enough to experience Checchino with Farulla, you may be granted a tour of the historic cellar, including the tasting of some truly rare homemade liqueurs and amaros
But that's not all. As it turns out, Simone is a skilled bartender and happens to be the European brand ambassador for Botran rum. He has recently set up a bar counter upstairs to serve great rum, but also some interesting cocktails such as his long list of Martinis. Checchino is an absolute must visit not only for the food and drink, but to discover the history of the important Roman cuisine.
Baccano (Via delle Muratte 23, Fontana di Trevi)
Despite the touristy location near the beautiful Fountain of Trevi, Baccano offers an authentic Italian food experience. A must try are the fresh oysters, followed by either the delicious Carbonara or Tagliatelle alla Bolognese. I suggest eating up at the bar, where the talented bar staff headed by Mario Farulla will make you a fantastic concoction to be enjoyed before, during or after your supper. Ask Mario about his "miscelazione estrema" (extreme mixing) art form and prepare to be amazed. My favorite drinks on the night were his Royal Negroni (Martini Bitter Riserva 30ml, Martini Rubino 30ml, Star Of Bombay 30ml, Regal oyster brine 2.5 ml, Bergamot & Bayleaf vaporized essence, Maldon salt dehydrated Grapefruit) and House Rob Roy (JW blue label 45 ml, Cocchi dopoteatro 30 ml, Fernet 10 ml, Luxardo cherry brine 2.5 ml, Luxardo maraschino cherry garnish). After dinner throw a coin into Trevi fountain to ensure you'll be back again to the amazing Baccano!
Trapizzino (PIazzale Ponte Milvio 13, Ponte Milvio)
Trapizzino, which now was several locations around Rome to fill the high demand, specializes in trapizzini, which are triangular sandwiches made of pizza crust and filled with typical Roman specialties like Pollo alla cacciatora, Roman artichokes, Coda alla vaccinara (Roman oxtail stew) and meatballs. My favorite was the pollo alla cacciatora, followed by the meatballs with tomato sauce.
I Fritti de Sora Milvia (Via Cassia 4, Ponte Milvio)
For one of the best supplì in Rome, try Sora Milvia, 50 meters from Trapizzino in the Ponte Milvio quarter of rome. My favorite is the cacio e pepe followed by the amatriciana.
Roma Sparita (Piazza di Santa Cecilia 24, Trastevere)
It was thanks to Anthony Bourdain and his show No Reservations that I discovered the best cacio e pepe in the world. For me, their tagliolini cacio e pepe served a bowl of parmigiano reggiano is the best dish on the face of the planet. Roma Sparita also makes amazing puntarelle and carciofi alla Giudia. A must try when in Rome.
Pecorino (Via Galvani 64, Testaccio)
Thanks once again to Sici for directing me towards Ristorante Pecorino in Testaccio (Via Galvani 64). This family-owned restaurant and is frequented mainly by Romans, which is always a good sign. Run by an old Roman couple, Pecorino is a nice alternative to Da Felice, which is always packed.
Order the Fettucine alla Gricia, perhaps the best pasta alla gricia in Rome. If you want to break with tradition, try the gricia with fave (fava beans).
Da FELICE (Via Mastro Giorgio 29, TESTACCIO)
You will find the second best cacio e pepe in Rome at Felice in Testaccio. Here they are served with thicker tonnarelli which add more enjoyment to a dish traditionally served with spaghetti. You will be amazed as the waiter does the final mixing of the cacio e pepe in front of you (see video).
Sora Margherita (Piazza delle Cinque Scole 30, GHETTO)
Recommended by my good friend Cristina, this restaurant located somewhere in Rome serves one of the best artichokes alla Giudia. To avoid ruining the place, I was told to keep its name a secret. Sorry Cri. Upon entering, you aren't really sure if you entering a chinese laundromat or a restaurant. This place is cramped and always packed but that adds to its appeal. My favorite dish is the fettucine cacio e pepe. The fettucine are hand made in the restaurant and have a texture which is amazingly al dente. To experience heaven on earth, add ricotta to your cacio e pepe order (see below). I also highly recommend the agnolotti with ragù.
Capo de Fero (Via di S. Cosimato 15A, Trastevere)
Recommened by one and only Paki of Nuovi Angeli, Capo de Fero specializes in roman fare, in particular the Rigatoni Democratici. Perhaps the heaviest pasta dish you find in Rome, the rigatoni are best appreciated on a cold winter evening. Although it's an extremely rich dish thanks to the parmigiano and tomino based cheese sauce, it's delicious, although not in the same ball park as the big daddies of Roman pasta dishes like Gricia, Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara and Amatriciana.
AL Pompiere (VIA DI S. M. CALDErARi 38)
Al Pompiere offers an elegant dining experience with authentic roman cuisine. Although the clientele is a bit high and mighty for my liking, the staff made me feel instantly at ease. Although they were quite formal, they maintained a warm friendliness in their service. The food at Al Pompiere is very good. The highlights were the saltimbocca, baccalà and amatriciana. The artichokes were also very tasty.
Freni e Frizioni (Via del Politeama 4/6, Trastevere)
Every night out in Trastevere must end with a drink at Freni. You can't sit down at the bar, so for lone wolves like myself, you need to mingle with the other clients to truly appreciate this bar. But at Freni, this is by design. Everyone at Freni e Frizioni is here for a good time, including the friendly staff and bartenders.
Given the high volume nature of the bar, I expected a mediocre drinking experience but it was exactly the opposite. From the last menu I enjoyed Flying Dutchman (L'Olandese Volante) with 45 mL VL92 gin, 15 mL Sipsmith VJOP gin, 30 mL Cocchi Amaro, 5 mL Grand Marnier, plum bitter and lemon peel. For after dinner, try the Trinidad en Cuba cocktail featuring Ron Mulata de Cuba anejo reserva, chocolate bitters, Cohiba extract and sugar cube.
From the new menu, peep the refreshing Obi Wan Kenobi with rose liqueur, lime juice, tea syrup, ginger ale, yuzu sake, Kinobi gin.
La Punta (Via Santa Cecilia 8, Trastevere)
Thanks to a collaboration between the boys of Freni e Frizioni and Jerry Thomas, Rome now has an awesome bar specializing in Agave-based drinks. I stumbled upon La Punta accidentally, as it is located near one of my favorite parts of Trastevere, Piazza Santa Cecilia. Upon entering the brightly lit bar, my eyes were immediately drawn to the outdoor-style light bulbs running along the ceiling above the bar. La Punta feels like a high end Agaveria that you could find in Mexico city. The bar area is beautiful, with well lit bottle racks and a tiled bar counter.
I tried 5 cocktails on 2 separate trips to La Punta. My favorite was the silky and smokey Mala Education with mezcal, grapefruit juice, rhubard, agave honey, habanero bitter and egg white. Thanks to Mauro Foglietta for the beautifully prepared drink. Amazingly, every drink I had at La Punta was great, even if they were made by 4 different bartenders. This is a testament to depth of the bar team and the well-managed drinks program by Cristian Bugiada and Roberto Artusio. The other drinks I had included a very traditional Tommy's Margarita made by Martina Cappetti, a meditation worthy Mezcal Old Fashioned and a delicious Mezcal Last Word by Federico Azzurro and a Mex Man, a heavenly Mezcal Manhattan prepared by Fabrizio. I hope to even see my idol Filippo De Martino behind the stick on my next visit. Of course, I will also try the Mexican food, assuming I have room after eating the Cacio e Pepe I will surely eat before stopping by.
Hotel Locarno (Via della Penna 22 near Piazza del Popolo)
Want a well crafted cocktail at 5pm in Rome in a great location? Look no further than Hotel Locarno. Another gem of a recommendation from Memfi, this is my favorite hotel bar in Italy. Thanks to the excellent mixing skills of bartender Nicholas Pinna, Hotel Locarno might have the best aperitivo in Roma. Start with his signature Roma Bracciano and if you are daring, let him guide you drinking experience. Although the bar itself is gorgeous, check out the garden area for an even more relaxing atmosphere.
JERRY THOMAS Speakeasy (VICOLO CELLINI 30)
Why is Jerry Thomas Speakeasy in the world's 50 best bars? It's quite simple - this is the sexiest cocktail bar in the world. From the moment you make it past the mysterious but intimidating door ritual, this bar will blow you away with its beauty and charm. The wallpaper, the couches, the bar, the bathroom, the waitresses - everything here is eye candy. The staff do a great job managing this often-packed little speakeasy and the three barmen work wonders in their cramped stations behind the bar. On my latest visit, GM Riccardo Marinelli was a great host, while Riccardo Brannetti and Luca Mengo delivered perfectly balanced drinks including a refreshing Zombie, a succulent 1888 Martini (Old Tom gin, Italian vermouth, bitters), a classic Martinez and a delicious Aged Daiquri. Props also to the outgoing and efficient floor team Giulia, Gjada e Monica.