Across the River Tiber from the Colosseum, the Vatican and the Trevi Fountain, Rome’s Trastevere neighbourhood is a warren of cobbled, Medieval streets with a bohemian buzz. Neighbourhood trattorias have served fine cuisine for generations, and a healthy student population means funky pop-ups and single-slice pizzerias are plentiful, too. So, wander down the winding alleys and discover some of the best dining spots in Trastevere.
With wine bottles lining the walls and chequered tablecloths inside, and a smattering of outdoor bistro sets under the awning, Da Enzo is like an Italian restaurant from a film set. The Roman classics have been perfected over the years, so you can’t go wrong with ordering the carbonara and finishing with the creamy tiramisu. But it’s the distinctly Roman delicacy called carciofi alla romana (braised whole artichoke) that steals the show here. Rather than being blanched in an oily liquid, the artichokes are cooked through and served with an emulsion of oil and mint for that refreshing snap on the palate.
If you have a spaghetti carbonara in one place in Rome, it should be at the Antica Trattoria da Carlone. Tucked down a Trastevere sidestreet, this buzzing family trattoria has been dishing out the famous eggs-and-bacon pasta for decades. As soon as you sit down, the waiter will usually say, “a glass of water, a glass of wine and a carbonara, of course.” An almost comically large platter of fresh pasta in a creamy sauce topped with crisp lardons and a heaping pile of parmesan is what it’s all about. Of course, there are other Roman classics on the menu, but the carbonara is king here.
La Tavernaccia da Bruno is a celebration of regional cuisine. Mr Bruno, the original owner, opened his restaurant more than 50 years ago. Today, his two daughters run it, staying true to the Roman classics – think pappardelle with wild boar, suckling pig and lamb slowly roasted in a wood oven. The ingredients are locally sourced – you’ll find Lazio cheeses in the sauces – and the menu is based on ancient Roman and Lazio recipes.
No list of Roman eateries is complete without a pizzeria, and Ai Marmi is probably the best in Trastevere. The interior is charmingly kitsch, and the wood-fired oven has been cooking thin and crispy pizzas for more than half a century. Hundreds of pies are made every night, topped with classics such as peppery rocket leaves and slivers of salty prosciutto; for the adventurous, there’s salsiccia (sausage meat) and courgette flowers.
Nannarella is a Rome institute, with each buzzing table a microcosm of the spirited Trastevere neighbourhood. For such a busy place, service is fast and friendly. It serves every dish you’d expect from a restaurant in the Italian capital – creamy carbonara with a hit of black pepper; penne and pesto topped with fresh, ripe tomatoes; huge slabs of pizza oozing with cheese. Everything is washed down with carafes of local wine.
Sleek and sophisticated, the Michelin-star Glass Hostaria is a restaurant for a real occasion. Exposed brick and slick angles create an industrial feel inside, and the food is just as modern as the decor. À la carte plates or a six-course tasting menu are the options, and each one is rooted in Italian tradition while incorporating flavours from all over the globe. Past dishes have included ravioli stuffed with parmigiano-reggiano aged for five years and asparagus, and the Southeast Asian-inspired whitefish with an earthy tang of tamarind and burned spring onions.
For almost a century, this family-run restaurant has been serving Roman classics in an old grain store once owned by the Vatican. The first thing you’ll notice in the warren of arched cellars is the wine cellar, practically overflowing with local bottles. Choose to dine beneath mood lighting and among striking murals inside or out in the plant-filled garden. The food matches the decor in terms of style and pizzazz; nests of hand-cut pasta are topped with pecorino cheese and carefully sourced ingredients. The wine list is the size of a novel, but the staff are very willing to help you pick the perfect pairing.
There’s a reason Le Mani in Pasta is always packed (make sure you book in early) – it’s the ultimate Roman osteria experience. Its speciality is seafood, where whole lobsters are cracked open over al dente pasta, and sea bass carpaccio comes topped with delicate slivers of truffle. There’s no denying the food is fantastic, but the service is something else. Don’t even think of asking for cheese on your seafood; the waiters won’t hold back and will let you know if you’re making a culinary faux pas. They know what they’re doing, and you just might have the best meal of your life.