Headed south and leaving city bedlam behind, we embark on yet another suburb exploration, in search of lesser known, authentic dining destinations. Here are our favorite eateries in Ostiense, Garbatella and Portuense – three very interesting working class districts of Rome.
At only 10 minutes from the Colosseum, the increasingly cool-place-to-be Ostiense suburb is a maze of industrial architecture, fabulous street art and cramped trattorias: enclaves that elevate the district’s street cred. Definitely quieter than neighboring Testaccio, Ostiense is casually raising the nightlife bar. In addition to this, the large Stazione Ostiense train station ensures easy accessibility and a solid connection to the center of Rome. The neighborhood manages however to maintain an outsider appeal that creates a contrast with the classical nature of the city’s centro.
Cantieri Marconi Waterfront
The skyline of Ostiense is characterized as much by steel bridges and graffitied warehouses as it is by the curve of the river and pointy Pyramid of Cestius. Contemporary format for this restaurant and cocktail bar built out of an ex-shipyard on the banks of the Tiber. The menu features interesting modern spins on classic preparations, with a keen eye for seafood, juicy burgers and whimsical desserts. Fine music, easy connection with public transportation, garden with ample riverside terraces and large private parking complete the setting.
Ostiense’s premier museum, Centrale Montemartini, is housed in a decommissioned power station, with statues sharing space with gigantic floor-to-ceiling turbines and boilers. In this context, Caffè Letterario makes perfect sense. The ‘literary cafe’ is a place to read, study or simply take in the art on display, a periodically updated showcase local artists. The aperitivo menu includes raw and cooked snacks, and despite the large size of the rooms, wise play of lights creates a warm and welcome atmosphere.
The position overlooking the Tiber river is stellar, likewise for the 24/7 dining and mixology offer. From early morning breakfast to late night after-dinner drinks, the place is always alive with music and gorgeous light glinting off the surface of the river. An impressive brunch spread is available daily from noon to 4pm with homemade pastas and pizzas, salads, entrees as well as classic continental breakfast staples: pancakes, muffins, ham and eggs served with juice and coffee. If you’re not into brunch, simply take a seat on the charming terrace overlooking the languid Tiber river and relax, glass of prosecco in hand.
Il Secchio e L’Olivaro
Renowned for its large pizzas and informal ambiance, the pizzeria expanded to the Ostiense area after a 10-year residency in Portuense. The house specialty is a giant pizza pie baked in tin trays in a wood-fired oven and served on a wooden board, sliced in squares to be mandatorily eaten with your hands. The dough – that’s been left to rise for 30 hours – is thick, fluffy yet crisp and topped with a variety of hearty ingredients. Great place for a loud game viewing get-together.
In business since 1931 and surviving a WWII bombing, family-run and historical Pasticceria Andreotti is an Ostiense stronghold. Driven by traditional methods and innovative creativity, the rows upon rows of colorful, sugary treats that line the display cases are the work of the downstairs pastry kitchen team that creates, designs and bakes all manner of cakes, pastries, biscuits, puddings and breakfast pastries. Their gelato is also quite good.
One of Rome’s most intriguing neighborhoods developed in the 1920s is a tree-lined web of curved streets and large piazzas in the periphery south east of the centro. The characteristic “lotti” housing development was built for the growing working class of the Ostiense area. But residents of Fascist-designed Garbatella completely overturned the totalitarian intent of the regime to become instead a stronghold of the intellectual left. Relaxed yet vibrant, Garbatella is now home to a large number of laid-back places to eat and a delightfully diverse food offering
Ristoro degli Angeli
This small, refined restaurant with a cozy, home-like interior is owned by couple Elisabetta and Ivo. Elisabetta is famous for her emerald mane, and among Garbatella locals the eatery is more commonly known as ‘capelli verdi’ (green hair). On the menu, traditional cucina romanain addition to more sophisticated, innovative dishes that vary daily. An example? ‘Spaghetti degli Angeli’ noodles are tossed with mountain butter, aged Parmigiano cheese and toasted sesame; while the mantovana variety used for the pumpkin risotto is pulled straight from Elisabetta’s vegetable patch. On Friday and Saturday choose fish dishes, and don’t forego the house potatoes: sauteed with bay leaves, onion, rosemary, fennel pollen and chili pepper, and then simmered with wine and vinegar.
Everything here, from the plastic menus to the wood paneled walls and steel frame bread baskets, is a delicious homage to the ‘70s. Informal, working-class osterie have found increasingly less space on dining guides, yet the quality and vibe at places like Dar Moschino has not changed. Hand-cut prosciutto and frittata are the house appetizer. Classic Roman pasta dishes are solid, plus entrees like the veal-stuffed aubergine or succulent fried meatballs are equally suitable for a nice lunch or a convivial dinner among friends. The setting is classic Garbatella, located in one of the most beautiful squares of the district. Grab a slice of authentic old Rome, and expect to pay a bill that will hardly ever exceed 30 Euro.
Li Scalini De Marisa
True Roman trattoria to the core, this family-run informal eatery is perfect if you’re looking for a non-tourist experience. Sit under the awning in plastic chairs and choose among the daily specials fired by the waitstaff in heavy Roman accent in rapid succession. Pasta dishes take center stage, but the meatballs and pollo ai peperoni(chicken braised with sweet peppers) are equally impressive. Finish with the homemade dessert of the day and a potent espresso made with a homestyle moka pot.
Osteria dei Pazzi
Stone walls and hardwood paneling, cream tablecloths and soft lighting all contribute to a cozy and romantic atmosphere. Perfect for a clandestine date. On the menu, classic cucina romanafare and a few signature dishes. Among these we suggest trying the ‘Rigatoni dei Pazzi’ which is carbonara added with petals of scorzonetruffle. The large central brazier is where the fire-grilled select cuts of Chianina beef are cooked to perfection. The bread and breadsticks are homemade, as are all the delicious desserts.
Everyday nearby farms unload their organic produce and artisanal products at the tiny bistro’s doorstep, hence the menu varies daily according to farmstead availability and what’s in season. The menu is strictly prix fixe(lunch €8, dinner €13) for a piatto unico: a complete meal dish comprising a meat, fish or vegetarian main and a hearty side dish. Plates can be paired with wine choosing from the extensive natural and organic wine list, or select craft beers. Nice choice of fruit and vegetable juices as well as a handful of cocktails. And there’s free wifi to boot.
Unpretentious Portuense is a demure and dignified residential neighborhood flanking the river Tiber and its ancient ports (hence the name). Located east of the quartiere Ostiense, compared to the centro storico of Rome that’s filled with ancient ruins and monuments, Portuense doesn’t attract sightseers. This tranquil neighborhood entices real-life Romans and appetites for organic, quality meals.
Casette di Campagna
Located in the heart of the Valle dei Casali nature reserve are two twin restaurants managed by the same owners. One bakes Roman-style thin crust pizza in its two wood-burning ovens. The other twin restaurant is best known for its fire-grilled meats and vast selection of beef cuts. The Casette di Campagna restaurants share valet parking, a playground and a soccer area for kids.
Don’t care about sustainable agriculture, healthy and responsible eating? Il GecoBiondo is not the place for you, then. Vegetarian trattoria that serves organic or biodynamic produce that’smandatorily fresh and in season – and from the region – serves up a daily menu of several appetizers, raw and cooked, followed by hearty soups or pasta dishes. Salads and entrees may include cereal dishes, veggie pâtés, protein courses and side dishes, ending the fine meal with vegan desserts.
The food at Bistrot Bio is certified organic and most of the vegetables are locally grown on the premises or selected at nearby farms. The menu is seasonal and caters to locavores; the cuisine is cucina romanawith a rich and elaborate vegetarian offer. There is a teaching farm and allotted land for patrons wishing to grow their own vegetables. The restaurant has a large outdoor garden that beguiles families with young children who are free to scamper among the olive trees.
Cantieri Marconi Waterfront | Rome | Lungotevere Dante 273 | tel. 06.5941038 | www.cantierimarconi.com/
Caffè Letterario | Rome | via Ostiense 95 | tel. 06.57302842 | www.caffeletterarioroma.it/
T-Bar | Rome| via Ostiense 182/a| tel. 06.5740009 | www.tbarostiense.it/
Il Secchio e L’Olivaro | Rome | via del Porto Fluviale 3 | tel. 06.5745897 | www.ilsecchioelolivaro.it/
Andreotti | Rome | Circonvallazione Ostiense 267 | tel. 06.5758832 | www.andreottiroma.it/
Ristoro degli Angeli | Roma | via Luigi Orlando 2 | tel. 06.51436020 | www.ristorodegliangeli.it/
Dar Moschino | Rome | Piazza Benedetto Brin 5 | tel. 06.5139473
Li Scalini de Marisa | Roma | Via Roberto de’ Nobili 17 | tel. 06.51601969
Osteria dei Pazzi | Rome | Via Enrico Cravero 22 | tel. 06.97613866 | www.osteriadeipazzi.it/
Verde Pistacchio | Rome | Via Ostiense 181 | Tel. 06.45475965 | https://www.facebook.com/VERDEPISTACCHIOROMA/
Casette di Campagna | Rome | Via Affogalasino 40 | tel. 06.65743230 | www.casettedicampagna.it/
GecoBiondo | Rome | via Gerolamo Cardano 105 | tel. 06.5571048 | www.gecobiondo.eu/
Bistrot Bio | Rome | via del Casaletto 400 | tel. 06.45476909 – 348.9285794 | www.bistrotbio.com/
by Eleonora Baldwin