Get off the beaten path and drink locally with the locals
Like all major European capitals Rome’s touristy neighborhoods are hard to avoid, or sometimes resist. If you don’t speak Italian, it’s tempting to arrive after a journey of missed connections, muddled directions, and garbled speech in a neighborhood like Trastevere, where English is widely spoken and familiar menu items may tempt you to give in and settle something comfortable.
If you want to eat and drink like a Roman, get off the beaten track. Across the river, the adjacent historic working-class neighborhoods of Testaccio and Ostiense have thrived over the past decade and become destinations for more authentic dining and drinking. They’re no secret to the well-travelled party or frequent visitors to Rome, but you’ll see few fanny packs, selfie sticks, and white sneakers here. Take the subway (metropolitan) to the Piramide stop and you are right in the middle. One stop down Garbatella you’ll be close to other options in a historic, eccentrically designed neighborhood. By no means exhaustive, here’s a starter kit to start drinking like a Roman in these neighborhoods.
L’Antagonista Spiriti & Cicchetti, Via del Commercio, 28. A tiny place almost below historic Gazometri on a side street off the busy main streets, new ownership permeates the menu and the unpretentious spirit of the place. Venetian style snacks, Italian oriented list and spritzers in different styles. The name is inspired by a character from the 1986 film ‘Troppo Forte’, which was filmed on site.
Ch1887, Via di Monte Testaccio, 30. Tucked away on the second floor of the 135-year-old Checchino 1887 – now owned by the sixth generation – and with a bespoke cocktail menu that reflects the culinary traditions of this historic meat-processing district (known for its offal-based cuisine) right through to cocktails and food combinations. A creative twist that crosses tradition and trend.
Bar dei Cesaroni, Piazza Giovanni da Triora, 6. Known to Italians as the local sports bar of AS Roma football club, it’s gaining a wider audience through the popular soap opera. I’m Caesaroni. Located in the Garbatella neighborhood, the hotel is worth the trek outside the city walls (the metro stops nearby).
Bernabei Liquori, Via Luca della Robbia, 12. Busy neighborhood wine shop and outpost on Piazza Testaccio, spread widely throughout the city. You may not get personal service here, but the menu is wide and well organized, with a good selection of Italian wines. If you can snag a staff, find a knowledgeable guide.
Delicious, Piazzale XII Ottobre 1492. You can go to an Eataly in the US, but there’s nothing like visiting the Italian Foodie in context. The Roman site – the largest of the global chain – opened a decade ago in the former Air Terminal Ostiense near the train station and expanded in 2018. It’s become the destination for fine Italian dining – for Italians too – whether it’s eating in or shopping for take away. No Italian region or grape is overlooked in the extensive wine selection and you will find small, well-priced wines from smaller regions. The Birreria offers a selection of home-brewed craft beers and around 400 other beers from around the world.
Enoteca Giananti, Via Ostiense, 34. The enoteca and wine shop is run by the second generation of a Testaccio family and therefore offers a wide range of Italian wines, food and wine pairings and a weekly “Giansanti Jam Night” (but check the website event schedulewhich may have been suspended during the pandemic).
Enoteca La Mescita, Via Luigi Fincati 44. Mescita means “to pour the wine,” and they do it well at this small enoteca in Garbatella that focuses on natural wine. Organic and biodynamic wines from the region are the stars. The sharing plates include vegetarian and gluten-free options. The owner steps onto the floor, ready for watering.
Latta ferments and miscele, Via Antonio Pacinotti, 83. An atmospheric, sub-street level wine cellar extension in the former Biondi Mills in Ostiense said to be inspired by the American soda companies of the 1950’s. Craft beers, little intervention, natural wines and an extensive list of craft cocktails. The “Laboratorio di Latta” offers other low-alcohol fermentations – seltzer and lemonades and a rice wine with passion fruit.
Jey jazz clubVia Ostiense, 385. Former garage (“Casa del Radiator”), not far from the Basilica of San Paolo, live music every day, jam sessions owned by a former crime reporter turned culture and entertainment editor of Il Messaggero, one of Rome’s daily newspapers .
MASTO a testaccio, Via Galvani, 39/41. Small, charming restaurant and wine bar just off the piazza with old-school touches like hanging meat from the ceiling. Quiet and relaxed, very popular with locals so book ahead.
palombi, Piazza Testaccio, 38. Old school wine shop by day (since 1917) and wine bar by night. Don’t look for Pet-Nat or other trending wines here, come for the classics and classy vibe.
Taba Cafe Beat, Via del Gazometro, 44. Dusted and redesigned on the premises of the former popular Mercat Bistrot & Old Bar, a more elegant casual dining bar with a focus on seafood. Serviceable but without the charm of its former tenant.