Roma Sparita: Eat in Trastevere, But Not With Tourists*

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I'm so glad to have just discovered Roma Sparita, a bustling restaurant and pizzeria in the heart of Trastevere. Like other tourist spots in Rome, Trastevere is packed with poor culinary choices. Roma Sparita, however, is not one of them.

Situated, with plenty of outdoor seating, on the broad, quiet Piazza Santa Cecilia, the restaurant was, at 10pm on a Wednesday, completely full of Italians. (That's always a good sign). Even so, the host hustled to get our party of two seated. Another waiter asked if someone was helping us. Within three minutes, our table had been cleared, reset, and a menu brought. For a restaurant in Rome–especially a popular, not-expensive restaurant in Rome–that kind of service is rare. Believe it or not.

*[Update, Oct. 2011: In the pursuit of honesty, I have to share that, sadly, this blog post is now completely, um, incorrect. When I wrote this more than a year ago, guidebooks, tourists and (most importantly!) Anthony Bourdain had yet to discover this place. But just a couple of months after this post, Bourdain went (rightfully) gaga for Roma Sparita's cacio e pepe in "No Reservations."

If you've caught this post on my blog about Rome restaurants almost always going south with newfound fame, you know what happened next. More and more tourists started eating here… and the food quality started to slide. The cacio e pepe is still good, but no longer great, and certainly not the best in Rome. Nor is this any longer a "local's place" by any stretch of the imagination. Even worse? Roma Sparita has started taking advantage of tourists who eat here. For excellent cacio e pepe at places that don't rip you off (yet), instead, head to Flavio al Velavevodetto, Trattoria Da Danilo or even Taverna dei Quaranta at the Colosseum. They might not have a fried-parmesan bowl, but they don't rip you off with a selectively-applied service charge, either.]

The food ranged from classic cucina romana to regional variations (beef carpaccio? you don't see that much in Rome). And it more than lived up to expectations. Popping the olive ascolane, a fried mixture of green olives, veal, pork, and breadcrumbs, became tough to stop doing–even knowing a pizza and pasta were on the way.

Then came the good stuff.

The pizza alla norma (shown above), a Sicilian dish with tomato, eggplant, basil, and ricotta salata (a salted, dried ricotta grated onto the pizza), was just right. And Roma Sparita's most famous dish, its tagliolini al cacio e pepe, deserved every accolade. Presented in a fried basket of parmesan, it was the best cacio e pepe I'd ever had. Truly. (To the uninitiated: a traditional Roman dish, cacio e pepe features pecorino romano cheese and black pepper. That's it. Simple, but delicious.)

Even with a good, €15 bottle of Sardinian wine, the bill came out to a little more than €20 per person. Not bad. But it left me with one lingering question: With restaurants with that kind of value in Rome, why would you ever eat here?

Roma Sparita. Piazza Santa Cecilia. Closed Sundays for dinner and Mondays all day. For more information, click here. For a map, click here.

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4 comments

  1. Amanda: Thanks to your blog, Roma Sparita was on my list long before (well a couple of months before) Anthony Bourdain went gaga over their Cacio e Pepe. We swooned it was so good! I am glad, yet sad, that we shared a portion. (But perhaps we are both alive today becasue we shared. That is one heart-stoping pasta dish!) The other food was perfect as well, the waiter was fun, the scene quiet on an October evening. We did meet and visit with other tourists, but that did not detract from our enjoyment. I tried to make Cacio e Pepe at home last night, and nearly recreated the dish, but not the experience.

  2. Hi Laurel,
    Wow, I didn’t realize Bourdain ate there! Glad I could put you in the know before everyone else ;). Other tourists – funny, not when I was eating there a lot this spring/summer…. maybe it’s been “discovered”?

  3. I have had so bad pizzas and some good pizzas in Roma, but that looks really good, and 15 euros with wine! that is a good price. I paid more than 40euros with just a pizza and two glasses of white wine.

  4. Hi Melissa,
    Yikes! At 40 euros I hope there was gold in that crust, or the white wine was actually champagne.

    I’m glad you’ll have a new place to try next time! For other cheap, good pizzas, check out Formula Uno, Nuovo Mondo (which I write about elsewhere on this site), Li Rioni, and La Montecarlo.

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