Osteria Fernanda, the Best Restaurant in Trastevere

Osteria Fernanda restaurant in Rome

If you saw a dish like this one (the colors! the presentation!) while dining in Rome, you might assume it comes from one of Rome's Best Restaurants—you know, the places where "Best Restaurant" comes in caps, like La Pergola or Il Pagliaccio. At the very least, you might assume a meal at said restaurant would set you back a pretty penny. 

You'd be even more convinced of this after taking a bite. Super-fresh, perfectly roasted octopus on a black bean sauce, adorned with a slice of celery gelatin (yes, really). And that's just the antipasto.

But despite the creative dishes and the high-quality ingredients, this is no La Pergola. It's Osteria Fernanda, a restaurant in Trastevere. Perhaps the best restaurant in Trastevere. And the price is a fraction of what you'd spend at Fernanda's Michelin-starred neighbors.

Da Fernanda in Trastevere, Rome

Located near Porta Portese (would you look at that… you can get there on the #3 bus!), Osteria Fernanda is a small but elegant space, contemporary with just the right "old Rome" touches (brick archways, wooden floors). If you can, reserve a table upstairs (shown above)—the tables downstairs are a little close together.

From the start, the service was impeccable. I was there with a visiting Scottish friend and her mother, and speaking with them in English; we were the only English-speakers in the place. But we were treated with the same courtesy and respect as the tables of Italians around us. (After more experiences than I can count, especially in Rome's centro storico, where the polar opposite is true, it's admittedly sad that this is worth mentioning). The owner, who took our orders, was polite, helpful, and, yes, spoke English. 

But the food is where things really got going. First came a delicious amusebouche, one of those little complimentary "extras" that are rare at any but the most expensive Rome restaurants. The antipasti were perfect: the octopus (above) was delicious, although the second antipasto we ordered, an "escalope of foie gras, Szechuan pepper gelato, lemon puree and crushed nuts," blew my mind (below). Hot and cold, melt-in-your-mouth soft and crunchy, meaty and citrusy—everything was there. And it all worked. 

Osteria Fernanda, Rome restaurant in Trastevere

After setting such a high bar, the primi could have been letdowns. They weren't. Although out of the three dishes were ordered—mine, acqua e farine pasta filled with Roman artichokes on cuttlefish-ink and bottarga, was creative but good—the most traditional was actually, in my opinion, the best. Yep: bucatini all'amatriciana. 

It just might be the best amatriciana I've had in Rome. Ever.  

The best amatriciana in Rome

Too full for the delicious-looking secondi (next time, I'm going for the beef cheek with artichoke gelatin, Jerusalem artichoke sauce and licorice), we went right for the desserts. Big surprise: They were fantastic, too. And the presentation was lovely.

Dessert at Osteria Fernanda in Rome

Even though the prices were listed on the menu (our octopus starter was €15, the amatriciana was €14), the bill could have been almost anything. Would they charge us for the amusebouche? Assume we were all tourists and take advantage by adding a 15% servizio or an exaggerated pane e coperto charge? And how much were the bottles of wine that the owner had recommended, and that we hadn't double-checked the price on?

For two antipasti, three secondi, two dolci, two bottles of wine, bread, and water, the price came out to about €110. Or a little under €40 a head. The wines had been under €15, and, yes, the amusebouches were complimentary. Cheap? No. Incredible value? Yes. (There also are two tasting menus, one 4-course taster for €33 each and one 5-course taster for €38).

I will be back.

And Osteria Fernanda? I'm sure foodie fame is coming your way. And more tourists, too. Just please, please, don't change. Okay?

Osteria Fernanda. Via Ettore Rolli 1. +39 065894333.

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Trattoria Luzzi: At the Colosseum, a Good Option Among the Bad

 

Pizza capricciosa at Luzzi, a trattoria near the Colosseum, RomeEveryone seems to love Luzzi, a trattoria just down the street from the Colosseum.

Tourists love it because it has checkered tablecloths, waiters who speak English and are (gasp!) friendly to them — but who still yell at each other across the room in Italian, and an earlier opening time for dinner than most other 8pm-and-after restaurants.

Locals love it, although a little less, because the waiters are nuts but (usually) fast, and the
menu's cheap: €6 and under for most pizzas and pastas.

The only people who don't love it is foodies. That's because Luzzi is not for those of us who pick apart whether the guanciale tastes smoky or if the pasta is fresh, or who want a wine list (you won't find one here). Luzzi doesn't serve some of the best food in Rome. It doesn't even serve some of the best cheap food in Rome. (For that, see: places in San Lorenzo and Testaccio, including Il Pommidoro and Nuovo Mondo, and some in Trastevere, including Roma Sparita).

But Luzzi fits a certain need. That need is for a place that's fun, cheap, and reliably okay within a 10-minute walk from the Colosseum, an area where you can't throw a guidebook without hitting a terrible, touristy, overpriced place that caters to, and is filled with, people with their noses in the same guidebook. And some of its dishes are pretty good, including the amatriciana or fettucine alla bolognese (both €5.50), and starters like the octopus grigliata or the antipasto that you get yourself. Help yourself to the array of veggies and other goodies in the back, and you'll be charged depending on the size of your plate — this big plate cost about €4 (below).

Antipasto at Luzzi, RomeIn the evening, though, your best bet at Luzzi is the pizza (shown at top). It doesn't hold up to the pies coming out of Luzzi's neighbor Li Rioni, but then again, Li Rioni is a dedicated pizzeria, no pastas on the menu. Luzzi isn't. And even so, their pizza's pretty darn reliable, always with a proper thin Roman crust and fresh ingredients.

(Well, almost always. Never, ever order their pizza at lunch; it seems Luzzi's pizza chef is only on at dinner. So what you'll wind up with, instead, is a kind of undercooked, floppy monstrosity that scares away all the other pizzas on the playground).

So am I recommending Luzzi or not? If you're in the Colosseum neighborhood and are at risk of winding up in one of the other myriad and awful places in the area, if a friendly, bustling atmosphere is more important to you than if every dish is perfect, or if you're used to places where guitarists sing "That's Amore" to you and where spaghetti and meatballs are on the menu and you want to try something a little more authentic, then yes. If you're the type who likes to reserve dinners in advance and eat the very best of what Rome has to offer…mmm…probably not.

(That doesn't mean I don't love you, Luzzi!)

Luzzi. Via di San Giovanni in Laterano 88. Open for lunch and dinner daily except for Wednesday. 06 7096332‎. For a map, click here.  

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L'Asino d'Oro: Just Maybe My Favorite Restaurant in Rome 


 

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For Cucina Romana Done Right: Il Pommidoro

Pasta alla gricia at Pommidoro, Ro,eWhen I want cucina romana, Rome boasts one restaurant I can always count on for high-quality ingredients and top-notch dishes: Il Pommidoro.

Located in the student-heavy, graffiti-spotted San Lorenzo neighborhood (half-jokingly referred to by Roman residents as the "communist quarter"), Il Pommidoro isn't on the track for most tourists. The clientele, almost always exclusively Italian, reflects that. But when it only costs €6 to take a cab before 10pm to Il Pommidoro from, say, the Colosseum, it's a worthwhile venture. Especially when it's for classic Roman dishes the way Il Pommidoro cooks them up.

Italian orange mushrooms, or amanita caesarea, at Il Pommidoro, Rome

One of Rome's classic family-run restaurants, Pommidoro dates back to 1926, when the current owner's grandmother turned her wine shop into an eatery. Aldo, the grandson, started working here at seven. 

Although the menu does have plates inspired from beyond the Lazio region, most of the food reflects those older Rome traditions. All of your classic offal is on the menu, from animelle alla cacciatora, or stewed sweetbreads (€12) to spiedone di pajata, the intestines of unweaned calves (€10). Try the porchetta as an antipasto; the sliced pork, shown below, is melt-in-your-mouth. Roast partridge, rabbit and duck also are on the menu, and much of it was shot by the Bravi family themselves on their hunts. (This was, perhaps, never made more real to me than when I took a bite of their pheasant last night, only to chomp down on something hard. It was shot.) 

Porchetta at Il Pommidoro, Rome

Pastas include all the classics, too, from carbonara (€8) to amatriciana (€8). And while a recent amatriciana was the only dish I've ever had there that I haven't been completely impressed with — it was a little too watery — Il Pommidoro has made it up to me in the past with their other pastas. Most notable: The best pasta alla gricia I've ever tasted, complete with perfectly al dente pasta and smoky, just-crunchy-enough bits of guanciale, shown at top.

Always ask about their specials, too; you might come across something like the orange mushrooms, or amanita caesarea, shown above.

Il Pommidoro tends to be popular with locals, so make sure you book in advance. Unlike most other Rome restaurants, it has long lunch hours — until 3pm — so it's a good midday stop, too.
Il Pommidoro's wood oven

The wood oven at Il Pommidoro, perfect for roasting those suckling pigs and rabbits.

Il Pommidoro. Piazza dei Sanniti 44, in San Lorenzo. Open for lunch and dinner daily except for Sunday. 064452692. For a map, click here.  

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Five Rules for Finding Rome’s Best Restaurants

It can be tough to simply stumble across great restaurants in Rome, a city that’s thick on the ground with mediocre, overpriced dining options. And so, to eat at the very best restaurants in Rome, it’s always advisable to have a list of recommendations with you (and to make reservations in advance).

But what if you just want to eat well, avoid Rome’s worst dining options, and not spend tons of time researching and booking restaurants? Then just keep these five rules in mind.

1. Get away from the uber-tourist centers… or at least be aware that the closest you are to, say, the Colosseum, the harder it’ll be for you to find top-notch nosh. There are some notable exceptions to this: The local favoriteTaverna dei Fori Imperiali, for example, is remarkably close to the Roman forum for having such darn good food. But while the family that runs Taverna has the pride and business acumen to keep their food delicious and their prices moderate, not every restaurant so well-positioned will do the same. Especially watch out for the areas right around the Vatican and the Trevi Fountain, which are veritable food deserts.

2. Run, don’t walk, away from that oh-so-friendly host trying to get you to come inside. He seems nice? He speaks English? He’s telling you you’re beautiful and your husband is a lucky man? That all means one thing: His food’s not good enough for people — most notably Italians — to come in on their own.

How to find restaurants in Rome
He might be nice. But that host is a sign that you shouldn’t eat here.

3. A tourist menu can be okay. Yes, if it’s posted on the door as “MENU TURISTICA: 10 Euros for appetizer, pasta, and wine!”, you might be in trouble. But if you go inside and are handed an English menu, don’t worry. Most restaurants do this these days.

4. Never look for a place to eat at 6pm. Or 7pm. Or anytime before 8. As a general rule of thumb, if it’s open that early, it’ll be catering to tourists: Italians never eat before 8:30.

5. Trattoria, hosteria, taverna…meh. Any difference there once was between these has pretty much slipped away. Just remember that a birreria is more a place for fried food and beer, and that most good pizzerias aren’t open at lunch.

Finally, remember what you’re looking out for: That hole-in-the-wall place that doesn’t even look like a restaurant on the outside, but when you walk in (remember, at 9pm), it’s bustling with Italians. Eat only at gems like these, and you’re guaranteed to have some of the best food in Rome.

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