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From insides out
Long associated with offal and innards, Rome's Testaccio now offers considerably more.
By Eleonora Baldwin
Rome's Testaccio neighborhood, its Tiber River trading hub in ancient times, has long been associated with so-called quinto quarto dishes, traditional delights made from the leftover parts of grazing animals (including tripe, sweetbreads, lungs, nerves, tail, intestines, and liver). The vast area that sprawls around bizarre Monte dei Cocci — a hill made from broken Roman anforas, and the mattatoio, the city's slaughterhouse from 1920s until it closed in 1975 — was a beehive of local industry. Slaughterhouse workers often received offal as part of their pay, making offal-related meals a staple of the neighborhood diet.
But it's not all organs in contemporary Rome's working-class wonderland.
Testaccio has grown hipper by the decade and it's now home to upbeat nightlife, museums and dance clubs. It also has its share of offal-less gourmet destinations. Here's my shortlist of places to find great Testaccio meals while taking a break from innards frenzy.
Tram Depot This popular retro chic kiosk at the intersection of Via Marmorata and Via Gelsomini offers an array of gourmet street food and attracts a young crowd with weekend music, innovative drinks and craft beers. The motif is vintage Rome trams, with the dining area situated on a green veranda. Patrons can enjoy drinks and food all day long (fruit and veg juices, smoothies, tramezzini, salads, pulled pork sandwiches, wild game cheeseburgers, cocktails, fruit salads and sublime signature cocktails. Good grattacheccas, too) • Tram Depot. Open daily, 7:30 a.m.-2 a.m. (takeout available) | Via Marmorata, 13. Tel. +39.06.575.4406. No website.
Mordi e Vai Sergio Esposito owns and mans a stall (the name means "bite and run") in the Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio, and his pizza by the slice and €3 sandwiches are stellar lunch options. In addition to tripe and allesso (pulled boiled beef), fillings vary daily, and may include the delightful polpette di vitello e pomodoro (veal meatballs and tomato), scaloppine and chicory, or de-boned chicken and mushrooms • Mordi e Vai. Open Mon.-Sat. 8a.m. -3 p.m. No seating | Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio, Box 15 on Via Alessandro Volta (Via B. Franklin side). Tel. +39.339.1343.344.
La Moderna Smart choice for a snack or a full-on feast, La Moderna's menu features tasty specials that include 'nduja sausage, ricotta and artichoke croquettes, chickpea and baccalà salad and glazed ricotta with radicchio. Its proper vegetarian dishes can bring carnivores to tears — giant cobb salads, beans cooked in a flask, chickpea burgers. The street-food menu features cani caldi (a transliteration of hot dog) made with organic artisan pork, plus ciabattas (bagels) with various fixings, like the divine fegato alla veneziana (liver with braised onions). There are also grilled meats and seafood, including barbecued lobster, cuttlefish, octopus and baccalà. Pizza is made in a wood-stoked oven and the drinks department is top notch. • La Moderna Open daily 7:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Via Galvani, 89. Tel. +39.06.5750123.
Trapizzino Testaccio regulars know a trapizzino as a triangular focaccia "pocket" filled with classic Roman ingredients. After a major decor overhaul, the flagship eatery (there's a second branch in Ponte Milvio) has expanded its fillings menu to include Sicilian broccoli and grilled sausage, braised beef cheek, Mesclun salad (or vignarola for vegetarians), octopus and tomato sauce and all manner of burrata sinfulness (served as a separate topping) — all this in addition to the classic offal selections. A mere €3.50 will take your taste buds on a sensory trip no regular restaurant can match. Try the "trabissino" (a play on Eritrean food and pronunciation), which is filled with spicy zighinì. Italian craft beers and foreign ales pair the goods. • Trapizzino Testaccio Open Sun.-Tue., noon to midnight, in summer daily from 5:30 p.m. to 1a.m. | Via Giovanni Branca, 88. Tel. +39.06.43419624.
Remo This Testaccio stalwart never disappoints lovers of thin crust pizza. Not the place to come if you're looking for American-style hyper-topped pizza or the Neapolitan thick rim version. The bakers here have perfected the crispy side of the pie, in the Rome tradition. While awaiting your pizza, order the delicious house bruschetta, fried zucchini blossoms and battered cod fillets. Save room for the tart filled with ricotta and visciole (wild, sour cherries) • Remo. Open Mon.-Sat. 6 p.m-1a.m. | Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice, 44. Tel. +39.06.574.6270. No website.
La Torricella A neighborhood landmark, La Torricella's fresh seafood, pizzas, classic pasta dishes and authentic old Rome feel make it a connoisseur's favorite. Here you'll find prime Chianina beef cuts and carciofi alla giudia (which compete in quality with those fried in their Jewish Ghetto birthplace). Also on offer are pasta e fagioli, gnocchi, and a wide range of seafood (the minestra di arzilla and spaghetti with angler fish are stellar). There's outdoor seating on the patio, which is always breezy, even in summer • La Torricella Open daily, lunch and dinner | Via Evangelista Torricelli 2/12. Tel. +39.06.574.6311.
Forno Farinando This neighborhood bakery sells hearty pizza (both plated or by the slice) and other oven goods. You'll find it crowded with locals and signoras doing their morning grocery rounds. The bread is always fresh and made with assorted grains (this is the only place in Rome where I've found braided bread stuffed with vegetables). Particularly worthwhile is the walnut treccia, the green olive, and all breads made with zucchini. There's also a wide choice of pastries, biscotti and crostatas, plus excellent holiday cakes, including some of Rome's best artisanal panettone. There's seating in the back, with air conditioning • Forno Farinando. Open Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m.-2:45 p.m., 4 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. | Via Luca Della Robbia, 30. Tel. +39.06.575.0674. No website.
Linari There's always a line outside this neighborhood bar pasticceria. Why? Quality food and drink made on premises and served with a smile. A fragrant cornetto (Italian croissant), krapfen, Danish rolls and other homemade pastries and cakes are a great way to start the day — paired with fabulous foamy cappuccinos. Lunch transforms the cafe into a vibrant tavola calda, with daily specials and value meals, or pizza by the slice. Merenda (afternoon snack) is best enjoyed at a sidewalk table, tucking into some mini pizzas or gelato. Or both. Good selection of homemade chocolate pralines and bars too. • Linari Open Wed.-Mon. 7 a.m.-9:30 p.m. (summer, 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m.) | Via Nicola Zabaglia, 9. Tel. +39.06.578.2358.
Stazione di Posta Opening a gourmet restaurant in the heart of working-class Rome sounded like a gamble (particularly one located inside the former slaughterhouse in Città dell'Altra Economia). But forward-looking chef Marco Martini and illuminated entrepreneur Pino Cau won the bet. Lots to choose from on all the menus (lunch, dinner, weekend lunch, à la carte and tasting). The venue is a beautiful example of making dining work in what was once an industrial setting. Signature musts include Ajo e ojo di mare (pasta with seafood), turbot with tuna sauce and tamarind, and squab with scorzanera root and coffee powder. Great cocktails and a stellar wine and craft beer list • Stazione di Posta Open Wed.-Sat. lunch and dinner; Tuesday for dinner and Sunday for lunch only | Largo Dino Frisullo (Monte dei Cocci side). Tel. +39.06.574.3548.
Self-styled West Coast bar and grill that shimmies. The crowd is fantastic to look at: models and hotties (male and female), soccer players, cigar-toting metrosexuals. But what keeps customers coming back is the unerringly good cuisine. For starters, "Angus" tartar is heavenly, so is the West Coast Sushi and Spring Salad (€8.50). The Argentine beef is nicely presented with grilled chicken slices. There's Timberland Quail and a "Zinafandel faux-filet." Be prepared to lay down the cash (Lobster Spaghetti runs you €16) — €50/60 a head is a low-end safe bet with wine and dessert. The bar is a hit and you can dine there if you wish. Oh, the "Duke" of the name is Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian surfing and Olympic swimming champion who ruled the waves 100 years ago. Reservations recommended. — Cristina Polli
Hang Zhou Sonia
With posters of Mao Zedong plastered all over this cozy restaurant in Rome’s "Chinatown," a visit is as much about experiencing this self-styled Mao Mecca — near Piazza Vittorio — as it is eating the city’s best Chinese food (the Italian guide Gambero Rosso says the the same). The anatra sulla piastra con cippoline (duck on a hot plate with onions) surges with ginger and slight hints of mustard, and in a testament to the quality of duck, it is left to sizzle in its own skin rather than suffer the intrusion of a heavy sauce. The shrimp dumplings in transparent dough, steamed and served in bamboo, are delicate and flavorful and exactly what you want in your ravioli. The house specialty, black rice, or riso d’imperatore. Steamed and fried dumplings and Buddhist-style vegetables are also delightful. A big pot of tea is a nice finish. — Kristine Crane
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Long the favorite of late-night politicians (it's next door to the Pantheon, close to both houses of parliament), this is an able pizzeria that also serves typical Roman fare, including excellent carbonara and fried breaded mozzarella mozzarella alla Milanese. Family-owned and run for decades, it’s the rare downtown place that will let you actually sit down to dinner after a late movie. Enormous pizzas; tasty focaccia beforehand — which can fill you up if you’re not careful. Better in the winter, since there’s not outdoor dining and AC notwithstanding it steams up as the temperature rises (the ovens are the culprits). — Cristina Polli
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