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Rome cuisine is vegetable top-heavy, but finding a good veggie restaurant takes work.
By Eleonora Baldwin
The average Italian is a carnivore, Romans in particular. Veal and beef are the norm as main courses and in pasta sauces. But the city also has plenty of vegetarian options, mainly because mainstream Italian cuisine, which hasn't changed much since the 19th century, leans heavily on vegetable, pasta and dairy products.
Driven more by poverty and availability than conscious choice, traditional regional recipes depended more on what the land produced than what animal pens had to offer. Meat and fish were costly items, usually reserved for nobility or higher social status, and often downright rare for non-hunters. Hence the birth of polenta, pizza, gnocchi, vegetable pies, the vivid selection of cheeses, hearty soups and affordable preparations that relied on leftover bread, beans and potatoes: basic sustenance that has trickled down in history into our every-day meals.
So vegetarians visiting Rome don't need to worry. Here's a shortlist of reliable vegetarian, vegan and ovo-lacto friendly havens I've dined in lately.
Arancia Blu, among Rome's pioneer vegetarian destinations, has moved from its original San Lorenzo location to a larger, more comfortable venue in the Prenestina suburbs. Equipped with a lovely outdoor patio that welcomes pets and kids, the nifty à la carte vegetarian menu is also very popular with meat people, helped by a 600-bottle wine list, homemade stuffed pasta dishes, soups, salads and a mile-long cheese menu.
I pretend to be vegetarian for their leek and almond quiche, the mouthwatering tortelli with Parmigiano filling, dressed with watercress pesto and topinambur (Jerusalem artichoke) chips. Leave room for dessert. ¶ Arancia Blue. Open daily from 5 p.m. (high tea); aperitivo and cheese/champagne tastings at 7 p.m.; dinner at 8 p.m. On weekends open for lunch only. Via Prenestina, 396e. Tel. +39.06.44.54.105.
The Beehive Café is a dreamy corner of peace which makes you forget you're two blocks from zoo that is the Termini train station. It's part of the eco-conscious and welcoming Beehive Hotel, a sustainable mix of budget hotel and upscale hostel. Owned by a lovely American couple, the hotel's kitchen offers daily breakfast graced by organic coffee and homemade bread, pancakes, omelets and bagels; plus weekend brunches, and evening vegan buffets three nights a week, all with healthy, organic food. You can come for that, or simply choose to sit in the garden, sipping herbal tea and surf the web thanks to the free Wi-Fi. ¶ The Beehive. Open daily 7:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Via Marghera, 8. Tel. +39.06.4470.4553.
Bibliothé is a peaceful vegetarian hub that draws indophile yogis, artists, poets, and travelers wishing to find a quiet space for reading at teatime. It serves 100 percent organic Ayurvedic cuisine (a holistic Indian approach to dietary needs). Guests are treated to candied ginger and caffeine-free tisanes; and the menu showcases dishes made with all manner of cereals, legumes, and fresh seasonal produce. I come for the tasty spelt crepes, the wonderful chutneys, homemade yogurts, and vegan desserts. ¶ Bibliothé. Closed Sunday. Via Celsa, 4 (Pantheon). Tel. +39.06.678.1427.
Il Geco Biondo ("The Blond Gecko") is an organic vegetarian eatery not far from Ponte Marconi that specializes in pasta dishes, salads and vegan desserts. It offers a wide selection of handmade gnocchi, lasagna, strozzapreti and stuffed ravioli, dressed with original sauces and condiments. Between the opening salad and the main dish, there's always a surprise, whether a protein dish, a veggie pâté, a bowl of soup, a mini cereal salad, or a side dish sampler. ¶ Il Geco Biondo. Open for dinner only, closed Sunday. Via G. Cardano, 105 (Marconi/San Paolo). Tel. +39.06.557.1048.
Margutta RistorArte is a very posh vegetarian restaurant with outdoor seating a stone's throw from Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps. All is homemade here (including bread, desserts and pasta) and popular menu items include a veggie tart with smoked provola cheese and zucchini in mint marinade; risotto with strawberries and Gorgonzola; and springtime asparagus and hard-boiled egg cous cous salad. There's a four-course vegan menu, affordable buffet lunch and three brunch options, according to calendar. ¶ Margutta RistorArte. Open lunch and dinner, seven days a week, year-round (except Christmas Day). Via Margutta, 118. Tel. +39.06.3265.0577.
Ops! Is a fun, pet-friendly self-service restaurant with ample vegetarian options. No waiters, just a weight scale: you fill your plate and pay by weight. Daily specials may include penne with toasted hazelnut and seasonal vegetables; glazed seitan (wheat gluten); oven-baked butternut squash, falafel with red lentil dhal. The office lunchboxes are perfect for workaholics that don't break at midday. Offers free Wi-Fi. ¶ Ops!. Open 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Closed Monday night. Via Bergamo, 56 (Salaria/Nomentana). Tel. +39.06.841.1769.
Rewild Cruelty-Free Club is an all-vegan pub and bistro in the Garbatella area. The menu features non-animal burgers, hot dogs, crèpes, panini, pizza, bruschette, piadine, gelato, desserts, smoothies, Italian craft beers, chocolate and lactose-free caffeinated beverages. Though a little too extreme in its abstemious policy, it comes with perks, including free Wi-Fi, live music, film screenings and cute waiters. ¶ Rewild Cruelty-Free Club. No credit cards. Open daily from 8 p.m. Via Giovannipoli, 18. Tel. +39. 06.9761.3910.
As for health food stores, Albero del Pane sells all kinds of eco-friendly shampoos, soaps, cosmetics, vitamins, dried and fresh foods, including cereals, pasta, natural honey, tisanes and herbal teas, seasonal fruit and vegetables, and has a small deli counter. ¶ Open 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m., except Sunday. Via S. Maria del Pianto, 19 (Jewish quarter) Tel. +39.06.686.5016.
Il Canestro is a grocery store stocked with natural and organic products with outlets in three neighborhoods: Testaccio, Trastevere and Trieste. They sell everything from non-toxic cleaning products, cruelty-free cosmetics, natural wines, organic produce, certified meats and delicatessen, cereals, baby food, canned goods, eggs etc. ¶ Open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Città dell'Altra Economia Spazio Bio Store ("City of the Parallel Economy") is located in the city's 19th century slaughterhouse complex and contains an organic mini-market that sells fresh produce, wine, olive oil, cleaning products, cereals and pulse, dairy products and eggs, jams, canned and bottled foods. There's also a fair-trade boutique, a second hand clothing and furniture store, a cafe, a bicycle shop, a playground and a bookstore, plus a weekly outdoor market. ¶ Open 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Closed Monday. Via Dino Frisullo. Tel. +39.06.5728.9957.
iVegan.it sells 100 percent certified organic vegan food, including seitan, tofu, tempeh, non-dairy cheeses, proteins and snacks, cruelty-free cosmetics, hemp clothing, books, wine, supplements, and pet foods. These are available in the Portuense store or online. There's also a toll-free number for phone orders. ¶ Open weekdays 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Via Ascanio Fenizi, 39. Tel. +39.06.8360.3369.
Trastevere Bio is a natural grocery store in the heart of the bohemian Trastevere neighborhood. It sells breakfast foods, kamut (wheat grain) products, various flours and steel-cut cereals, yogurt, rice, pasta, gluten-free foods, cured meats, cheeses, fresh produce, juices and beverages, natural bread, baby food and cosmetics. ¶ Open daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Via di S. Dorotea, 11. Tel. +39.06.581.5331.
Er Cimotto is a historic Trastevere bottega that in addition to offering fresh seasonal produce and firstlings, assembled salads, soups, and juices, also sells exotic fruits and vegetables and a small selection of grocery basics, including pasta, rice, flour, bottled sauces, cheese and fresh bread. The bread is delivered fresh daily from the nearby Lazio towns of Lariano and Amelia. ¶ Open daily 7 a.m.-10 p.m. (Sunday 8 a.m.-8 pm). Piazza della Malva, 6. Tel. +39.06.580.6460.
Buca di Bacco
Don't make the common mistake. This is not the more upscale Buco di Bacco of Postano. Instead, it's a fairly simple fish, seafood, and pizza hole-in-the-wall that operates in the once-upon-a-time style of a trattoria — they give you their best. The whited, Greek-style vaulted arches give the place its inner flavor. If you have doubts about seafood and meats (don't), grab a Pizza Napoletana (the kitchen skink) and relax. The restaurant is at Via Longano 35 — a street that leads from Piazza Umberto. — Katrina Maiano
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Enoteca Casa Bleve
There are few more hospitable places for a Rome lunch than this one. The luxury (in an arcade-like, neo-classic setting) is muted because it’s still family-managed. Propietor Tina Bleve still oversees much of the cooking, including involtini with roasted peppers and cured beef. Extremely friendly and classy while never lapsing into the tiresome formalities of exaggerated luxury. Note that it's closed both Sunday and Monday. Lunch 12:30-3 p.m.; dinner 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., latest. — Cristina Polli
Great fusion place, with every twist on mozzarella as the star player. They'll mix the melt-in-your-mouth bufala any way you wish. Vegetarians rely on Obikà for its take-out salads. Lovely sandwich combinations made in front of you. If healthy and organic is your preference, check it out. Or you can also just grab a coffee. Open daily 10 a.m.-midnight. Saturday and Sunday brunch. — Cristina Polli