To the locals living in Rome, Trastevere is nothing short of a treasure. Away from the usual tourist route, this neighbourhood is free of the animated (read: frantic) crowds that make central Rome quite hectic at times. Crossing the river and walking to Trastevere—which literally translates to “beyond the Tiber”—one will notice and feel the difference right away: Streets are narrower—twisting and turning as you go deeper into town. Traffic is slower—apart from a Vespa or two whizzing by. The paint finishes on the medieval houses are not pristine—most are faded and chipped. Shops and restaurants are much smaller and you’ll be lucky to find English menus let alone English-speaking servers. It’s most definitely not central Rome.
Having done the tourist circuit twice before, my husband and I decided to give the other side of the Tiber a try. After four days of exploring the labyrinth of cobbled streets, and sampling a number of restaurants—most packed with locals, we completely understood why it’s called ‘Rome’s favourite neighbourhood.’ If you’re the type of tourist who will order a side of fries whilst in Italy, perhaps you should skip Trastevere; you’ll find it sleepy, dirty, or possibly, aloof. But if you’re looking for the authentic, uninhibited flavour of Rome, you must cross the river and discover the truly welcoming, intimately warm, and unspoilt treasure that is Trastevere.
TREASURES IN TRASTEVERE
In this map and in the photos below, we plotted some of our favourite spots including our recommendations on:
WHERE TO STAY
We booked a room at Nina Casetta de Trastevere—a five-room guest house located right at Viale di Trastevere. At €105 per night, it’s more affordable than many hotels and apartments in Rome. And unlike most of the older apartments in AirBnB, Nina Casetta is fully renovated and boasts modern amenities, has daily housekeeping, unlimited hot water (Hallelujah!), snacks in the kitchen, and a gracious owner who checks in everyday. I love the palette of cream and white that give the guest house a very chic feel, but what I love most is the location of the guest house: The tram that stops right in front of the apartment will take you to Piazza Venezia or to the train station. Across the street is a bank machine, a grocery store, and a tabacci to buy bus/tram tickets. About 10 steps away is Giselda for your cappuccino and cornetto. And not 400m away is the beautiful Piazza Santa Maria di Trastevere that will lead you to all other corners of the neighbourhood.
WHERE TO EAT
Finding places to eat in Trastevere taught us a number of interesting things about taking the non-touristy route:
- The restaurants are much smaller compared to Central Rome—some with 10 tables at the most. So if you’re walking in without a reservation, be prepared to not be seated right away or at all. Take our word: it will really, really help to make reservations for both lunch and dinner.
- Very few restaurants open before 12:00 so don’t come too early. And don’t come too late, either—the kitchens close at 3PM and does not re-open until 7PM for dinner service.
- Some of the local favourites change their menu daily so if you fell in-love with a dish one day, don’t be surprised if it’s not on offer when you go back.
- Some local favourites do not have English menus or English-speaking servers so do a bit of research to not look like an ignorant tourist. If all else fails, you’ll never go wrong with cacio e pepe.
Clearly, navigating the restaurant scene can be quite an adventure. A good combination of persistence and experimentation will surely lead you to discover some of the best food in all of Rome. We tried a number of restaurants in Trastevere and these are our Top 3 restaurant picks:
No. 3 Place to Eat: Roma Sparita
We checked out Roma Sparita because it was recommended by our Italian host. It was just later on that we found out that it was also recommended by Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations. The restaurant has mixed reviews online but we had an overall pleasant experience: our server was attentive and made us laugh, we were given great seats, and most importantly, the food was amazing. We attempted to reserve (in person) for two days before finally getting an opening on the third day. One thing to note is that the prices at Roma Sparita are slightly higher than others, but I attribute this to its location and fame. Try their classic cacio e pepe and the gnocchi vongole veraci e fiori di zucca. Check out their website at romasparita.com.
No. 2 Place to Eat: La Fraschetta
La Fraschetta is tucked away along Via San Francesco a Ripa just off Viale di Trastevere. It’s so small that we practically missed it walking too fast. Through the iron doors, we found a homey restaurant with at most eight tables—wine bottles lining the walls, and garlands of garlic hanging from the ceiling. Once seated, it felt like we were crashing a big Italian family gathering and mamma mia will be walking out any minute with a big dish of pasta. But our server came instead with our orders, but make no mistake: each dish tasted like it’s made with the stamp of approval of every mestolo-wielding Italian mamma in all of Roma. The best part? I paid €7 for my dish of cacio e pepe which was priced €12 at Roma Sparita. Check out their website at lafraschetta.com.
Best place to eat in Trastevere (or all of Rome): I Supplì
Without any exaggeration, I Supplì has the best pizza we’ve ever tasted in all our travels in Italy. And it appears, the locals agree. I Supplì is a small pizzeria just steps from Basilica Santa Maria di Trastevere. Named after the deep-fried risotto ball, it sells pasta, pizza, and of course, the legendary balls of golden supplì. There’s a constant crowd inside the store, so some customers usually stand out on the street to enjoy their first two slices, then head back inside to order the next two. (Heaven knows this is what we did multiple times.) If you come during ‘off peak’ hours, you may actually be able eat while standing by a round metal table inside the restaurant, listening to the symphony that the pizzaiolos make as they slice and dice and chop and prep the pizza in a graceful frenzy. At dinner time, be prepared for utter battle: The locals come to clean out the goods. Whilst standing in line, we saw three customers order over 40 slices to take home. We watched in awe as the pizzaiolo laid out a square board and started fanning out all 40 slices as the customer pointed to the different types of pizza. Before wrapping the package in paper, the pizzaiolo weighed the board, punched a few numbers in the cash, and shouted out an unbelievably low price to the happy customer. The perfect combination of great price and unbelievable flavour is what most likely draws all the locals to I Supplì. For lunch on our second day, my husband and I ordered a bowl of pasta and four slices of pizza and paid no more than €7. And in truth, for the incredible taste, we would have paid so much more!
Honourable Mention: Da Enzo
We passed Da Enzo multiple times and never saw it without a crowd of locals outside waiting to be seated. We attempted to get reservations but miserably failed. After much lurking and observing how long the people outside were willing to wait on a cold, grey December day, we established that it’s a local favourite and it will be our first stop the next time we visit Trastevere.