A Taste of Trastevere

Leah Walker explores the Roman neighborhood

Leah Walker explores the streets of Rome's Trastevere neighborhood in search of great gourmet meals.

I loved every single thing about Rome. Seriously. There’s nothing I would change. I visited all the usual haunts and not so usual…after getting lost. The neighborhood my husband and I kept finding ourselves in was Trastevere. Its cobblestone streets, flower boxes, and narrow, confusing streets give it unique character. I loved roaming the streets with my mouth agape; I never knew what was around the next corner. I’m sure the setting had something to do with it, but I ate my favorite meals in Trastevere. The best part ? The only English we heard was what was coming out of our own mouths.

Osteria La Gensola, Piazza della Gensola 15, Rome, Tel: 39 06 581 6312

Osteria La Gensola alone is worth the trip back to Rome. This place puts out some of the most delicious food in Trastevere, and possibly the entire city. It’s is the definition of a Roman “mom and pop” place in terms of lack of attitude or arrogance. Owner Simone wants to keep La Gensola local and Italian, which makes it the kind of place I love. Simone and his wife are the owners and operators of this place void of tourists. The simple décor doesn’t detract attention away from its star: the food. This is the quintessential Italian neighborhood spot. Throw eight two-tops in your dining room and La Gensola is what you’ve got.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that you could close your eyes and point at something on the menu and end up satisfied, but for those not quite as adventurous, here are my choices:

• French Normandy Oysters: After you breathe in the sea air, you’ll feel like you dug them up and shucked them yourself.

• Pata Negra: This black Iberian pig is fattened on barley and maze for a few weeks. Then its diet consists purely of acorns. They slaughter the pig, salt it, and leave it to dry for two weeks. It can take up to three years to cure the ham. It’s €200 a kilo, but puts even the best prosciutto to shame.

• Strapazzata: What’s not to like about fried spinach, fried potatoes, and tomatoes? Include bacon and a scrambled egg, and you have heaven on a plate.

• Amatriciana: Rigatoni noodles, tomatoes from a farmer in Napoli, and pig cheek combine to make one fantastic bowl of pasta.

• Carbonara: It was invented in Rome, and La Gensola uses three things: egg, bacon, and Parmesan. Some versions will have butter and/or cream. Not here.

• You can’t go wrong with any of the seafood; they’re known for it.

Claudio, Simone’s son and heir apparent, is very clear regarding the restaurant’s mission statement. They want to greet every person who walks in with a genuine smile. And the money? Fugheddaboudit. Even if it were important, it’s hardly a priority. Their enjoyment comes from the pride of putting together the very best ingredients and making everyone who walks through the door happy. But you better have a reservation, or the door is as far as you are likely to get.

Roma Sparita, Piazza Santa Cecilia 24, Rome, Tel: 39 06 5800757

Don’t think you’re just going to find Roma Sparita in Trastevere on your own. In fact, you probably can’t even count on your cab driver to lead you to it with the address in hand; that’s just the way the locals want it. Is finding Roma Sparita worth all the hassle? In a word, YES! I would wander the streets and alleys of Trastevere night and day to find this place. It’s that good. In a city filled with wonderful restaurants, this is my favorite. Have I tried them all? Nope. Why keep searching when I’ve found perfection?

Located in Piazza di Santa Cecilia, Roma Sparita is the place you would meet your family and friends for a casual meal if you lived in Rome. It would be the place you could always count on for great food at a good price. In fact, I heard about this place from a friend’s sister-in-law who is Italian and lives in Trastevere. I researched (as I always do) the place, and much to my dismay, Anthony Bourdain had already discovered it. And where Anthony goes, tourists are soon to follow. A room full of people speaking English is not really what I had in mind for my Roman holiday, but Roma Sparita did come so highly recommended, and by an Italian no less. I had to visit.

My husband and I had the concierge make a reservation. It turns out that it wasn’t needed; by 2:30 the Saturday lunch crowd had all but gone. We were greeted by the smile of an older gentleman. If the weather were nicer we would have asked to sit in their large outdoor seating area. Instead we were led to the smallish dining room. As per usual custom, we were offered wine, which was gladly accepted. We looked over the menu, and quickly identified all the signature items I found through research.

Carciofo Alla Giudia…

Their Roman-style fried artichokes are so delicious that they deserve a line to themselves. I’m not kidding. It’s only appropriate that Roma Sparita is located in Piazza di Santa Cecilia (the patron saint of music), because their artichokes made my taste buds sing. We went through the first order like a hot knife through butter, then ordered not just one, but two additional orders. I could have made a meal out of them. They were that good. I made a point to eat this dish at every other restaurant we visited. None could hold a candle to Roma Sparita.

While we were licking our fingers and swilling our wine, the waiter brought our primo, cacio e pepe. This simple dish is synonymous with Rome. The sauce contains only olive oil, starchy water from the cooked pasta, pecorino cheese, and black pepper. The pasta is then tossed and gently placed in Parmesan cheese basket, a Roma Sparita special touch. Perfecto! That’s really all I can say.

True to form, we ordered another for each of us. If you’re keeping count, we had three orders of artichokes, four orders of cacao e pepe, and a pitcher of the house red wine. We were spent. There was no room for the secondi, a pizza from their wood-burning oven, or even dessert. But we were satisfied. Completely.

More than sufficiently fueled for the rest of our day, we paid the reasonable bill and were on our way when I noticed a large piece of butcher paper hung on the outside of the restaurant. There was a little boy with three giant buckets of paint and a couple of paintbrushes. We watched for a second before he called to me in Italian. I walked over and he handed me the brush with red paint on it. He and I talked; neither knew what the other was saying, but I did know he didn’t want me messing with the fish his brother painted.

Dar Poeta, Vicolo del bologna 45, Rome Tel. 39 06 58 80516

Let me just say, I love pizza. I’ll eat any style with any toppings; I’m not picky. Do I have a preference? Yep. If given the choice, I’d pick a Margarita pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven. Dar Poeta in Trastevere had that and so much more. This small pizzeria located on Vicolo del Bologna, has at least 30 different kinds of pizza. Their crust is neither Roman nor Neapolitan; it’s a hybrid of the two and uniquely their own.

The pizza is great, but I’m just going to cut to the chase. The best part of Dar Poeta is the calzone stuffed with ricotta cheese and Nutella. Don’t tell my husband, but I’ve been having an affair with Nutella for about seven years. In Dar Poeta I found the Holy Grail of Nutella. Dough. Cheese. Nutella. If you’re a fan of the chocolate-hazelnut spread, get thyself to Dar Poeta. Now.

Bonus: If you haven’t had enough at Dar Poeta, there’s a gelateria (they have Nutella flavored) with various delicious pastries next door. I grabbed a few for breakfast the next morning.

For more of Leah Walker's travels, visit Leah Travels: Life Is Short & The Road Is Long.