Chef vs Critic: The Best Places to Eat and Drink in Rome

Dish at Metamorfosiroma restaurant, Rome

When a top chef and food critic agree on the city’s best trattoria and gelato, it pays to take note.

THE CRITIC: Katie Parla – Expat American food writer and the author of Tasting Rome
THE CHEF: Roy Caceres – The man behind Metamorfosi, one of Rome’s hottest fine-dining restaurants

Is there one restaurant that defines Rome’s dining scene?

CHEF: For me, the dining scene splits two ways – traditional and gourmet – so it’s difficult to name one place that fully channels the current energy. For traditional cucina Romana, I’d say Mazzo, a tiny place with just 10 seats that adapts the city’s way with offal to modern tastes. On the gourmet side, Anthony Genovese’s Il Pagliaccio goes from strength to strength.
CRITIC: Da Cesare al Casaletto offers the perfect blend of classic cucina Romana with touches of creativity. Dishes such as gnocchi fritti al cacio e pepe [fried gnocchi on a bed of pecorino and black pepper sauce] combine established flavours in new ways – paired with an affordable natural wine list.

What’s your favourite fine-diner in Rome?

mazzo restaurant rome chinese style pork belly

Mazzo's Chinese style pork belly

CHEF: If I had to choose one, it would be Imàgo at the Hassler Roma hotel. Francesco Apreda is one of the most interesting chefs working in Rome today and the restaurant’s breathtaking view is a bonus.
CRITIC: Definitely Metamorfosi, which continues to improve every day. Roy and his team create dishes that are both delicious and playful. Though this is a “serious” restaurant, the experience is super fun.

And the best trattoria?

CHEF: I always have a good time at Da Cesare al Casaletto. They specialise in rich Roman food made with excellent fresh ingredients, cooked to perfection.
CRITIC: My favourite is La Tavernaccia Da Bruno, a family-run trattoria on the southern edge of the Trastevere neighbourhood. It’s where founder Bruno’s daughters and grandkids serve pure comfort food like rigatoni with oxtail sauce and veal brisket cooked in a woodfired oven.

shrimp and clam dish metamorfosi rome

Metamorfosi's so-called Anti-Pasta with shrimps and razor clams

What about the best pizza in Rome?

CHEF: Pizza is enjoying a real renaissance in Italy right now. For round pizzas, don’t miss the recently opened Seu Pizza Illuminati in Trastevere, where Pier Daniele Seu does these amazing thick-crust pizzas with toppings such as myrtle reduction and tuna tartare.
CRITIC: I prefer Rome’s signature by-the-slice takeaway pizza baked in large rectangular trays. The best comes from Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzarium near the Vatican. Don’t miss the potato and mozzarella pizza.

Street food is hot in Rome at the moment. Where should we go to experience it?

CHEF: There’s a huge variety of street food on offer, including new hybrids such as triangular slabs of focaccia filled with traditional Roman sauces, like coda alla vaccinara [oxtail stew], at Stefano Callegari’s Trapizzino. And at Testaccio Market, you’ll find Cups, a stall created by chef Cristina Bowerman, where they serve dishes such as polpette al sugo [meatballs in tomato sauce] in paper cups.
CRITIC: The very Roman fried rice croquettes known as supplì were traditionally seasoned with a tomato meat sauce but now they’re taking on all sorts of flavours: Genovese (beef and onion stew), cacio e pepe (pecorino and black pepper) and radicchio e gorgonzola. Try them at Supplizio.

And what would you recommend to visitors who want a change from eating Italian food?

CHEF: I love Japanese food so when I feel the urge, I head for Sushisen. Alongside the classic sushi and sashimi, the chef offers contemporary dishes that blow me away every time.
CRITIC: Rome has quite a lot of non-Italian cuisines in the takeaway category, especially along Via Casilina and around Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. But for a proper sit-down meal, it’s hard to beat Mesob, an Ethiopian restaurant on Via Prenestina that produces satisfying simmered vegetable and meat dishes.

Where do you go for an aperitivo?

CHEF: I always go to La Salsamenteria, a deli and wine shop where you can taste some amazing champagnes by the glass, accompanied by great cheese and salami platters.
CRITIC: My go-to spot is Il Goccetto in the city’s historic centre. There are about 20 wines by the glass to choose from – I get a mineral driven white from Friuli or Campania – and snacks such as apple and celery-leaf salad and stuffed pickled peppers.

And where can you get a really good coffee in Rome?

CHEF: To have one of the finest espressos in Rome, head to Roscioli Caffè, where they serve a blend by Gianni Frasi’s Laboratorio di Torrefazione Giamaica Caffè – one of the best coffee roasters in Italy.
CRITIC: A favourite spot of mine is Pergamino Caffè, barely a stone’s throw from the Vatican. It serves traditional espresso-based beverages and artisanal coffee.

What’s a great breakfast stop?

CHEF: In the morning, I prefer something savoury. So when I can, I go to Le Levain, a Trastevere bakery. It does excellent French toast and delicious sourdough bread – or if you’re in the mood for something sweet, a revelatory Paris-Brest choux pastry and praliné cake.
CRITIC: Romans don’t really do the full breakfast. Like most Italians, they grab a quick espresso and cornetto while standing at a bar counter. Most days, I do that. Or I go to Antico Forno Roscioli for a sliver of pizza rossa (with tomato sauce) or pizza bianca (with olive oil and salt).

What about a deli that does meals?

CHEF: In the Parioli district, Ercoli 1928 has a great range of dishes to take away or eat onsite, such as tomatoes stuffed with rice, a Roman classic. They also have the city’s best selection of vermouths to drink with your meal or as an aperitivo.
CRITIC: Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina is part deli and part restaurant. It’s geared more towards serving cheeses and cured meats at the table – the deli selection is prominently displayed near the entrance – but you can stop by between meal-service hours to buy pecorino Romano or sliced meats, including prosciutto.

An eatery no-one knows about?

CHEF: Retrobottega isn’t exactly unknown but it’s certainly new and different for a place that’s right in the heart of the city. I love the fact that they only have communal tables and chefs Giuseppe Lo Iudice and Alessandro Miocchi are working right there in front of you. They do simple things with great, fresh ingredients.
CRITIC: There’s this lovely spot called Osteria Bonelli (Viale dell’Acquedotto Alessandrino 172; +39 329 863 3077) in Torpignattara, in Rome’s eastern suburbs, which was opened about five years ago by the guy who used to sell vegetables to me. The menu is packed with Rome’s greatest hits, like gricia and carbonara pasta, but there are also forgotten classics such as grilled horse skirt steak.

Artisanal gelato has really taken off in Rome. Who does the best?

CHEF: Getting gelato has become a ritual for my family. We go right across town to the distant suburb of Colli Portuensi to sample the masterful icecream that Marco Radicioni makes at Otaleg! One of my favourite flavours is the Sunday Ricotta spiked with pieces of candied orange peel.
CRITIC: I’m currently obsessed with Otaleg! – that’s gelato spelled backwards – an artisanal shop that has just opened at a second, much more central location in Trastevere. The stone fruit sorbets are insane and the ricotta-based flavours are worth flying for.

rome quiet laneway at night with vines

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