Rome, Italy is often my answer to the daunting question: What’s your favorite city? The raw nature of the city and the energy it emits provokes a certain freedom; Romans live connected to their city, fully present to each day. They live slow and with meaning. They share food in a similar way — connected to the food, ingredients, and tastes, but most importantly, to those with whom they share the meal.
When I visit Rome, dining is at the center of my travels as well as coffee, and here is a list of my favorite places I found and returned to this year.
FOR PANINI: Forno, Campo dei Fiori.
These panini are heavenly — the bread is thin and salted, and the meats are perfectly cured. These sandwiches are simple, usually made of only two or three ingredients. My favorite is the Bresaola — salted beef cured for months — with fresh arugula and parmigiano cheese. A Roman tradition, Forno has been at the corner of Campo dei Fiori for over thirty years, a true testament to the fact that one doesn’t need all the fixings to create something delicious — just a few ingredients, prepared perfectly.
FOR CAPPUCCINO: Il Caffe Sant’Eustachio, Piazza Sant’Eustachio.
There is nothing like sitting at a cafe table outside Caffe Sant’Eustachio, with a mix of tourists and locals, drinking espresso and cappuccinos, watching as Italians on vespas, bikes, and stilettos saunter by. Sant’Eustachio has been roasting coffee for nearly 74 years. Their gran caffe, a thick double espresso served with an insane crema, is famous — a secret way of pulling the shots, their baristas will not divulge this method to anyone.
FOR VINO: Vino Olio, Via dei Banchi Vecchi.
This charming wine bar is cozy and friendly, packed each night with lots of locals enticed by vintage wines and amazing cheese selections. Sometimes, the fun can spill out onto the cobble stone street, patrons with wine glasses in hand, lounging on parked vespas. If you catch the aperatif crowd around five, it is a bit quieter, providing an intimate, relaxed candlelit environment. It’s a perfect place to allow the sommelier to introduce you to the wonderful wines of Italy.
FOR SWEETS: Il Fornaio, Via dei Baullari (off of Campo dei Fiori).
Il Fornaio is what I imagine the land of sweets from the Nutcracker to be like. The small, take-away shop is full of homemade cookies, cakes, tarts, cornetti, bread, candy, and even some savory pizzas. I love their Neapolitan cake, and the crostatine filled with fruits.
BEST HOMEMADE PASTA: Lucifero, Via dei Cappellari.
Walking into Lucifero is like visiting a friend’s home for dinner. Lelo, the robust owner, will greet you at the door, learn your name, and converse with you for hours as you enjoy his food. There are two pasta specials each day, made fresh that morning, and the house antipasti of marinated vegetables, meats and cheeses is one of my favorite dishes in this world. It’s a relaxed, unpretentious environment with checkered tablecloths and old wooden beams, and it’s always delicious. Lelo and his family will make you feel like one of their own, and you will leave full, drunk, and happy.
FOR FINE DINING: Pierluigi, Piazza dé Ricci
One of the best pastas of my life: the rigatoni with lobster from Pierluigi.
Need I say more? It’s gorgeous, the staff is charming and sweet, and it somehow remains upscale without pretense. Some of the freshest seafood in town, one can peruse the chilled fish and choose the one that looks best — they’ll even show you the squirming lobster table side before preparing your dish. End the meal with pastiera, a traditional Neapolitan cake made with ricotta, orange flower water, and candied fruit; It’s truly one of the most beautiful dining experiences one can have in Rome.
FOR SFOGLIATELLE: Pasticceria Bernasconi, Piazza B. Cairoli.
One might fail to notice this ancient pasticceria, as I somehow did on my many walks past the bakery and cafe. They are best known for their sfogliatelle, pastries made of flaky, shell-shaped crust, filled with orange-flavored ricotta; a laborious feat, sfogliatelle require skilled hands shaping the dough to resemble a fan. Bernasconi (rhymes with the not-so-liked former president, Berlusconi) also makes homemade cakes and torrone, a fluffy candy of nougat and pistachios. Good luck snagging the single table outside; otherwise, it’s standing room only.