One of the advantages of changing neighbourhoods is that it forces you to try new restaurants. Living in Testaccio, a neighbourhood full of excellent restaurants, made me pretty unadventurous. But like Testaccio, Torpignattara is also known for its Roman cuisine, and a couple (Betto e Mary and Bonelli) are famous among Romans. If you don’t live nearby, it’s worth taking a trip on the trenino to check them out.
For the full Roman experience – no-frills, boisterous and meaty – these restaurants won’t disappoint. Remember, when it comes to edible parts of an animal and volume levels, there are no limits, so if you want to fit in, order the intestines and shout at your dining companions.
Betto e Mary
Restaurant: Betto e Mary is famous in Torpignattara and beyond. It’s very Roman, and very meaty. Come here to indulge your love of horse meat and oxtail, but don’t wear a tie. There’s even a sign with a picture of a man in a tie that says “io non posso entrare”. The atmosphere is casual and a little chaotic, but what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for in character.
Menu: Meat, meat and more meat. There’s no written menu, and when the waiter comes to your table to recite the menu at you, it can be a little overwhelming. In addition to the usual Roman dishes – carbonara, amatriciana, coda alla vaccinara etc – there are a few options with horse, even frog. Always wanted to try bull testicles? Now’s your chance.
When the couple at the next table (two inches away) heard me say that I was vegetariana they burst into laughter, as if a vegetarian at Betto e Mary was the most hilarious joke they could think of. If, like me, you don’t eat meat, you’re limited to the cacio e pepe (buono but not exceptional) and the vegetable side dishes like fried cauliflower (delicious) and red pepper with pine nuts. House wine is just about drinkable.
Service: Friendly and informal. Waiters sit at the table with you when they take your order.
Price: Around €25 per person – maybe not as cheap as you’d expect, for this kind of restaurant, but reasonable. The signora at the till shouts “MAAAANCIA” when you tip.
Restaurant: Bonelli is at the eastern edge of Torpignattara, near the aqueduct park. It’s famous – not only is it a local favourite, but it also attracts people from across Rome, and even the occasional adventurous tourist. There’s a picture of the actor who played il Libanese in Romanzo Criminale, so top marks for romanità.
The restaurant is a typical, unpretentious osteria with tables close together. It’s comfortable enough though, and not too chaotic. Of course, if you find yourself sitting next to a large, noisy Roman family (likely) it can be a bit deafening.
Booking in advance is essential.
Menu: The menu is written on a few portable blackboards, which pose a tripping hazard to the waiters. Typical primi: tonnarelli alla gricia, gnocchi all’amatricinia, fettuccine burro, alici e fiori di zucca. Typical secondi: all the usual Roman meat dishes like polpette, abbacchio, fegato. The menu is seasonal and changes daily. Everything I’ve eaten there has been delicious, and according to Valeriano, the tonnarelli alla gricia was the best he’d ever had That’s high praise indeed from an Italian.
Service: Friendly and efficient.
Price: Very good value – perhaps one of the best value restaurants in Rome, considering the quality of the food. Eat all you want, and you’ll struggle to pay more than €20 per person. Also, they give you a real receipt! Not just an incomprehensible scrap of paper, but a real, fiscal receipt, which means they pay taxes. Bravi.
Restaurant: Located just down the road from Betto e Mary, in the piazza dedicated to Ciro Principessa. I call it the “Amy Winehouse bar” because of the mural outside, but its official name is La Certosa, and in the evening it becomes a very informal trattoria, specialising in fish.
In the summer there are plastic tables outside in the piazza. When I say piazza, I actually mean “the middle of the road, next to parked cars”. A lot of the reviewers on TripAdvisor are clearly aghast at this unconventional and possibly illegal arrangement, but personally, I like it. You’re right at the heart of the most Roman neighbourhoods, enjoying the street life and the novelty of eating spaghetti alle vongole on the tarmac. If you want fine dining and luxury, look elsewhere, but you can’t deny that it’s got character.
Menu: Like Betto e Mary, there’s no written menu – the waiter will recite the menu of the day. It’s all fish and seafood – insalata di mare, alici fritti, spaghetti alle vongole, calamari, grigliata di pesce, frittura di pesce and so on. The quality is good. Not exceptional, but it’s got a nice casareccia feel to it, especially with the mismatched cutlery. House wine is quite nice.
Service: The general consensus is that that the service is bad – long waits, rude staff. One reviewer describes them as perecottari – literally “cooked pears”, meaning “so-called professionals who offer poor quality service”. I don’t know if we just got lucky, but on the evening we went there were no problems. The waitress was fine, and accompanied by her 6 year old son who followed behind with his notebook and pen, as if he were the one who took the orders.
Price: The other pros and cons are debatable and subjective, but the price…Dinner for 2 (antipasti, secondi, water, a half litre of house wine and amari) came to €64, which is a bit steep for an unpretentious restaurant in a working-class neighbourhood. A tourist might think it reasonable, but Romans know better.
To summarise: I would recommend all three to anyone looking for a memorable Roman meal, but the winner has to be Bonelli for quality and value.
Next on my “to-try” list is Bazar – a new Neapolitan-Kurdish restaurant on the Casilina.
Any other local recommendations?