I’m a sucker for a lost person. It’s very hard for me to pass by a tourist, holding an old fashioned paper map, and looking utterly confused as they turn the map in circles while looking up, trying to find a street sign. Even though Rome is not that big, it can be more than a little confusing to first time visitors.
So I stop, I ask if they need some help, and then send them on their way. 9 times out of 10, of course, they are looking for a restaurant. And I’m not sure they realize how lucky they are that I’ve stopped to help them.
The other day there was a particularly desperate family standing in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto, turning in circles, looking hot, confused and hungry. I stopped. I asked. And it turns out they were looking for Trastevere because, they had heard, “There are a lot of great restaurants there, right?”
Rather than go into a long and drawn out discussion of the fact that most of the restaurants in Trastevere are tourist traps these days, I instead took pity on them, took out my pen, and marked an X where they could find Da Enzo, one of the few dependable old fashioned trattorie in Trastevere.
Because, no, Trastevere is not filled with lots of great restaurants. There are a handful though, but you really have to know where to go. Many look as if they would be good: rickety wooden tables covered by paper tablecloths, neon lighting and wine bottles stacked precariously on over head shelves. But in reality? The food is often slapdash, made of cheap ingredients and overpriced, the result of Trastevere’s charming alleyways becoming one of the major tourist attractions in Rome.
Da Enzo, thank god, not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. It doesn’t just look like an authentic Roman trattoria, it is an authentic Roman trattoria where you can still get the classics, well made with care, and an eye to seasonal, often organic, ingredients.
Last May I stopped by and actually managed to get there early enough to get a table at lunch time (it’s always packed). I was with Sophie and of course we were both starving even though it was only 12:30. We were very thankful for the slices of still warm pizza bianca that arrived at the table as soon as we sat down.
To start a duo of carciofi fritti. Since it was still early in the season, the massive stem was still attached and standing proudly atop the rim of crispy artichoke petals. Sophie’s rigatoni all’amatriciana was perfectly al dente, full of chewy chunks of guanciale and amply dusted with pecorino romano. I went for one of the daily specials, a light as feather lasagna layered with artichokes and zucchini flowers.
The printed menu contains all the classics, like carbonara, gricia and cacio e pepe. But before you decide, look at the chalk board for the daily specials. You’ll note that Da Enzo not only charges for the bread basket, but also for the olive oil if you’d like to dip. But the bread is pretty great, including the pizza bianca, and the olive oil is organic. So just say yes. Also, this is the kind of place where you’ll notice all the regulars ordering the house wine. Follow suit.
The desserts, including the home made tiramisu, are also great. As is the friendly service. Which is almost as hard to find these days in Rome as simple, well made, food. But now you have the directions where to find both.
Via dei Vascellari 29, Rome
For more information on dining in Rome and Italy download my app, EAT ITALY. EAT ITALY is a free app, and contains guides to Venice, Milan, Rome, Florence and Umbria (and an ever expanding list of regions and cities) available as in-app purchases for both iPhone and iPad. And if you want to delve further in to Roman food, please buy my book, Eating Rome, available on Amazon or at through your local book store.