The Esquiline is one of Rome’s legendary seven hills. Looking at a map of modern Rome, the Esquilino neighbourhood is now defined as the long narrow strip east of Via Nazionale and south of Termini station, and the station itself. Like most station neighbourhoods it’s a gritty area with basic budget hotels and cheap restaurants and shops. Finding good food here is hard but it’s there if you know where to look.
I’ve written two posts on food in Esquilino, this one on restaurants, and another on takeaway food, mainly for the benefit of my colleagues staying in the Hotel Columbia (see my post on Castro Pretorio). For more restaurants within walking distance of the hotel, see also my posts on Salustiano and Monti.
La Matriciana dal 1870 (Intermediate B-), 44 Via del Viminale (right out of the Hotel Columbia and it’s on the second block down on the left)
In my opinion, this is the nearest relatively decent restaurant to the Hotel Columbia, although you can get better and cheaper if you’re prepared to walk a little. Reserve ahead or arrive early to be guaranteed a table, especially on the terrace.
The restaurant is named after the famous Amatriciana sauce which is made from tomato, guanciale (cured pork cheek) and pecorino cheese from Amatrice, a small town in Lazio. The story goes that back in 1870, a woman from Amatrice set up shop on the site of this restaurant and started selling Bucatini all’Amatriciana which became so popular that her business developed into the current restaurant.
The menu is huge but it seemed rude not to try their signature dish. It was fine but not amazing, and the presentation could have been better (B-).
Sticking with the classics for my second course, I followed up with Abbachio al Forno con Patate, roast lamb and potatoes, also fine but nothing special (B).
I enjoyed the bottle of Frascati Superiore by Castel de Paolis (B), recommended by my helpful waiter.
So decent food in nice surroundings and handy for the hotel. However, if you can be bothered to walk a little bit further, and make a reservation, I recommend Trattoria Monte for even better food (see my Monti post).
And some places to avoid…
La Gallina Bianca (Intermediate B originally but now a C), 9 Via Antonio Rosmini TEMPORARILY CLOSED?
This is a pleasant everyday pizzeria and grill house fairly near the Hotel Columbia that’s popular with the locals and my colleagues. The service is efficient and it’s open on Sundays (many places aren’t).
In 2011 I had a Pizza Romana (tomatoes, mozzarella, capers, olives, anchovies and oregano) for €9 which was very good. A quartino of frizzantino white was €3.50. Pasta courses cost €7.50-12, secondos are €10-16 and salads are €9.50.
A 2018 update from my friend Ethel: “The food was ok (had better elsewhere) but now they put on a 20% service charge!!! It’s not even optional and even in the USA you can choose to leave 15 or 20%. A total disgrace – it’s in small print on English and Italian menus and our Italian wasn’t sufficient to get out of it plus there was an Italian guy arguing with the cashier about something and she didn’t budge with him either.”
Trattoria da Danilo (B+), 13 Via Petrarca, (about 20 mins walk from the Columbia, past Santa Maria Maggiore) , closed Sunday.
In 2011, after saving up for a good restaurant by eating crap for a few days, I thought I would treat myself and try this Gambero Rosso recommended restaurant. It’s run by a young couple who were generally pleasant but I didn’t like the brusque way the lady owner spoke to a couple of Japanese tourists who were having vocab confusions. On the other hand the waitress was very nice to me and the ambience was pleasant with lots of old photos on the walls.
I had Tonnarelli Tartufo Nero e Porcini, thick spaghetti in a sauce of black truffles and mushrooms(A) followed by Abbacchio Panato alla Romana, breaded and fried lamb chops,(B) which were small and unsatisfying so I followed up with a second secondo (!) of Filetto di Manzo Grigliato al Pecorino di Fossa, beef fillet in a cheese sauce (A-), which was very good but served on a freezing cold plate which seriously detracted from the overall pleasure. Washed down with a bottle of red, and finishing with a fancy pud and a great grappa (Sibona ‘Piemontese’ Moscato), my bill came to an extremely greedy €82.50.
This is obviously a restaurant with aspirations to be really good but I felt it was failing in a few areas and I don’t feel the need to go again.
Ma Gu Chinese Restaurant (C/D), 48 via del Viminale NOW CLOSED
Dirt cheap but only just edible food. We paid €10 for the set menu which included a 660ml beer, tolerable dumplings and spring rolls, followed by fried rice and a beef dish. The plates of bony roast pork and squid in sauce that came next were destined for the bin, as was the ‘cake’ (baked brown sludge) to finish.
A veggie friend was rather disappointed with his plate of stir fried carrots, cucumber and celery in sauce and someone else’s food didn’t appear. The owner is brusque but friendly.
Really it’s best to stay away from these ultra-cheap Chinese places if you like good food. It would appear that their only way of competing in the Italian market is to try to undercut everyone else to such an extent that quality is severely compromised.
A few things to see and do in the Esquilino next, before we look at more restaurants in other areas near Termini and the Hotel Columbia…