Castro Pretorio is the neighbourhood around Piazza dei Cinquecento. the square in front of Termini Station (map of the neighbourhood here). The area is known for its budget hotels and is generally very busy with business travellers and tourists. The Hotel Columbia, where my employer usually puts us up, is located here.
Finding good food in the area is difficult but it’s possible if you know where to look (my city map here). Below I review one half decent restaurant and two to avoid…
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 twenty minutes or so. 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).
And 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 Colombia. However, if you can be bothered to walk a little bit further, and make a reservation, I recommend Trattoria Monti for even better food (see my Esquilino – Restaurants South of Termini 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 former favourite that has fallen from grace. It’s 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 were €10-16 and salads were €9.50, which was pretty reasonable. However things have changed…
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.”
Which doesn’t bode well, but at least it’s not as bad as…
Ma Gu Chinese Restaurant (C/D), 48 via del Viminale NOW CLOSED (THANK GOD)
Dirt cheap but only just edible food. We paid €10 for the set menu which included a 660ml beer, only just 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 even appear. The owner is brusque but friendly.
Really it’s best to stay away from these ultra-cheap Chinese places if you appreciate good food. It would appear that the only way Chinese restaurants can compete in the Italian market is to try to undercut everyone else to such an extent that quality is severely compromised.
Restaurants in neighbouring Esquilino next…