Finding a good place to eat in Rome can be a real trick, especially for foreigners. It is a fact that in the historic center of Rome most restaurants, trattorie and osterie that look very nice are also the most touristic spots and not necessarily the best ones. Trust me on this one. Most of these places will have their menu (with English translation) posted outside so that tourists can check on all the dishes and prices before sitting down. You can easily recognize them because of their crowded location, see Piazza Navona for example. And for my experience, the best places to eat are those with no signs at all, like Il Timoniere and Il Porchettaro.
Apart from typical restaurants (where you get a full service and many courses) I have always found the best typical food in smaller and less crowded places like trattorie and osterie, where the absence of hordes of tourists allow a much better and dedicated service. Trattoria is more like a “familiar” kind of restaurants (most of them are run by a family), smaller and less formal, and generally located in an alley or side street. Usually a member of the family –the mother or father – will be managing the kitchen, while another member will be dealing the cash and serving at tables. These places are certainly more relaxed and allow you to enjoy a more homey food. Il Timoniere is the best example I have for trattoria.
The entrance is completely unnoticeable, looking like a normal building.
This place is where I’ve tried probably the third best tiramisú of my life, exquisite, creamy tiramisú. I don’t have a photo of my broccoli side dish but I can tell you it was absolutely amazing.
And above is Giulio, the owner of Il Timoniere along with wife and daughter. The place is small, exclusive, and familiar, every day a different dish so of the three times I’ve there I never had the same dish. He doesn’t use publicity to get his clients relying only on spread of words. And yet, the place is always full.
Always going down on the ‘level scale’ (of formality, not quality), we now come to osteria. If trattoria is considered a lower-level restaurant, then osteria will be even lower. Osterie are generally noisy, you can hear dishes clashing in the kitchen, the chef mumbling in high volume, a TV on with a soccer match and bellied-supporters sitting right under it and yelling at it, and waiters that can be distracted by the TV (did I ever tell you that soccer is sacred in Italy?).
The menus are very funny as well: sometimes they are written on paper tablecloth that will be removed after you finish, or maybe they won’t even have a menu, they will tell you what they have for that day. Since the service is normally very relaxed (the waiter will indeed stop several times to watch the soccer match) you will see how these are fun familiar places where the importance is only good food.
This is how I came to Dino & Tony… Work lunch with colleagues, only two of us were the Italians so we felt the need to introduce the newcomers to real good and cheap food. The best choice was Dino & Tony.
Now, a little recommendation before entering this place: do not feel intimidated by the yelling and shouting from the chef to the main waiter, it’s normal and part of the comedy!
Both men, in their late 50’s, are grumpy and complaining about each other, the whole time. Dino, the chef is constantly yelling “What the hell is this coffee still doing here?! Are you asleep, you miserable old man?!” to which Tony will reply by using inappropriate language as self defense while serving at tables of people completely amused by their humor.
Their specialty is tonnarelli cacio e pepe, which is basically thick spaghetti flavored with pecorino cheese (sheep cheese), oil and sage. Absolutely divine. They have a generic entrance (known as antipasto) which never changes, some pieces of pizza, ham and cheese.
The service is a bit slack but good in the end, this is because Dino and Tony spend so much time arguing with each other that eventually they forget for a few seconds that they’re either holding someone’s dish or fork. At some point I remember asking for an ice-cream, and Tony said “No, we have better things dear, I’ll get you a nice frozen coffee that we personally prepare, you’ll love it!” so ok, no ice-cream for me I guess!
By the end and about to leave our table, Dino comes to us because he wants a nice photo with foreign customers. And there he is 🙂 all proud of himself. The photo? Wasn’t really our idea, but he insisted 🙂 How could we deny him the pleasure of having his photo taken with such international table?