In the Colosseum's Shadow, Salami and Korean BBQ Unite
Rome's Esquiline Hill, one of the so-called seven (the true number depends on who's counting), is the sprawling swath of land that stretches from Stazione Termini to the Colosseum. In antiquity, the zone was rich in marketplaces, public baths, and noble villas, while today it is home to a quiet residential neighborhood built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—and filled with ethnic restaurants, old-school Roman specialties, and several gastronomic newcomers.
An introduction to the Esquiline should begin around Piazza Vittorio, one of the principal squares in the district. A couple of blocks away, the multicultural character of the neighborhood can be observed at the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino (Via Principe Amedeo), a large covered market inaugurated a decade ago. Stalls selling yams, okra, plantains, daikon, and chayote share the aisle with those displaying local chicory, field greens, and persimmon. Halal meats, lentils from the Indian subcontinent, herbs from Southeast Asia, and barrels of spices signal that you are in Rome's most diverse marketplace.
While spots like Checchini, Roscioli, Regoli, and Cipriani are dripping in old Roman charm, the zone is by no means stagnant.
The surrounding area abounds with Chinese, Korean, and Indian restaurants. Hua Qiao (Via Giolitti 189) is one of the best Chinese restaurants in town and, while it won't win any hospitality awards, it does offer authenticity sadly absent from the far more popular Chinese restaurants nearby. Bi Won (via Conte Verde 62) does nice gogi gui (Korean barbecue) and Kabir Fast Food (Via Mamiani, 11) serves delectable Indian specialties cafeteria-style.
For a Roman meal, head over to Da Danilo (Via Petrarca 13) just off Piazza Vittorio. At this family-run trattoria, Danilo runs the front of the house and his mother does the cooking. The place does cucina romana with flare and is justifiably famous for its spaghetti alla carbonara—though the cacio e pepe should be equally venerated. In addition to typical Roman offerings, Da Danilo dishes up lots of red meat, including a steak tartare dressed tableside and thick steaks. [Editor's note: I was in Rome last week, and lunch at Da Danilo was the best meal of the trip. I second the carbonara recommendation. The place also, unusually, offers many Italian craft beers—perhaps because, as we learned, an owner of nearby Domus Birrae (Via Cavour 88) is a regular.]
If you wish to try your hand at recreating Da Danilo's guanciale-rich carbonara, pop down to Norcineria Cecchini (Via Merulana 85-87), a deli specializing in pork products. They make and sell their own cured pork, and in addition to guanciale, there's pancetta, corallina, capocollo, and salamella romana. They also sell cheeses, fresh homemade sausages, and prepared foods to take away.
A few blocks away, Pietro Roscioli (via Machiavelli 46/48) sells some of the city's best bread. The front of the shop is dedicated to baked sweets—brutti ma buoni, tozzetti, and crostate—the middle part is given over to prepared foods and pizza by the slice, and the back is all about the bread. The pizza bianca (Roman flatbread) is especially good and can be sliced and filled with "mortazza" (mortadella) to order.
For dessert, try Regoli (via dello Statuto 60), an old-school pasticceria, and one of relatively few excellent artisanal pastry shops left in the city. Their maritozzi di panna (sweet buns filled with whipped cream), millefoglie (Napoleons), and crostate are cult favorites. Nearby, Antico Biscotteria Cipriani (Via Carlo Botta 21/23) has been turning out seasonal cakes and hard cookies for over a century.
While spots like Checchini, Roscioli, Regoli, and Cipriani are dripping in old Roman charm, the zone is by no means stagnant. On the contrary, several newcomers have brought new blood to the Esquiline. Domus Birrae (Via Cavour 89), a shop specializing in Italian craft beers, opened in April, and the OS Club (Via delle Terme di Traiano 4) opened in November. The latter is a polyfunctional complex built among the ruins of Trajan's Baths. There is a pleasant outdoor garden and two eateries: Iolanda, a fine-dining restaurant, and Hostaria, a more casual establishment. The restaurants share a communal kitchen and are both under the direction of chef Davide Cianetti. In the spring and summer, there will be outdoor seating in the OS Club's garden, hidden behind a high wall just a few blocks away from the Colosseum.
The Esquiline has only a few true monuments, most notably the medieval churches of Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Prassede. But the area clearly holds interest for the gastronomic traveler.