Rome’s Best Food Neighborhood Is San Lorenzo—Here’s Where to Go

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There’s a lot to love about Rome. All the textbook cacio e pepe. More silky gelato than you can eat. But I’m constantly wandering back to San Lorenzo, the trapezoidal wedge along the east side of the city. Located outside of Rome’s ancient walls, it’s just beyond reach for travelers squeezing their visit down to a few days. But after living in the city for the last 16 years and becoming obsessed with its food and drink culture, I now make regular treks across town to visit this district, which happens to be named after Saint Lawrence, the patron saint of chefs and cooks.

San Lorenzo has been one of Rome’s liveliest (and most delicious) districts for the past century and, unlike sleepier nearby hoods that feel like you’ve stepped into a museum, it’s still going strong, thanks to the abundance of natural wine bars, busy trattorias, and on-point pizzerias. Visit the neighborhood any night of the week and you’ll find its streets, sidewalks, and squares flooded with diners and drinkers (and more than a few hash dealers) late into the night.

But San Lorenzo has much more than just nightlife. In fact, you can spend a whole day grazing. Case in point: Just look at my recent cross-town trips. Here’s how to map out a perfect day of eating, drinking, and wandering through the area. Maybe just wear some stretchy pants.

10:30 a.m. – Caffeinate the Italian way at Bar Marani

I kick off the day with an espresso (or as they say in Rome, caffè), cappuccino, or caffè corretto (that’s espresso spiked with a shot of grappa or amaro, you’re welcome). It feels like you’ve gone back in time at this time capsule of a cafe, where a zinc bar, formica floor, and dusty pennants are straight out of the ’60s. But you feel it even more so when ordering a drink: Make sure you follow the proper protocol by paying for it at the register first, then taking your receipt to the barista who will hook you up. You can stand at the counter, but my move is to sip my drink in the pergola-covered courtyard, with its view of the bell tower of Santa Maria Immacolata church.

 

After all that pasta you’ve been putting away, you need something green, right? Look no further than the San Lorenzo market, where the stalls are stocked with seasonal produce, mainly from Lazio and southern Italy. Here you’ll get a crash course in Roman ingredients: pruned artichokes, trimmed chicory, and persimmons so ripe they are nearly bursting out of their skin.

 

You’ll have to kill some time before lunch because San Lorenzo’s restaurants stick to traditional operating hours, opening from around 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. for dinner (don’t expect to sit anywhere for a proper meal any time in between). And this storied cemetery just might be the best place to digest for an hour or so. The family mausoleums and monumental tombs are works of art, hewn from limestone and granite and surrounded by cypress groves and umbrella pines that lighten the otherwise somber mood.

 

1 p.m. – Do sushi, yes, sushi at Kiko

In front of the cemetery is Piazzale Verano and on the south side of the town square, you’ll find this gem of a restaurant. Here chef Atsufumi Kikuchi crafts some of the city’s best sushi. He’s been honing his skill for the last 30 years and built a cult following at his previous Roman sushi spot Sushi Ko, also in San Lorenzo, which closed in 2014. I know what you’re thinking: “I want carbonara.” Me too. But I also want delicate slices of locally caught amberjack and shi drum paired with perfectly seasoned rice. Don’t pass it up.

 

3 p.m. – Cram in a second lunch at Tram Tram

A few blocks southeast, Mamma Rosanna Di Vittorio holds court at Tram Tram, a spartan, sunny trattoria loved for its comfort food—and named for the public transport that rattles the whole bar when it passes along the rails outside. The menu is a mix of cuisines from her mother’s native Puglia, which focuses on seafood and olive oil-spiked vegetables, and her own hometown of Rome, which leans on lamb, guanciale, and offal. Think dishes like a casserole of rice with mussels, simmered bitter greens with fava bean puree, pillowy gnocchi tossed in a mutton ragù, and crisp puntarelle dressed with an anchovy vinaigrette.

 

5 p.m. – Fight off the urge to nap at Giufà

Giufà is a student- and family-friendly bookstore and cafe serving coffee, tea, wine, and cocktails to keep you awake at this point in the day. The shelves are mostly stocked with graphic novels and political tomes, all in Italian, but it’s a mellow spot for hanging out and getting caffeinated before hitting San Lorenzo’s noisy bars and streets.

 

6:30 p.m. – Discover craft beer at Artisan

Four years in business and this craft beer pub is still going strong. (Just look to the constant crowd of smokers outside.) Inside, ’90s hip hop accompanies 12 taps of rotating European and American brews. Keep an eye out for local (and I mean local) beers, like hoppy saisons and IPAs from Jungle Juice, brewed less than two miles away in the Mandrione neighborhood.

 

Keep the carb-positive vibes going and head across the street to Farinè, the black sheep of Roman pizzerias. (It breaks from Rome’s thin-crust tradition with its thick-rimmed pies.) Go for the marinara—pizza in its purest, simplest form—with tomato, oregano, and garlic scattered all over a chewy, bubbled base of dough that’s been leavened for up to 72 hours.

 

10 p.m. – Drink naturale at Il Sorì

Want something to wash down a day’s worth of eating? Two blocks from Farinè sits this natural wine bar, where owner Paky Livieri plays the consummate host. He spends his nights plucking bottles of traditional and natural French and Italian wines from floor-to-ceiling shelves and pouring them for discerning drinkers. The short and simple food menu features cold and hot plates, including some of the freshest buffalo mozzarella around. But the reason you’re here is to drink wines that fetch a premium in the States, like Damijan Podversic’s Ribolla Gialla, an organic white wine that gets some skin contact and has hints of jasmine and chestnut honey, and Emidio Pepe’s Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, a berry scented rosé we could drink all night long.

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Dominique Fishback on Giving Up Meat and Seeing Her Brooklyn Neighborhood Change | Healthyish

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“Eating would be the worst part of my day,” Dominique Fishback says. It’s a sun-drenched Thursday morning in Los Angeles, and, in between bites of a gloriously runny egg sandwich, the actress is recalling growing up in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York in the early ’90s, when her options were limited to bodega bites and fast food.

“I knew that I wasn’t eating well,” she continues. “I wouldn’t eat for a while, then I’d get so hungry I’d be like, ‘I’m just gonna go get a Philly cheesesteak,’ and I’d crash into what I was trying to avoid.”

Dominique Fishback first left East New York to attend Pace College in Manhattan, where she discovered foods like Pinkberry for the first time (“It changed my life,” she says. “I was trying to get my cousins from East New York to travel, but they were not going to go to Manhattan for frozen yogurt.”)

Shortly after she graduated, her acting career took off—catch her reprising her role as Darlene, a ’70s-era sex worker, in the second season of HBO’s The Deuce, as well as in the film The Hate U Give, out today. During filming, she had the opportunity to eat almost anything (well, as long as it was being provided by on-set catering), but still wasn’t feeling good about her choices.

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Fishback shooting hoops at a court by her apartment in Bed Stuy.

So she became pescatarian. “I was such a fast food girl, so people are really, really surprised by that,” she says now. “I had Big Macs all the time.”

These days, she’s into fresh fruit, and the vegan Jamaican food at Bed Stuy’s Natural Blends, which does some of her favorite dishes, like curried chicken—without the chicken. “The tastes and the flavors that I was craving, I thought I couldn’t have anymore, Fishback says. “But it’s not true.”

The travel her job requires—she just spent a few weeks on the road, first in France then in Canada promoting The Hate U Give— has also helped expand her palate beyond what her old neighborhood could offer, and she has mixed feelings about that.

The dearth of culinary options in minority neighborhoods is a systemic issue that Fishback addressed in her one-woman show, Subverted, in a segment on imprisonment. “To be imprisoned isn’t necessarily being behind bars,” she explains. “But in these neighborhoods, you have a certain radius that you go about, and these are the food options: Chinese, the corner store.”

The Hate U Give is about a young black girl named Starr (played by Amandla Sternberg) who witnesses a police shooting of a close friend, so it’s no wonder that Fishback has the opportunities of the larger black community on her mind these days. She’s grateful to to have seen so much more of the world, but she looks back with frustration at what her neighborhood used to look like, and how it’s changing as more affluent and white folks move in. “Now there’s a Planet Fitness, like we ain’t never wanted to get fit before,” she says. “Now there’s a VisionWorks. You don’t think we needed glasses before?”

And she’s still trying to figure out how to navigate her success as an actress. “It’s hard for friends who are not where they wanna be at when I’m like, ‘I didn’t book nothing up ‘til the end of this year.’ And they’re like, ‘but you’re on this show!’” Fishback says.

“But a show isn’t forever, and one show doesn’t make your career. So I always approach everything like, What’s the next thing? How do I create longevity in my career?”

When she’s not working, Fishback decompresses with one of her first loves: basketball. She first played football in middle school, and she was the only girl. It was only when the coach cancelled practice one day and Fishback found herself in the gym idly shooting hoops that the basketball coach spotted her talent. “She was like, ‘Fishback, you want to be on the basketball team?’ I was like, ‘I don’t play basketball. I play football.’ She was like, ‘You could learn.’” And that was that.

These days, she can’t fit in as many pickup games as she’d like, so if she’s feeling antsy she’ll go to the gym. “I’m trying to find a routine that I like, but I don’t really have one,” she says.

Given how hectic her schedule is, the pace of the news cycle, and the toll it can take on the black community, Fishback is careful to tend to her mental as well as her physical health. “The building I live in now had a rooftop. I can just go sit up there and clear my mind and think and thank god and write and be at peace, which is a nice thing,” she says. “I’ve never felt at peace, really. In East New York, I had experiences there that eliminate peace, you know?”

She also goes to therapy and encourages her family members to go too. “Cause you don’t realize how much you carry, and it influences all the choices you make,” she says.

Ultimately, though, one of the most important things to Fishback is having a voice: not just waiting for parts to come to her, but writing plays like Subverted and feature scripts that allow her to express herself in her own words. “It’s hard when I see the news and something that I wrote three or four years ago is still relevant, but at least I know that as an artist, I gave my contribution and I will continue to do that,” Fishback says. “Right now, I’m trying to keep moving and keep happy.”

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