When Francesca Barreca and Marco Baccanelli leased a 600-square-foot space in the peripheral Roman neighborhood of Centocelle in 2012, they had no intention of opening a restaurant. The young chef couple was hoping to parlay their pop-up and food festival successes into a catering company. But the wonders of Italian bureaucracy delayed the arrival of electricity to the space by 18 months and, in the meantime, they discovered a slew of institutional roadblocks that made it nearly impossible to set up a new catering business in Rome. Stuck with a legally binding lease, they decided instead to turn the space into an informal, 12-seat restaurant called Mazzo. It was an instant hit.
Since opening in 2013, Mazzo’s menu of reimagined Roman classics — fried tripe, chicken cutlet cacciatore — has kept its tiny dining room full and, in turn, helped kick off the transformation of Centocelle from a sprawling residential zone into a buzzy nightlife destination.
Historically, outsiders rarely made the trek to Centocelle, a working-class and student neighborhood a good five miles from the city center. But over the past few years, this wedge of far-eastern Rome has seen a wave of bar, pub, and restaurant openings. This is in part due to Mazzo’s success, but also the creation of three new metro stops inaugurated in 2015 that helped link the neighborhood to central Rome, as well as Centocelle’s own 55,000 residents and many more living in the surrounding zones, hungry to support new local businesses.
Today, most of Centocelle’s action is near the Gardenie metro stop, surrounded by aesthetically challenged apartment blocks hastily built on farmland in the 1960s and ’70s. Centocelle is neither particularly picturesque nor particularly monumental, but it’s not without its charm, and while you’ll never see them gracing a postcard, the graffiti-tagged buildings and wide residential avenues here reflect a real view of Rome.
Just northeast of the Gardenie stop, Via delle Palme is the epicenter of Centocelle’s aperitivo scene. There, newcomer Menabó serves natural wines and snacks like beef croquettes with a side of bitter greens, as well as a full dinner menu. A large, comfortable dining room makes Menabó a favorite destination for families and date nights — more so than some of the rowdier bars up the street.
The most thronged of these is the Venetian-inspired L’OmbraLonga, which opened in 2013. From a small wooden counter in the back, the staff serves plates of cheeses and cured meats as well as wines by the glass and Aperol spritzes, each for around €3.50. Get there much after 6:30 p.m. and you’ll find yourself perched over a milk crate while you wait for a seat to open on the crowded patio.
Wherever droves of young Romans go, pizza soon follows. Opened in 2017, 180g Pizzeria Romana serves crispy, thin-crust Roma-style pies. Each one is stretched by hand into a round disk, then finished with classic toppings like margherita or creative ones like roasted pork. It’s mostly local families with young children during the early shift (that’s 8 p.m. in Rome), but later, hordes of third-wave pizza lovers descend from across the city for their pie fix and one of the well-curated assortment of craft beers.
There’s more beer to be found at the 18-month-old 100celle Beerhouse, which pours hoppy IPAs on tap from Italian craft brewers like CR/AK, Vento Forte, and Hammer. There are cocktails here, too — the ubiquitous spritz, a stiff Negroni — all for under €4, but the left-wing activist crowd tends to stick to the brews.
Four-year-old Pro Loco DOL is beloved in the Roman food scene for its dedication to local producers. Find fastidiously sourced meats, cheeses, legumes, and bread at the front of the shop, while an adjacent narrow cafe serves a rotating menu of meat-driven classics like stinco con le patate (pork shin with potatoes) and mezze maniche con sugo di spuntature (pasta with the sauce in which pork ribs were simmered). There’s pizza here, too, made with locally milled flour and dough that ferments for a flavor-boosting 48 hours.
Centocelle is not, in itself, a new neighborhood, and some of the area’s long-established institutions are also benefiting from the zone’s increased popularity. Back near the Gardenie metro stop, Peccati di…Vini has been a neighborhood mainstay for nearly 20 years, and continues to serve wines and small plates in its warmly lit, wood-paneled space to a house more packed than ever. Forte Prenestino was a vast abandoned compound before it was transformed into a social center by left-wing activists in 1986. Today, in addition to film screenings, lectures, and a regular Sunday farmers market, the street art-tagged venue hosts summertime concerts by a wide range of local and international indie acts.
While much of the action here revolves around nightlife, Mercato Insieme — the neighborhood’s largest municipal market, which moved to its current location in 2006 — is open until 2 p.m. and, like the district itself, sprawling, diverse, and buzzing. The contents of its stalls — pointy heads of romanesco, piles of dandelion greens, and typical cuts like horse steaks and fat-marbled oxtails — are essential ingredients for frugal home cooks. And for lunchtime pizza by the slice, there’s Pommidoro, a 4-year-old takeout spot that serves pizza baked in sheet pans and garnished with toppings inspired by Rome pasta classics like amatriciana and carbonara.
Even with the rash of new openings and influx of relative outsiders, so far at least, Centocelle’s unpretentious character remains intact — it’s still visible in the corner bodegas and graffitied storefronts between the booming new spritz bars, pizzerias, and boundary-pushing restaurants like Mazzo.
Mazzo, Via delle Rose, 54, 00171 Rome
Menabó, Via delle Palme, 44/D, 00171 Rome
180g Pizzeria Romana, Via Tor de’ Schiavi, 53, 00172 Rome
100celle Beer House, Via dei Ciclamini, 28, 00171 Rome
Forte Prenestino, Via Federico Delpino, 00171 Rome
Peccati di…Vini, Via delle Albizzie, 12, 00172 Rome
L’OmbraLonga, Via delle Palme, 76/A, 00171 Rome
Mercato Insieme, Viale della Primavera, 11, 00172 Rome
Pro Loco DOL, Via Domenico Panaroli, 35, 00172 Rome
Pommidoro, Via delle Acacie, 1/A, 00171 Rome
For more on Roman neighborhoods, head here.
Katie Parla is a Rome-based cookbook author, food journalist, educator, and culinary guide. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.