A Guide to Pigneto: Inside Rome’s Most Happening Neighbourhood
28th Jun 2019
In Rome, life is pretty good on the other side of the tracks. Hidden away in the city’s eastern suburbs beyond the train lines scything out from the Eternal City, vibrant Pigneto is Rome’s most happening neighbourhood - an intoxicating brew of living history, exciting nightlife, street-art, great food and a fiercely independent spirit. Pigneto is a traditionally working-class neighbourhood wedged between two of the city’s most important ancient consular roads – the Via Prenestina to the north and Via Casilina to the south - and accessed from the west through the spectacular ancient Roman gate at Porta Maggiore.
The area’s chequered history began in the 19th century, when it quickly became an industrial hub for the growing city. Like nearby San Lorenzo it was badly bombed during World War II (the quarter features heavily in Roberto Rossellini’s Roma Città Aperta, a portrait of the war-torn city) and became a hotbed of left-wing activism and counter-culture in the 1960s – with the giant figure of the writer, director and intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini casting the neighbourhood’s longest and most influential shadow.
These days Pigneto is a far cry from the uncompromising, rough-and-ready place that inspired Pasolini’s neorealist experiments, and after a regeneration project completed in 2015 as well as the long-awaited arrival of the metro, the quarter’s pedestrianized main street (known as the isola pedonale) has become a major destination for Rome’s in-the-know crowd. Vibrant murals everywhere speak vividly of Pigneto’s past, present and future, from homages to Pasolini on Via Fanfulla da Lodi to Andrea Cardia’s panorama of neighbourhood life on Via Luchino dal Verme. But unlike London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Meatpacking District, Pigneto’s credentials as one of Rome’s most authentic and interesting neighbourhoods remain undimmed. For now at least gentrification is just about under control, and Pigneto remains a place where artists, bohemians and immigrants from across the globe rub shoulders with Rome’s timeless old-school.
If you want to experience Rome at its authentic and no-holds barred best, then you need to sample the vibrant nightlife and food scene of Pigneto. So let’s get down to the serious business – where do you need to go to eat, drink, and see a side of Rome usually reserved for the Romans themselves? We’ve done the hard yards so you don’t have to – read on for our comprehensive guide to Pigneto’s best bars and restaurants.
Where to Eat: Pigneto’s Best Restaurants
Pigneto is a foodie’s paradise, and whatever your taste or budget there’s something here to fit the bill. What’s more, it’s the perfect place to discover that there really is life beyond carbonara – so if your arteries warn you that another plate of fat and carb-laden heaven might well be your last, its time to broaden your horizons and dive into the Pigneto’s havens of world cuisine (don’t worry though, there are also a few great Italian joints on our list too).
East Africa meets East Rome: Mesob
A central plank of Pigneto’s large international community hails from Ethiopia and Eritrea, and neighbourhood restaurant Mesob is one of the best places in the city to sample the delights of East African cuisine. Star of the show is injera, the shared national dish of the two nations. This uniquely tart, sponge-like flatbread comes piled high with various meat and vegetable stews that soak lusciously into the teff-flour base – try the Ye Kay Wot, beef cooked in berbere spices with ginger and onions, or Gomen Wot (cabbage and potatoes cooked with saffron). The dining room is cosy and dotted with colourful Ethiopian wicker tables (the eponymous Mesob), whilst the beautiful courtyard is perfect for long summer evenings.
Mesob, Via Prenestina 118, Open Tues – Sun for lunch and dinner.
The Real Greek: Kalapà
A Pigneto institution, Kalapà’s menu of Greek and Eastern-Mediterranean inspired street-food staples are a lifeline for revellers looking for quick, cheap and delicious sustenance on the go. Souvlaki (skewered marinated pork or chicken) straight from the grill, moussaka, hummus, horiatiki (Greek salad) and Turkish-style kumpir - baked potatoes filled with a bewildering array of ingredients - are the order of the day. If you have a sweet tooth and room to spare, don’t miss out on the Greek yoghurt topped with fig marmalade. Seats are at a premium, so be prepared to perch on the curb outside.
Kalapà, Via Ascoli Piceno 17 a/b, Open Sun – Thurs, 7pm – 12.30am, Fri-Sat, 7pm – 1.30 am.
The Vegetarian Option: Vitaminas 24
When you think of a traditionally working-class quarter of suburban Rome, a vegetarian Brazilian-Italian bistro probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. And yet that’s exactly what the delightfully understated Vitaminas (located across the road from Kalapà) brings to the table, offering a wonderfully colourful daily-changing menu of soups and salads, vegetable mille-feuilles, veggie burgers and, best of all, Brazilian salgadinhos –savoury deep fried snacks. The smoothies (vitaminas in Brazilian, hence the name) and fruit juices aren’t half bad either. All ingredients on the menu are 100% organic, and come from local Lazio producers. If only healthy eating was always this tasty!
Vitaminas 24, Via Ascoli Piceno 40, Open every day from 12pm – 12am.
The Traditional Trattoria: Qui Se Magna
Pigneto might distinguish itself for the diversity of global cuisine on offer, but it goes without saying that there are no shortage of old-school Italian joints that can sate your primal pasta urges too. For its convivial atmosphere and sound grasp of the classics, our favourite traditional trattoria in the neighbourhood is Qui Se Magna. Try the Tonarelli alla Gricia con Carciofi (egg pasta with pork-cheek, pecorino and artichokes) or the Pasta alla Mafiosa (melting fried aubergine, ricotta and basil in a rich tomato sauce). Located a little bit out of the bustle at the far end of Via del Pigneto, it is nevertheless invariably packed so be sure to make a reservation.
Qui Se Magna, Via del Pigneto, 307a, Open Mon – Sat for lunch and dinner.
The Classy Trattoria-Bistro: Pigneto Quarantuno
A traditional Roman restaurant with a twist, Quarantuno could hardly be more inviting looking from its perch on Via del Pigneto (at number 41, naturally). Settle down in the cheery interior and let yourself be serenaded by sottofondo jazz as your peruse the massive blackboard advertising a daily menu that’s equally at home with the Roman staples (carbonara, cacio e pepe, tripe, meatballs and the rest) alongside more creative offerings – fresh pasta with sausage, orange and fennel, say, or sweet and sour salt cod with onions. Quarantuno seems part French bistro, part Italian trattoria, but despite the touches of extra class it is anything but expensive. Recommended!
Pigneto Quarantuno, Via del Pigneto 41, Open 7 days for dinner and for Sunday lunch in winter.
The Truffle Lover’s Paradise: Bosco
For those of us partial to the uniquely heady aroma of truffle, it can be a dangerously wallet-busting habit. Pigneto’s new arrival Bosco is a welcome exception to the rule. Describing itself as ‘Italy’s first street-kitchen dedicated to the mountains,’ Bosco is a riotous celebration of truffles and mushrooms at affordable prices. Think crostini topped with potato, egg and truffle, or a beef tartare burger topped with truffle shavings, soft cheese and purple cabbage. The most expensive item on the menu tops out at €12, confirming Bosco’s commitment to bringing normally exclusive truffle to the people - we’ll raise a glass to that noble goal!
Bosco, Via Macerata 8c, open Tues – Sun for lunch and dinner.
Where to Drink: Pigneto’s Best Bars
Whether you’re looking for a quiet glass of wine or craft beer, a pre-dinner aperitivo or just want to paint the town red without breaking the bank, Pigneto’s got you covered. Eschewing the city centre and well-heeled hotspots like Monti and Trastevere, this is where Rome’s cool crowd comes to whet their whistles, and the variety of watering holes dotting the narrow neighbourhood is impressive. Most of the action takes place in and around the pedestrianized Via del Pigneto, and this should be your first port of call. But don’t be afraid to roam further afield and explore the side-streets either. Below are (just some of) our favourite haunts –there are many more though, so follow your nose.
The Historic Bar: Necci
Any self-respecting guide to Pigneto’s bars has to start with Necci, which first opened its doors way back 1924. The Pigneto haunt par-excellence, this was where Pier Paolo Pasolini hung out when he was shooting his acclaimed Neorealist portrait of Roman working-class life Accattone in 1961. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then – for starters Pasolini was murdered in mysterious circumstances on Ostia’s seafront, whilst Necci itself burned down in 2009 and had to be rebuilt from scratch. These days Necci is an altogether more chic hangout than in Pasolini’s day, where somewhat pricey cocktails and creative small plates dreamed up by chef Ben Hirst are the order of the day. But the air of history still hangs heavily about the place, and Necci remains by far Pigneto’s most recognisable venue. Its garden, illuminated by an infinity of fairy lights, is one of the most atmospheric spots in all of Rome to grab a drink and while away the hours - definitely worth experiencing at least once when in Rome.
necci1924.com, Via Fanfulla da Lodi, 68
The All-Rounder Aperitivo Bar: Cargo
The heart and soul of Pigneto is its pedestrianized main street, the so-called Isola Pedonale of Via del Pigneto. Here the life of the quarter is lived out in public, where locals lounge on benches chewing the fat of the day. As you wander down the always-hopping main drag, stopping off for an aperitivo is more or less obligatory - virtually all of the watering holes lining the isola pedonale are worthy destinations, but we usually tend to plump for Cargo, where friendly service, reasonably priced cocktails and abundant antipasti make it the ideal pre-dinner destination.
@cargoalpigneto, Via del Pigneto, 20
The Feminist Collective Bar: Libreria Tuba
If you want to get a feel for the creative energy coursing through Pigneto that makes it a favourite for Rome’s artistic set, then you need to stop in at Tuba. Also boasting a great location on Via del Pigneto’s Isola Pedonale, this feminist bookshop-bar-café-meeting space boasts a full calendar of events, running the gamut from debates on reproductive rights and immigration to poetry readings and irreverent comic-book festivals. But there’s a lot more to the place than political activism, and the Tuba gang know how to let their hair down too. Rickety tables and chairs spill out onto the pavement outside, making it the perfect pit-stop for a glass of wine or beer accompanied by a tagliere of formaggi and salumi (ethically sourced, naturally). Tuba is decidedly woke, but in a very good way – how can you resist somewhere whose slogan is “reading is sexy”?
libreriatuba.it, Via del Pigneto, 39a
The Wine Bar: Tiaso Enolibreria
Ultra-refined Tiaso is an oasis of calm on the choppy waters of Pigneto’s vibrant nightlife scene. This elegant wine bar has been here for almost 20 years, opening its doors in 2001 and has seen Pigneto change almost beyond recognition in the interim. Tiaso takes its name from the mythological court of Dionysius, where the ancient Greek gods drank, danced and played music to their hearts’ content. Piled high to the rafters with tipples from across Italy available by the glass or bottle – from wallet-friendly local labels to the giants of Italian viticulture, Tiaso is an invaluable neighbourhood stalwart that more than lives up to its name. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, and if you’re lucky you’ll even get to take in some live music performed from the upstairs balcony. Here’s to the next 20 years!
Il Tiaso enolibreria, Via Ascoli Piceno 25
The Cocktail Bar: CO.SO.
This is the new Pigneto in microcosm – it might not please visitors who have come in search of Pasolini and his 1960s ragazzi di vita, but if you’re looking for a top-class cocktail bar with international pretensions, then CO.SO. (aka Cocktail and Social) is your place. Unimpeachable Manhattans, Negronis and other classics plus off-the-wall specialties like the notorious Carbonara Sour (featuring vodka that’s been fat-washed with guanciale) and the legendary Pigneto Colada, served up by Italian TV mixology star Giulia Castellucci.
Co.So Cocktail and Social, Via Braccio da Montone, 80
The Music Bar: YEAH! Musicadischicaffe
Yeah! is Pigneto’s music bar par excellence. Comfy couches, vintage furniture (all saved from the skip or recycled), guitars lashed to the walls and vinyl, vinyl everywhere. At Yeah the old-school record is king, and the staff welcome requests drawn from its large vinyl collection displayed prominently on shelves around the turntable. Yeah is hopping on the weekends, keeping the clientele happy with live music and top-notch cocktails – try the refreshing Zenzerino, turbocharged with lashings of ginger, or the Basilicum, vodka and lime spiked with basil and balsamic vinegar. If you’re in need of a midweek pick-me-up meanwhile, you could do worse than Yeah’s Wednesday jazz and Bloody Mary sessions. Friday’s a good bet too, when you can take advantage of the abundant aperitivo buffet to ring in the weekend.
yeahpigneto.com, Via Giovanni de Agostini, 41/45
The Craft Beer Bar: Birra +
If the mysteries of the humble hop are more your thing, fear not: Pigneto has you covered too. Places like The Factory, with gourmet burgers and a changing selection of craft beers, and the Birra del Borgo brewery’s pop-up stand on Via del Pigneto are worthy options. But our personal favourite remains the first beer shop to bring artisan tipples to Pigneto, Birra +. Still ahead of the curve a decade later, Birra+ offers a vast selection of artisan beers both on tap and in the bottle that you won’t find anywhere else in Rome. The atmosphere is friendly and the prices are right – what more could you want?
Birra +, Via del Pigneto 105
The Locals’ Bar: Caffè Sospeso
Possibly our favourite bar/café in Pigneto, this one is a little bit off the beaten path, a good 10 minute walk from Via del Pigneto’s isola pedonale. But it’s definitely worth the detour, as its location right in the residential heart of the quarter means its very much a haunt for locals and clued-in visitors. The bar takes its name from one of Naples’ most noble coffee traditions – under the venerable logic of the café sospeso, customers buy two coffees but only drink one - leaving the order ‘suspended’ for the next person to cross the threshold in need of caffeinated restoration but lacking the necessary funds. Caffè Sospeso is about a lot more than just coffee, though. Youthful, friendly and enthusiastic, the Sospeso staff serve up great Spritzes for just €3.50 and the wine offerings by the glass, bottle and carafe are seriously good too. On the food front polenta dishes and heaping cheese plates prove worthy accompaniments to your tipple.
Caffè Sospeso, via Gentile da Mogliano 172
How to Get to Pigneto
These days Pigneto is easily accessible via the metro. Take the A line as far as San Giovanni, then change onto the C-line. A couple of stops later you’ll find yourself in the heart of Pigneto. You could also take the 5 or 19 tram from Termini station – get off at Piazzale Prenestino and walk directly south to reach Via del Pigneto. Alternatively, a light-rail line follows the Via Casilina from the Roma Laziali station at the southern end of Termini. Get off at Santa Elena and walk north to reach the centre of Pigneto.