Testaccio's culinary renaissance has also produced ancillary spots such as the Volpetti Salumeria, perhaps the best supplied gourmet deli in Rome. No one could begin to enumerate the prosciutto, salami, exotic cured meats and varieties of fresh and seasoned cheeses that are stacked from floor to ceiling — except perhaps Emilio Volpetti, who owns the store with his brother, Claudio. We were barely in the door before Emilio began plying us with shavings of his pecorino and Parmesan cheeses, slices of luscious prosciutto and the scent of the most aromatic white truffles from Alba, selling at more than $3,100 a pound.
Smack in the center of Testaccio is a large covered market. Its stalls deal in greens and vegetables, fruits, cheeses, fish and the full contingent of poultry, lamb, pork and beef. From early morning until 2 p.m. you can hear the fishmongers and the vegetable vendors belting out a description of their goods. People come from all over town to shop at this lively market, considered one of the best in Rome.
Nearby is a wonderful family place called Luna Piena (Full Moon). We had eaten here years ago when few outside the neighborhood knew of it. Now, chef-owner Mauro Frontelli said, most evenings are so crowded, he advises reservations. Sunday dinner, served around 1 p.m., is especially fun — if you like the company of large, noisy Italian families. Among the draws are a delicious antipasto of raw seafood and two specialties of the house: rigatoni alla boscaiola (rigatoni with a mushroom, cream and pea sauce) and farfalle Luna Piena (butterfly pasta with a sauce of tomato, pesto and pine nuts). For us, Luna Piena's version of that Roman favorite, lamb with rosemary, is one of the best in the city.
Moving on, we found Il Cantinone to be a large, elegant trattoria that looks more like a bona fide ristorante, with two spacious rooms, flowers on the tables and a big fire in the wood-burning pizza oven. The menu offers a long list of Roman specialties. Our favorites: pappardelle di cinghiale (wide noodles with wild boar sauce) and fettuccine ai funghi porcini (fettuccine with wild mushrooms).
Our finale was a visit to Checchino dal 1887, the most upscale restaurant in Testaccio, built right into the monte, across from the abandoned Mattatoio. Checchino was founded in 1887, hence its name, and is touted as the inventor of Rome's beloved oxtail stew. The establishment has been in the Mariani family for five generations and is the largest eatery in Testaccio — 95 seats inside, 20 outside. Brothers Elio and Francesco showed us their extensive wine cellar carved out of Monte Testaccio's amphora shards. Upstairs the signature dish is abbacchio alla cacciatora, boned and diced suckling lamb sautéed with anchovies, garlic, oil and vinegar and hot peppers.
Even if the fashionable people move toward Garbatella, we are betting that the glow of this area will last. So when in Rome, head for Testaccio.
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Inside Testaccio, the fifth-quarter district
From LAX, connecting service (change of planes) to Rome is available on Air France, British Airways, Continental, Delta, KLM, Lufthansa, Swiss and US Airways. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $485.
To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (international code), 39 (country code for Italy), 06 (area code) and the local number.
WHERE TO EAT:
Trattoria Perilli, 39 Via Marmorata; 574-2415. Among the best in the neighborhood. Closed Wednesdays. Average check $35-$45, excluding wine.
Agustarello, 98 Via Giovanni Branca; 574-6585. Wonderful spaghetti dishes and excellent desserts. Closed Sundays. Average check $25-$35, excluding wine. No credit cards.
Luna Piena, 15 Via Luca della Robbia; 575-0279. A boisterous place that's popular with families. Lunch Thursdays-Mondays; dinner nightly except Wednesdays. Average check $25-$35, excluding wine.
Il Cantinone, 31 Piazza Testaccio; 574-6253. An elegant space with a long list of Roman specialties. Closed Tuesdays. Average check $30-$40, excluding wine.
Checchino dal 1887, 30 Via di Monte Testaccio; 574-6318, http://www.checchinodal-1887.com . The most upscale of the bunch, run by the same family for five generations. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Average check $50, excluding wine.
Non-restaurant stops include the gourmet deli Volpetti Salumeria, 47 Via Marmorata, 574-2352, http://www.volpetti.com ; and the cafeteria-pizzeria Volpetti Più, 8 Via Alessandro Volta, 574-4306.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Italian Tourist Board, (310) 820-1898, http://www.italiantourism.com .
— Gwen Romagnoli
Gwen Romagnoli spent years in Italy and now lives in Watertown, Mass., with her husband, Franco, whose most recent book is "A Thousand Bells at Noon: A Roman Reveals the Secrets and Pleasures of His Native City."