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Yahoo Travel: Five Charming Italian Towns You've Probably Never Heard Of

This originally appeared on Yahoo Travelon Monday, October 27, 2014.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Ferrovie dello Stato (Italy’s railway system), but when I’m looking for a little 21st-century time travel, I drive around Italy’s messy regional roads because there are fairy-tale towns waiting to be discovered on top of and behind every hill. The Italian countryside is overrun with millennia of history, and the country’s 20 regions are all decisively different, which is why making a wrong turn always sends you in the right direction.

Here are five of my favorite places that I’ve discovered over the years.

Let’s start from the top…

Marostica

5 Charming Italian Towns You've Never Heard Of

The town of Marostica (Photo: Thinkstock)

When you wind your way into the valleys of the Veneto region, you are bound to come across crenelated castles and medieval villages perfect for a Shakespearean play setting. Just a half hour northeast of Vicenza is Marostica, one of those picturesque towns still rocking its 15th-century heyday, with a fortress gate, looming castle, surrounding wall, and piazza-sized chessboard.

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The biannual human chess match in Marostica (Photo: Frank Kovalchek/Flickr)

Yes, a chessboard. Marostica is all about chess. Every even-numbered year, the city hosts a living chess tournament in its main piazza, where players — pawns, bishops, kings, and queens — dress in early Renaissance costume to re-enact an epic poem based on Marostica’s 15th-century legend of two dueling families.

Related: Hitchhiking in Italy: The Worst Travel Decision I’ve Ever Made (Shocker, I Know!)

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A view of Marostica (Photo: Nicola/Flickr)

And every May, the town hosts a two-week-long cherry festival to celebrate the harvest — Marostica’s cherries are considered the best in Italy. If getting out of town is necessary, Marostica’s location is ideal for a whirl around the Veneto in search of Palladian villas in the areas surrounding Marostica, Vicenza, and Bassano del Grappa.

Where to stay: Albergo Due Mori

Gubbio

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The rooftops of Gubbio (Photo: Benito Roveran/Flickr)

If Veneto is about castles, Umbria is about color. Its vivid natural palette has inspired almost every color pigment made; local artist Piero della Francesca immortalized its countryside. Forget about Assisi, Spoleto, Todi, and Orvieto, and head northeast from Perugia to Gubbio, a jewel-box medieval town.

Related: ‘Mangia!’ We Ate and Drank Our Way Through Northern Italy

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A flower-bedecked walkway in Gubbio (Photo: Thinkstock)

High on the hill, Gubbio gives off an austere vibe with its monumental medieval architecture, such as the looming Palazzo dei Consoli and the Duomo. Don’t be daunted — Gubbio is a calm and almost meditative city, with wide-open piazzas, ancient Roman sites, and amazing century-old festivals. Gubbio has had a more than 500-year rivalry with Sansepolcro, hometown of della Francesca. Every year, top archers from both towns meet for the Palio della Balestra (alternately in each town), where archrivals vie for best bow. Everyone, and I mean everyone, from Sansepolcro and Gubbio is dressed in early Renaissance garb that some say is based on della Francesca figures.

On May 15, Gubbio strikes a pose as it celebrates patron saint Ubaldo in the Corsa dei Ceri, a race where three huge wooden candle-shaped columns are raced through the town in an all-day affair.

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The Corsa dei Ceri celebration (Photo: Martin Thomas/Flickr)

And if Gubbio is too sleepy for you, it’s easy to head out on the way of St. Francis, visiting Spoleto and Assisi, among other towns, or meander on the trail of Piero della Francesca paintings, which are found in churches and museums from Arezzo to Sansepolcro.

Where to stay: Hotel Bosone

Civita di Bagnoregio

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Hilltop Civita di Bagnoregio (Photo: Thinkstock)

If you find yourself lost on the way to Orvieto, look for Civita di Bagnoregio, which is in the northern edge of Lazio region. Thanks to its vertiginous isolation, Civita di Bagnoregio is a well-preserved medieval enclave of confusing alleys, surprise piazzas, and ivy-covered arches, and it’s practically all yours if you can make it up the steep, acrophobia-inspiring footbridge. The pedestrian-only town has as few as 12 inhabitants during the winter months.

Related: A Boozy Tour of Orvieto, in Italy’s Umbrian Countryside

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A doorway in Civita di Bagnoregio (Photo: ho visto nina volare/Flickr)

Visit on a foggy morning, and you’ll see a town that looks like a small island floating in the clouds. Once the sun shines, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a tiny stone town that sits precariously on a massive rock.

Civita di Bagnoregio feels figuratively and literally on edge, so it comes as no surprise that the World Monuments Fund placed Civita di Bagnoregio on its 100 Most Endangered Sites in 2006. Bagnoregio can be either a quick pit stop — within an hour you can scale the bridge, visit the town, and head back down — or, as I prefer, an overnight affair. Where else than an impenetrable town is better for a tryst?

Where to stay: Corte della Maesta

Ortigia

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The waterfront in Ortigia (Photo: UminDaGuma/Flickr)

Lately, Sicily has gotten a lot of love — and with good reason. It has the best of Italy: food, culture, archaeological sites, beaches. And Ortigia is its trophy. The tiny island off of Siracusa in Sicily’s southeastern corner is a Baroque sandcastle mixed with Greek mythology. Take a 10-minute walk around and you’ll see ancient Greek temples, a historic fish market, a fortress, medieval neighborhoods, and a piazza with even more ancient temples, outdoor cafés, and a Caravaggio painting.

Related: Don’t Tell Anyone: The Last Secret Island in All of Italy

Ortigia’s location is key: It’s immediately adjacent to Siracusa, a city whose archaeological treasures include a gorgeous Greek amphitheater. And it’s perfectly situated for day trips to Noto and Modica, two beautiful Baroque towns also noted for their sweets. Modica, in particular, is the center for Italy’s chocolate production.

Where to stay: Sciuretta

Ceglie Messapica

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The streets of Ceglie Messapica (Photo: Thinkstock)

The Puglia region, in the heel of the boot, is a beautiful landscape of ancient farmhouses, coastlines, and castles. In Salento, the southern territory, sleepy Ceglie Messapica has reigned as “the center of Pugliese cuisine” for more than 90 years.

Related: The Most Adorable Italian Inns — That Won’t Break the Bank

The 15th-century town, a cramped diamond in the rough with its castle and crooked cobblestone roads, is bursting with flavor and culinary tradition. The restaurant Cibus is the place to test out seasonal, time-tested recipes, and it has perhaps the stinkiest and most well-sourced cheese collection anywhere. Surrounding Ceglie is a countryside peppered with trulli, those charming conical stone huts that look similar to the Seven Dwarfs’ homes. Many of them have been converted into bed-and-breakfasts that are trulli scrumptious (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Where to stay: Trullo dei Messapi

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The exterior of the hotel Trullo dei Messapi (Photo: Trullo dei Messapi)

Florence vs. Rome, Yahoo City Smackdown

This originally appeared in Yahoo Travel on Wednesday,  August 27, 2014.

City Smackdown: Florence vs. Rome

Each week, Yahoo Travel pits rival destinations against each other to determine once and for all which one is the best. Today, an Italian-flavored Smackdown: Florence vs. Rome. 

THE CASE FOR FLORENCE

By Nicky Swallow 

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In this corner: Florence (Photo: Andrea Zanchi/E+/Getty Images)

One of the world’s great art repositories, Florence proudly holds its own against Rome in spite of its diminutive size. Florence is so much more than just museums and monuments, and foodies, fashionistas, and fans of the good life will all be blown away by this compact gem of a city. You can walk almost everywhere that’s worth going, and thanks to our ex-mayor (now prime minister) Matteo Renzi, central Florence boasts one of the largest traffic-free urban areas in Europe, so you don’t have to contend with the fume-belching buses and bumper-to-bumper jams that are a constant in Rome. And if you want to combine your city break with a day in the country, a 10-minute drive will have you surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. It can take hours to escape from Rome…

Population: 377,000.

Famous Faces: The Gucci family. The Ferragamo family. Roberto Cavalli. Matteo Renzi (Italian PM).

Related: 67 & Dumped: Photo Bombing in Florence, Italy

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Piazza della Repubblica, one of the architectural marvels you’ll see in Florence (Photo: Glowimages/Getty Images)

World-Class Art: Often dubbed “The Cradle of the Renaissance,” Florence has a concentration of fabulous art packed into a small space that is second to none. The Uffizi Gallery houses one of the world’s greatest collections of paintings (think iconic images such as Botticelli’s “Primavera” and Rosso Fiorentino’s lute-playing putto);the Galleria dell’Accademia is home to “David,” the most famous nude statue on the planet; and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo lists Ghiberti’s great bronze “Doors of Paradise” among its treasures. The churches are stuffed full of fabulous frescoes, and the streets and piazzas are lined with elegant palaces and architectural masterpieces such as Il Duomo, the Ospedale degli Innocenti and the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. You could stay in Florence a month and still not see it all.

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Looking at art on a scooter: there’s nothing more Florence than that (Photo: Sofie Delauw/Cultura/Getty Images)

Popular Way to Get Around Town: On foot. Florence is a small city, and you will find that nearly everywhere you want to go is contained within the compact Centro Storico. Bicycles are another good option (pick one up at Santa Maria Novella train station). But if you want to do it the Florentine way, rent a scooter from Alinari. Tired feet? Hop on one of the Lilliputian, eco-friendly bussini specially designed to negotiate the narrow streets in the center of town. Tickets cost €1,20 and are available from newsstands, bars, and tobacconists’ shops.

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Go ahead and call the Four Seasons “palatial.” It’s in a palace (Photo: Firenze CB/Flickr)

Sleep Tight: It may be small, but the Renaissance City has a wide variety of accommodation options that range from five-star hotels offering in-your-face luxury to B&B gems in family-owned palazzi. Top-of-the-pile options include the Four Seasons, housed in a Renaissance palace and set in the largest private garden in the city, and the St. Regis, which boasts rooms overlooking the Arno. Then there is the new, immaculately stylish riverside Ferragamo Portrait Suites, which is set to give the other top boutique contender, J.K. Place, a run for its money. The Rocco Forte-owned Hotel Savoy is a good choice if you want a supercentral location, and the Helvetia & Bristol offers old-school service and a retro atmosphere. For something a little more intimate, try Palazzo Galletti or the Loggiato dei Serviti, which occupy old palazzi. Or to get away from it all, book into the funky, minimalist Riva Lofts, a complex of converted artisan workshops on the south bank of the Arno, a 20-minute walk from town.

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Sorry, Milan. Florence takes a backseat to no Italian city when it comes to style (Photo: Thinkstock)

Fashion Pulse: Milan may grab the headlines when it comes to the catwalk, but Florence is traditionally the home of moda Italiana. Italy’s first fashion show was held in Florence in 1951. The Florentines are proud of their long artisan heritage, and their fashion sense is based firmly on quality and craftsmanship. During your time in the Renaissance City, you will be surrounded by beautifully dressed men and women oozing an innate sense of style and elegance, even when they are dressed in their sweats. It’s no coincidence that some of Italy’s top labels are Florentine: Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Pucci, and, of course (by adoption), Ferragamo.

Fabulous Food: Simple, earthy, and satisfying, traditional Florentine cuisine is based on seasonal local ingredients prepared with lashings of peppery Tuscan olive oil. Meals start with hearty bread, bean, and veg combos such as ribollita and pappa al pomodoro or pasta sauced with hare or wild boar. Next up is the city’s famous signature dish, bistecca alla Fiorentina, a vast T-bone eaten almost raw. Family-run Il Latini and subterranean Buca Lapi are good places to sample traditional dishes. In a hurry? Street food Florentine style means tripe and lampredotto (cow intestines), so man up and join the locals at one of the mobile trippaio stalls in the city center.

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Lampredotto is not vegan (yzhelen/Flickr)

Great Escapes: The classic day trip from Florence takes you south into the famous wine-growing region of Chianti. Need more art? Siena, Arezzo, Lucca, and Pisa all have magnificent churches and museums and are within easy reach of Florence. Beach bums should head west to the strip of coast known as the Versilia, where neat rows of deck chairs, sun beds, and parasols occupy the wide swaths of sand.

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The vineyards in Tuscany are a great detour from Florence (Photo: peter zelei/E+/Getty Images)

The Aperitivo Trail: The pre-dinner aperitivo craze hit Italy (and Florence) some years ago. The coolest way to start an evening out here is to head for one of the city’s buzzy bars, order an Aperol spritz (a Venetian cocktail of Aperol and prosecco), and dig into the buffet spread. In some places this just means a variety of nuts, chips, and olives, but others lay on a feast of hot and cold dishes. Up-market bars such as the East-West Fusion at the Gallery Hotel and the superelegant Atrium Bar at the Four Seasons bring an elegant selection of nibbles to your table; at rooftop bars SE.STO at the Westin Excelsior and La Terrazza at the Hotel Continentale, you get 360-degree views of the city with your drinks; Oltrarno shabby-chic stalwart Cabiria serves up a particularly generous buffet, while at Negroni, you get art and photography exhibits with your lethal Negroni cocktail. Favorite hang-out in laid-back Piazza Santo Spirito is Volume, an ex-woodcarver’s workshop, where the food offerings include delicious buckwheat crepes.

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Start your evening off right with a Aperol spritz (Darren Milligan & Brad Ireland/Flickr)

City on Celluloid: “I Vitelloni” (Federico Fellini, 1953), “Obsession” (Brian de Palma, 1976), “A Room With a View” (James Ivory, 1986), “Tea With Mussolini” (Franco Zeffirelli, 1999), “Hannibal” (Ridley Scott, 2001).

Born in London, Nicky Swallow moved to Florence for three months in 1981 to play the viola in the opera orchestra and never left. She has been writing about travel, food, wine, and life in Florence and the rest of Italy for 15 years, contributing to guidebooks for Frommer's, Time Out, Dorling Kindersley, and Insideout. She is the Florence expert for Simonseeks.com and Afar.com and a regular contributor to Condé Nast Traveller (UK) and The Guardian.

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A Room With a View (Photo: Mary Evans/Merchant Ivory/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection)

THE CASE FOR ROME

By Erica Firpo

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And in this corner: Rome (Photo: John Harper/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Everyone loves a weekend visit to Florence, but what everyone really wants is to live in Rome. Rome is a chaotic convergence of beauty, history, culture, and conflict. For nearly 3,000 years, the city has fostered an amazing roll of artists and architects, actors and scientists, poets and politicians, with just the necessary amount of humor to make the good, bad, and ugly practically perfect. And within the last decade, Rome has worked to reinvent itself into a mecca for 21st-century culture and culinary delights, unveiling new contemporary museums, opening new restaurants, and renovating historic spaces. Its undeniable and best personality trait is independence, reflected in all its niche neighborhoods, like Testaccio, Monti, Trastevere, and even the historic center and Borgo.  And for that, Rome embraces you like a small town. In other words, it’s a 21st-century capital city with a hometown vibe.

Population:  2.8 million.

Famous Faces: What more could you want than the pope and Francesco Totti? After that, everyone else is just an extra. Other fabulous Rome residents include fashion’s Fendi sisters, Gucci’s Frida Giannini, and Valentino. The silver screen’s Willem Dafoe, Ralph Fiennes, Raoul Bova, Gabriele Muccino, Sophia Loren, and Paolo Sorrentino also live here.

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Rome has Sophia Loren. Game over (Photo: isifa/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

World-Class Art: While masterpieces and monuments may be on almost every corner, church, and piazza, Rome is definitely not stuck in the past.  The city has an endless amount of museums, collections, and cultural sites covering a range of eras and genres from ancient to avant-garde.  Off the bat, Rome has bragging rights to underground first-century houses, a chapel decorated by Michelangelo, a tiny villa by Raphael, a collection of Caravaggio paintings, and a 21st-century climbable monument by the Starn Brothers. Must-sees include the Vatican Museums,Capitoline Museums, and Palazzo Massimo. Contemporary art and architecture aficionados will want to walk through Richard Meier’s Museum of the Ara Pacis, Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI (21st-century art), and the neoclassical National Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery.  And that’s just the beginning.

Related: 67 & Dumped: on Her Own in Rome

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One of the countless lovely sights you’ll see in Rome: the staircase in the Vatican Museums (Photo: Boccalupo Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images)

Popular Way to Get Around Town: Foot, taxi, and even public transportation are the most efficient, while the brave will opt for bikes and scooters.

Sleep Tight: With last year’s opening of the J.K. Place and Gran Meliá,  Rome’s hotels have upped their game. The Hassler unleashed an amazing penthouse suite that rightfully boasts the best view of the city, while the always-desirable Hotel de Russie remains tops for its bonus concierge services and flawless style. I love the more intimate luxe of the Art Deco Palazzo Manfredi, plus its rooftop view of the Colosseum can’t be beat. My wallet adores the charming Locanda San Pancrazio.

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The Palazzo Manfredi isn’t bad to look at, but you can see an even more famous site from its roof ( Photo: Dan Shaw/Flickr)

Fashion Statement: Roman style is all about the three S’s — sunglasses, sparkles, and shoes, for men and women alike. Whatever the walk of life, Romans never leave home without good hair, pressed clothing, bright colors, and an outgoing personality.

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(Photo: 4FR/Vetta/Getty Images)

Fabulous Food: Roman food is best known as cucina povera, a basic “poor” cuisine made from cooking staples and leftovers, giving us unforgettable caciopepeamatriciana, and carbonara pastas that can be found in every trattoria and osteria. Over the years, the city has undergone a food revolution — slow food and street food make table appearances, while the city makes room for a galaxy of Michelin stars, including the three-star La Pergola, two two-stars, and 12 one-stars. My favorites are street-food pick-me-up Trapizzino, fritti from Cesare al Casaletto, and Pipero al Rex for a fabulous carbonara with a Michelin star.

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A street food pick-me-up from Trapizzino (Coso/Flickr)

Related: Avoid the Tourist Traps and Dine at These Mouth-Watering Destinations in Rome

Great Escapes: If you really think you need to leave Rome, hill towns like Tivoli and Frascati; lakes like Martignano and Bracciano; and beaches like Fregene, Maccarese, and Ostia are just a 30-to-45-minute escape.  Most are reachable by local train or bus, but some require a car.

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The hill town of Tivoli, about 20 miles from Rome (Thinkstock)

The Aperitivo Trail:  Florence doesn’t have a monopoly on the aperitivo scene. In Rome, it’s an integral part of Roman daily life. Hotel de Russie’s garden bar is the prettiest location for afternoon aperitivi. If the weather is warm, you’ll want to head to a rooftop, and the best views and great drinks are from the hotel terraces of Dom and the American Bar at the Hotel Forum. For serious drinks, step into the tiny speakeasy Jerry Thomas Project, dressed-up dive bar Barnum (with Rome’s best bartender), and D.O.M.’s ground-floor bar, a sexy and intimate backdrop with amazing and expensive cocktails.

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Enjoy the view at Hotel Forum (Photo: Space Hotels/Flickr)

The Celluloid City: Florence has done okay but it does not match Rome’s status as one of the great film settings. Fellini showed off its never-a-dull moment nature in “La Dolce Vita” (1960), and Audrey Hepburn embodied its beauty in “Roman Holiday” (William Wyler, 1953). From comedic slice of life to picturesque period pieces, and ancient history to sci-fi and mystery, every generation and genre has filmed in the city: “Ben-Hur” (William Wyler, 1959), “Spartacus” (Stanley Kubrick, 1960), “The Conformist” (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970), “Mahogany” (Berry Gordy, 1975), “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (Anthony Minghella, 1999), “Gladiator” (Ridley Scott, 2000), “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” (Walt Disney Pictures, 2003), “Ocean’s Twelve” (Steven Soderbergh, 2004), “Romanzo Criminale” (Michele Placido, 2005), “Mission: Impossible III” (J.J. Abrams, 2006), “Angels & Demons” (Ron Howard, 2009), “Eat Pray Love” (Ryan Murphy, 2010), “To Rome With Love” (Woody Allen, 2012).

Rome-based Erica Firpo likes to cross lines between art and culture, writing about art, lifestyle, fashion, and food for a variety of magazines, books, and online publications. She is a contributing editor to Fathom and is a regular contributor to Forbes Travel, Travel + Leisure, BBC Travel, Discovery Magazine, and ANSA.

Yahoo Travel: Avoid the Tourist Traps and Dine at These Mouth-Watering Destinations in Rome

This article originally appeared in Yahoo Travel on Thursday, July 10, 2014.

Four million incredibly vocal people mixed with three millennia of history make Rome a melting pot of natural beauty, diverse culture, and expected chaos, especially when it comes to food.

For tourists, the Eternal City has a reputation for being unfriendly, or worse, ill-prepared and insulting. I am here to tell you that is patently unfair … just ask the Romans. They know where to eat, far away from all the visitors to their grand city.

From cheap and cheerful to wallet-trimming, these are the tables I visit time and time again for a true Roman dining experience.

Avoid the Tourist Traps and Dine at These Mouth-Watering Destinations in Rome

We love a good open kitchen – Trapizzino. (Photo: Trapizzino)

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Snacks at Trapizzino. (Photo: Trapizzino/Facebook)

00100: Testaccio’s hole in the wall and my secret weapon for irrational hunger, 00100 is the home of the Trapizzino, crispy pizza pockets filled with uniquely Roman flavors like pollo alla cacciatura (spicy chicken), picchiapò (stewed beef), and trippa alla romana (tripe). A few years back, 00100 was a standing-room-only street food spot, but thanks to its popularity, the space was enlarged to include more bar-side seating and an exposed kitchen so you can watch the magic happen. Via Giovanni Branca, 88

Related: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know About Rome

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The deep-fried supplì at Supplizio (Photo: Supplizio/Facebook)

Supplizio: You won’t want to miss this dine-and-dash shop near Campo de’ Fiori that focuses on the supplì, which are small, deep-fried rice balls filled with soft, warm cheese. In an incredibly unique dining experience, chef Arcangelo Dandini invites you into a tiny living room (leather couches, coffee tables) to taste supplì, crochette (potato mash), crema fritta (sweet pecorino and cinnamon), and polpetta di alici e mio garum (anchovy). Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 143

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The pizza at Pizzarium (Photo: BGBlogging/Flickr)

Pizzarium: Helmed by famed pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci, Pizzarium should win the Palla d’Oro for pizza by the slice for its delicious pizza dough, innovative, seasonal combinations (beef carpaccio and balsamic vinegar, fig and pecorino), and quality products. Do not expect to use pocket change; prices are higher than regular slices but completely worth it. Via della Meloria, 43

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Cesare al Casaletto’s fritto misto (Photo: Vinoroma.com)

Cesare al Casaletto: All my friends swear by the fritti (fried antipasti) at Cesare, an outerlimits trattoria in Monteverde. Though it’s a bit of a haul to get here, Cesare is worth the taxi fare just to eat the pasta al cacio pepe (pecorino and black pepper) and coda alla vaccinara (braised oxtail). Via del Casaletto, 45

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La trippa at Matricianella (Photo: Tripadvisor)

MatricianellaAn often unnoticed trattoria in Rome’s historic center, Matricianella is my favorite restaurant, traditional for dishes like amatriciana, cacio pepe, abbacchio al forno (oven-baked lamb), and trippa alla romana (tripe in a red sauce). What makes it stand it out is the filetto al pepe verde, a thick steak in a green pepper served on crispy bread — eggs Benedict for carnivores. Via del Leone, 4

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L’Arcangelo’s gnocchi (Photo: Prickly Poppy/Tripadvisor)

L’Arcangelo: When not conjuring up the perfect supplì, Arcangelo is making gnocchi at his Prati restaurant, the eponymous L’Arcangelo.  Rome’s traditional served-Thursday-only dish, Arcangelo adds flair to potato gnocchi by serving it with a piquant amatriciana sauce usually reserved for bucatini pasta. Via Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, 59

Related: Infiltrating the Underground Dining Scene from Italy to Seattle

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The small Roscioli, on Campo de’ Fiori (Photo: Roscioli)

Roscioli:  A tiny delicatessen/dining oasis just down the street from the chaos of Campo de’ Fiori, Roscioli always ranks among the top restaurants of any Roman for the triumvirate of perfect local dishes — carbonara, amatriciana, and cacio pepe. Via dei Giubbonari, 21

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Pasta carbonara at Al Moro (Photo: LMVoyager/Tripadvisor)

Al Moro: Al Moro is an old boys’ trattoria of decades past. Over the years, Al Moro has perfected and personalized three epic dishes: insalata di ovoli, a seasonal mushroom salad garnished with Groviera cheese; spaghetti al moro, a twist on traditional carbonara; and zabaglione al cioccolato, a whipped egg yolk dessert with warm chocolate. Vicolo delle Bollette, 13

Related: 67 & Dumped … One Woman on Her Own in Rome

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The fish at PierLuigi (Photo: Massimo T./Tripadvisor)

PierLuigi: One word: Fish. PierLuigi has the most gorgeous fish counter in Rome. I’ve had a long-standing affair with the amatriciana di mare, paccheri pasta in a crustacean-and-fish accented amatriciana sauce, but I’ve thrown it over for the homemade taglioni pasta with cicala del mediterraneo, a prehistoric-looking rock lobster. Piazza dei Ricci, 144

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Pipero’s artful creations (Photo: MarieDerin/Tripadvisor)

Pipero al Rex: For months after I ate Pipero’s mind-blowing carbonara, I found myself reminiscing on the artistry behind Luciano Monosilio’s guanciale preparation. The Michelin-star restaurant is tops for carbonara and unforgettable for its creepy David Lynch-inspired dining room. Via Torino, 149

Erica Firpo likes to cross lines between art and culture, writing about art, lifestyle, fashion, and food for a variety of magazines, books and online publications. She is a contributing editor to Fathom and is a regular contributor to Forbes Travel, Travel + Leisure, BBC Travel, Discovery Magazine, and ANSA. She incorporates photography in her writing, and her photos been featured in Mashable, Instagram blog, CNN, New York Times, Fathom, and SF Gate.