According to the data published by Italian regional Chambers of Commerce, there are more than 126 thousand places of various kinds that are allowed to sell pizza - a ratio of about 1:470 between pizza places and Italians. And these places bake more than 10 million pizzas per day! Lots of pizzas! Give the numbers to sink in, but not for too long since you don't want the pizza in front of you to cool down.
How can you find from all the tens of thousands of places the right pizza for you? How can you find the place to which you can go when you have the specific pizza-crave, and no matter what is the weather outside or the mood of the pizzaiolo the pizza will be exactly the one you had in mind?
In the case of Il Podista ("The Runner"), I'm totally biased since this was the first place N. and T. took me on my first night in Rome. New country, new city, new life.
And my new beginning in Rome was in the San Lorenzo quarter where Il Podista stands on the other side of the street from the main part of La Sapienza University, the biggest university in Rome. The mixture of native-Roman students, Italian students from all of Italy and from the rest of the world makes the neighborhood to local and international at once, packed with jam sessions around its squares in the summer and political activity - mainly Left-winged - all along the year. Think of Brooklyn vibe only with damn fine pizza places all around.
Walls of San Lorenzo
Domenico "Mimmo" Scipioni arrived in Rome from the tiny town of Poggio Filippo in the region of Abruzzo and started to work as a dishwasher in a pizzeria at the quarter of Testaccio. After a firefighter who frequently visited the restaurant dared him Mimmo started to run, and a year afterward he already finished the half-marathon course between Rome and Ostia - and won the bet.
Since then Mimmo, who is always at the pizzeria and will welcome you heartily, hasn't stopped running and the walls and shelves of Il Podista are full with photos and trophies of his running career, including one from 2004 Marathon of Rome when he ran dressed as a Roman soldier. If you want to get in the mood of running you can watch Mimmo playing in Spirit of the Marathon 2, the 2013 movie of the director-marathonist Jon Dunham that followed the trail of seven runners on their way to 2012 Marathon of Rome. In the movie, Mimmo is co-starring and co-running alongside his cousin Mimmo Anzini, a member of a luxurious list of runners who participated in all editions of the marathon in its current course since 1995.
Run, Mimmo, run!
The second you'll sit at the humble-yet-spacious tables you'll get the menus - including English translations, which is not something you can just ignore in non-touristic quarters - and you'll be asked to order your drinks. While you're waiting you can examine the news clips on the walls or the unstoppable machine next to the pizza oven: two pizzaiolos whose hands move by themselves - one flattens the dough using a small rolling pin, dozens of dough balls every evening, and the other completes him by pouring the tomato sauce and arranging the toppings on the pizza. Hypnotizing.
Just a second. Before the pizza gets to the table, I would warmly recommend trying at least one of the deep-fried bites on the first part of the menu:
Fiori di Zucca - zucchini flowers filled with a small Mozzarella ball and a little cut of Anchovy, deep fried in the Italian-style tempura named Pastella,
Filletto di Baccalà - fried cod in pastella,
And don't miss the Supplì: a tomato sauce and rice cake hiding a smaller Mozzarella ball - all covered with breadcrumbs. Did I mention it's deep fried? The boiling hot oil melts the Supplì's cheesy heart and a careful bite will make the Mozzarella stretch out and the need to roll it again and again. Until not long ago the Supplì was called " Supplì al Telefono" after these strings, but just try these days to explain to younger children what does it mean to use a telephone that has wires which one cannot take out to the street. Good luck.
A phone call to Signor Mimmo!
Stop - pizza time.
Il Podista's pizza is Roman-style, meaning a thin and almost crunchy dough that vigorously carries any kind of topping. Or two. Or more.
This is the reason why I prefer the Roman pizza over the Neapolitan one and its soft dough which melts after he gets out of the oven and makes it difficult to eat with knife and fork, not to mention with your hands.
Besides the classics that you'll find in any pizzeria, Il Podista offers some of Mimmo's inventions:
Il Podista (obviously) - Tomatoes, Mozzarella, lightly fried breadcrumbed vegetables, juicy Salsiccia sausage and dry-cured Bresaola,
Purosangue ("Pure blood"), as the name of the international project that fights doping in sport and collaborates with the pizzeria - the local take on Capricciosa: tomatoes, artichokes, olives, rounds of sausage and a sunny-side-up egg. The best combination of carbohydrates and proteins you need to consume before a marathon - even if you're not planning to run,
I, on the other hand, found the calm combination of a naked Foccacia with slices of Bresaola, lots of Rucola leaves and Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings. I might try others from time to time, but this would be my all-time favorite.
Yes, I've been visiting Il Podista quite a lot of times…
Il Podista serves also a daily pasta dish - and a good one, but if you're in Rome for a short visit go for what a pizzeria good at - pizzas.
In any case, pasta or pizza, the bill will not exceed 15 Euros per person - drinks included, and the experience of eating local between locals you get for free.
Next Marathon of Rome will take place on the 7th of April 2019, but if you want to eat the best pizza in Rome you just need to get whenever you want to Il Podista.
Via Tiburtina 224, Rome
If you're already in San Lorenzo for the best pizza in Rome, why don't you cross the road and taste the best gelato the city can offer? I already mentioned Stragelato in my refreshing guide for the Roman summer, and back then I made it clear that a gelateria is as good as its bitter chocolate ice-cream. Let me write it again - don't miss it. Just don't.