Rome is a carb-lover’s dream where seemingly every corner is populated with amazing bars and restaurants dishing out pasta, pizza and pastries. Don’t fret if you work up a colossal appetite touring attractions like the Colosseum; from the globally popular goodness of carbonara to more regional specialties like sweet bread with whipped cream, Rome has plenty on the menu to keep bellies perpetually stuffed.
Every Roman is convinced their grandmother has the best recipe for the city’s most iconic plates, but for those who weren’t blessed with an Italian nonna we have taken the liberty of suggesting the best restaurants in Rome in which to find local dishes, and what to order when you’re there.
How to eat like a local in Rome
It is hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the origins of carbonara. The most popular rumor says that the dish came about during World War II, when American GIs were craving bacon and eggs and a clever chef found a way to mix them into pasta. Egg yolk is indeed the key to a good carbonara, because the dish is never made with the addition of cream in Italy. Some newer Rome restaurants riff on the dish, offering seafood or vegetarian versions, but there is nothing like the umami explosion of the classic egg, bacon and cheese.
Where to get it: Trattoria Da Danilo
Offal is a cornerstone of Roman cuisine, dating back to a time when Europe’s largest slaughterhouse operated just outside of the historic centre beside the Tiber river. Workers were partly paid in these poorer cuts and a distinctive cuisine emerged. Most beloved of all is trippa or tripe–the honey-combed upper stomach of a grazing cow. In Rome, the tripe is slowly simmered in tomato sauce and topped with cheese, resulting in a pleasant flavour so long as you can get past the slightly off-putting texture.
Where to get it: Checchino dal 1887
There are few dishes simpler or more satisfying than cacio e pepe–pasta with cheese and black pepper. The cheese in question is cacio–the word for Pecorino Romano in local dialect. The finely grated pecorino is emulsified in starchy pasta cooking water to create a smooth sauce that is essentially pure cheesy goodness. Freshly ground black pepper helps to cut through the fattiness and adds a kick to the dish that Romans love. With so few ingredients, the key to cacio e pepe is a speedy chef who can ensure that the sauce comes out creamy instead of clumpy.
Where to get it: Flavio al Velavevodetto
Not to be confused with chewy Neapolitan style pizza, pizza alla Romana is cracker thin and should always finish with a good crunch to the crust. The round pizza can be served with plain marinara sauce or piled high with toppings like olives, artichokes, egg and prosciutto alla capricciosa. The budget-friendly meal is most popular with young Romans, who hardly let a week go by without a night out with friends over pizza.
Where to get it: Pizzeria Ai Marmi
The typical breakfast found throughout Italy is coffee and a cornetto - a lightly sugared pastry with a vaguely croissant-like shape. Unfortunately, Italy’s carb-forward morning meal can be slightly disappointing, so Romans know to splurge for a maritozzo. These sweetened bready buns are baked golden before being sliced down the middle and filled with obscene amounts of whipped cream. Maritozzi were traditionally only available around Easter, but they are so delicious that many of Rome’s bakeries make sure to turn them hot out of the oven every day.
Where to get it: Pasticceria Regoli
A love for pizza bianca is instilled in little Romans early on, but the flatbread pizza topped with olive oil and salt can be enjoyed at any age. Often served as a plain snack, the pizza can also be cut in half and stuffed with meat and cheese. The filling of choice is usually mortadella—cooked pork from Bologna that is sliced deli thin. Known as pizza e mortazza in Rome, the sandwich can be found at bakeries known as “Forno” and should be eaten wrapped in brown paper as soon possible after the pizza comes out of the oven.
Where to get it: Il Forno Campo de' Fiori
While most of Rome’s best dishes are slow-cooked plates best enjoyed over a three-hour lunch, supplì are the exception to the rule. Similar to Sicilian arancini, a classic Roman supplí is a ball stuffed with mozzarella, marinara and risotto-like rice, before being fried golden. With crunchy exterior that quickly gives way to the gooey interior, the fried morsels are the perfect street food. But while ideal for eating on the go, the calorie bombs are actually traditionally served as an appetizer in pizzerias.
Where to get it: Supplizio
Perhaps it is true that anything will taste good fried, but there is a special place in Roman hearts for carciofi alla guidea. Looking like bronzed flowers, these deep-fried artichokes are a specialty in the city’s old Jewish quarter. The meaty globe artichokes attain their creamy-on-the-inside and crispy-on-the-outside perfection by being fried not once, but twice. No need to separate the leaves or look out for thistles, these artichokes are eaten whole.
Where to get it: Nonna Betta
Pecorino cheese and guanciale (jowl) bacon are essential ingredients in Rome’s most iconic pasta dishes, including carbonara and amatriciana. But whereas these pastas include additional components to the sauce (egg and tomato, respectively), spaghetti alla gricia allows the cheese and bacon to stand all on their own. The result is a dish so rich that it leaves little room to miss the adornments that grace the city’s other famous pastas.
Where to get it: Armando al Pantheon
Romans consider this second course so delicious that it “jumps in your mouth”—which is exactly what saltimbocca translates to in English. The dish begins with thinly cut pieces of veal which are layered with prosciutto and topped with a fresh sage leaf before being rolled together and pan fried. For the plate to really “jump,” the tasty morsels need to be eaten immediately while still hopping hot from the stovetop. Be sure to have bread on the side to mop up the savoury juices.
Where to get it: Felice a Testaccio