Rome for foodies: Where to eat the best pasta in Rome

Step foot onto the storied streets of Rome and you’ll instantly become any of three things; a fashion guru, an art critic or an insatiable foodie. While you can pick up and put down these three hats at any time during your trip, dining in Rome is sure to be the high point of your day, whether going for a traditional Roman trattoria or a modern Michelin-starred number. But, with some 13,000 Roman restaurants and an overwhelming number of dishes to try, choosing where to eat can be an epic undertaking. To avoid any under-par linguine or soggy spaghetti in the most touristy areas, make use of our guide to the best pasta in Rome below.

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Roman Cuisine

We all know Rome as the city of emperors and papal powers but, when talking of Roman food, it’s the peasants that deserve all the credit. Since ancient times Rome has homed a large working population, making simple, cheap and filling fare a high priority for the city’s restauranteurs. The result being that Rome now has the biggest eating-out scene across Italy, a city packed to the gills with rustic restaurants down every backstreet.

Traditional dining revolves around the city’s huge collection of trattoria and osterias, where you’ll find simple specialities known and loved around the world today. Regional ingredients to seek out while in Rome include porchetta (spit-roasted pork), usually served in a sandwich, while guanciale (cured pork jowl) is a common addition to pasta dishes. As for dairy, Rome is chiefly known for pecorino, a hard cheese made from sheep’s milk, scattered, mixed and shaved into a vast number of pasta, pizza and other dishes.

As the city modernises, new-wave trattorias and fast-food spin-offs of local dishes make up more and more of the city’s food scene, alongside fusion and international eateries. The trapizzino – half pizza, half sandwich – is a great example of Rome’s take on modern street food, invented as recently as 2008 and best enjoyed at any branch of Trapizzino across Rome. Though local eating habits are changing to cater to fast-paced lifestyles, generally speaking, lunch is served between 12.30 pm and 3 pm and dinner between 7.30 pm and 11 pm. Though many historic eateries don’t require reservations, for the best food in town you’ll want to book at least a few days in advance or a few weeks for exclusive spots such as Armando al Pantheon or Salumeria Roscioli.

Rome | Photo: John Rodenn Castillo

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Pasta in Rome: Cacio e pepe

Despite predating the American dish by some centuries, cacio e pepe is sometimes defined as a pared-down mac n cheese. While that goes some way to explaining the gist of the recipe, cacio e pepe was the OG cheesy pasta dish and you’d be wise not to forget it! Using just three ingredients – pecorino Romano cheese (‘cacio’), black pepper (‘pepe’) and spaghetti – cacio e pepe is extremely simple and delicious, sometimes tossed out of a wheel of pecorino for added wow factor. The key to a good cacio e pepe is not butter but rather pasta water which melds with the cheese to create the perfect creamy texture.

Of the best restaurants in Rome to try cacio e pepe, Da Felice in Testaccio has been a beloved institution in the city since 1936, while one of the best Trastevere Rome restaurants said to have the most unique (and tastiest) presentation is Roma Sparita, where the dish is served in a parmesan bowl.

Photo: Daria Shevtsova

Photo: Fineas Anton

The Queen: Carbonara

Enter pasta royalty – the carbonara – not so different from the cacio e pepe but all the more famous for its egg addition. A traditional Roman carbonara consists of pecorino Romano, egg, pepper and fried guanciale (a chunkier version of pancetta made from pork cheek) mixed into either spaghetti or linguine. Simple and creamy are both givens with this dish, but the fried cured pork makes for a smoky and salty infusion. Though the origin of this dish is something of a mystery, the name is derived from the Italian for ‘charcoal burner’ leading some to believe the dish was first made for Italian charcoal workers back in the 17th century.

When looking for the perfect pasta alla carbonara in the capital it’s hard to go wrong but Armando al Pantheon will never lead you astray. Serving up carbonara paired with champagne since 1961, Armando al Pantheon is a joint that aims to please, just moments from the famed Pantheon on Piazza della Rotonda. Among the other places to carb(onara)-load are Roscioli Restaurant, a triple-duty deli, wine bar and restaurant from Rome’s much-loved family of bakers – the Rosciolis – and The Roof Garden, one of the best rooftop restaurants Rome for both its luxury gold-edged dishes and views over the Fori Imperiali.

Photo: Zoran Borojevic

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Serving up carbonara paired with champagne since 1961, Armando al Pantheon is a joint that aims to please, just moments from the famed Pantheon on Piazza della Rotonda

Pasta alla Gricia

Next on your foodies menu is Gricia; which, simply put, is a carbonara without the egg, sometimes referred to as ‘a white carbonara’. Foregoing the creamy texture of the egg you can instead focus on the salty richness of the guanciale, which is often sautéed first, adding the cooked pasta to the same pan for a coat of flavourful juices, before being followed swiftly by generous amounts of pecorino Romano and pepper.

La Tavernaccia is considered one of the best restaurants in Trastevere for its Spaghetti alla Gricia, certainly worth a journey to the charming area of Via Giovanni da Castel Bolognese. Elsewhere in Trastevere, it’s Cesare al Casaletto that garners favour for its homely husband-wife set up and refined classic menu. Try the cult-status gricia, suckling lamb or gnocchi on cacio e pepe sauce, all alongside natural wines from Italy, France and Slovenia. Villa Pamphili park is also close by for a post-dinner walk, sure to help a heavy meal settle nicely.

Photo: Maurijn Pach

Photo: Matteo Galeazzi

Pasta all'Amatriciana

A slightly lighter offering on Rome food tours is the amatriciana, spaghetti or bucatini dish with a tomato-based sauce. Named after the nearby town of Amatrice where it originated in the 1600s, pasta all’Amatriciana is another ode to simplicity, focusing solely on crispy chunks of pork (guanciale), tomatoes, pepper and, of course, pecorino.

Bringing a fiery edge to amatriciana preparation is Trattoria Vecchia Roma, one of the top restaurants near Colosseum Rome. Here they go a bit extra by lighting a wheel of pecorino cheese on fire for a smoky flambé finish on the classic. Then, Santo Palato is your alternative option in the Appio-Latino quarter, allowing diners to feel at home in chef Sarah Cicolini’s dining room, following pasta and offal mains with dreamy desserts such as the maritozzo (cream-filled bun).

Rome | Photo: Josh Stewart

Photo: Matteo Galeazzi

Where to eat the best pizza in Rome?

When you’re sick of spaghetti it’s time to start your search for the best pizza in Rome – no easy task. Whether you like a thin base with fat crust (Neapolitan) or a thicker base with crispier edges (Roman), Rome has a plethora of choice, though, of course, when in Rome you’d be wise to go for the latter. Know your pizza terms before you order; usually, you’ll have a choice of al taglio (by the slice), tonda (whole traditional) or the newer pinsa (oval-shaped pie). As a snack, there’s also the pizza bianca which you can get your hands on at any bakery or pizza al taglio joint, asking for ‘pizza bianco’ to be filled with mortadella (salami) or the filling of your choice to gobble up on the spot.

For a traditional pizza near Fontana di Trevi, Piccolo Buco is our go-to, literally translating as ‘little hole’ for its teensy space always teeming with locals and tourists alike. Not just any dough, however, here you’ll find 48-hour slow-leavened dough, stretched by hand for fat and chewy edges (cornicone) topped with gourmet cheese and other add-ons.

One of the most central offerings from Rome’s premier pizzaman – Stefano Callegari – is Sbanco, a restaurant partnered with Birrificio del Ducato craft brewery to help wash down the long list of thick-rimmed pizza options, all baked in a wood-burning Valoriani oven. Creative menu choices include the margarita stack (aka lasagna di pizza), alongside sides of fritti, supplì carbonara (creamy croquettes) and fiori di zucca (stuffed, battered and fried squash flowers). Ai Marmi meanwhile tops the list of Trastevere restaurants for its rustic Roman-style pies worth queuing up for.

If you’re a foodie in Rome looking to try the folded-over pinsa pie, however, it’s to Pinsere you should go, where their open kitchen edged by a dining counter is perfect for a quick meal while watching the magic happen.

Photo: Johan Bender

Other Roman dishes

Not yet finished your foodies tour of Rome? That’s OK because there’s plenty more famous food from Rome to nibble on! Of the best bites, there’s gnocchi di semolina, also called gnocchi alla Romana, a Roman interpretation of potato gnocchi made with semolina and baked in an oven. Meat lovers can also try gnocchi con sugo di carne, a tomato and meat-packed take. As per tradition, gnocchi is only served on Thursdays at trattorias across the city, following the same rulebook that says fish is for Fridays and tripe for Saturdays, balancing light and heavy foods across the week.

Anytime of the week you might be craving some veggies, find the carciofi part of the menu and order away. Carciofi (Italian for artichoke) is a specialty across Italy and in Rome especially so. Though slightly tricky to eat, whether baked, deep fried or steamed – necessitating peeling and scraping the pulpy meat from each leaf with your teeth or a fork –  artichoke is one of those foods worthy of your attention. Try the carciofi alla Romana for the simple Roman classic of white-wine marinated baby artichoke, contrasting that on another day with carciofi alla Giudea, the Jewish-style fried version, founded in the Jewish ghetto in the 16th century. Another vegetarian dish worth trying is the cicoria ripassata, made from chicory – a dandelion-like leaf often served sautéed in olive oil, garlic and chili atop a crispy flatbread.

As for the best of the rest, the prize has to go to Supplì, essentially a rice-, pecorino- and meat-ball with mozzarella at its centre that comes fried in a breadcrumb shell until nice and crispy. Try is at Supplizio, a ‘par excellence’ street-food joint run by chef Arcangelo Dandini..

Photo: Fabrizio Pullara

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Whether you like a thin base with fat crust (Neapolitan) or a thicker base with crispier edges (Roman), Rome has a plethora of choices, though, of course, when in Rome you’d be wise to go for the latter

Fine Dining in Rome

Our Rome for foodies guide has so far been simple and inexpensive, but that’s not to say Rome doesn’t have its fair share of Michelin-starred, upscale offerings. Of them, you could do worse than to dine at Aroma Restaurant Rome, a Michelin-starred addition to the Hotel Palazzo Manfredi, set on the building’s roof terrace in view of the Colosseum and countless other Rome landmarks. Also top-notch is the H’All Tailor Suite Hotel’s All’Oro, a spot frequented by the city’s elite and decked out in old-school glamour with an à la carte menu of potato ‘tiramisù, mascarpone raviolini and duck ragout.

Then there’s Imàgo at the Hotel Hassler, known as one of the best restaurants in Rome for its creative menu and broad wine list set on a rooftop in view of the Spanish Steps. Lastly though is La Pergola, within the Rome Cavalieri Hotel, boasting as many as three Michelin stars as well as a fine collection of antiques and art to compliment the Mediterranean menu and terrace views.

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