The Best Food In Rome, As Told By A Local

Good food in Rome is everywhere, and you are bound to find something that will satisfy your taste buds. 

Food is a huge part of Italian culture and a good enough reason to visit Italy. Each region – in fact, each city and each village! – has its local specialties.

Eating is easily one of the best things to do in Rome. While you are bound to heave heard about some of its more famous dishes such as “spaghetti alla carbonara,” others aren’t popular overseas – so a trip to Rome will give you the chance of discovering new flavors.

Roman cuisine is earthy based on the use of a few, simple ingredients paired so well that they will send your tastebuds to heaven. These dishes are the proof that the key to good food is using just the right amount of very high quality local ingredients.

If it is your first time in Rome and you are curious to learn more about local dishes, you are in right places. Here I will tell you what to eat in Rome, and share a few tips to make the most of local cuisine.

The Best Food In Rome: All The Dishes You Should Try

Pasta dishes

Pasta is the most stable of Italian food – we literally swear by it here. While you won’t find dishes such as “fettuccini Alfredo,” which is unheard of in Italy; and chicken on pasta is deemed to be illegal, in Rome you’ll find some fabulous pasta dishes. Some – such as carbonara – are world famous. Others are lesser known but equally delicious.

Here are the ones you should try.

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e pepe is made with either spaghetti or tonnarelli. I am a fan of spaghetti, as tonnarelli – egg noodles – tend to cover the taste of the sauce a bit.

The dish literally has just 3 ingredients – spaghetti, grated pecorino cheese and black pepper. In fact, count 5 if you want to consider the water and salt you use to boil the pasta. Yet, making a good spaghetti cacio e pepe isn’t exactly easy – which is why, much to the horror of Italians, you may come across recipes that call for cream, or butter, or even lemon to take away the creaminess of butter (which shouldn’t be there in the first place). Steer away from them!

Different people prepare cacio e pepe differently, but the original recipe suggests to mix and stir grated pecorino cheese and a bit of black pepper with a bit of the water you boil the pasta in, until it becomes creamy. Then, toss the pasta in, stir a bit more and enjoy.

For the real spaghetti cacio e pepe recipe, click here.

cacio e pepe scheme
This easy scheme explains four staple pasta dishes of Roman cuisine

Bucatini or Spaghetti alla Gricia

Pecorino cheese and guanciale are the main features of a staple dish or Roman cuisine. These two ingredients really stand on their own in this delicious pasta dish, so you can taste their earthy, mouth filling flavor.

food in rome
Nothing beats a good carbonara when in Rome

Spaghetti or Rigatoni alla Carbonara

World famous carbonara is a very creamy sauce that, however, doesn’t have cream. Spaghetti alla carbonara are made with guanciale (cured pork jowl), grated pecorino romano cheese, egg yolk and black pepper. Some in Italy prefer to use pancetta, for it doesn’t taste as strong as guanciale. But trust me: the real dish is meant to be prepared with guanciale.

The perfect spaghetti alla carbonara are prepared by quickly frying guanciale in a pan, while egg yolks are whisked with grated pecorino cheese. Once the spaghetti are cooked – as always, al dente – they are thrown in a bowl with a bit of the water they’ve been cooking in, the mixture of egg yolk and pecorino, and guanciale. The heat of the pasta and of the water cooks the eggs just enough for a perfect creamy texture.

what to eat in Rome
Homemade amatriciana

Bucatini or Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

Bucatini are a sort of thick, long, hollow spaghetti that are actually complicated to eat without making a dirty mess – but they are so tasty when paired with amatriciana sauce, that they are totally worth it. Amatriciana sauce – which actually originates from the small town of Amatrice, in Lazio – is a thick tomato sauce prepared with olive oil, guanciale, extra dry white wine and chillies. Once the bucatini are cooked, they are tossed in the sauce. Add grated pecorino cheese for perfection.

For the full amatriciana recipe, click here.

Rigatoni con la pajata
Rigatoni con la Pajata

Rigatoni con la Pajata

Pajata – unweaned veal intestines – isn’t exactly for anyone, but if you want to try a dish that you’ll only find in Rome, this is a must. Intestines are cooked in a tomato sauce for a very long time and served with rigatoni.

Gnocchi alla Romana
Delicious Gnocchi alla Romana

Gnocchi alla Romana

Completely different from the potatoes and flour gnocchi you may have heard of and find at your local Italian restaurant, gnocchi alla romana are made with semolina cooked in milk, mixed with eggs and finally grilled with abundant butter and parmesan cheese until they become crispy. They aren’t often found in restaurants, so if you spot them on the menu make sure to go for it!

what to eat in Rome
Homemade Saltimbocca alla Romana

Meat and fish dishes

Italians call meat and fish dishes “secondi” because they are usually served as a second course, right after pasta. The following are a few great secondi that you will find on the menu.

Saltimbocca alla Romana

Saltimbocca translates as “jumps in your mouth” – and you’d honestly wish they did. These lovely small veal cutlets layered with prosciutto and topped with fresh sage are pan fried in butter and wine and must be eaten hot. Bread is the perfect accompaniment to dip in the delicious juice.

Coda alla Vaccinara
Homemade Coda alla Vaccinara – photo courtesy of Gianni Simonetti

Coda alla Vaccinara

One of the tastiest meat dishes of Roman cuisine, this is a stew made by slowly braising ox-tail with lots of vegetables, tomatoes, red wine and spices. It’s messy and delicious. It calls for a good portion of bread to scoop up all the sauce and practice what we know in Italy as “scarpetta.”

Abbacchio alla Scottadito

Scottadito literally means “burning your fingers” – that’s because this dish of lamb cutlets that are pan seared are meant to be eaten with your hands only. It’s a seasonal dish: lamb in Italy is not found in the spring or summer.

Trippa

One of the staples of Roman food is offal. Back in the day when Europe’s largest slaughterhouse was found on the banks of the Tiber River, workers were at times paid in left over cuts (known as quinto quarto) of meat and ended up creating dishes that became incredibly popular, for they are truly delicious.

Trippa (tripe) is the honey-combed upper stomach of the cow. For this dish, it is slowly simmered in tomato sauced and served with grated pecorino cheese. If you can get past the chewy texture, it’s delicious.

Fagioli con le cotiche
Earthy Fagioli con le Cotiche

Fagioli con le cotiche

Pork grind is cooked in water until soft, then beans and tomatoes are added for a truly earthy dish.

Filetti di Baccalà

A staple of Roman Jewish cuisine, cod (or baccalà, in Italian) is dipped in a light batter and fried, then served piping hot. You’ll find the best one at Dar Filettaro a Santa Barbara, near Campo de’ Fiori.

Pollo con i Peperoni

This chicken stew is made with diced chicken that is pan seared in olive oil with salt and pepper. Once cooked, wine and ripe diced tomatoes are added. Bell peppers are cooked in a different pan with oil, diced onion and tomatoes. Once they are ready, they are added to the chicken. Everything is stewed for five more minutes. The dish is served piping hot and it’s meant to be eaten with bread.

Coratella coi Carciofi

Another dish prepared using the “quinto quarto” cuts of meat. Coratella is made using the heart, lungs, and other insides, slowly cooked with artichokes. It’s usually served as an appetizer or as a side dish. Locals swear by it.

Roman cuisine
Carciofi (artichokes) are a staple of Roman cuisine

Vegetable dishes

You won’t have trouble finding good vegetarian and even vegan dishes in Rome. Here are some you should try.

Carciofi alla Giudìa

The Jewish Ghetto of Rome has developed its own kosher recipes and carciofi alla giudìa certainly are one of the most famous dishes of Roman kosher cuisine. Artichokes are beaten till mostly flat, then deep fried so as to be crispy on the outside and soft and moist on the inside.

carciofi alla romana
Homemade Carciofi alla Romana

Carciofi alla Romana

Not to be confused with carciofi alla giudìa, in this case artichokes are stuffed with a mix of finely chopped garlic, parsley, mint, oregano and pepper, then braised until they literally melt in your mouth.

For the full recipe, click here.

Cicoria ripassata

Usually found in trattorie in the fall or winter months, this side dish is made by lightly frying chicory in olive oil with garlic and chillies. It’s perfect for vegans.

Puntarelle

This common salad is actually not vegetarian! It’s made with the sprouts of catalogna chicory, sliced very thinly and served raw and seasoned with a salad dressing made of extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic and anchovies.

Fiori di Zucca

Nothing beats good fiori di zucca in the summer. Zucchini flowers are stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, dipped in a batter made with flour and very cold sparkling water or beer, and then deep fried. They are absolutely delicious and one of the best food in Rome. If you want the vegetarian version just ask to keep out the anchovies.

Street food and sweets

Supplì

Supplì al telefono are one of the most famous street food in Rome. They are earthy cones of rice cooked in a thick tomato and meat sauce, set aside to rest for a night, and then mixed with eggs and parmesan. They are made by flattening a ball of rice in the hand and stuffing it with mozzarella, rolling it again before passing it in breadcrumbs and frying it. Other than the classic version, you can opt for the most innovative ones ie those with pumpkin risotto and bechamel sauce.

Supplì are commonly found at takeaways and eaten as an aperitif or as an appetizer before pizza.

Want to make supplì at home? Check out this recipe.

Porchetta Sandwich

The best sandwiches in Rome are those with porchetta, a dish of pork that is deboned, seasoned with salt and plenty of herbs and then slowly roasted on the spit until the meat becomes soft yet remains moist. Stuffing a large, crispy roll, you get the best sanwich!

Pizza al taglio

One of the best street food in Rome is pizza al taglio (pizza by the cut, or better by the slice). The best is the very plain one, with just olive oil and salt on top. You can pair it with mortadella (a deliciously flavorful charcuterie) for a fabulous sandwich. If you want something more elaborate, opt for the classic tomato sauce and mozzarella; or for the fresh cut ham and artichoke hearts. It’s usually served folded and it’s perfect to eat on the go.

Trapizzino

Trapizzino is a pocket of fluffy pizza dough filled with a variety of ingredients. The best place to eat it is Testaccio, where Trapizzino – the place that invented it – is located.

Maritozzo
A maritozzo is the perfect breakfast in Rome

Maritozzi

Only found in Rome, this is something you really need to try when in town! Maritozzi are buns that are baked till golden, then sliced in two and filled with a large amount of whipped cream. Originally served during Easter, most bakeries and “pasticcerie” in Rome realized they were so popular that they started baking them every day. It’s a popular breakfast food – try it as an alternative to cornetti!

Crostata Ricotta e Visciole

A desert of the Roman Jewish tradition, crostata ricotta e visciole is made with pasta frolla – a dough made with flour, eggs and copious doses of butter; ricotta cheese and sour cherries.

One of the most traditional desserts to eat in Rome, crostata ricotta e visciole comes from Rome’s Jewish population.

Gelato

Gelato isn’t a Roman food proper. But you’ll find if anywhere in Rome. Just make sure to opt for the quality “gelato artigianale”, which is actually harder to get. The real gelato artigianale usually melts much faster than the industrial one, and most of the time it is preserved in large refrigerated bins that you won’t even be able to see.

Good gelaterie usually have very few flavors to serve, so stay away from places that sell more than 15 flavors. If you spot a place serving 40 flavors of shiny gelato in bright colors, steer away: that’s not the real stuff!

Roman food
Don’t drink cappuccino with your meal!

 6 Additional Tips To Find The Best Food In Rome

Believe it or not, it is possible to get bad food in Rome. I once had a cacio e pepe which was no more than boiled pasta with low quality grated cheese and a ton of pepper on it. I want to make sure you don’t go through the same experience – hence I thought I’d give you some tips what will help make the most of the local cuisine.

Join a food tour

One of the best ways to discover food in Rome is by joining a food tour. You’ll get a local guide that knows where to go for the best food, you’ll try some local specialties and to learn a lot about picking the right food and where to eat it. There are many kinds of food tours: some include cooking classes; others go to the market; some are strictly street food.

You can book your food tour in Rome here or here.

For a street food tour of Rome, click here. For an e-bike night food tour, click here.

For a tour that specifically goes to the Jewish Ghetto, click here. Would you rather go to Trastevere, click here!

For a cooking class, click here.

Eat where the locals eat

Nobody knows food in Rome better than actual Romans. Ask for their tips and you’ll end up in the best eateries and restaurants. The hotel receptionist will most likely be able to point out the best places to eat near your hotel. I discovered Trattoria Vecchia Roma, near Vittorio Emanuele, thanks to a local tip. It’s the kind of place where tourists aren’t a common sight. The food is absolutely delicious.

Eat when the locals eat

People outside of Italy eat much earlier than we do. But honestly – when in Rome, do as the Romans. Meal times vary greatly between different regions of Italy, but in Rome people never dream of having lunch before 1:00 pm, or dinner before 8:00 or 8:30 pm. If you spot someone eating spaghetti at 6:00 pm, chances are he’s a tourist and that restaurant caters to tourist. Steer away.

Eat what the locals eat

Food in Italy is very local. You may find lasagne and milanese on the menu in Rome, but you’ll be better off sticking to local recipes as those are the ones truly mastered in the region.

Don’t drink cappuccino with your meal

To Italians, cappuccino is almost strictly a breakfast drink. Don’t order cappuccino with your meal, and in fact don’t order it after a meal. If straight espresso is too strong for you, opt for a caffè macchiato – espresso with a drop of either foamed or cold milk.

Make sure to read my post How To Order Coffee In Italy: The Best Italian Coffee.

Further Readings About Rome

Make sure to read my Rome itineraries – you will find plenty of tips to make the most of the city:

Further Readings About International Cuisine

Will you travel for food? Then make sure to read my posts about international cuisine:

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