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 people who visit Italy surely enjoy trying its most famous staples. If you are traveling to Rome, you should make sure to try the local staples. But beware! There’s so much more to Italian food than just pasta and pizza – each region has its own local specialties, and food is so local that villages that are a mere 5 km apart cook the same dish differently.
Food in Rome is unique and there is little doubt that eating is one of the best things to do in Rome. You are bound to heave heard about some of its more famous dishes such as “spaghetti alla carbonara”; but others will sound completely new to you. Yet, you should try them.
For more things to do in Rome, check out my post “30 Unmissable, Fun And Cheap Things To Do In Rome.”
Roman cuisine is earthy, simple and yet full of flavor. Mouthwatering dishes are created using only a handful of ingredients which are 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.
In this post, I highlight all the staples of food in Rome that you should try, and share some tips to make sure that you can select the best places to eat you don’t fall for the tourist traps.
The Best Food In Rome: All The Dishes You Should Try
Think of Italian food, and the first thing that comes to mind is pasta – and rightly so. Pasta is a serious business here. Mind you: there is no such thing as “fettuccine Alfredo” (ask Italians, and they’d tell you they have no idea who Alfredo is) and chicken on pasta is pretty much illegal.
We are pretty much pasta Nazis. We believe (no, wait: we demand) that each sauce is meant to be paired with a specific shape of pasta.
Roman cuisine has some excellent pasta dishes that you should try. Here they are.
Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe
Tonnarelli are egg noodles similar in shape to spaghetti. They are usually paired with cacio e pepe, to make one of the most famous dishes of Roman food – tonnarelli cacio e pepe. I must admit that of all the food in Rome, this is my absolute favorite.
The dish literally has just 3 ingredients – pasta noodles, grated pecorino cheese and black pepper. Yet, making it isn’t exactly easy.
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 best restaurants to each cacio e pepe, click here.
Spaghetti or Rigatoni alla Carbonara
Here’s a secret: carbonara sauce is creamy though it doesn’t have any cream in it. It just calls for guanciale (cured pork jowl), grated pecorino romano cheese, egg yolk and black pepper. For some reason, many even in Italy don’t get it right and still use pancetta (which comes from the belly of the pig, rather than the cheek) – to the horror of the most famous chefs.
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.
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.
Bucatini or Spaghetti alla Gricia
Once again, pecorino cheese and guanciale are the main features of a staple food in Rome. If possible, gricia is even simpler than carbonara and amatriciana, as it only calls for two ingredients: pecorino and guanciale. These two really stand on their own in this delicious pasta dish, so you can taste their earthy, mouth filling flavor.
Rigatoni con la Pajata
Pajata – unweaned veal intestines isn’t exactly for anyone, but if you want to try local food, few things get as traditional as rigatoni con la pajata. Intestines are cooked in a tomato sauce for a very long time and served with rigatoni. Nothing screams Roman food more than this.
Gnocchi alla Romana
Completely different from the potatoes and flour gnocchi you may have heard of, 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, but when they are make sure to go for it!
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 encounter among Roman food.
Saltimbocca alla Romana
Saltimbocca translates as “jumps in your mouth” – and you’d honestly wish they did. These lovely veal cutlets layered with prosciutto and topped with fresh sage are pan fried and must be eaten hot. Bread is the perfect accompaniment to dip in the delicious juice.
Coda alla Vaccinara
One of the tastiest meat dishes of Roman cuisine is coda alla vaccinara. 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.
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: Italians wouldn’t dream of eating lamb in the summer.
One of the staples of Roman food is offal. Back in the day when Europe’s largest slaughterhouse was functioning just on the banks of the Tiber River, workers were often paid in left over cuts (known as quinto quarto) of meat and ended up creating some of the most famous local dishes.
Trippa (tripe) is the honey-combed upper stomach of the cow, slowly simmered in tomato sauced and served with grated pecorino cheese. When it comes to food in Rome, few dishes are so full of flavor – that is, if you can stand the texture.
Filetti di Baccalà
Another 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’ Fuori.
Pollo con i Peperoni
Chicken is not very common among traditional Roman food, so this quick chicken stew is a welcome change. It’s made with diced chicken that is pan seared in olive oil with salt and pepper. 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.
Fagioli con le cotiche
Pork grind is cooked in water until soft, then beans and tomatoes are added. The end result is delicious. It’s one of the most famous dishes of Roman cuisine.
Coratella coi Carciofi
As many other traditional dishes of Roman cuisine, this one is made using the “quinto quarto” – which refers to those parts of the animal that were left once the good cuts were all sold to the most affluent people. Coratella is made using the heart, lungs, and other insides. These are cooked with artichokes. It’s usually served as an appetizer or as a side to meat dishes. I know it sounds weird and not exactly appetizing, but locals swear by it.
A lot of food in Rome is made with vegetables. Some dishes are vegan or vegetarian. Others, however, aren’t. In some cases, you may ask to have a vegetarian version.
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.
Carciofi alla Romana
Not to be confused with carciofi alla giudìa, in this case artichokes are stuffed with garlic, parsley, mint and pepper, then braised until they literally melt in your mouth.
This mouthwatering salad dish is made with the sprouts of chicory that are served raw and seasoned with a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic and anchovies.
Usually found in trattorie, this Roman food is made by lightly frying chicory in olive oil with garlic and chillies. It’s a fantastic side dish and it’s perfect for vegans.
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 al telefono are one of the most famous dishes of Roman cuisine. They are earthy balls of rice cooked in a thick tomato and meat sauce, stuffed with mozzarella and then fried. Other than the classic version, you can opt for the most innovative ones ie those with pumpkin risotto and bechamel sauce. You can find supplì at any takeaway or pizzeria in town, though the best are supposed to be those at Supplizio. Pair them with a beer for the perfect aperitivo.
The best sandwiches in Rome are those with porchetta, a dish of pork that is deboned, season with salt and plenty of herbs and then slowly roasted on the spit until the meat becomes soft yet remains moist.
Pizza al taglio
One of the best street food in Rome is pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice). The best is the very plain one, with just olive oil and salt on top. You can pair it with mortadella for a fabulous sandwich. If you want something more elaborate, you will have ample choice: from the classic tomato sauce and mozzarella; to the one with fresh cut ham and artichoke hearts. It’s usually served folded and it’s perfect to eat on the go.
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 – opened it. But it’s becoming increasingly popular so I can foresee more places opening in other parts of Rome.
I have never actually seen maritozzi outside of Rome, so make sure you try them while there. These are buns that are baked till golden, then sliced in two and filled with a large amount of whipped cream. Originally a food that was served during Easter, most bakeries and “pasticcerie” in Rome realized they were so popular that they started baking them every day. Definitely a no for the lactose intolerants like me – unfortunately, if I may add.
Fair enough, gelato isn’t a Roman food proper. But when in Rome… You will be able to find it anywhere, but 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’s 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. I appreciate most of us are attracted by the colorful flavors on display – but that’s not the best quality gelato, really.
7 Additional Tips To Find The Best Food In Rome
Believe it or not, it is possible to get bad food in Rome – in fact, it’s possible to get bad food in Italy. I know I’ve had my fair share of terrible eats, like that dish of 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 on how to find the best food in Rome.
For the best restaurants in Rome, make sure to read this article.
Join a food tour
One of the best ways to discover food in Rome is by joining a food tour. Considering that you’ll get a local guide that knows where to go for the best food, you’re bound to try some local specialties and to learn a lot about picking the right food and places to eat. There are many kinds of food tours: some include cooking classes; others go to the market; some are strictly street food.
I have selected the best food tours in Rome for you:
- Rome Food Tour with Pizza-Making, Trattoria Tastings & Gelato
- Guided street food tasting tour
- 4 hour food and wine tasting tour
- 4 hour food tour by night
- Food tour of Roman neighborhoods
- Pasta making class: cook and dine with a local chef
- Jewish Ghetto and Campo de’ Fiori by night tour
- Street food tour with a local guide
- 4 hour food and market tour with tastings
- Espresso, gelato and tiramisu tasting tour
Eat where the locals eat
Nobody knows Roman food better than actual Romans. Ask for their tips and you are bound to discover some real gems. 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 really are rare. The food is absolutely delicious.
Eat when the locals eat
I know people outside of Italy eat much earlier than we do. But honestly – when in Rome, do as the Romans. Mind you, meal times vary greatly between different regions of Italy, but in Rome people never dream of having lunch before 1:00 pm, and if you have dinner before 8:00 or 8:30 pm locals may think there’s something wrong with you – literally. If you see a place where dinner is being served at 6:00 pm, continue walking – that’s probably a restaurants where only tourists would eat.
Eat what the locals eat
I once overheard a conversation on the train from Termini station to Fiumicino airport where a young man complained about the bad food he’d been having during his trip and stated he really wanted to eat a good McDonalds as soon as he got back to the US. Provided that I don’t think the words “good” and “McDonalds” should go in the same sentence, the key to having good food in Rome is sticking to what the locals eat.
I appreciate you may fancy lasagne but Rome isn’t the place to look for them. Just eat what the locals eat: look at their plates and ask the waiter for the same dish, and you won’t be disappointed.
Stay away from restaurants close to tourist attractions
The worst and most expensive restaurants in Rome are those around the most popular tourist attractions. You may be tempted to eat there because it is quick and easy, and I can understand the appeal of having a meal while staring at the beautiful Pantheon. But trust a local: those aren’t places where you’ll get good quality Roman food. And I wouldn’t mind so much if low quality food also meant spending very little money – but these places are much more expensive than local ones! Look for restaurants or trattorie in side alleys and you’re bound to spend less and eat way better food.
Don’t drink cappuccino with your meal
If there is something that we Italians consider gross, that’s drinking coffee (or even tea, for that matter) with a meal – unless that is not breakfast, obviously. In general, cappuccino is considered a morning drink. I admit I occasionally drink it in the afternoon, but never after a meal, and never – absolutely never – with a meal. I can’t even explain why this is bad, so just take my word for it.
Further readings about Rome
Make sure to read my Rome itineraries – you will find plenty of tips to make the most of the city:
- The Perfect Itinerary To See Rome In A Day
- The Perfect Itinerary To See Rome In 2 Days
- The Perfect Itinerary For 3 Days In Rome
- A Fantastic Itinerary For 4 Days In Rome
- A Wonderful Itinerary For 5 Days In Rome
- A Great Itinerary For A Fabulous Week In Rome
- 31 Incredible Places To Explore Rome Off The Beaten Path
- 20 Great Day Trips From Rome
Further readings about international cuisine
Will you travel for food? Then make sure to read my posts about international cuisine:
- All The Sardinian Food You Should Try
- Mouthwatering Egyptian Food: 15 Egyptian Dishes You Have To Try
- The Most Delicious Cuban Food: 35 Mouthwatering Cuban Dishes
- 21 Mouthwatering Guyanese Food And Drinks You Need To Try
- All The Sardinian Food You Should Try
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