Rome really is a foodie’s dream. There’s nothing better than tucking into a cheesy Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe with a view of the Colosseum in the background or licking on some fresh gelato beside the Spanish Steps.
One thing I love about Rome is that there’s always a new dish to try every time I visit. Roman cuisine is so vast, with many recipes originating from tough times when the population was much poorer, resulting in cooks having to use whatever they could get their hands on.
I remember the first time I went to Rome, and I stuck to the basic dishes like Pasta alla Carbonara. But after leading food tours in Rome since 2011, I can say I greatly understand the city’s gastronomical scene better than ever before.
Here, you’ll find 6 of the best foods to try while you’re in Rome so you can get a real taste of what one of Italy’s top favorite destinations has to offer.
Cacio e Pepe
Starting off with an all-time favorite Roman food of mine (mainly because of how cheesy it is), Cacio e Pepe is a pasta-based dish that’s very similar to Mac N’ Cheese, only with much more salt and pepper; nothing to complain about if you ask me.
The name Cacio e Pepe translates to “cheese and pepper,” which says it all. It’s a simple dish to make; it only requires four key ingredients: fresh black pepper, a bundle of Pecorino Romano (sheep’s milk cheese), a sizable amount of pasta, and a little bit of salt.
And, of course, a chef who knows what they’re doing always helps.
Personally, I enjoy my Cacio e Pepe with extra cheese because it makes it much creamier. If I’m ordering it when I’m out, I’ll always ask the server if the chef can cook it this way, and nine times out of then, they’ll agree.
I was chatting to a local chef around Piazza di Spagna one day about this particular dish, and he told me that while Cacio e Pepe may sound simple on paper, the key to making a good batch is by using fresh pasta water.
This is because when this type of water is mixed with pepper and cheese, the sauce becomes incredibly silky, creating a smooth texture and rich flavors that burst onto the taste buds.
It’s not hard to find good Cacio e Pepe in Rome, but if you really want an outstanding version of this dish, check out Da Felice. I had first heard about this place from a friend, and when I arrived, it didn’t look all that special, but since there was a good crowd there, I chanced it.
When I say the Cacio e Pepe here is unbelievable, I mean that. The waiters deliver the dish in front of your eyes, flipping it left to right and placing it directly onto the plate. The tanginess of the cheese is such a treat, and the creamy coating of the pasta is divine.
Da Felice (€€) – Via Mastro Giorgio, 29, 00153 Roma RM, Italy –
One Roman dish that everyone knows about is Carbonara; you can find it anywhere in the world, whether you’re in the far-east or somewhere in the US.
Carbonara is the perfect example of how something can be so basic but so damn good. The main ingredients used to make it include either spaghetti or rigatoni, Pecorino Romano, some guanciale (pork chick), egg, and black pepper.
Now, before I talk about how amazing Carbonara tastes, there’s a huge debate associated with the recipe. One side of the fence suggests that Carbonara should be made with cream, while the other would say that it’s criminal to do so.
I can tell you now, after speaking to endless chefs from in and around Rome who know about this dish better than anyone, Carbonara should never ever have cream. It goes against the culinary traditions associated with the dish; without cream, the flavors remain pure.
A traditional serving of Carbonara should hold a balance of cheesiness and saltiness and a strong umami flavor from the guanciale, the best part for me because I’m a bit of a carnivore.
Some people who hate eggs get discouraged from Carbonara because of how the dish is prepared. If it’s made correctly, it shouldn’t taste like eggs at all.
Armando al Pantheon is one of the best restaurants I recommend in Rome for a delicious Carbonara. Now, it’s very popular, especially because of its location next to the famous Pantheon, but don’t let that turn you off.
There’s such a nice, warm family feeling made by the attentive staff; I almost felt like I was back home.
Whatever way they’ve managed to come up with their Carbonara recipe, I thought it was unlike anything I have ever had before; from the chewiness of the al dente pasta to the freshly grated Pecorino Romano, it almost had a spicy pungency to it.
Armando al Pantheon (€€) – Salita de’ Crescenzi, 31, 00186 Roma RM, Italy –
Pizza al Taglio
Did you really think I would talk about the best foods in Rome and not mention pizza?
Pizza al Taglio is a true Roman tradition that dates back to the 1950s. It’s a concept where a variety of pizzas are baked in a rectangular tray, and the slices are cut into various shapes like rectangles or squares.
Usually, the slices are sold individually. You’ve probably heard of “pizza by the slice” before; well, this is where it originates from. I love it when I’m walking through the streets of Rome in a rush with no time to sit down for a meal, and I come across a street food stall selling Pizza al Taglio; it’s so convenient.
You should know that Pizza al Taglio is made differently than normal pizza. The dough must be smacked and tossed so it makes some air bubbles; I always see some chefs doing this while I’m out on my evening walks in the city; I can never help myself from stopping in amazement.
Another key feature of the baking process is that the dough has to be left to ferment and rise longer than your average pizza. Once that’s done, it’s topped with the chef’s chosen toppings, which could be anything from cheese and prosciutto to ham and mushroom.
If you want to try the best Pizza al Taglio in Rome, you have to go to Bonci Pizzarium, which is pretty close to the Vatican. This spot won me over when I discovered all their ingredients were made organically. Who doesn’t love the idea of eating pizza that’s good for you?
The menu at Bonci Pizzarium is constantly changing, so I know I’m always in for a surprise whenever I go. If you visit when the ricotta and ‘nduja option is available, you’re in for something special. The nuttiness of the ricotta complements the fiery flavor of the nduja so well!
Pizzarium (€€€) – Via della Meloria, 43, 00136 Roma RM, Italy –
Awh, good old Roman Artichokes; every time I have them, they taste differently because of the different preparation methods adopted by the chefs in Rome. Some will cook them Alla Giudia, the Jewish way to do it, where the whole artichoke is deep fried, allowing you to peel off the leaves individually.
The other way to cook them is Alla Romana style; this is my preference because the whole artichoke is stuffed with garlic and wild mint, creating an explosive bitter flavor, which is surprisingly tasty.
Before they can be eaten, they must be braised in olive oil and white wine, creating the buttery texture they’re known for.
One downside of Alla Romana-style artichokes is that they have to be in season to get good ones. The season for them is usually between spring and autumn, so make sure you plan your trip accordingly.
Believe it or not, it’s more difficult to find artichokes that are prepared Alla Romana-style than Alla Giudia. To really get your hands on some scrumptious ones, visit Sora Margherita, a locally owned joint next door to Fontana del Pianto.
What I like about Sora Margherita is they serve both styles of Artichokes, and they sure do them fantastically. The crunchiness of the Alla Giudia option is created with crispy perfection. As for the Alla Romana style, they’re super herby but go so well with the garlic, creating an overall savory taste.
Sora Margherita (€€€) – Piazza delle Cinque Scole, 30, 00186 Roma RM, Italy –
It’s true when someone says you haven’t been to Rome unless you’ve tried Suppli. A famous street food bite which is a fried rice ball filled with a mix of meat, cheese (usually mozzarella), and tomato ragu sauce. They’re quite similar to Sicilian arancini without the ragu.
Myself and Suppli have a love-hate relationship; I just struggle to stop eating them when I have had one; they’re incredibly addictive because of how small they are; it’s like eating candy. You know what they say, though, when in Rome!
The first bite of Suppli is always the best for me; the stringiness of the mozzarella leaking off from each side sends the cheese lover in me into overdrive.
Finding Suppli in Rome isn’t hard; most pizzeria takeaways serve it as a side dish, street food vendors are always out in the tourist areas whipping up a batch, and it always has a space on most appetizer menus in lots of restaurants.
I cannot recommend the Suppli enough at La Casa del Supplì. Their cooked ham and mozzarella option, I’ve never tasted anything like it; they’re super heavy on the mozzarella, you could only eat a couple of them and feel like you’ve had a three-course dinner.
They also have two other flavors in case the first mentioned isn’t your thing, potato croquette and courgette flower, anchovies, and mozzarella.
La Casa del Supplì (€) – Piazza dei Re di Roma, 19/20, 00183 Roma RM, Italy –
I’m ashamed to admit it because of the high sugar content of this one, but Maritozzo ends up being my go-to breakfast more often than not.
Maritozzos are sweet puff pastries that are shaped like a bun. They’re cut in the middle, and freshly whipped cream is put inside, creating an overwhelming sweet taste with a hint of egginess because of how the dough is made.
The highlight for me with Maritozzos is the way the cream pops into your mouth when initially biting into it. When the bread bun is mixed in with the taste of vanilla, it’s to die for.
I have seen some establishments serving Maritozzos with toppings like raisins or pine nuts, but the original way to have them is plain with a freshly made morning cup of espresso.
If you were to ask me for the best place to get Maritozzos in Rome, I would say Il Maritozzaro, a no-frills stop-and-go kind of cafe near Trastevere station.
They have this one Maritozzo that’s covered in pistachio sauce that tastes heavenly. The man working behind the counter recommended it to me as I started chatting with him, so I decided to trust the expert, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The nutty aromas struck my nasal when he put the sauce on the cream, and when the two were matched together, it was nothing short of delightful.
Il Maritozzaro (€) – Via Ettore Rolli, 50, 00153 Roma RM, Italy –
And that’s 6 of the best foods you must try while in Rome. I constructed this post so you could fit in all the Roman dishes in one trip without overwhelming you with options. Hopefully, you’ve found something on this list that will give you a little taste of what the Eternal City’s culinary scene is like.
If you need some help finding some of the best dishes on your vacation, book one of Eating Europe’s Rome food tours, where one of our professional local tour guides will take you through the streets of Rome to sample some of the options we’ve mentioned above. You won’t regret it!