Want to eat like a local but not sure where to start? Look no further than Alexandra Bruzzese’s round-up of the top ten tastiest dishes in Rome and where to eat them.
You certainly can’t leave Rome without seeing iconic attractions like the Colosseum or St. Peter’s Basilica, but don’t go anywhere without sampling a dish of authentic carbonara either. After all, one of the best ways to explore a culture is through its cuisine. Rome’s is legendary—and luckily for visitors to the Eternal City, it’s also downright delicious.
ABBACCHIO ALLA SCOTTADITO
Whoever said Italian cuisine is all pasta and pizza hasn’t tried abbacchio alla scottadito, or grilled lamb ribs (scottadito literally means finger-burner; it’s said the dish is so tempting that diners can’t wait for it to cool down). While lamb is traditionally an Easter specialty in Italy, carnivores will be happy to hear that it’s on menus all year long. Grilled with salt, pepper, rosemary, and olive oil, the abbacchio at Il Giardino Romano is tender with a perfect sear.
Perhaps one of the most hotly debated dishes in the Roman culinary canon (did it originate in Rome or the town of Amatrice? To use or not to use hot pepper?), amatriciana is as delicious as it is controversial. Our prize for the best amatriciana goes to Frezza Cucina de Coccio, a superlative interpreter of this traditional and unmissable recipe.
FRITTO DI BACCALÀ
Rome’s culinary canon stretches beyond sit-down meals and also includes a wealth of delectable street food to be eaten on the go. Fritto di baccalà is one such delicacy: salt cod filets are coated in a thick batter and deep-fried. The filets at homey restaurant Dar Filettaro a Santa Barbara have a cult following, thanks to the chef’s emphasis on fresh ingredients. Order one to take away, and you’ll get it wrapped in waxed paper—perfect for snacking while you stroll around the city center.
CACIO E PEPE
This deceptively simple pasta dish is made with little more than cheese (cacio in Roman dialect) and black pepper (pepe), but its surprisingly difficult to make, and done well, this humble primo is absolutely swoon-worthy. Top Chef Antonello Colonna remains the unsurpassed champion of cacio e pepe but another famous version can be had at Roma Sparita where it is served in a bowl made of melted Parmesan cheese. Make sure to reserve in advance.
Spaghetti or rigatoni pasta with a rich sauce of egg yolk, guanciale (pork jowl), pecorino cheese, and black pepper, carbonara is Roman comfort food at its finest. While many restaurants claim their recipe reigns supreme, Roscioli has got it down to a science: their organic eggs come from hens fed a diet of goat’s milk, making for a velvety sauce, and the thick cubes of guanciale are sautéed to perfection. You’ll be dreaming of this dish all the way back home.
CARCIOFI ALLA GIUDIA
A classic appetizer from the Jewish-Roman tradition, carciofi alla giudia are artichokes, slightly trimmed to remove their tough outer layer, and deep-fried twice to a crisp golden perfection. Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavia wins hands down; they’ve been honing their carciofi recipe since they opened their doors in 1923. Tip: make sure to eat the stem—it’s the best part.
CODA ALLA VACCINARA
Rome’s history of once housing Europe’s biggest slaughterhouse means there are plenty of dishes made with offal and other “undesirable” cuts of meat; workers were sent home with the cheap stuff (tripe, hearts, tails) and then incorporated it into their everyday diets. A hallmark dish of cucina povera (poor cuisine) is coda alla vaccinara, an oxtail stew slow-cooked with tomatoes, celery, pine nuts, and raisins. Try it at Da Oio a Testaccio.
FIORI DI ZUCCA ALLA GRIGLIA
The zucchini blossom is a frequent ingredient in Roman cooking (Romans fry them, throw them on pizza, or pair them with pasta) but nobody does them better than Antica Trattoria Da Luigi. Stuffed with fresh mozzarella and anchovies, and grilled instead of fried, the zucchini flowers’ simple preparation allows the delicate flavor of the blossom to shine.
GNOCCHI ALLA ROMANA
Different from the typical potato dough recipe you might be familiar with, Roman-style gnocchi are flat, round, and made with semolina flour. Da Gildo in the Trastevere neighborhood serves up some of the best. Baked with butter, parmigiano, and sage, this simple yet delicious dish is a great option for vegetarian diners.
A surprisingly recent addition to Rome’s traditional menu (it’s said to have been invented in the ‘60s), tiramisù is no doubt one of the most iconic Italian dishes there is. For an extra-indulgent version of the classic, head to Felice a Testaccio. Served in a glass cup, creamy mascarpone is layered on top of coffee-infused cake before being topped with a generous coating of warm, melted dark chocolate. You’re welcome.