Is any cuisine so universally loved as Italian? But while it boasts a large fan base, many people don’t realize is ‘Italian’ cuisine is a very generic term – each region of Italy boasts a unique style of food, making a trip around the country a succession of stunning culinary experiences.
As Italy’s largest and most historic city, it’s unsurprising that many of the country’s most famous dishes were created in Rome. This city is also home to some of Italy’s finest and most historic restaurants, where these foods are served in the exact way they were in centuries past.
But visitors face a challenge. What to eat in Rome? Where to eat in Rome? And how to eat in Rome? Traditional Roman food can be tricky to distinguish from any other Italian dish for an international visitor. So to help tourists find both the best things to eat in Rome and the best places to eat in Rome, we’ve put together a handy little Rome eating guide – the 10 dishes that every visitor should try, and the best places to eat in Rome, Italy for each.
Ready to taste the finest Rome cuisine? Let’s find out what you should be looking for.
1. Pizza Romana
While Naples might be the famed birthplace of pizza, the Romans take pride in their unique take. While usually made every bit as simple as the Neapolitan version (a basic, sparsely topped margarita is the most common choice) pizza Romana is characterized by its thin and crispy base, which is made large and generally left uncut when served. Some of the most famous places to eat in Rome are old pizza houses that have been handed down from generation to generation, so if you’re looking for an authentic dining experience, pizza is a great choice. And if you’re used to a more loaded pie, go for the capricciosa, a margarita topped with prosciutto, mushrooms, olives and a hard-boiled egg.
Where to try it: Pizzeria Da Remo
A street food before street food was even a thing, supplì is a deep-fried treat, much like a croquette, that is often ordered as a starter at pizza places. You begin with a ball of rice that is mixed with ragù and stringy mozzarella. Drop it into a tub of hot oil for a few minutes, and you’ll pull out a perfectly crispy and golden brown taste sensation. Available at many of the best cheap places to eat in Rome, it’ll be up to you to limit your intake before your pizza arrives – easier said than done!
Where to try it: Supplì Roma
3. Saltimbocca alla Romana
Saltimbocca directly translates to ‘jumps in your mouth’, and honestly there couldn’t be a more appropriate name for this delicious entrée. We begin with thinly sliced veal cutlets, which are topped with even thinner slices of prosciutto and fresh sage leaves. The layers are fixed together with a toothpick before being pan fried in butter and covered with a simple roux sauce. This is Roman cuisine as it should be – simple, tender, juicy and delicious. You’ll find this starter at many of the more local, non-touristy places to eat in Rome.
Where to try it: Impiccetta
Like pizza, bruschetta isn’t strictly Roman (it was actually created in Tuscany), but Rome has its own take on the dish. The original bruschetta recipe sees a baguette sliced open, toasted and drizzled with olive oil, before a blend of tomatoes, basil, garlic, salt and pepper are loaded on top. Many Roman recipes will feature the tart bite of balsamic vinegar, which adds a nice X-factor to the dish. With ripe tomatoes and the freshest of basil, this light lunch is one of the best eats in Rome on a summer’s day.
Where to try it: Baguetteria del Fico
When non-Italians think of carbonara, their minds will likely wander to a pasta dish with an ultra-creamy, ultra-heavy sauce that leaves you feeling full after a couple of bites. But sitting down in front of a plate in Rome, you’ll soon realize that real carbonara is almost a light meal. Pasta is mixed with raw egg and cheese, before being dusted with small chunks of meat – often pancetta or guanciale (pork cheek). Surprisingly for such a simple dish, the quality can vary wildly from restaurant to restaurant, so it’s wise to spend a little more and aim for the best places to eat dinner in Rome when shopping for an authentic Roman carbonara.
Where to try it: Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina
6. Cacio e Pepe
Pasta, Romano cheese and pepper. While the ingredient list for cacio e pepe isn’t exactly endless, the differences in taste and quality most definitely can be, as proportions and produce quality are vital in getting it right. This dish is a local staple, and is therefore a must eat in Rome. You’ll see workers wolfing down bowls at lunch, couples sharing the dish over dinner, and late-night revelers using cacio e pepe to refuel themselves into the night. This is what to eat when you can’t think of what to eat in Rome, Italy, as it’s on almost every menu in town!
Where to try it: Trattoria Da Cesare al Casaletto
7. Bucatini all’Amatriciana
Yet another pasta dish to wrap your lips around (don’t expect to leave Rome lighter than when you arrived!), it could be argued that this tomato-based number is Rome’s favourite meal. The reason becomes obvious as soon as you take your first bite – thick, hollow noodles soak up the rich red sauce, which can be made either simple or bursting at the seams with onion and garlic. The final ingredient is the meat, and wars have almost been fought over which type the ‘classic’ amatriciana recipe uses – guanciale or pancetta. Be sure to wear a bib, as this is one of the messier choices on a Roman menu.
Where to try it: Trattoria Vecchia Roma
8. Coda alla Vaccinara
As one of the world’s largest cities for over 2000 years, Rome has always had a lot of mouths to feed. As such they tend to use the whole beast in this part of the world, with a large percentage of the traditional meat dishes using offal, the quinto quarto or fifth quarter of the animal as the locals like to say. Coda alla vaccinara is one of the more delicious examples of this cuisine. Here oxtail is slow cooked in a tomato-based sauce, with any number of other ingredients added (this is one of those dishes that tends to get handed down through the family). Herbs, pine nuts, pancetta, red wine, cinnamon, raisins or cocoa could be utilized, to name but a few. But no matter the recipe, you can be confident that the result is deliciousness. Head to the upper-class places to eat near Vatican City, Rome for some excellent examples of vaccinara.
Where to try it: Checchino Dal 1887
9. Pizza al Taglio
This entry onto the list is more about the way the dish is delivered rather than the food itself. Pizza al taglio simply translates to ‘pizza by the cut’ – rather than ordering a pizza Romana that’s a foot in diameter, you can instead enjoy a small slice (or two or three) on the go! Square slices are generally sold by weight, so you can choose exactly the amount that’ll fill your belly at any one time. If you’re traveling solo and perhaps eating alone in Rome, why not grab a slice and chew on the go!
Where to try it: Bonci Pizzarium
While many historians say that gelato was created by a native of Florence, there’s little doubt about the city brought this delicious ice confection to the outside world. Richer and creamier yet lower in fat than traditional ice cream, this is a dessert that you simply can’t say no to. A Roman summer’s day without gelato isn’t a Roman summer’s day at all. Thankfully gelaterias dot the city, and the quality of the produce is usually revealed by the length of the queue!
Where to try it: Gelateria Valentino