What should I eat in Rome? Find out with our expert guide on what to eat in Rome and how to pick the best restaurants in Rome for an authentic foodie experience.
It is one of my favorite things to do in Rome, one that I put up there with catching up with my friends and strolling around the Pantheon area: eating!
I love Roman food and this is not just because Rome is my hometown and this is the food of my childhood.
Rome food is objectively delicious and has specialties that go beyond what you can find in Italian restaurants abroad, Rome.
Like many other places in Italy, Rome has a hugely local culinary tradition and what you can find in the city is often unique to the city itself and therefore worth seeking out.
This is not to say, however, that in Rome you cannot find a bad meal.
You can definitely find poorly made food here, restaurants who put more effort into attracting curious tourists than into lovingly preparing their food.
However, there are some ways you can reduce the risk of stumbling upon one of these and waste your time and money on a subpar experience.
How to find the best food in Rome
My best advice for finding great restaurants is to put yourself in the hands of a local and learn from them where to go and what to ask for.
If I lived in Rome, I would offer to be that local for you but you don’t have to give up on an authentic Rome food experience just because I am not there.
You can find the best of the Rome food scene with a private food tour with a local guide who knows and love Rome food as much as I do, and you can even deepen your knowledge with some preventive study.
Here is where this article comes in.
This is my selection of the top foods to try in Rome.
Please note: addresses in this post are provided for convenience only and I have no relationship, commercial or otherwise, with establishments mentioned.
What to eat in Rome: the best foods to try in Rome at least once
|Name of dish||Type of Food||Suitable for vegetarians|
|Spaghetti alla carbonara||Primo (first course): pasta||No (contains pork)|
|Cacio e pepe||Primo (first course): pasta||Yes (contains cheese)|
|Saltimbocca alla romana||Secondo (second course):meat||No (veal and pork)|
|Abbacchio scottadito||Secondo (second course):meat||No (lamb)|
|Carciofi alla giudia||Side dish||Yes (artichokes)|
|Puntarelle alla romana||Side dish||Yes (but may contain anchovies in the dressing)|
|Filetto di baccala||Secondo: fish||No|
|Suppli||Starter||Yes (contains cheese)|
|Maritozzo||Pastry||Yes (contains eggs, cream)|
What to eat in Rome: pasta specialties
Rome has some delicious pasta specialties, some famous worldwide
Spaghetti alla carbonara
I open this list with my favorite Roman dish of all and one that is hugely mistreated outside of Rome and Italy. Spaghetti alla carbonara.
La carbonara is a wonderfully simple dish that packs a punch in terms of taste and that is typical of the Roman tradition.
The original recipe wants it made with spaghetti, but nowadays it is common to also see it served with rigatoni and mezze maniche (short, rugged, concave pasta).
The main ingredients of the real pasta alla carbonara are eggs, pecorino romano (cheese) and guanciale (pork) and do not include, ever, cream.
The addition to cream to a carbonara sauce is equal to sin in the eye of a Roman and I can tell you that this is the one thing I check in cookery books that claim to be Italian.
If they have carbonara and list cream as an ingredient, they stay on the shelf! If you want the authentic recipe, you can grab the real carbonara recipe here.
Not keen on the egg sauce? Then try Pasta alla Gricia instead, made with pecorino and guanciale only. Another must of Rome cuisine!
Cacio e pepe
Another super simple and super satisfying pasta dish to try in Rome is spaghetti (or tonnarelli) cacio e pepe, an ode to the idea that simple, uncomplicated, high quality ingredients are all you need for a wonderful meal.
The name of this dish summarizes its main elements: cacio (pecorino romano, a hard salty cheese) and black pepper.
Together they are simply delicious! If you want to try at home, you can grab the recipe cacio e pepe here.
The place to go to try cacio e pepe is the area of Testaccio: trattoria ‘Da Felice’ historically serves the best cacio e pepe in the whole of Rome!
What to eat in Rome: meat
Meat dishes from Rome are earthy and very tasty
Saltimbocca alla romana
If you are after a great ‘secondo’, you should try the typically Roman ‘Saltimbocca alla romana’.
Saltinbocca means ‘jumps into your mouth’ and you will find that indeed these thin strips of meat, usually veal, dressed with prociutto and sage do not last in your dish very long!
Saltimbocca area traditionally made with veal and are super quick to cook so you want to order them in a place with a working kitchen and not, for instance, take them from a buffet.
They get awfully dry very quickly so for this one, knowing a good establishment is a must.
Abbacchio scottadito is another meat dish, originally a dish served at Easter, but now so popular you find it many restaurants most of the year.
Abbacchio is the Roman name for lamb and abbacchio scottadito is the Roman version of grilled lamb cutlets.
They are every bite as delicious as they sound!
Coda alla vaccinara
Roman cuisine is all but refined and the dish that embodies this most of all is probably coda alla vaccinara: ox tail!
Coda alla vaccinara is an earthy dish: the meat is cooked in a rich tomato based sauce and makes a wonderfully warming meat ‘stew’.
La coda is originally a poor dish as tail is not a great cut of meat but restaurants that make it properly sometimes charge a significant amount of money, mostly because it takes time to make.
When you get it, make sure you also get some bread so you can scoop up the sauce at the end.
Don’t even begin to think of skipping this last step, it is the best one!
One of the best places to try it is Armando al Pantheon, handily located in the heart of the city centre, close to many sightseeing opportunities.
What to eat in Rome: vegetarian / salads / sides
Rome cuisine is not strong on vegetarian dishes but has some specialties that are worth trying and are unique to the city. They all deserve a place in your list of what to eat in Rome.
Carciofi alla giudia
One of the most peculiar dishes of the Roman tradition comes from the Rome Jewish community, to whom goes the merit of some of the most delicious and satisfying fishes you will taste in the city.
Maybe the most famous of all plates is ‘carciofo alla giudia’, Jewish style artichokes.
Like many other plates on this list, the roman artichokes are reasonably easy to prepare but rely on amazing ingredients and on the use of the right type of artichoke: the romanesco
Unlike other types of artichokes, the Romaneschi ones are bigger and softer.
For this dish, they get cooked in oil twice and the resulting taste is special: much different from the one you may be used to and worth trying even if you don’t like artichokes.
They may surprise you in the best way possible!
Good to know: if you prefer to skip the fried food, you can try carciofi alla romana instead, delicious nonetheless!
Puntarelle alla romana
A refreshing dish and one you that is typical of the spring months in Rome and in the area immediately to the south of the city is puntarelle alla romana (puntarelle are the new tops of chicory).
This is a light, tasty dish with a slightly bitter taste and dressed with a paste of anchovies.
Puntarelle are a great accompaniment to heavier dishes and something you will only find in spring and in this part of Italy, so something unique not to miss.
What to eat in Rome on the go, Rome street food and sweets
The unrivalled hero of Rome street food is il suppli (stress goes on the last i), a fried ball of rice dressed with tomato sauce and enclosing a melting core of mozzarella cheese.
From the outside, they share some resemblance with arancini but they are smaller, crisper and peculiar to the Rome food scene.
They are quite a treat and you find them in local pizzerias as a started or in ‘pizzeria al taglio’, where you get pizza to take away at lunchtime.
Filetto di baccala
If you like fried food, as well as suppli you should make a special effort to seek out filetti di baccala, deep fried fillets of baccala (salted cod).
Baccala’ can be found in many a pizzeria, again served as a starter, but if you want to taste a really special version of it, the place to go is said to be ‘il filettaro’ near Campo de’ fiori.
If you are in the mood for something sweet and do not mind an overload of cream, look no further than to a serving of maritozzi alla romana.
Different from croissants in ingredients and preparation, you find them beside them in bars in Rome and they guaranteed to both make you a little bit fatter but also a little bit happier, if food does that for you.
Biting into the cream is a delight – just watch your kids as they taste one as cream will get everywhere!
Pizza, Pizza Bianca, Focaccia
As I come to the last part of this list I can hear you scream: and what about pizza?
Well indeed, you cannot go to Rome without tasting pizza: it is up there with the one in Naples despite the different style and I would encourage everyone to try both and make up their own mind..
When going for pizza in Rome, I would just keep in mind 3 things.
Pizza in Rome is thin and if you order one with too many toppings, the centre will get soggy and horrible.
Stick to what is one the menu and trust the chef for the best result, even if your pizza may seem a bit plain compared with the ones back home
When looking at a Rome pizza menu, remember that focaccia is here something different from what abroad is often called focaccia bread.
Focaccia in Rome is a thin pizza base with no tomato sauce on, often served as a side dish or on its own, as well as with some toppings.
The fluffy focaccia you may have in mind is Focaccia alla Genovese in Rome and you find it in bakeries more than pizzerias.
As well as round pizza, make sure you also go to a Rome bakery and try pizza Bianca.
You taste pizza Bianca on its own or you can use it instead of bread for lunch: for a real Rome food experience, experience, fill it with freshly cut mortadella. It’s a delight!
What to drink in Rome
All this delicious food can be washed down with water but it is so much better with wine!
When in Rome, I recommend you try traditional Italian drinks, perfect for all Rome’s food experiences.
Some good choices are:
For aperitivo: campari soda, aperol, crodino, aperol spritz, Negroni, Negroni sbagliato, Martini dry
For dinner: vino della casa for a budget choice, robust red wine to accompany Rome’s warming dishes
After dinner: sambuca, Lucano
More resources about Rome food
Looking for even more Rome foo resources? I have some more tips:
For the best coffee in Rome, check out Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe, an establishment whose story you can find here
For the best gelato in Rome, check out our list of favorite gelaterie here
For family-friendly restaurants, both adults and kids will enjoy, check out our list here
I hope you enjoyed this essential Rome food guide. Buon appetito!