Table of Contents
- Our History with Rome
- Rome Food Favorites
- Roman Pasta – The Holy Quadrinity
- Roman Pizza
- Classic Roman Dishes
- Rome Cheap Eats and Street Food
- Local Roman Products
- Roman Desserts
- Roman Drinks
- Rome Quick Facts
- Plan Your Rome Stay
- Hungry for More Food in Italy?
- Pin It for Later
- About the Authors
Are you wondering what to eat in Rome during your first trip to Italy? Read on to discover 25 must-eat Rome food favorites that you simply should not miss during a food-focused trip to the Eternal City.
In today’s information driven world, the oft-heard cliche “all roads lead to Rome” could be substituted with the saying “all websites lead to Rome.” Everywhere we go on the web, we see Rome this or Rome that. Some sites have entire Rome sections on where to eat, what to see, etc. Until now, our website was the exception to this rule.
Though we visited the Eternal City for a handful of rainy days in 2010, our Italian expertise was more centered around Italy’s famous food regions – think fresh pasta and ragu in Emilia-Romagna, pizza in Campania and seafood in the Veneto. We’ve eaten gelato all over Italy but more on that later.
That all changed in late 2020. Despite the pandemic, we spent a glorious week in Rome during which we embarked on a self-guided culinary familiarization trip. We drifted past sites like the colosseum while exploring Rome’s hidden corners and peeking into the city’s emerging modern, local culture.
We drank at some of Rome’s hip new cafes, ate gelato at many of the hundreds of gelaterias in town and grazed through the city’s best markets. Our goal was to eat all the best food in Rome. We accomplished that goal and then some.
Who are we kidding? Our true goal was to eat our collective weight in pasta. The rest was a delicious bonus.
Proving yet another age-old adage that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, it took us five full days to eat our way through the city. However, instead of building a city, we built the groundwork for this guide by eating the best food in Rome along with some tasty beverages to wash it all down.
Our History with Rome
Rome holds a special place in our hearts. It was the first Italian city we visited together and Daryl’s introduction to the food paradise known as Italy. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by rain as we entered the ancient city inundated by robed clergy in town for a bishop’s funeral.
We still remember lounging over a bottle of luscious local red wine at a dark enoteca in Trastevere, surrounded by aspiring men of the collar, waiting for the steady rain to end to begin our Rome exploration. Instead, the steady rain became a deluge. We ordered another bottle of wine and went for pizza instead.
As stereotypical American travelers, we packed everything into that initial visit just in case we never made it back to Europe. There was no rest for the weary as we traversed the city to see sites like the Vatican, Colosseum, Pantheon, Forum and Galleria Borghese.
Despite the epic sites we saw, food from Rome is what we remembered most about that visit. Dishes like Carciofi alla Giudìa and Jewish Pizza became legendary in our minds, and we coined one of our favorite phrases while dining at Ristorante Piperno in the city’s historic Jewish ghetto neighborhood.
Though we had made an advance reservation, Piperno’s hostess escorted us past an inviting front dining room filled with loyal local patrons to a back room clearly reserved for tourists like us. As we ordered dishes like Saltimbocca alla Romana and the aforementioned Carciofi alla Giudìa, our American neighbors welcomed us to the ‘ghetto in the ghetto’ – a phrase we have used many times during the past decade.
Rome Food Favorites
While travelers regularly seek out pizza and gelato as part of their Roman adventure, most people bump into dishes like Cacio e Pepe by accident or while on a food tour.
We cry foul to this approach. Rome is a big city filled with culinary jewels honed over two millennia. Many of the best restaurants in Rome require advance reservations, making spontaneity moot for those looking to eat well during their vacations. Even during our 2020 pandemic visit, seating was limited and Saturday night reservations weren’t a given.
We did the research. We ate the food. We drank the drinks. And now we’re writing this best of Rome food guide to prepare you for your Roman culinary adventure.
In other words, these are the 25 things you need to eat and drink when you visit Rome:
Roman Pasta – The Holy Quadrinity
Rome’s Lazio region isn’t the only Italian region with unique pasta dishes. In Emilia-Romagna, fresh ribbon pastas and meaty ragus hold court while thick spaghetti-like bigoli pastas share the menu with rich risottos in inland Veneto cities like Verona. Further south in Naples, diners regularly eat rustic pastas topped with onion-laden Genovese sauce.
Roman menus are the most homogeneous in all of Italy with most trattorias serving at least three of the city’s main pastas – Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara, Amatriciana and Gricia. Though these pastas have all achieved global fame, they remain as popular as ever in Rome.
Each one of Rome’s iconic pastas is a celebration of culinary simplicity and precision. Done well, these creamy, flavorful, tomatoey, porky, cheesy pastas can be life changing.
1. Cacio e Pepe
Cacio e Pepe translates to cheese and pepper and that’s exactly what’s in Rome’s most famous pasta. Besides black pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese, the only other Cacio e Pepe ingredients are pasta and salt. In Rome, thick, fresh, spaghetti-like strands of tonnarelli marry the dreamy mix together like nowhere else.
Don’t underestimate Cacio e Pepe based on its short list of ingredients found in every Italian kitchen. The combination of freshly ground black pepper and salty Pecorino Romano is celebration of local ingredients that cooks have ‘on hand’. It’s a masterpiece of kitchen craftsmanship where starchy pasta water, salty pecorino and earthy pepper combine to make a dish that’s better than sum of its parts.
The origin of Pasta Carbonara is much disputed. Did it originate with coal workers who ate the eggy pasta? Was the name inspired by black coal-like flecks of pepper that contrast the dish’s creamy, yolky sauce? Or was it inspired by the Roman curiosity over WW2 American soldiers’ penchant for bacon and eggs?
Though we’ll never be sure about its origin, we can be certain that making great Pasta Carbonara is an art. The richness of the dish’s golden sauce comes solely from a combination of egg yolks, fatty guanciale pork fat, starchy pasta water and salty, sheepy Pecorino Romano cheese.
While some heretics add heavy cream for good measure, the trick is to emulsify eggs yolks without letting them break. Expert chefs at Rome’s best restaurants do this well.
Hailing from the outer Lazio village of Amatrice east of Rome, Pasta Amatriciana unites tomatoes with guanciale. It’s also the answer to how to take something good – Pasta alla Gricia (see below) – and make it better.
A great Amatriciana sauce is all about flavor. In this dish, rich, umami-filled, gamey, slightly caramelized pork fat receives a sweet, acidic kick from tomato sauce and (occasionally) onions.
We enjoyed Amatriciana with two different pastas during our most recent visit to Rome. We ate the dish with mezze manica, a slightly smaller version of rigatoni, at Salumeria Roscioli and with spaghetti at Piatto Romano in Testaccio.
Dishes like Gricia first made their appearance in the Roman pasta ouvre in the 1300s. We’d like to think that tomatoes grew in Italian fields filled with grazing unicorns back in the day; however, history reveals that neither tomatoes nor unicorns existed in Italy prior to the Columbian expansion.
There are no onions in Gricia, no garlic and, obviously, no tomatoes. Gricia is just guanciale, pepper and pasta. Yes, it’s topped with grated Pecorino Romano, but the cheese, unlike in Cacio e Pepe, is a last minute finish to the dish as opposed to a key ingredient.
In Gricia, starchy, salty pasta water combines with the rendered pork fat to create a saucy emulsion. Its simple medley of flavors is the pasta equivalent of a bacon sandwich and doesn’t work unless the pasta and the pork are of top quality. Fortunately there’s plenty of great pasta and pork in Rome.
Proving that not all pizza is created equally, pizza in Rome is its own thing. Unlike supple, round Neapolitan pies and ginormous New York slices, Roman pizza comes in all shapes and sizes.
Most people prefer one type of pizza over the others. While we rarely meet (and eat!) a pizza we don’t like, we fall into the Naples camp. However, just to make sure, we ate a lot of pizza in Rome just to be sure.
When you take your own personal Rome pizza tour, be sure to try both Pizza al Taglio and Pizza Romano. Keep reading for a description of each.
5. Pizza al Taglio
A Rome cheap eats favorite and a great snack to eat on the go, Pizza al Taglio reminds us of loaded focaccia. You won’t have to look hard to find these rectangular slices in Rome. Shops and stalls sell Pizza al Taglio all over the city.
Pizza al Taglio literally translates to sliced pizza. This Roman style of thick square pizza is always sliced and often served by weight. Typical toppings include tomatoes, salumi, herbs and all sorts of vegetables.
While some vendors sell Pizza al Taglio for a fixed price, most calculate the price based on weight. Since Italy, like the rest of the European Union, uses the metric system, the listed price is typically per kilogram.
6. Pizza Romano
Pizza Romana, or Roman-style pizza, is cracker thin, crispy and crunchy. In many ways, it’s the exact opposite of the best Neapolitan pizza which is both supple and soft. The two pizza types meet in the middle when it comes to toppings like cheese, artichokes and sausage since both Rome and Naples have ready access to some of the best food products in the world,
Plan to sit down when you eat Pizza Romana in Rome. You’ll want to start your meal with a Suppli or another fried treat before you dig into your big, round, individual pie. Be sure to order a jug of wine since Rome is in Italy after all.
Classic Roman Dishes
It would be super easy to just eat pasta and pizza in Rome but that would be a shame. Roman restaurants offer great primi (appetizer) and secondi (main courses) options that don’t involve either noodles or crust.
When you’re ready to dip your toes into the deep water of traditional Roman cuisine, we recommend starting with the following classic dishes:
7. Carciofi alla Giudìa
Named after Roman Jews who invented the dish in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, the Carciofi alla Giudìa is a deep-fried artichoke that almost looks too pretty to eat. But eating the seasoned thistle flower is the thing to do when the opportunity arises.
Roman chefs prepare Carciofi alla Giudìa with artichokes grown near the city. Although peak artichoke season in the region is from February to April, we’ve had no problem finding the crispy classic in autumn months.
8. Trippa alla Romana
Tripe is one of those foods that most people either love or hate. Well, to be clear, most people are afraid to eat tripe since they can’t ‘stomach’ the idea of eating the stomach lining from a cow, pig or sheep. We urge you to conquer this fear when you dine in Rome. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on one of the most classic of Roman dishes.
Tripa alla Romana is a dish of poverty that peasants ate back in the day when they couldn’t afford better cuts of meat. To compensate for the tripe’s chewy texture, they cooked the offal low and slow in a tangy tomato sauce laden with onion, garlic and the occasional red pepper flake.
Grated cheese completes Trippa alla Romana. Since it’s a Roman dish, the cheese of choice is Pecorino Romano. Any other cheese would just be wrong.
9. Saltimbocca alla Romana
Saltimbocca literally translaes to jump in the mouth and that’s precisely what we want this dish to do whenever it hits our table. In Rome, the dish is called Saltimbocca alla Romana and it’s a show stopper.
Chefs have been wrapping pounded veal in prosciutto and sage and then cooking it in a wine and butter sauce for more than a century. The combination of salty prosciutto and aromatic sage elevates the veal while the buttery wine sauce makes it sing.
Rome Cheap Eats and Street Food
Pizza may be Rome’s cheap eats favorite, but the city has a plethora of other tasty treats for bargain hunters, junk food junkies and street food devotees. If you fit into any or all of these categories, we recommend that you hit the ground running in Rome by eating the following:
Friggitorias are happy places in Italy for those who like to snack on fried street food. In Naples, friggitorias sell fried pasta balls called Frittatina. Sicilian friggitorias sell fried rice balls called Arancini. But what’s the specialty at Rome’s friggitorias?? That answer is an easy one – Suppli.
At first glance, a Suppli looks like an Arancini. The similarities don’t stop with appearance as both croquette-shaped treats have rice inside. However, the Suppli has two extra bits – gooey cheese and tomato sauce.
Don’t feel left out if you’re not a street food eater. You can also eat a Suppli or two at Rome’s pizzerias and neighborhood markets.
Many of Rome’s most popular foods have long and storied histories. The Trapizzino is not one of those foods. Invented by Roman pizzaiolo Stefano Callegari in 2008, the Trapizzino is a relative baby… but don’t count it out.
A hybrid of two local food favorites (Roman pizza and tramezzino sandwiches), Callegari’s culinary creation is a pizza dough cone stuffed with savory Roman food typically served on a plate. Its shape makes it uniquely portable while its ingredients attract crowds at Trapizzino’s half dozen locations around Rome and beyond.
Familiar fillings include Trippa alla Romana (Roman Tripe), Parmigiana di Melanzane (Eggplant Parmigana) and Polpetta al Sugo (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce). Other fillings like Ethiopian Zighni flavored with Berberé spice are equally enjoyable.
Although the Tramezzino was invented more than 400 miles away in Turin, the triangular, crust-free sandwich is easy to find at cafes and bars in Rome. Typical fillings include tuna, egg salad and salumi.
This Roman cheap eat is a great mid-morning or late afternoon snack between meals and can be paired with either coffee or beer. It’s a particularly good option for vegetarians who can order Tramezzini filled with olives or cheese.
A specialty food around the world, Porchetta is a readily available in Rome at food markets and sandwich shops. Romans can even find Porchetta at street stalls and festivals.
This savory pork product rarely disappoints with its moist, herbaceous meat and crispy skin. Typical herbs include fennel, garlic and rosemary. Salt and pepper add the finishing touch.
In many ways, Porchetta sandwiches remind us of roast pork sandwiches we’ve eaten in our home city of Philadelphia. We consider that sandwich to be one of the best sandwiches in America. The connection makes sense considering that Philadelphia has a large number of residents with Italian heritage.
14. Fiori Di Zucca Fritti
Naples may be the Italian hub for fried food, but Rome leads the pack when it comes to frying zucchini blossoms know as fiori di zucca.
Roman chefs follow several steps to to make Fiori Di Zucca Fritti. They prepare batter, separate zucchini flowers and dice Provatura cheese. And that’s before anything hits the frying pan.
If you see Fiori Di Zucca Fritti on a Rome menu, order it. Since this delicacy isn’t available all year long, it’s a seasonal treat both for locals and travelers. Plus, ordering it is a heck of a lot easier than making this particular Roman food favorite from scratch.
Local Roman Products
However, we implore you not to skip local shops and supermarkets. You’ll be surprised at the quality and variety of products at chains like Conad and Coop. Plus, as a bonus, they sell wine and other potent potables.
Regardless of where you shop in Rome, be sure to look for the following local products:
15. Cured Meat
Italians have been eating salting and eating pork for centuries and it shows. The quality of cured pork throughout the country is second to no other country, though France, Portugal and Spain give the boot a run for its meaty money.
As as result, carnivores have an abundance of options when it comes to planning an aperitivo session in Rome. This is a city where it’s entirely possible to order a a ‘best of’ board topped with fennel-filled Finocchiona from Tuscany, lush Soppressata from Calabria and pistachio-prodded Mortadella from Bologna.
16. Pecorino Romano
Pecorino Romano, Rome’s salty sheep milk cheese, is hard to miss in the Eternal City. Not only is it an integral ingredient in Amatriciana, Carbonara, Gricia pastas and the most important item in Cacio e Pepe, but Romans also grate aged Pecorino over dishes like Trippe alla Romana and occasionally stuff it inside Suppli.
This prevalence is nothing new or trendy. Historians trace Roman production of Pecorino Romano back two millennia. Although Sardinian producers like Locatelli sell much of the Pecorino eaten in the United States, cheesemakers like Fulvi sell a DOP version available throughout the world.
Many of the most famous Italian pastries have origins in Naples and Sicily while Tiramisu hails from Treviso in northeastern Italy. Then there’s the croissant-like Cornetto with roots in Vienna. Though it’s easy to find these desserts and more in Rome, we prefer to spend our calories on the city’s local creations.
The following are our favorite Roman sweet treats and the ones you shouldn’t miss:
17. Pizza Ebraica
Pizza fans have their own dessert in Rome. Don’t worry – it doesn’t involve cheese, meat or herbs. Instead, Pizza Ebraica, i.e. Jewish Pizza, gets its flavors from toasted raisins, nuts and colorful candied fruit.
After tasting Pizza Ebraica at Pasticceria il Boccione during our first trip to Rome, we were obsessed to eat it again during our most recent Rome food adventure. The Jewish Ghetto bakery was finally open on our third try, so we bought a ‘pie’ big enough for a delightful snack and breakfast the next day. Be warned – The bakery ladies will likely ask you to throw a euro in the Tzedakah cup – something we did, gladly.
Both savory and sweet, Pizza Ebraica was just as good as we remembered and maybe even better. Simultaneously sweet and savory, the hard, crunchy dessert reminds us of mandel bread on steroids
When it comes to gelato, the competition in Rome is fierce. For gelato aficionados like us, Rome gelato is on another level compared to Italian cities like Florence, Naples, Venice and Verona. Bologna is a possible exception with gelato that rivals Rome’s sweet creations.
A Maritozzo is essentially a brioche bun split down the middle and stuffed with whipped cream. What could be better than that? To us, the origin story is what makes this pastry special.
A local fixture for centuries, the Maritozzo became part of Roman lore in the 19th century when suitors would present buns filled with cream… and a ring… to their intendeds in early March. Not coincidentally, the word maritozzo doubles as slang for husband.
Don’t skip eating a Maritozzo if you’re not a dessert fan. Instead, order a savory Maritozzo filled with cod or anchovies instead of sweet cream.
20. Torta Ricotta e Visciole
Pizza Ebraica isn’t the only Roman dessert with Jewish roots. The Torta Ricotta e Visciole, i.e. Ricotta and Sour Cherry Cake, is a second decadent delight with ties to the city’s Jewish Ghetto.
This cake combines sweet sheep’s milk ricotta and sour black cherries to create a dessert that’s satisfyingly sweet without being cloying. Plus, it pairs well with Roman after-dinner drinks like Amaro and Sambuca.
21. Ciambelline al Vino
While Florentines enjoy eating Cantuccini with Vin Santo, Romans don’t mess around with their cookies. Instead, they put the wine into their recipe along with pantry ingredients like flour, sugar and olive oil. The result are little ‘wine donuts’ called Ciambelline al Vino.
Most Ciambelline al Vino recipes are flexible and can incorporate either white or red wine. Eating them is also flexible. While locals often dip the round cookies into wine, we dipped ours into chocolate sauce while enjoying glasses of wine – a true wine win.
Eating and drinking are intertwined in Rome from morning until night. This is a city where wine is not much more expensive than water and both flow freely at restaurants throughout the city.
Order a bottle of water, either still or sparkling, when you dine at restaurants in Rome. Choose frizzante if you’re partial to fizzy water, leggiermente if you’re looking for barely fizzy water or naturale if you prefer flat water. We order frizzante.
Locals typically start their day by ordering coffee with their morning pastry before switching to wine and other libations as the day progresses. While some people order a Negroni or Spritz to go with their aperitivo, many stick to wine produced throughout Italy and locally in Lazio. And then there’s craft beer and digestifs.
Since these drinks are key components of la bella vita (the good life), you’ll want to try all of them during your time in Rome.
Italian coffee culture is legendary for its unwritten rules involving how and what to order. These rules even stipulate that it’s a no-no to order milky drinks like cappuccinos after 11 am. Whether or not you follow these rules is up to you.
As for us, drinking little cups of caffè (i.e. espresso) at traditional cafes isn’t really our thing. We prefer drinking flat whites and pour overs at specialty coffee shops. Don’t get us wrong – we’ll happily drink old school Italian espressos in a pinch.
Finding the best coffee in Rome was a bit of a passion project for us. Check back soon for our guide to Rome’s burgeoning specialty coffee scene.
We like to drink the best local wine whenever we visit Italy. Not only does this approach provide a window into the region’s food scene, but it also provides us with tremendous wine values.
Following this approach, we were delighted to drink a bottle of locally produced Cesanese di Olevano Romano during our lunch at Roscioli Salumeria. Despite its value price, the rustic red provided a robust counterpart to our classic pasta dishes and motivated us to further explore the wines of Lazio.
We later found out that Roscioli has more than 60,000 (!) bottles of wine in its inventory. Varietals expand beyond Lazio with wines from regions like Piedmont, Sicily, Tuscany and the Veneto on the wine list. But, if you’re like us, you’ll want to order a local wine.
Now that we’re home, we’re continuing our wine education via the Roscioli Italian Wine Club. We’re excited to get organic Italian wine delivered to our home along with tasting notes and tips.
Update: We recently received our first box of wine in the mail. Check back soon for our review of the Roscioli Italian Wine Club experience.
24. Craft Beer
During our first trip to Rome, we were satisfied to drink Moretti and Peroni with our pasta and pizza. However, we’ve since become more particular with our beer drinking choices.
Luckily, Rome’s beer scene has evolved over the years to include a healthy number of independent brewers and craft beer bars. Piemonte Region brewer Baladin opened the brewpub Open Baladin in 2009, setting a high ‘bar’ for other brewers that followed. Even Scotland’s BrewDog has a Roman outpost near the Colosseum.
Bars and breweries aren’t the only venues that sell craft beer in Rome. We shared a bottle of Duchessa beer produced in Rome’s Borgo neighborhood during our dinner at Trapizzino.
Rome is a city where the meal doesn’t end when the food is gone. As opposed to dashing out the door, diners linger while sipping an espresso or savoring a stronger libation.
Digestifs are a great after dinner drink option in Rome. Playing a double role, these drinks facilitate the digestive process while providing a tasty kick. Popular options include bitter amari, herbaceous bittters and sweet liqueurs.
Since Sambuca is local to Rome, we recommend trying a shot of this liqueur made with anise seeds. Amalfi’s Limoncello and Milan’s Fernet Branca are also solid options.
Rome Quick Facts
Plan Your Rome Stay
Some businesses may revise their hours and menus due to COVID-19. Others may close, either temporarily or permanently, without notice. Be sure to check websites for updated information and make advance reservations where possible.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.