Rome is, in my mind, the world’s greatest city. It has food, culture, history, great weather, and well connected to the rest of the world. No wonder the Romans called is Caput Mundi. It is hard to say what quality is the most alluring for the city, but in this article, I will make a great argument for Rome’s food scene.
Get ready for the top foods, drinks and other things to try in Rome.
What this article covers
The Top 14 Foods and Things to Try in Rome
Heading to Rome? Get ready for to dive in and devour your way through this city that is the complete eating package from pizza to pasta, seafood, meats and deserts. They call it, “La Cucina Romana.” Considering how dear Rome is to my heart, I have situated this one in descending order. It is mostly my own preference but I have taken input from some friends in the Eternal city. Seriously, don’t try this at home – unless you are from Rome.
Warning: Almost nothing below will taste anything like at “home” – even if you have a “real Italian restaurant” around the corner from you. So if you do not like a dish at home you should still try it in Italy.
14. Pollo con Pepperoni
Chicken | Secondi
Chicken is a dish you will rarely see on the menu in Rome mostly due to the lack of flavor in the meat. Italians like to eat food that tastes good (yes, that was a stab at chicken). Pollo con Pepperoni is an exception. Well, it tastes great but mostly due to the type of meat they use.
No chicken breast here – they go with the more gamey tasting meat like wings and legs. They slow cook it along with peppers (Pepperoni is not a meat) and what feels like a lot of olive oil. It forms this slightly soupy dish that is really very good.
Where to get Pollo con Pepperoni: Trattoria Da Augusto in Trastevere
13. Filetti di Baccalà
Fish | Fried | Antipasto
Filetti di Baccalà is basically the Italian version of fish and chips. That means it is less greasy and tastes good (sorry England). The batter is a little lighter and the portions are a little smaller. You also don’t serve this with “chips” but normally a vegetable. Italians eat it as an appetizer with pizza. It is commonly eaten before or after watching a football match.
Where to get Filetto di Baccalà: The Tour Guy/Roman Guy Food Tour
12. La Coda alla Vaccinara
Ox | Secondo
Very similar to what you will read below with la Trippa, la Coda is literally the tail of the cow. Something you have probably eaten before without knowing it. The fact is, its beef and its really good beef. You won’t cook it on the grill but it goes really well in a stew. That is what Romans do.
La Coda is a stew like dish made with hearty vegetables in a red sugo (sauce – you gotta learn) and is delicious. If I see it on a menu I will order it.
Where to eat the best Coda alla Vaccinara in Rome:
- Trattoria Da Teo (The owners started Da Enzo, sold it then opened back up across the piazza – genius)
11. Trippa alla Romana
Cow Stomach | Secondo | Adventurous!
Like any culture, Italy was once extremely poor. When people are poor they need to make choices. Choices like, “Do we save some T-bone steaks for ourselves or sell them all and eat the cows third stomach?” In Rome, they choose the later.
I have not done this myself, but I imagine when you are butchering a cow and you cut out the high quality cuts and put them aside for sale you are not looking at the stomach overwhelmed with joy. That said, they made it taste very good. When you eat Trippa alla Romana it looks like you are eating a pasta dish and it is prepared quite similarly.
The cows stomach is sliced into strips that look like thick pasta and it is served in a sauce doctored up with guanciale, onion, garlic, mint, carrots, celery and a few other ingredients. A normal Italian soffritto that turns into a ragù but instead of adding ground beef and pork you add cows stomach which somehow serves as the meat and the pasta. It is pretty good and packed with protein. In the states body builders drink protein shakes after working out – in Italy they eat Trippa alla Romana.
Where to get the best Trippa alla Romana:
- Osteria Qui Se Magna (Pigneto)
10. La Gricia
Pasta | Pork | Primo
La Gricia is a very Roman pasta dish that is sort of a combination between caccio e pepe and la carbonara. This will get repetitive, but it is a basic dish cooked with fresh ingredients that cause the natural flavors to come forward. The ingredients are pork cheek (gaunciale), percorino cheese (pecorino romano), salt and Rigatoni.
You basically saute the guanciale until the fat melts and it is crispy. Then you add some of the bath water from the pasta (after its cooked) and a ton of pecorino. Add salt to taste. It is a dish who’s flavor is completely dictated by the quality of the ingredients.
Where to get the best La Gricia:
- Taverna Cestia (Ostiense)
- Flavio al Velavevodetto (Testaccio) – both restaurants are almost walking distance from one another.
9. Saltimbocca alla Romana
Veal & Prosciutto | Secondo
This dish was invented sometime in the 19th century. As always, simple with high quality ingredients. Calf veal filet with a slice of sweet prosciutto crudo attached to it with a tooth-pic. It is sauté in butter with white wine and lightly salted with a bit of salvia to add flavor. It is a purists dish in Rome with little variation.
Many visitors to Italy will order a pasta dish as their meal but the right way to do things is order antipasto (appetizer), primi (pasta), secondo (meat) and so on. Saltimbocca is a light secondo that you can finish on your own or split. Sharing in Italy is perfectly normal and expected.
The name translates to “Jumps in Your Mouth” which describes its incredible flavor. The photo above admittedly does not jump off the page but it is one of those things that you won’t understand until you try.
Where to get the best Veal Saltimbocca in Rome:
- Saltimbocca Ristorante (Piazza Navona – some of the best reviews in the historical center of Rome)
8. Il Trapizzino
Sandwich | Street Food | Lunch or Late Night
Il Trapizzino is sort of a phenomenon. It didn’t exist for most of my life in Rome and then it was everywhere and for good reason. The place is delicious. They are like warm small sandwiches with ridiculously good things inside. The bread is cut into a corner, sliced open and stuffed. They started in Rome and there is one on the Lower East Side in NYC (same owners) if you want to cheat.
You can go to their many stores in Rome or order it to your hotel on Deliveroo (grub hub of Italy – super clutch).
Where to get the best Trapizzino: There are 5 or so in Rome
Top Colosseum Tours
7. Cacio e Pepe
Pasta | Vegetarian | Primo
Like many Roman recipes, Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) is simple with high-quality ingredients. There is not much more than pasta, black pepper and pecorino cheese. Please don’t follow an English recipe for this as they butcher these amazing dishes. This is a must-try dish for lunch at a cheap trattoria.
Where to get the best Cacio e Pepe in Rome:
Street Food | Rice Ball | Antipasto
These showed up on the map, at least in writing, around 1847 at a restaurant in Rome named Trattoria della Lepre. The restaurant is no longer active but I couldn’t image this dish was at fault.
You will see these on the menu of most authentic pizza places and definitely at any take-away pizza place where you can get piazza al taglio. You’ll definitely do a lot of walking in Rome and these little treats will come in handy when its 4pm and you’re starving but restaurants don’t open until 8pm. Pop in, grab one for a 1€ and eat it walking.
What is it? Basically it is rice mixed with a light meat sauce and pecorino cheese with a small ball of mozzarella cheese at the center. It’s fried in an egg and bread-based shell which is crunchy and delicious. Amazing.
Where to get the best Suppli in Rome:
- Supplizio (campo)
- Pizzarium or Panificio Bonci (Both by Gabriele Bonci near Vatican)
- Emma Pizzeria con Cucina (Near Campo)
5. Abbacchio a Scottadito
Lamb | Secondo
If you have been traumatized by third stomachs and cow’s tails, have no fear here. This is good old fashion lamb and it is delicious. The name of this dish translates to lamb to burnt fingers. This is because you have to take this off the grill and start eating it immediately.
Again, a super simple dish made with high quality ingredients and the perfect temperature grill. Rosemary, lemon, EVOO (put this on everything you cook), salt & pepper.
Where to eat the best Abbacchio a Scottadito in Rome:
- Ambasciata d’Abruzzo (Parioli)
- Trattoria da Cesare al Casaletto (If you feel like you’re at the wrong place, you’re in the right place)
4. Gnocchi con sugo di carne – Only on Thursday
Potato Pasta | Lunch or Dinner | Meat Sauce | Only Thursday
One of the most wonderful and beautiful things about Rome and Italy as a whole is the tradition. Imagine there were rules for everything you eat and drank but they were wonderful rules that everyone loved and adored. Rules based on tradition and culture. That is how Rome works and Gnocchi are no different – they are only served on Thursdays at traditional trattoria in Rome. Why?
Gnocchi are prepared from potato and other heavy ingredients. A big plate of gnocchi with sugo di carne (tomato meat sauce) is more than filling. Thursday can be an exciting day for this reason. You can probably get a plate of gnocchi at a tavola calda or pizza place that serves daily dishes for 5€ or so on a paper plate or in a to go container. Boy are they delicious too. Wait, why only on Thursday?
In Rome, Friday was a day to eat fish. This was because meat was prohibited on Fridays as penance on the day of Christ’s death. Not just during lent but all year around. Fish can be delicious but often light and digested quickly. Romans figured they’d eat Gnocchi on Thursday to fill up in preparation of Friday’s lighter meal. Then, they’d eat la Trippa on Saturday to balance the scales since it is also a heavier meal.
Regardless, if you want to be traditional in a good way, order Gnocchi con Sugo di Carne while in Rome on a Thursday.
Where to get the best Gnocchi in Rome:
- Osteria di Monteverde (Take a taxi – super local)
- Trattoria da Cesare al Casaletto (If you feel like you’re at the wrong place, you’re in the right place)
3. Carciofi alla Giudia e Alla Romana
Artichoke | Antipasto | Vegetarian
Carciofi alla Giudia
Carcioffi alla Giudia translates to Jewish Artichokes. Artichokes thrive in Rome’s climate so they are very popular in the city with two main recipes. Alla Giudia (above) and alla Romana (Jewish style and Roman style). Don’t worry, you are aloud to prefer either without fear of reprisal but the Jewish ones are almost always chosen as the victor.
Jewish artichokes are seasoned with salt and pepper and then fried twice in olive oil. Yes, twice – which is how they get their super crispy (crocante in Italian) texture. They are also fried in olive oil which is a high quality oil. Different oils have different boiling points so they really aren’t Jewish artichokes unless they are fried in olive oil twice.
Carciofi alla Romana
Roman style artichokes are a world of difference. The only thing that is the same is that they are artichokes. They preparation and cook time is more intensive and the outcome is different. These artichokes are most often served cold but cooked for up to 30 minutes.They are seasoned with lemon, mint, garlic, olive oil and black pepper.
This may sound a bit eccentric and possibly politically incorrect but I would stick to religion on this one. If the restaurant is run by catholics, I would order Roman style artichokes. If it is Jewish run, I would order the Jewish style artichokes without question. How do you know who runs the restaurant without asking an awkward question? Well, the Jewish Ghetto is still occupied mostly by Jews.
Where to get the best Jewish Artichoke in Rome: The Jewish Ghetto.
2. La Carbonara
Pasta | Pork Based | Egg | Primo
La Carbonara is arguable the most authentic dish in Rome. There are many legends to the origin and its name but my favorite is the link to the word “carbona” which roughly means coal. There were miners with very little money that would toss together what were at the time the cheapest ingredients to make pasta; pancetta (now guanciale), eggs, pecorino romana, black pepper, and spaghetti.
Almost every recipe calls for this to be made with spaghetti but it is also prepared with bucatini, rigatoni (above), and maniche corte (small rigatoni). It is a wonderfully simple dish to make that I could explain but it would be very hard to make it correctly without the proper training and know-how. Your best bet is to live in Rome for ten years to learn this dish or travel frequently to Rome to eat it often!
Where to get the best Carbonara in Rome:
- Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina (Near Campo de Fiori)
- Trecca – Cucina di Mercato (Ostiense – super Roman)
Pasta | Pork Based | Slightly Spicy | Primo
Like any good rivalry, Rome is split between l’amatriciana and la carbonara. Both plates are delicious and it would be impossible to decide which one is actually better. I can’t take sides but I do tend to make l’amatriciana more – so it is my #1 favorite dish in Rome.
Like many of the best Italian dishes, this Roman favorite is made with simple ingredients. It is often made at home with la passata which is a quick tomato sauce base but you couldn’t do that in a restaurant without Italians noticing. In reality, you should use cherry tomatoes (pomodori ciliegini), fresh chilli peppers (peperoncino), pork cheek (gaunciale), and most importantly pecorino cheese (pecorino romano).
For the pasta, you should use a spaghetti or bucatini (spaghetti in the form of a straw). This is yet another rivalry between Amatriciana purists – spaghetti or bucatini? Bucatini is arguably the original recipe which I prefer as well but in Rome this dish could be served with spaghetti or even maniche corte which are about half as long as rigatoni and use more commonly in Rome.
This is a 100% must eat plate.
Where to get the best Amatriciana in Rome:
Typical Roman Wines
We decided at the bottom to add in some typical Roman wines from the area. When you eat, you need to drink and when in Rome why not drink Roman wines! To be clear, wine is not produced in the city itself, but in the region that surrounds the city. If you jump in a car or train and leave the city, within 30 minutes you are surrounded by farmland and vineyards, so we thought it made sense to speak briefly about some wines you might find.
Vino Della Casa- Pretty much in any restaurant in Rome, you can ask for Vino Della casa ( House wine) and you will be served usually from a Caraf that comes in half-liter( mezzo) or full liter ( litro). All you have to do is say if you want red or white. This wine will be quite simple and very often delicious. The perfect wine to drink with food. If you want to go with something a bit more structured then look below.
Frascati- This is a white wine that comes from the Castelli Romani which is a cluster of towns East of Rome. Over the last few years, they have definitely stepped up their game making some very good wines. I would definitely go for a Frascati Superiore which is fruity and complex with a mineral taste.
Cesanese del Piglio- This is a red wine that comes that is produced southeast of Rome. When you go into a restaurant and ask for this wine, the owners will be impressed that you know a wine that is produced in this region. Full-bodied and full of flavor, you will taste red, juicy fruit and a slight floral note in the nose.