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10 Best Carbonara in Rome

I am always on the lookout for the best carbonara in Rome. (Yes, I know, it's a tough job but...)

rigatoni carbonara at l'arcangelo in romeRigatoni carbonara at L'Arcangelo in Rome

Seriously, I do make it a point to run around Rome and taste-test all the traditional pasta dishes on a pretty regular basis. There are enough variations to keep me from getting bored (now there's a concept.) And there are so many restaurants to try, I still haven't gotten to them all yet!

But actually, finding the best carbonara in Rome is not as easy as it sounds. 

Carbonara in Rome - everything you need to know

Carbonara is one of the quintessential dishes of classic Roman Cuisine. Here's what you should know:

What is carbonara?

I know what you're thinking - carbonara is too heavy, too fattening. Well, not if you do it right! Well, ok, maybe it's not not-fattening, but it's not heavy because it's not creamy. It's not creamy because there is NO CREAM in carbonara in Rome! Where it was invented by the way.

The origins of carbonara are not 100% clear. Here are the two main theories:

1) Carbonara originated in Rome in World War II, when American GI's were in Rome, and food rations were short. So they improvised, using eggs, bacon and pasta to make one dish - voilà! Carbonara.

2) The "carbonai" or makers of charcoal, who worked for months at a time outside the city, and camped, with few supplies, including bacon, cheese and eggs. So they whipped together a concoction which today became known as carbonara.

Neither of these stories has been validated...but it doesn't matter to me which is true, since, in Rome, you can always get the "original" version of the dish. Which is to say, made with only the simplest of ingredients:

  • eggs (egg yolk according to some)
  • guanciale (pork jowls)
  • pecorino cheese
  • high-quality dried pasta

See? There is no cream in carbonara (in Rome.) The cheese and egg, together with the inevitable pasta water that you add towards the end of the cooking procedure, amalgamate to make the whole thing "creamy." For the recipe for carbonara, jump down the page.

(For some reason, when it left Italy, many things have been added to carbonara, the most common being cream. Also peas and onions. None of this is Roman. So if you have avoided eating carbonara until now, do not miss trying it the Roman way. When in Rome...)

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What makes carbonara so delicious?

guanciale - pork jowlsGuanciale - pork cheek jowels - is one of the important ingredients in carbonara.

Believe it or not, as simple as this dish sounds to make, it's not always easy to find it prepared well (as with the other classic Roman pasta dishes, cacio e pepe and amatriciana.) There are some  important factors such as:

  1. The use of guanciale as opposed to pancetta (belly pork), or any other type of "bacon." The pork in carbonara should come from guanciale, or pork cheek jowls, to ensure its smoky, buttery flavour. 
  2. Egg yolk vs whole egg - this one could be a bit more forgiving. There are excellent versions of carbonara with both. But when you only use the yolk, carbonara takes on a whole new flavour dimension.
  3. Not all pasta is created equal. With carbonara, you use dried pasta (as opposed to egg- or fresh pasta.) Also, the pasta should be of high quality. As my cooking instructor once said, if you pay 10 Euros for a package of pasta, as opposed to only 2 Euros, it comes to what, about 2 Euros per portion of pasta? Isn't it worth it to have excellent pasta? So use good-quality pasta, preferably trafilata a bronzo (this means the pasta was put through a die made of bronze, which gives the pasta a texture that allows it to hold sauce better.) Now, which shape pasta to use? For Italians, the use of the correct pasta with a particular sauce is vitally important. For carbonara, spaghetti is just as good and as valid a choice as rigatoni (for sauce adherence of course.) My favourite is rigatoni. But I would never say no to an excellent spaghetti alla carbonara!

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Top Ten Places to Get the Best Carbonara in Rome

As I said, I do a lot of taste-testing. I have not nearly covered all the great Rome restaurants yet (but it's a work in progress and I will get there!)

So far, I have found some pretty amazing carbonara in Rome. Here are my top picks to date (I will update this page as I continue with my taste-testing):


1) L'Arcangelo

I love L'Arcangelo, for lots of reasons: The food is great (the best reason of course), and the ambiance is wonderful (fun, warm, convivial but not too crazy.)

interior of l'arcangelo in romeL'Arcangelo - a cozy, casual ambiance for tasting some of the best carbonara in Rome!

I've tried many different dishes at L'Arcangelo. The best ones are those that stick to pure Roman tradition. But since this page is about carbonara in Rome, let's discuss that. (The photo at the top of this page was one of my tastings of carbonara in Rome at L'Arcangelo.)

At L'Arcangelo, the pasta is Verrigni, and the carbonara is made with plenty of guanciale. So much of it that you (almost) have to make an effort to eat it all. Oddly, there is little or no pepper (but it's still fab without it, or, just add some if you like.)

Anyway, the creamy egginess of this dish is perfect every time. Just try it. It's sublime!

Details and how to get there: Via Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli 59. Take any bus line that stops at Cavour. Open Mon-Fri for lunch and dinner; Saturday for dinner only. Closed Sundays.

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2) Marzapane

Details and how to get there

3) Pizzeria Emma

Details and how to get there:

4) Roscioli

Details and how to get there:

5) Armando al Pantheon

You can't go wrong getting anything at Armando. I've never had anything there I didn't love. But back to the theme of this page: Carbonara in Rome. And Armando always delivers some of the best.

carbonara at armando al pantheon in romeAt Armando, carbonara is made the old-fashioned way - the guanciale is soft-cooked, with the fat left on each tasty morsel.

Look at all that eggy goodness. And see how nice and fatty the guanciale is? That's the secret to the smoky flavour you want. Buon appetito!

Details and how to get there: Salita dè Crescenzi, 31. Just next to the Pantheon. Open Mon-Fri for lunch and dinner. Saturday for lunch only. Closed Sundays.

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6) Da Danilo

Da Danilo is one of the truly traditional Roman trattorias in Rome. Everything is wonderful here, from the Roman artichokes to the carbonara (with perfectly crispy guanciale) to the amatriciana

spaghetti carbonara at Da Danilo in romeThe mouth-watering carbonara at Trattoria "Da Danilo" is worth the sometimes surly service.

They are so traditional in fact, they would not let my friend order a caffè macchiato after lunch (milk?? the horror! Espresso or nothing!)

In another example of "Roman tradition": I sent other friends there (one of whom is a local), and he was treated rudely by the owner, who refused to make something not on the menu (for one of the people who was not eating meat or cheese for Lent), and also insisted they order everything right as they sat down. My local friend and I agree, the food is good. It's really good. And so here's the caveat: Eat here for the food, and hopefully you will get a nice waiter and not the surly owner.

Details and how to get there: Via Petrarca 13, near Piazza Vittorio in the Esquilino neighbourhood. Open Tues - Sat for lunch and dinner, Monday for dinner only. Closed Sunday.

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7) Checco er Carettiere

Here's another traditional place serving superb carbonara in Rome. Checco is one of Trastevere's most iconic, historic restaurants. You will definitely find excellent cucina romana, including of course spaghetti carbonara:

However...this is another one of those Rome restaurants where, if you go about it wrong, you will have a bad experience.

First of all, the prices for the Roman pasta dishes are very high (18€), but if you share a plate, it turns out just fine (9€ per person.) And considering the portions here are abundant, it would make sense to share anyway.

The second thing is that you should NOT expect the kind of service you might get in, say, the US. Things move very slowly here, and what may seem like indifference or even rudeness (being ignored) is nothing personal I assure you. So come for the carbonara, and the history, and just relax and enjoy the atmosphere, the pace and the delicious food.

Details and how to get there:

8) Hostaria Romana

9) Sciapò

10) Baccano

carbonara at il baccano in rome

Look at that eggy sauce. Look at all that gorgeous fresh ground pepper. See that lovely grated pecorino on top? And how firm that pasta is?? Great carbonara. Trust me.

Baccano - yes I know, this restaurant is not (yet) on anyone's radar for having some of the best carbonara in Rome, but I am telling you, it's fabulous! It is not a typical Rome trattoria, where you'd hope to find this dish. It's more of a cross between an American Bistro and French brasserie, but they also have a lot of traditional Roman food on the menu, and they really do have great food. And they serve their carbonara with Verrigni pasta, already a sign they care about the quality (as does L'Arcangelo, above.)

How to get there: Via delle Muratte, 23. The street leading away from the Trevi Fountain towards via del Corso. Open daily from 10am until 2am. Yes! Open every single day, all day. Including Christmas and New Years.

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Other places to get great Carbonara in Rome

Any traditional Rome restaurant worth its salt (no pun intended!) will make an excellent effort to produce the classic Roman pasta dishes in the classic way. So where carbonara is concerned, if you go to any traditional, typical Rome trattoria, you should be able to find this dish the way it's meant to be made. 

But as we all know, not all restaurants are created equal and therefore not all carbonara in Rome is great. But here are some other wonderful Rome trattorias where you will find it made very well:

  • Del Sostegno (one of my all-time faves for pasta in Rome in general) - near the Pantheon.
  • Hostaria Romana - near the Trevi Fountain. An excellent place for all the classic Roman dishes.
  • Il Falchetto - just off the via del Corso, near the Pantheon. Slightly up-scale restaurant with excellent pasta and other Roman courses.

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Recipe for Traditional Roman Carbonara

A little about making Roman pasta dishes

I take cooking classes in Rome, with a Sicilian chef. One of my classes was all about i prime romaneschi. This means, "typical Roman first courses", or pasta dishes. Three of the most common are cacio e pepe, bucatini all'amatriciana and rigatoni alla carbonara

The chef told us that every Roman has their way of making these dishes, and they are all "the right way." And, there is no need to use salt or olive oil in any of them. All use pecorino Romano cheese, which is plenty salty (and adds enough fat), and two use guanciale, or pork jowls, which are also fatty and salty. You may use some salt in the pasta water, but not too much.

Would you like to take a cooking class while in Rome? There are a lot of great options!

Find out more here.

Our chef said the success of any recipe is 80% due to the quality of the ingredients, 10% to the recipe and 10% to the chef. So try to find guanciale if you can (not pancetta), excellent pasta like Verrigni (preferably trafilati al bronzo), and real pecorino romano (not parmesan or other cheese.)

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Ingredients

This recipe serves 6. (Italian portion sizes are smaller than American portion sizes, so you may consider this recipe could serve 4 if you want larger portions.) The original recipe uses metric measurements so I am providing rounded up/down measurements also in ounces if you prefer that.

Method

Start heating the water for the pasta in a large pot. Do not add salt.

Heat the peppercorns in a small non-stick fry pan, until they start to spatter and jump around (about 5 minutes.) Grind the peppercorns using a mortar and pestle, or a pepper grinder.

guanciale for making carbonara

Slice the guanciale into bite-sized strips, and cook them on a low heat in an aluminium pan until they are slightly browned. Turn off the heat, and take out about half of the guanciale from the pan, leaving the rest in the pan, with the fat, covered and warm. 

browned guanciale for carbonara

Once the pasta water is boiling, add the pasta, and a bit of salt (not too much.) While the pasta is cooking, beat the egg yolks in a large bowl with a fork. 

beaten egg yolk mixture for carbonara

Keep beating the yolks and slowly add two spoonfuls of the pasta water. Continue beating the yolks and add one spoonful of the guanciale fat, and a bit of the ground pepper.

When the pasta is not quite cooked al dente, take out about a cup of the pasta water and set aside. 

Drain the pasta. Add it to the pan with the guanciale and remaining fat. Mix well, adding a bit of the pasta water as needed, to create a good emulsion.

Once well blended, add this pasta mixed with guanciale to the large bowl with the beaten egg yolks. Stir continuously and let the hot pasta blend well with the yolk mixture, so that it cooks it ever so slightly. Keep stirring and slowly add the pecorino, blending well.

rigatoni alla carbonara

Plate the pasta, and garnish with the guanciale and black pepper that had been set aside.


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