I am always on the lookout for the best carbonara in Rome. (Yes, I know, it's a tough job but...)
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 is one of the quintessential dishes of classic Roman Cuisine. Here's what you should know:
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.
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:
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...)
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:
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):
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.)
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.
Details and how to get there
Details and how to get there:
Details and how to get there:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.)
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.
Start heating the water for the pasta in a large pot. Do not add salt.
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.
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.
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.
Plate the pasta, and garnish with the guanciale and black pepper that had been set aside.
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