I am always on the lookout for the best carbonara in Rome. (Yes, I know, it's a tough job but...)
Spaghetti carbonara is one of the quintessential dishes of popular Roman cuisine
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:
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 (either the whole egg, or just egg yolk, depending on who you ask)
guanciale (pork jowls)
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 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...)
Guanciale - pork cheek jowls - 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:
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. (Of course, if you are trying to make this in a place where you can't easily get guanciale, go for the pancetta!)
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.
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!
Best Carbonara in Rome - One Roman's point of view
So, I asked Alessandro, my Roman husband, "if you were going to go out for carbonara in Rome, where would you go?"
His answer - "I wouldn't."
And the reason for this, he explained, is that he grew up eating carbonara (and amatriciana, cacio e pepe) at home.
All. The. Time.
He said, "That's what papà used to make when mamma didn't feel like cooking." It's kind of like mac and cheese or meatloaf for Americans, something pedestrian, homey, more of a comfort food than something to GO OUT FOR.
With the boom in tourism in the last 20-30 years, and thanks to guidebooks and now social media, there seems to be a new-found interest in "Roman food and Roman trattorias."
And so, these basic pasta dishes, along with other peasanty Roman food, have all been taken to higher art forms, especially when they are at their simplest.
So please forgive me if this list is from my point of view and has nothing to do with a Roman chiming in. His is just one man's point of view, but I get it.
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 do update this page as I continue with my taste-testing):
Leave it to a Spanish chef to conquer one of Rome's most traditional recipes. But not just any Spanish chef.
The carbonara at Marzapane is a beautiful thing to see but even more wonderful to taste! It is worth coming here just for this dish.
Chef Alba Esteve Ruiz is a rare talent. I figure she will get a Michelin star any day now, and then I guess the prices will go up. But until then, come to Marzapane. Get the tasting menu (with a small portion of carbonara at the end). Or, just get a whole order of it. Your palate will thank you.
Details: Via Velletri, 39. Not far from via Veneto or Termini. Closed Monday. Tel: 06 6478 1692. Reservations recommended. No outdoor seating.
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.
The mouth-watering carbonara at Trattoria "Da Danilo" is worth the sometimes brusk 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!)
Details and how to get there: Via Petrarca 13, near Piazza Vittorio in the Esquilino neighbourhood. Closed Monday lunch and all day Sunday. Tel: 06 7720 0111. Reservations essential. No outdoor seating.
Why does a pizzeria have such good carbonara? Because it's Emma. Because every single thing they make is fabulous. Not fancy or Michelin-quality. Just consistently wonderful.
The spaghetti carbonara a Pizzeria Emma in Rome is one of their best dishes, every time!
My sense after eating here A LOT (I've lost track and I've pretty much tried most things on the menu), is that the thing they care about first and foremost are the ingredients. And that is of course one of the most important factors in getting it right.
But besides superb quality ingredients, they really do make fantastic pastas. Many people go straight for their pizza (which is divine too), but I suggest you let them wow you with their pasta as well.
Since the focus here is pretty heave on meat and offal, this is not an ideal spot for vegetarians (although you can manage with vegetables and tonnarelli cacio e pepe). And if you are a carbonara lover like me, well, this is serious carbonara. I managed to eat that whole dish, which is rare for me.
Details: Piazza Tarquinia, 4a/b. In San Giovanni area.. Open Tuesday - Friday for dinner only. Saturday and Sunday for lunch and dinner. Closed Monday. Tel: 06 7720 7354. Reservations a must. No outdoor seating available.
Del Sostegno is one of my go-to restaurants in Rome. And if I want pasta, or someone asks me where to get the best pasta, this is often the first place that comes to mind. (Again this is not the best photo, but I had to include them...so a new photo will come when I go next time, which will of course be soon!)
At del Sostegno you can count on perfect carbonara every time. Prepare to dazzle your taste buds!
Details: Via delle Colonnelle, 5. Near the Pantheon. Closed Sunday dinner and all day Monday. Tel: 06 679 3842. Reservations essential. Limited outdoor seating.
Even if it's on the perimeter of the once-working-class neighborhood of Testaccio, Lo Scopettaro counts itself as a typical Roman trattoria where you will find all the classic Roman dishes - offal (tripe, intestines, etc); artichokes (in season); broccoli and skate soup (only on Fridays!); and of course, some of the best carbonara in Rome.
Rigatoni carbonara at Lo Scopettaro is some of the best in Rome.
Their meats are a little heavy (that is what Roman secondi are often like anyway), but I'd get any of their pastas, anytime. And they have a cozy, rustic interior. Even the lower-level (basement) seating is spacious and comfortable.
Details: Lungotevere Testaccio, 7. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Tel: +39 065757912 / +39 065742408. Reservations essential. No outdoor seating.
I hesitated about keeping Roscioli in my list of top ten carbonara in Rome. Why? Because it's already so popular and written about. But the carbonara at Roscioli is a classic, and should be in the top ten carbonara in Rome, at least my list!
Spaghetti carbonara is one of the most popular dishes at the very popular Roscioli. But don't let that deter you!
So if you go, make sure you book in advance, and be prepared to literally rub elbows with your fellow tourists.
Details: Via dei Giubbonari, 21/22. Near Campo dei Fiori. Closed Sunday. Tel: 06 687 5287. Reservations essential. No outdoor seating.
Frankly if you go to any traditional Roman trattoria, you are going to find good, if not great carbonara. And as you can imagine, there are hundreds, if not thousands of trattorias around Rome. So you really should not have a hard time finding a proper carbonara in Rome.
Here are some other places around Rome where the carbonara is excellent (and, in some cases, why I didn't put them in the top ten. I have to be honest right?):
Checco er Carettiere
Here's another traditional place serving superb carbonara in Rome. Checco is one ofTrastevere'smost iconic, historic restaurants. You will definitely find excellentcucina romana, including of course spaghetti carbonara (not my best photo but it will have to do until I go back):
The spaghetti carbonara at Checcho er Carettiere is a huge portion. I recommend sharing!
However...this is another one of those Rome restaurants where, if you go about it wrong, you might 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 speedy, attentive service. 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: Via Benedetta, 10: Trastevere. Open daily. Tel: 06 581 7018. Reservations suggested. No outdoor seating.
I have had several really good experiences dining at L'Arcangelo. The food is excellent, and the ambiance is fun, warm, and convivial but not too crazy.
The food here is definitely a cut above. And the carbonara, while often cooked just 1 minute short of perfectly al dente, is sublime.
Delicious, very al dente carbonara at L'Arcangelo in Rome
The menu is almost entirely NOT about typical Roman cuisine. It's more of a slightly gourmet menu. (Be prepared to spend upwards of 40€ per person for dinner, without wine.)
Recently, I've unfortunately had some not good reports from friends and clients who have told me of pretty unfriendly attitudes on the part of the staff, so I just can't put Arcangelo in the top ten list, even if the carbonara is fabulous. If you try it, let me know what you think.
Details: Via Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli 59. Not far from the Vatican Museums. Closed Saturday lunch and all day Sunday. Tel: 06 3210992. Reservations essential. No outdoor seating.
As the name suggests, this is one of your classic Roman trattorias/Hostarias. They've been there for decades and know what they're doing. And the carbonara - it's everything you want it to be, and more.
Perfect spaghetti carbonara at Hostaria Romana
Details: Via del Boccaccio, 1. Near the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and Piazza Barberini. Closed Sundays. Tel: 06 474 5284. Reservations essential. No outdoor seating.
Baccano is also not a typical Rome trattoria. 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 usually do have very good food. It is not 100% consistent which is why I cannot put them in my top ten carbonara in Rome.
The carbonara at Baccano can be really wonderful, although not every time. But it's worth getting!
Details: Via delle Muratte, 23. Near the Trevi Fountain. Open daily from 10am until 2am. Yes! Open every single day, all day. Including Christmas and New Years. Tel: 06 6994 1166. Reservations strongly suggested. Limited outdoor seating.
Take a very low-key Roman trattoria sort of out of your way in Testaccio, ask them to make you a dish of carbonara, which isn't always on the menu, and they will happily oblige. They are after all, Romans. And at Torricella, they know what they are doing.
The spaghetti carbonara at La Torricella is one of the most traditional in Rome
This version of carbonara is heartier, a bit smokier, than other versions on the page. I think it's heaven on a plate.
nb - I've had some mixed feedback from my readers. While I love the carbonara here, it may not be consistently good.
Details: Via Evangelista Torricelli, 2/12. In Testaccio. Open daily. Tel: 06 574 6311. Reservations suggested. Outdoor seating available.
Trastevere is not a tourist site per se, although it is a wonderful neighborhood to stay in or visit. And it's an area known for having a LOT of restaurants. But good ones? There are just a handful. Here are three excellent spots to get carbonara in Trastevere:
Da Carlone - Via della Luce, 5. Tel: 06 580 0039
La Gattabuia - Via del Porto, 1. Tel: 06 584813
Da Teo - Piazza dei Ponziani, 7A. Tel: 06 581 8355
I'll be writing more about restaurants in Trastevere on a separate page so stay tuned.
Like Trastevere, Testaccio is not a tourist site, but rather a neighborhood. Unlike Trastevere, most tourists don't make it a point to visit Testaccio, although there are some interesting things to see here, like this Roman aqueduct.
But besides that, it's famous for having once been a working-class neighborhood, and site of Rome's most prominent slaughterhouse. And because of that, the area is full of traditional Roman trattorias. Here are a few, where you can be sure to get excellent carbonara in Rome:
Da Bucatino - Via Luca della Robbia, 84. Tel: 06 574 6886
Da Oio a Casa Mia - Via Galvani, 43. Tel: 06 578 2680
Checchino - Via di Monte Testaccio, 30. Tel: 06 574 3816
Do you have a favorite place for carbonara in Rome? Wondering why I didn't include them?
In some cases I might know who you are talking about. But sorry, no. I can't include them.
And in others, I just didn't want to make this page longer than it already is. But as I said, if you go to any good traditional Roman trattoria, you will find good carbonara in Rome.
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!
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.
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. And that my friends, is how we make carbonara in Rome! (At least, how my teacher taught me to make it!)
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