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 traditional 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 (when you get it 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."
So it's not a light dish per se, but may not be as heavy as you think.
For some reason, when it left Italy, many things have been added to carbonara, the most common being cream. Also peas and onions.
So if you have avoided eating carbonara until now, do not miss trying it the Roman way.
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.
So far, I have found some pretty amazing carbonara in Rome.
Here are my top picks to date (I update this page as I continue with my taste-testing):
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!)
That should tell you right there you will get excellent Roman food.
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.
Rimessa Roscioli is my go-to wine bar and it's long since become one of my favorite spots for dining as well.
They use the same ingredients as their related restaurant, the more famous Roscioli.
But somehow, the chefs at Rimessa have found the way to make the Roman pastas like carbonara to perfection.
Carbonara is not always on the menu here but when it is, I get it!
Testaccio neighborhood is well-known among Romans as having plenty of truly Roman places to eat. And Piatto Romano is no exception.
You might even say, Piatto Romano is the epitome of Roman cuisine in this neighborhood.
You'll find plenty of truly Roman offal delicacies like tripe and coratella, but if that's not your thing, tuck into any of their pastas, like carbonara, and you will be transported.
Trattoria Pennestri is a Roman favorite. They have plenty of typical Roman dishes and also a few more innovative ones.
Their rigatoni carbonara is sublime and worth going out of your way for.
Can you imagine a Michelin star chef creating carbonara so delicious it literally melts in your mouth?
Luciano Monosilio got his star at the young age of 27 and worked in several high-end restaurants before opening his eponymous Luciano.
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.
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.
And, although this is not traditional, they DO also offer a "vegetarian carbonara."
Santo Palato may be a relative new kid on the block as Roman restaurants go, but it sure came in with a bang.
With talented, young chef Sarah Cicolini at the helm, the restaurant has become a favorite with Romans, foodies, and food writers alike.
If you are a fan of the most basic of Roman cuisine, you will have come to the right place.
Since the focus here is pretty heavy 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.
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.
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.
I hesitated about keeping Roscioli in my list of the best carbonara in Rome.
Why? Because it's already so popular and written about.
But the carbonara at Roscioli is a classic.
So if you go, make sure you book in advance, and be prepared to literally rub elbows with your fellow tourists.
The food at L'Arcangelo is excellent, and the ambiance is fun, warm, and convivial but not too crazy.
The carbonara, while often cooked just 1 minute short of perfectly al dente, is sublime.
Aside from the classic carbonara dish, the rest of 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.)
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.
Visit my page where to eat near the Vatican for more places in general.
Visit my page where to eat near the Colosseum for more places in general.
Visit my page where to eat near the Trevi Fountain for more places in general.
You'll find excellent carbonara here:
Visit my page where to eat near the Spanish Steps for more places in general.
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:
Testaccio is 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:
Campo dei Fiori can be considered a tourist site (market) but also a neighborhood.
And while it's somewhat packed with a lot of mediocre tourist traps (I don't like that term but it does apply to this area in particular), there are a few authentic places in Campo dei Fiori where you will find quality Roman cuisine, including excellent carbonara:
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. I don't promote places that treat non-locals terribly.
But as I said, if you go to any good traditional Roman trattoria, you will find good carbonara in Rome.
I take cooking classes in Rome with a Sicilian chef. One of my classes was all about i primi romaneschi. This means, "typical Roman first courses", which in this case is pasta.
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 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 cheese (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.
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.
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 pasta alla carbonara in Rome! (At least, how my teacher taught me to make it!)
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