Rome’s Essential Dishes

Written by Katie Parla on February 10, 2016

fried starters cesare

Whether you’re in Rome for 24 hours or 24 years, it’s essential to know exactly what to order. There may not be anything spontaneous or whimsical about planning exactly what you’re going to eat in advance, but trust me what I tell you it is a critical feature of eating well in the Italian capital. A restaurant may have 50 menu items, but regulars go for the same dishes over and over…for a reason. Some places excel at one or more dishes to the point that there is no point in ordering anything else. For example, Roscioli’s cheeses and cured meats are sensational. I would eat them every day (and sometimes I do). But not all their mains are equally life-changing. If you stray from recommended dishes there (or anywhere else) you will may have a bad time and I don’t want that for you. I will have all the bad times and eat all the mediocre things so you never have to. And on that note, I present to you my meticulously researched list of essential Roman food eats:

pajata at cesare

Rigatoni with pajata (suckling calf intestines) at Cesare al Casaletto. They don’t have them every day, but when they do, get them. But be sure to begin the meal with fritti (assorted fried starters) and end it with fegatelli di maiale (roasted pig’s liver) follwed by panna cotta.

tortelli zucca colline emiliane

Not only is the family behind Colline Emiliane incredibly nice and respectful of their considerable tourist clientele, they make the most delicious tortelli di zucca, pasta filled with pumpkin and dressed with butter and sage. Their meaty mains are lovely, too.

porchetta panificio bonci

Pizza con la porchetta (Vito Bernabei’s porchetta on Bonci’s pizza bianca) at Panificio Bonci is one of the best things you will ever eat.

burro alici litro

In addition to a stellar natural wine list, Litro serves one of Rome’s most perfect bites: butter and anchovies on toast. That tiny lemon sliver makes it.

Also, their tiramisu’ is awesome.

The capricciosa pizza at La Gatta Mangiona tastes very good.

potato pomodoro pizzarium

Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzarium is famous for the creative toppings on his pizza by the slice, but the classic slices — tomato with oregano and pizza with mozzarella — are the most deeply satisfying.


Gregorio’s scorzanera (and cheeses in general) are fantastic. You can find this Abruzzese cheese maker at farmers’ markets and special events in Rome, especially at the Citta’ dell’Altra Economia.


The rigatoni with pajata at Tavernaccia da Bruno is fabulous and if they happen to have lasagna (a Sunday special that sells out fast), get it. I also love their wood oven roasted punta di petto (brisket).

The spaghetti with mollusks (sometimes razor clams, other times clams) at Il SanLorenzo are so delicious, if insanely expensive at €25 a plate. I’m a super fan, though not everyone loves how al dente they serve their pasta.


I dream of the ajo, ojo e peproncino at Armando al Pantheon. And the gricia, too.

IMG_7992 (2)

Pizza rossa AND bianca at Forno Campo de’ Fiori and Antico Forno Roscioli are my breakfast, daily.


Burrata with semi-dried tomatoes, anchovies with butter, mortadella with Parmigiano Reggiano and rigatoni all gricia at Roscioli are the best. For more on how to do it up at Roscioli, read this post.

Whether you’re at Arcangelo Dandini’s Supplizio or eponymous restaurant, you must try the rice croquettes. At Ristorante L’Arcangelo, follow these up with a plate of the world’s lightest gnocchi.

I frequently and joyously travel across town to Tor Pignattara for Osteria Bonelli’s horse skirt steak.

If you eat one meat dish in Rome, make it a sandwich with allesso di scottona (simmered brisket) at Mordi e Vai. It’s amazing with or without cicoria. If you have room, get a second panino filled with polpette di bollito (fried shredded allesso).

Now this one is controversial because I have gotten no fewer than 50 (FIVE-OH) complaints since November about the food and service at Flavio al Velavevodetto. It’s upsetting because the carbonara and cacio e pepe are SO GOOD and I REALLY love Flavio the chef. But visit at your own risk, ideally on a weekday at lunch with things are theoretically less chaotic.


The cod with prunes, pine nuts and apricots at Piatto Romano is special.


The maritozzi con panna (leavened buns filled with whipped cream) at Regoli are classic.


Rome’s best coffee is at the newly opened Caffe Roscioli. Their pastries–including martozzi con panna–are a delight.


The menu at Metamorfosi changes all the time, but my friends John and Roy in the kitchen consistently deliver interesting and tasty contemporary flavors.

mesob copy

Doro wot and all the simmered vegetables and legumes at Mesob is one of my favorite meals in town.

Marron Glace

The marron glace from Moriondo e Gariglio are worth their weight in gold. These candied chestnuts hit shelves at Rome’s historic confectionery shop in the fall and when they’re gone, they’re gone, so get them quick.

Trapizzini (especially doppia panna, chicken cacciatore and meatball) at Trapizzino are modern classics.

Roasted or grilled pajata at Armando al Pantheon or Agustarello isn’t for everyone, but these places do it right.

Try the pizza by the slice at Prelibato. You’ll like it!

If you have lots and lots of money, you may enjoy seasonal mushroom dishes at Al Moro, one of the priciest places in town.

When I crave roughage, I visit C’e’ Pasta…e Pasta for concia and deeply roasted vegetables.

You’ll find my favorite gelato combos on YouTube.

For more pasta perfection, check out this post and this article for Bon App. And here are some really delicious things you should eat in Rome (even if I don’t have photos to entice you!):

  • Pizza ebraica, cinnamon biscotti and ricotta or almond paste cake at Boccione
  • Pezzetti fritti and carciofi alla giudia at Nonna Betta
  • Ricotta and assorted cheeses at Beppe e I Suoi Formaggi
  • Pasta alla genovese at Mazzo
  • Cacio e pepe potato croquettes at Open Baladin
  • Cacio e pepe pizza at Tonda or Sforno
  • Alici arraganate at La Torricella

What are your favorite Roman dishes?

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