Something happens when you dine in Rome for the first time. There’s a moment of disbelief that just a handful of simple ingredients — tomatoes, pasta, Pecorino Romano, guanciale — can add up to such a memorable meal. It’s true for anywhere in Italy, really, where the tendency is to rely on fresh, seasonal ingredients and stick to time-tested recipes. In the Eternal City those recipes include fried artichokes, trippa alla Romana (tripe stewed in tomato sauce), and four legendary pasta dishes: cacio pepe, carbonara, gricia, and amatriciana. While you can find these classics in countless trattorie in every corner of the city, some do them better than others. Read on for these must-visit restaurants in Rome.
Trattoria Da Enzo
Just across the Ponte Palatino in Trastevere, find the tiny trattoria where checkered tablecloths and well-worn walls lined with wine bottles are all part of the charm. Da Enzo doesn’t just peddle in charm, though. Highlights include naturally-leavened sourdough bread; perfectly al dente amatriciana, cacio e pepe, and carbonara; traditional trippa alla romana; crispy fried artichokes; and homemade tiramisu. Each dish is made with care and high-quality ingredients. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so go for a weekday lunch or be prepared to wait for a table.
Ristorante La Tavernaccia Da Bruno
Opened in 1968 and still run by the same family, La Tavernaccia Da Bruno combines traditional Roman and Umbrian dishes with warm hospitality. Inside the rustic, stone-walled dining room, feast on plates of bruschetta with cured lard and honey, pappardelle with wild boar ragù, and wood-fired suckling pig with rosemary-flecked potatoes — all simple and memorable. Go for Sunday lunch, when you’ll be surrounded by tables crowded with spirited local families, and the lasagna is usually on special.
If you’ve heard in-the-know friends recount their trip to Rome anytime in the past two decades, you likely already know about Roscioli. The family-run, decades-old shop still sells gourmet goods, but nowadays tables surround the deli case and fill the wine cellar. There you’ll feast on artisanal meats and cheeses like handmade mortadella and shaved parmigiano, creamy burrata, as well as Cantabrian anchovies, supremely memorable carbonara, and other traditional Roman pastas. The drink menu is robust, with a selection of small-batch gins from around the world (and several from Italy), plus an extensive wine list. If you goof on booking and reservations are long gone, try Rimessa Roscioli, the wine-focused sister restaurant just a few blocks away, where they serve both a tasting menu and a la carte classics.
Trattoria da Cesare al Casaletto
Located in the residential Monteverde neighborhood, da Cesare is a bit further afield for visitors staying near the city center. It’s well worth the extra effort, though, for one of the very best meals in Rome. Ask for a table outside on the leafy, pergola-shaded patio and start with suppli (fried rice balls stuffed with tomato sauce and mozzarella) and the fried gnocchi over a pool of creamy cacio e pepe sauce. You can’t go wrong with any of the pasta dishes, but make sure someone at the table orders the alla gricia, with thick flecks of guanciale and a wall-to-wall carpet of grated Pecorino. (Actually, this dish alone is worth crossing the city. Or the Atlantic ocean.) Save room for dessert, which includes crostata with apricot jam, tiramisu, and a perfectly-structured millefeuille topped with a tart amarena cherry.
Armando al Pantheon
It may be rare to find a truly outstanding restaurant close to any major tourist attractions in a city, but Armando al Pantheon is an unquestionable exception. Family run for over six decades, the snug restaurant consists of 14 tables, so snag a reservation the moment you book your flight for spaghetti alla carbonara, amatriciana, and, on Fridays, salted cod with tomato sauce and potatoes. Afterward, do as the Italians do and take part in the evening passeggiata (stroll) around the Pantheon and the Piazza della Rotonda.
Flavio al Velavevodetto
Not far from the Testaccio market (and situated on the slope of Monte Testaccio, the mound of millions of ancient Roman terracotta), Flavio al Velavevodetto bustles with a largely local clientele. They’re there for the classic dishes like fried meatballs, Roman-style artichokes, and a particularly notable cacio e pepe. Service is friendly but slow, so just lean into the long and leisurely meal. For dessert, try the handmade ciambelle al vino — crunchy little cookie rings traditionally dipped in red wine. Make a reservation, either by phone or email, to avoid disappointment.
Chances are, you won’t be ready for a break from amatriciana and cacio e pepe during your Roman holiday, but even so, make time to dine at Colline Emiliane. Situated between the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Barberini, the restaurant specializes in cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna region — delicate tortellini in brodo, handmade tagliatella alla bolognese, and Culatello ham, to name a few.
A short walk from the Spanish Steps, tucked around a corner and at the end of a closed off street, find Alla Rampa. Waiters in white coats drift slowly around tables arranged under a shaded terrace or inside the spacious dining room. The crowd is a mix of well-heeled locals and tourists, though fewer than you’d expect given its close proximity to a popular landmark. While the service can be brusque, plates of excellent bucatini alla gricia and rigatoni alla amatriciana make it worthwhile. Book a table online, or walk in for lunch.
Cul de Sac
The wine list at Cul de Sac is the star, with well over 1,500 bottles on the menu. Located just southwest of Piazza Navona, tables spill out onto the street of the charming little enoteca. The menu offers classic Roman pastas, but opt instead for a few plates of cured meats and cheeses from the extensive selection — ranging from burrata to spicy gorgonzola — to go alongside wines like Lambrusco from Emilia Romagna, Tuscan Chianti, or Abruzzese Trebbiano.