I was on a mission in Rome: to find the best cacio e pepe and to find the best carbonara the city had to offer. I’d read a lot of articles and reviews ahead of time so I had a pretty good idea of where to start. But the only way to declare a winner was to taste as much pasta as I could.
When we got off the train at Termini Station, the scene was chaotic, but we made our way outside and waited in a taxi line that stretched around the corner. While we waited in line, we were approached by several nicely dressed men that were offering us a ride with no wait! However tempting this may be, do not leave the taxi line for any of these offers! These men represent unofficial taxis and are known to rip off tourists by quoting one price, but then demanding another when you arrive at your destination.
Where We Stayed
We stayed in some rental apartments right on the edge of Piazza Navona. The apartment was clean and decorated in a more modern style. The rooms were tiny, but they did have a great continental breakfast that you could eat on their terrace. Out of all the places that we stayed, this one was definitely our least favorite. I know Rome is expensive so we would probably stay here again for the right price, but we weren’t very fond of it. The rooms were so small, and the ceiling was extremely low. We stayed on the top floor so we must have been under an attic staircase or something because Matt had to duck even just to stand up in the bedroom. While the location near the piazza was nice, taxis had trouble finding our building. Several times they dropped us off and had us walk the few blocks to our apartment. Walking is fine with us, but wasn’t ideal when we had all of our luggage!
Where We Ate
The location of this restaurant is perfect! We sat outside under the umbrellas and had lunch while watching people come in and out of the Pantheon. Looking back, the food here was fine, but I’m sure the prices were higher just because of where this restaurant is. We wanted something extremely close to the Pantheon because we had a lot of ground to cover that afternoon. So if you’re okay with paying for the location, then this is a great spot!
Roscioli is a deli that doubles as a restaurant in the evenings. There are only twelve tables available each night so reservations are a must. We had a broccoli tempura here that was amazing, but the real reason we came was to try their cacio e pepe. Cacio e pepe literally translates into “cheese and pepper.” It seems like with this dish, that the simpler the ingredients are then the better it is. Homemade pasta is tossed with fresh Pecorino Romano cheese and leftover hot pasta water. The hot water melts the cheese into the pasta and creates a gooey, yummy sauce. The dish is topped with black pepper before being sprinkled with even more cheese. I knew Roscioli was known for their cacio e pepe, but I had no idea I was going to like it was much as I did. I mean, it’s just pepper and cheese, right? No, no it’s not. It’s way more. Congratulations Roscioli… y’all know how to make some pasta.
We were rushing around so much on our first full day in Rome, and I knew we wouldn’t have time for a sit down meal. Luckily in Rome, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality. Pasta Chef is an amazing counter-service take out restaurant that makes their pasta fresh every day and serves it in to go containers. I got fettuccine with mushrooms and Matt had (of course) lasagna. It was super fast and so convenient. We need something like this in America, y’all!
We went here to try their pasta carbonara and it lived up to the hype. I had heard it was fantastic, and while it was excellent, we had some that was even better the next day. We did get to try their aracini (rice balls filled with cheese) and their fried meatballs. All of it was so good! This restaurant is built on one of Ancient Rome’s landfills. In the back of the restaurant is a window that you can look out of and see the trash that buries the back wall. It’s mostly old pieces of pottery so it sounds grosser than it actually is. I mean who doesn’t want to have one of the best meals of their life on top of an old trash dump?
When you get tired of the busy streets of Rome, you must take an afternoon to explore Trastevere. This neighborhood is beautiful and charming with narrow cobblestone streets and wisteria climbing the walls. Trastevere is home to artists and Rome’s version of hipsters. A lot of young people live here so it’s a very fun place to walk and explore. I had heard about the artichokes at Da Enzo, and since it was artichoke season while we were there, we couldn’t miss it! Da Enzo prepares their artichokes “Jewish” style which is frying it whole. When it came to the table I didn’t know really how to eat it. The young couple next to us told us we could eat the whole thing and then had a good laugh at the silly Americans who’ve never eaten a Jewish style artichoke before. It was salty and crunchy and so good that we ordered a second one. After that, we moved on to the main course. I ordered pasta Amatriciana which is a tomato sauce with pieces of fried pork cooked in the sauce. I’m not even going to tell you what Matt ordered.
This is the holy grail of Italian food in Rome. I’m so glad we saved it for our last night because everything else following it would have been a disappointment. One of my favorite Italian food bloggers said that if she only had one Italian meal to eat, then she would go to Perilli. I took her advice and attempted to make reservations. They didn’t reply to my email, nor my message on social media so I ended up having to get our concierge at the apartments to make it for us. The restaurant was a pretty long cab ride away, and once we got there we discovered that no one spoke English. This is so rare for Rome. I knew immediately we were in the right place. We were the only Americans in the restaurant (which is another sign this place is going to be fantastic). Since we had tried Jewish style artichokes for lunch, then we needed to try Roman style for dinner. While the Jewish is fried, the Roman style artichoke is marinated and then roasted in the oven. Different, but still delicious. I ordered carbonara and Matt had Amatriciana. This is where we found the best carbonara in Rome. If you order pasta carbonara in America, you get pasta with a heavy cream sauce that usually has peas and bacon in it. It could not be more different in Rome. The carbonara is prepared simply with egg yolks, Italian bacon, and parmesan cheese. The egg yolks are stirred into the hot pasta and create a fantastically rich sauce without becoming heavy. I’d go back to Rome just to have this again.
Here’s our restaurant summary for Rome:
Best cacio e pepe: Roscioli
Best carbonara: Perilli
Best overall restaurant experience: Da Enzo
I feel terrible picking winners because every one of these places is unique and prepare their food with such pride and skill. I’d be lucky to have a meal from any of these places again, but I hope this helps you if you’re trying to narrow down your choices!