Pasta is the gorgeous yellow ribbon that binds Italian cuisine together, and no trip to Rome would be complete without it.
Every region of Italy has at least one traditional pasta dish to its name. And with a range of more than 300 pasta shapes out there, you could eat a different one every day if you’d like. And some Italians do!
In general, most Italians eat pasta for lunch instead of in the evenings at home, though if they’re going out or celebrating something special, pasta will certainly be featured on the dinner menu then.
Because Italy’s varied pasta dishes are regional, you won’t find them in one place. Rome is known for four traditional pasta sauces, all of which are usually served with tonarelli, bucatini, rigatoni or spaghetti.
Of course we’ll tell you where to find those quintessential Roman pasta dishes, but we’ll also go into the non-Roman dishes and where to find them, too. These are our top 10 recommendations for the best pasta in Rome.
1. Pasta alla gricia
This is one of the oldest dishes in Roman cuisine and also one of the simplest. Crispy pan-fried guanciale (cured pork cheek), is tossed in with the pasta along with grated pecorino Romano cheese. The simply delicious result is a creamy, salty sauce that packs a punch.
Where to get it: Try Impiccetta in Trastevere for the full-on traditional experience.
2. Pasta all’Amatriciana
Although named for the town of Amatrice in Abruzzo (from where the Romans imported their guanciale) this dish is as Roman as the Colosseum. This dish takes pasta alla gricia to the next level by adding a rich tomato sauce to the pecorino Romano cheese and guanciale.
Where to get it: The cozy Ostera degli Amici is one of our favorite Amatriciana stops.
3. Pasta cacio e pepe
This dish literally translates to pasta with cheese and black pepper. True to its name, this simple dish is made of pasta, pecorino Romano and plenty of black pepper to cut the richness.
Where to get it: Felice, a longtime Roman institution, prepares this dish right in front of you.
4. Pasta alla carbonara
The “plus one” of the holy trinity of Roman pasta dishes, this is the relatively new kid on the block. Said to have been invented as a hearty lunch for charcoal workers, it actually only first appeared in the 1950s. It’s made from guanciale, pecorino Romano and eggs, all of which combine into a silky sauce.
Where to get it: L’Arcangelo’s carbonara is now almost as legendary as the dish itself.
5. Pasta alla Norma
This Sicilian pasta dish was created to celebrate the premier of the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini. Nowadays, it’s slipped away from the slopes of Mount Etna to cast the rest of Italy under its spell. The sauce consists of tomatoes, basil, and fried eggplant and is as elegant as Maria Callas singing Casta Diva, Norma’s most famous aria.
Where to get it: Pasta alla Norma is best eaten in a restaurant specializing in Sicilian cuisine. We’re big fans of Trattoria Melo.
A video of old Sardinian grandmothers making this dish recently went viral. But luckily, not only pasta grannies make culurgiones. These fancy ravioli are stuffed with potato, Sardinian pecorino, mint and onion. And lucky for you, if you know where to look, you can find them in Rome.
Where to get it: Perdingianu & Croccoriga is a Sardinian restaurant where culurgiones are always on the menu.
7. Fettuccine Alfredo
Due to the efforts of one entrepreneurial Roman in the 1920s, fettuccine Alfredo is the most famous “Italian” dish Italians have never heard of.
Alfredo di Lello served his newly created dish to silent movie stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, and the rest was history once the two stars went home and told everyone about it. It consists of egg pasta tossed in butter and parmesan cheese (and no cream!), which create the rich sauce.
Where to get it: Alfredo alla Scrofa is Alfredo’s original restaurant, which still serves the star dish that made it famous.
8. Tagliatelle al ragù
If you see “spaghetti Bolognese” on a restaurant menu, run the other direction!
Bolognese is tourist speak for tagliatelle al ragù, the real Italian dish that gave rise to the foreign hybrid. Though it is originally from Bologna, that’s just not what we call it here.
For the real deal, find an Emilian restaurant for a proper ragù: an umami explosion in a pasta bowl.
Where to get it: Colline Emiliane, run by the Latini family, has been serving traditional Bolognese food in Rome since 1931.
9. Tortellini in brodo
This is the other dish from Bologna you need to try, especially in the winter when you’re looking to take the edge off the Roman cold. It consists of pasta stuffed with meat and served in a chicken broth. For Italians, it’s the taste of Christmas.
Where to get it: Searching for a good tortellini in brodo is the perfect excuse to go back to Colline Emiliane. It’s so good we’ve included it twice!
10. Pasta ‘ncaciata
Made famous by Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano novels, pasta ‘ncaciata is a cheesy pasta bake with tomatoes, eggplants and basil. The good news is you don’t need to go to Sicily to try this delicious pasta dish.
Where to find it: Luckily, Un Angolo di Sicilia has brought Inspector Montalbano’s favorite to Rome.
We don’t know about you, but we sure could go for some pasta right now. Join us on our Testaccio Neighborhood Food & Market Tour and sample three of the above pasta dishes at one of our favorite authentic trattorias. As for which of the three we try, well…you’ll just have to join us on tour and find out.
Luca is pazzo about Italian food and culture and shares his passion on his blog Luca’s Italy. He particularly enjoys collecting, translating and developing authentic recipes allowing you to experience the real taste of Italy at home. And when he’s not writing about Italian food, he’s out and about eating it. Find out more about him on his website.