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The foodie’s guide to Rome: Must-eat meals in the Italian capital


Cacio e Pepe. Credit: Mark Roper
Cacio e Pepe. Credit: Mark Roper
Discover must-see spots and must-eat meals in the Eternal City with the help of a local food lover.

Maria Pasquale is a food and travel writer who has lived in Rome since 2011. She is the author of The Eternal City, a cookbook and love letter to Rome that invites readers to embrace la dolce vita and discover the city’s culinary sights and sensations. Here, she shares her foodie’s guide to Rome.

What is special about Rome?

Oh, everything. Rome is an open-air museum and (for free) you can walk around and be completely enveloped and spellbound by columns, architecture, domes, churches and monuments.

I visited the city over a dozen times in my twenties, and every time I left her, I cried. I felt like I belonged in Rome, and the pull eventually became too profound to ignore. I loved the grandeur of her monuments – the ochre gold of the oldest walls I’d ever seen, and the chaos and winding cobblestone streets that had touches of history at every turn; I couldn’t believe that a modern-day bustling metropolis could sit in harmony with relics and ruins of the past.

Rome is not as cosmopolitan or as international as it probably likes to think it is but what it lacks even in stability and efficiency, it makes up for in beauty. There have been many times during my love affair with this city that I’ve contemplated calling it quits. But it gets under your skin and you keep forgiving her shortfalls and fall in love again with her magnificence.

What are some iconic Roman dishes people should try?

The obvious ones are the classic four Roman pastas. The one constant across the bunch is pecorino romano (sheep’s milk cheese) which is the king of Roman cheeses. Cacio e Pepe is a creamy pecorino and pepper delight while Alla Gricia is simply pecorino and guanciale (pork cheek – Rome’s answer to bacon). Add tomato to a Gricia and you have Amatriciana. And for me Carbonara is the best of them all – guanciale, eggs and pecorino with a good sprinkling of pepper… and under no circumstance cream or garlic or onion!

One should never leave without trying Roman street food either. Things like our local flatbreads – pizza bianca (a salty and crunchy yet fluffy on the inside focaccia) and pizza rossa (thin pizza base with a scraping of tomato sauce) or pizza al taglio (by the slice or by weight) and anything fried like supplì (fried rice ball stuffed with mozzarella), baccalà (cod), fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers) and mozzarella in carrozza (breaded mozzarella sandwich). Leave room for artisan gelato and the local sweet, a maritozzo (cream-filled bun).

Da Anzo al 29 restaurant. Credit: Andrea Federici

What are your favourite restaurants in Rome?

Women head Pianostrada Laboratorio di Cucina, a chic and contemporary dining gem with a stunning garden out back. Their house focaccia is not to be missed! My favourites are the prosciutto and fig or the stuffed mortadella. They do an exceptional deconstructed version of the traditional roman zucchini flower and their ever-changing pasta dishes won’t disappoint either.

Get the real Roman trattoria experience at family-run hole-in-the-wall joint Da Enzo al 29. You’ll have to line up. Is it worth it? Yes, yes and yes. Start with fried zucchini flowers, burrata and the panzanella and then get straight into the carbonara (or if you’re there on a Thursday go for the gnocchi – that’s the day on which they’re traditionally served in Rome). If you’re still hungry, try the coda alla vaccinara (braised roman style oxtail). Oh and mascarpone mousse with fragoline to finish.

For the best gourmet pizza experience in town in a contemporary restaurant setting, Seu Pizza Illuminati just never lets me down. Pier Daniele Seu has won just about every award in the country and he pushes boundaries with toppings of the finest ingredients that turn the traditional on their head. Do as the Romans do and start off with fritti (fried snacks) and leave room for their unique dessert pizzas which aren’t that common in Italy.

For Sardinian and Roman specialties, especially seafood, Osteria der Belli is my anytime but especially Sunday lunch place. For the food – especially the ravioli, the spaghetti with clams and grilled calamari – but also the warmth of the staff. They now know my order and hardly bring me a menu!

Zia Restaurant is an intimate location serving an innovative menu executed with skill and dedication by chef Antonio Ziantoni and his young team. The restaurant was awarded one Michelin star within its first year of operation. Go for the tasting menu and sit back and enjoy the show. I leave impressed every single time.

What are your favourite bars?

For real deal mixology don’t miss Patrick Pistolesi’s Drink Kong. It’s the only Rome entry on the World’s Best 50 Bars list and is all neon lights, homemade potions and truly outstanding cocktails. The dumplings and lobster rolls to match are great too.

Caffè Doria is a fave too because where else do you get to sip a drink in the cloister of a gallery? It sits within the Doria Pamphilj Gallery which is such an underrated attraction in Rome. It’s the only remaining privately owned art collection in the city and its mirrors hall is inspired by Versailles’ gallery of mirrors. So it’s a perfect mix of art, nobility and now cocktails!

For the best view of Piazza Navona and the city skyline you can’t go past Terrazza Borromini. And for views and cocktails
– not just any views but an unobstructed one of the Colosseum – head to The Court at Palazzo Manfredi hotel.

The Colosseum seen from the rooftop Court at Palazzo Manfredi.

What are some good food markets?

Mercato Campo de’ Fiori remains Rome’s most central market in the picturesque surroundings of Centro Storico. It’s lost many of its authentic stands to low quality processed food stands, but there are still a few great ones.

Mercato Testaccio is a modern covered market with many historic family-run stalls, new stands and excellent street food. Come here to buy food and eat! Mercato San Cosimato is Trastevere’s small yet lively market, a favourite with locals like me! I walk through it almost every day. I especially love the guys at the Settecento salumi stand with their great selection of charcuterie and cheese, served with a smile. Mercato Trionfale is Rome’s largest market, selling every type of foodstuff in a covered location near
the Vatican.

What are your favourite places?

When it comes to architecture, my favourite is the Pantheon. It remains the only building from Ancient Rome that is completely intact. It’s an engineering and architectural marvel in that its dome is completely unsupported. It truly is a beautiful symbol of the power and the might of Rome.


The Eternal City by Maria Pasquale, published by Smith Street Books, distributed by Thames & Hudson Australia, NZ$60.50, available now.


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