No one is entirely sure where carbonara came from or when it was invented. What people are sure about is that it’s one of the most iconic foods to eat in Italy, and there are many places in competition for the best carbonara in Rome.
Though the recipe for this legendary Italian dish has seen alterations and transformations over time, the traditional carbonara recipe can be found on nearly every restaurant menu in Rome today. And truth be told, when it comes to this much-loved pasta dish, you’ll find a mix of mediocre and exceptional versions throughout the city.
Keep reading as we unveil our recommendations for the best carbonara in Rome. (And for the super curious foodies, check out the end for an interesting history of carbonara!)
Where’s the best carbonara in Rome?
Simone Panella is the top toque at this century-old trattoria in Trastevere. His brother, Francisco Panella, host of the popular food/travel Italian TV show Little Big Italy, runs the front of the house at Antica Pesa and manages to greet every diner at their table. Simone’s carbonara uses the whole egg and is a flavorful option for a carbonara fix at this somewhat scene-y but chic and sleek restaurant.
Armando al Pantheon
Since 1961 Armando al Pantheon has been mixing pasta, eggs, guanciale, and pecorino to make one of the most popular versions of carbonara in Rome. The one problem, however, is that everyone loves Armando and its classic wood-clad old-school atmosphere. So make a reservation as far in advance as possible.
Da Enzo al 29
Located in a relatively less trammeled swath of Trastevere, Da Enzo al 29 used to attract mostly locals and some expats who had heard whispers. Today everyone is aware that this place makes excellent pasta, including carbonara, which is made with rigatoni and large chunks of fatty pork jowl. Expect to wait in line for a table. The line moves quite fast.
You wouldn’t know it from the light, airy interior, but Grappolo D’Oro has been around long enough that your great grandfather could have eaten here, had he traveled to or lived in Rome. The restaurant, around the corner from Campo de’ Fiori, uses spaghetti in its carbonara recipe. They also do something different here: they dice the guanciale and then saute it until it’s super crispy, adding a lovely textural crunch to the mix.
Luciano: Cucina Italiano
Luciano Monosilio became the self-proclaimed “king of carbonara” when he was working at the lauded Roman restaurant Pipero al Rex. Making the carbonara was his sole job there. You can say, he mastered it. Today he has his own eponymous eatery—Luciano—around the corner from Campo de’ Fiori where locals and visitors alike gravitate, mostly just to eat nothing but Luciano’s carbonara.
For the fanciest take on carbonara, head to Rome’s swankiest restaurant: La Pergola, the three-star Michelin domain of German-born chef Heinz Beck. Beck takes the classic recipe and turns it into fagotelle, dumpling-like morsels that encase the eggy goodness of carbonara.
Chef Arcangelo Dandini is the man behind the name at his eponymous restaurant in the Prati district. The carbonara at L’Arcangelo is excellent. Chef Dandini, being a stickler for authenticity, doesn’t add black pepper to the pasta because he says that when carbonara emerged in Rome pepper was too expensive and thus, wasn’t part of the original recipe. Instead, a server (or Dandini himself) comes by the table with a pepper grinder, so diners can add it themselves. Dandini uses only egg yolks, giving the pasta a golden glow.
Between Largo Argentina and Campo de’ Fiori, Roscioli is a beloved culinary institution. It’s a wine bar, a salumeria, and a restaurant. And it’s one of the best places to eat carbonara in Rome. The carbonara recipe here involves thick strands of spaghetti and is extra creamy.
This neo-trattoria is located in Ostiense in the south of Rome and is definitely worth the voyage. Brothers/owners/chefs Manuel and Nicolò Trecastelli at Trecca make a mean carbonara, using egg and yolk and a lot of pecorino to give the dish a supremely creamy taste and texture.
What’s the history of carbonara, anyway?
There’s the oft-repeated theory that carbonara’s origins go back centuries when shepherds would eat it, as the simple dish of just pasta, eggs, guanciale, pecorino cheese, and black pepper was easy to make and was a fortifying dish. There’s a similar theory about the carbonari, the guys who would wander the Roman countryside looking for wood to transform into coal.
The most likely and believable origins story, though, is that it was created in the years immediately following World War II. American troops stationed in Rome were feasting on military rations, such as powdered eggs and dried bacon. It’s entirely possible, and is the belief of a legion of food historians, that an Italian chef in Rome came across some of these rations in a post-WWII black market and created carbonara for American soldiers, thus marrying Italian and American flavor profiles.
After all, it’s a fact that there was a dish in Rome after the war called “spaghetti breakfast” that American soldiers used to eat. It’s also a fact that the first time the recipe was published in Italy was in 1954 in the magazine “La Cucina Italiana.” Furthermore, the earliest recipes for carbonara called for ingredients that would make a Roman food snob want to hurl a rolling pin across the kitchen: bacon, gruyere or Parmesan, and—wait for it—cream.
The recipe for carbonara got its modern look and taste in the mid-’90s when Italian chefs dropped the cream from the recipe. After all, that’s more of a French flavor profile.
Navigating the abundance of carbonara options in Rome can be challenging due to its rich history and widespread popularity. However, when in doubt, remember the age-old advice: Consult a local, as they’ll guide you to the best carbonara in Rome. Buon appetito!
Hungry for more? Join us on our Tastes & Traditions Of Rome: Testaccio Food & Market Tour and learn the city’s iconic dishes (including carbonara) and a glimpse into the passionate traditions of its small business owners, while exploring how the neighborhood of Testaccio has shaped modern Roman food and culture.
by David FarleyView more by David ›
Book a Tour
Pristine Sistine - The Chapel at its Best
Premium Colosseum Tour with Roman Forum Palatine Hill
Pasta-Making Class: Cook, Dine Drink Wine with a Local Chef
Crypts, Bones Catacombs: Underground Tour of Rome
VIP Doge's Palace Secret Passages Tour
Legendary Venice: St. Mark's Basilica, Terrace Doge's Palace