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Jan 9, 2010 06:39 AM

The best Carbonara in Rome?

In Rome for Holy Week and Easter week 2010, I’m seeking the Holy Grail of Spaghetti Carbonara (or Carbonara with another pasta other than spaghetti). I’ve surveyed the earlier posts:

In a Chowhound March 2007 post, these places were commended by Chowhounders for their Carbonara:

1. La Rampa just below the Spanish Steps
2. Hostaria Nerone MFANT
3. “Al Moro can usually guarantee a good carbonara. ‘Spaghetti al moro’ is carbonara with red instead of black pepper, and they do have a good touch.” MFANT
4. Abruzzi off the Piazza SS. Apostoli off the Corso
5. Trattoria Da Oio a Casa Mia on the Via Galvani. It is eggier and pepperier.

In a Chowhound January 2009 post these places were commended by Chowhounders for their Carbonara:

6. La Carbonara [by report, uses another pasta other than spaghetti]
7. Armando al Pantheon
2. Osteria Nerone,
8. Sora Margherita
9. AL GRAPPOLO D'ORO @ porta pia
10. "Perilli" in Testaccio
11. Da Gino
12. Augustarello in Testaccio
13 “Last year, Gambero Rosso named Roscioli's as the best carbonara in Rome” [questioned by by one Chowhounder
]14. FELICE in Testaccio [by rumor and report, the owner died recently. True?]
15. Da Danilo via Petrarca

Now a year has passed and restaurants change quickly. So, two questions:

1. Are these places above still serving praiseworthy carbonara? The best in Rome?
2. Any other places? New places since Jan 2009? The best in Rome?

Chowhound has proven to be very, very valuable to me over the years. My thanks beforehand and best wishes for a delicious New Year!

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  1. I had very good carbonara the other night at Grano, on Piazza Rondanini. It is not my favorite dish, and I never order it in restaurants except my host ordered for everybody because he loves their carbonara. If you go, you can tell the owner Maureen sent you, not that it would make any difference.

    There has been talk on this board of changes in Nerone's kitchen, which I haven't confirmed. Their carbonara is guaranteed only if Sig.ra De Santis, the owner's sister, makes it.

    La Carbonara uses penne.

    Old Felice did die this year, but he had left the helm quite a while before. The cleaned-up Trattoria Felice still serves classic Roman dishes and is very good. I haven't had their carbonara, but their gricia (which I prefer) is superb.

    Another that claims to have fabulous carbonara but which we haven't tried is Divinare, a wine bar in Testaccio right near the market.

    I haven't had Checchino's carbonara, but I've been with people who have been very happy with it, and it is certainly authentic (e.g., only pecorino romano, no parmigiano).

    Any of the places in your list should be able to give you a well-made, authentic carbonara. Any decent trattoria or restaurant operating with some awareness of Roman tradition should. And don't spurn the fancy places. If you go to Agata e Romeo, ask for Agata's classic carbonara. It won't be on the menu.

    Frankly I think it is silly to talk about the best carbonara in Rome. Some people like the eggs more cooked, some runnier, some like parmigiano, some just pecorino. It's such a delicate dish, I don't see how it can always come out the same. Also, it's a very humble dish originally cooked outdoors with no guarantee of consistency. Today, the high-end places use the best pasta, eggs, guanciale, and cheese; the rest is technique.

    What you want to avoid is anyplace with a huge menu and a lot of tourists or a place that seems not to be really Roman -- which you would anyway. The wholesale supermarkets sell prefab carbonara sauce.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mbfant

      Thanks for these suggestions and your general observation that if anything is de gustibus, its carbonara

    2. I don't know if it is the best, but for what some people think is the most authentic traditional spaghetti carbonara try Il Quinto Quarto. For my report see:
      We were the only tourists and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

      6 Replies
      1. re: beaulieu

        Their carbonara looks delicious and does everything right. However, there simply can't be one MOST authentic carbonara. It's just not that kind of dish. There can only be traditional ingredients and technique and everyone's will be slightly different and equally legitimate.

        1. re: beaulieu

          Thank you for this suggestion and your thorough report on your blog!

          1. re: Sid Cundiff

            Last summer, Puntarella Rossa listed Da Danilo as having the best carbonara in Rome. You ought to try the place anyway.

            1. re: CJT

              We are in Rome as I write this and was at Da Danilo two nights ago. I have to say, I think this place is starting to feel it's fame. We used to come here often before the press found out about this place and it was always consistantly wonderful. The other night, We ordered antipasti for two, and they brought out four small plates and charged us 40 Euro- Pasta with black truffle paste was 20 euro for a medium sized portion, and cacio e pepe, the peasant dish that made this place famous was 10 euro for a very, very small portion. They did have fantastic tiiremi su for dessert, and offered us free after dinner drinks, but still. It seems the prices have gone up significantly, portions made a little smaller, and the overall quality headed in the wrong direction. Two more points: The service was very efficient and they did speak good English, and if you're going to go, try and reserve the upstairs (main floor) dining room, downstairs is like Siberia.

              1. re: sockster

                It's a shame to hear that Danilo is seemingly trying to screw up a good thing. Have you been to Palatium? we found it reasonable in price and quite interesting in food offerings.

                1. re: CJT

                  No, haven't been there, but try Ciccio Bomba on Governo Vecchio- Wonderful!! And no atitude at all.

        2. I liked carbonara in La Carbonara (the one at Campo di Fiori). The menu offered rigatoni but I asked them to prepare mine with spaghetti. It appears that they use only yolks (while I normally prefer the whole egg plus yolk version, this particular one did not disappoint). Overall, a very good carbonara - not too rich and at the same not dry, guanicale is not so much fatty and after you have eaten it your stomach doesn't feel stuffed.

          In Matricianella the carnonara was also good but a bit richer and less eggy (I believe they have added some cream). I preferred the light version of La Carbonara though.

          The carbonara that I enjoyed the least was the one at Armando's. The gianicale has almost no meat (just fat), and the dish had almost no cheese.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Georgy_aslf

            Thanks for the report. Can you give me some idea of the prices at La Carbonara?

            1. re: carolinadawg

              Hi. I saw your post only today, sorry. La Carbonara is just a bit pricier than an average Roman trattoria, primarily due to its location. If I'm not mistaken I paid around 35 euro for 2 pasta dishes, one portion of fish fritters, one portion of stuffed zucchini flowers and one liter of mineral water.

          2. I have a naive question. Is there places (say bars) in Rome that you can simply go and have a very good carbonara but little else?

            I ask because I grew up in China, where noodles/dumplings do not have their places in upscale restaurants. You find the best only in noodle/dumpling joints. It is interesting that pizza has the similar status in Italy but pasta get elevated.

            5 Replies
            1. re: kyeblue

              No, there are no "pasta bars" in Italy. Pasta did not get elevated; it was the mainstay of the Italian diet when many people could only afford to eat meat very rarely. When they did have meat, it would be cooked and the juices used to "sauce" the pasta, eaten before the meat, i.e., as the primo before the secondo. Pizza started out in Naples as fast, cheap food and retained that status as it spread throughout Italy.

              1. re: kyeblue

                pasta is not part of an Italian snack culture, as pizza is. or as noodles are in japan or asia. Its treated with respect not the the "fast and cheap" attitude it sometimes has in the US. As Zerlina said it developed as a main element of a sit down meal. Even the simplest sauces can be of great elegance. I recently sampled a "genovese" as my primo piatto in an upscale restaurant, Ciro a Santa Brigida, in Naples. Its a good example of a sauce that would have traditionally been served ahead of the meat cooked in it. The genovese was a delicate oniony beefy glaze over my pasta - just magnificent, but again the product of a simple, saving food culture.

                Some of the finest versions are the handmade pastas served in the great restaurants of Emilia Romagna but there are great specialties all over the country.

                1. re: jen kalb

                  Jen, I think you understand Italian. Here's a video (the sound is not of the best) of how to prepare genovese by a Neapolitan home cook whose cooking has been praised by, among others, Stefano Bonilli, founder and ex-director of Gambero Rosso:


                2. re: kyeblue

                  Sorry for being complete off-topic, but it is very interesting to look into the difference/similarity of the two noodle/pasta cultures (Noodles has a much shorter history in Japanese, popular only in last 100 years, brought in by Chinese merchants. But I have to say Japanese has done a marvelous job to perfect ramen). I think that Italians claim their tradition all the way to Etruscans but Chinese have written record as early as 1st century AD to back them up. I am not sure if over the course of last two thousand years any noodle making techniques traveled along the silk road but there are definitely some striking similarities. Maybe a project I would take on once I retire (in at least 20 years).

                  1. re: kyeblue

                    To be very good, or even edible, a carbonara has to be made to order. That is not going to happen in a bar or tavola calda. You do, however, find more robust ready-made pasta preparations at tavole calde and you can have just that. It's not going to be the best, but millions of Italians do that every day for lunch.

                  2. The May Saveur has an article on Rome that goes into some detail about the carbonara at Roscioli, which definitely sounds good but scarcely philological. Somebody complained recently about Nerone, but I asked my husband (an habitué) if the owner's sister was still there and he said yes. So as long as she makes it, their carbonara should still be right up there. Felice died last year, but the place had already passed to another generation and it should make no difference. I'm beginning to think Felice is not all it's cracked up to be. I have been there only twice under the new regime and thought the first time was great (during Christmas holidays), the second a disappointment (exc fabulous artichokes) and others have been lukewarm. Danilo gets a bad price-quality score from Gambero Rosso and my husband refuses to go. Saveur mentions Perilli, but we gave up on in years ago. Maybe it's time to try again.

                    I would add to the list Grano, on Piazza Rondanini, which makes an excellent carbonara.

                    I will reiterate my strong objection to the whole quest-for-the-best mentality. Every place on your list can be expected to make a good carbonara. Beyond that it's a matter of taste and style.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: mbfant

                      Just returned from a week in Rome where we had 8, yup, 8, different carbonaras. Perilli's, made with rigatoni was by far the favorite, absolutely stellar, wonderfully full flavored and creamy. Roscoili's was very tasty and clearly lots of love was put in to it, but it did not even touch Perilli's. It's was much more aggressively flavoured, and did not have the supreme balance of Perilli. Carbonara at Taverna Romana was good, but the service was so bad, it totally put us off our food. Carbonara at Carbonara was less than memorable.

                      1. re: Wannabfoode

                        Hope you didnt OD on the carbonara - and that we will hear about the rest of your eating!
                        thanks for the report!