You know that moment when you first bite into something so delectable, so satisfying that you are all consumed by the pleasure of the present moment and teeter on the edge of a different (more delicious) realm? Your pace quickens, your taste buds go into overdrive and you can’t help but declare exaltations to everyone in your vicinity? If you’re lucky enough to live in Italy, of course you do. And I’m sure it happens on a nearly daily basis.
Each time I experience food euphoria I’m reminded of an editorial published a few years back in the The New York Times Magazine. More precisely, this was a love letter to mozzarella di bufala, the Campania region’s crowning glory and truth be told, one of the most enticing foods I’ve ever tasted. Lauded as a veritable “miracle of Italian cuisine,” its exquisite flavor and ethereal texture were conveyed with such veneration that buffalo milk mozzarella seemed to transcend its earthliness and I was convinced it was instead something godly and divine.
I was overjoyed at having found a kindred spirit who would wax poetic about a humble piece of cheese, something the author described as living “…along with clouds and mercury and lava and photons and quicksand…on the mystical border between solid and liquid.” These words struck a chord with me, cheese aficionado that I am, and I relived that precise spiritual sensation when I found myself in front of a bowl of luscious cacio e pepe in Rome for the first time.
I was not expecting a dish made up of pantry staples to be such a revelation – especially when the secret ingredient is a healthy dash of pasta water. Needless to say, cacio e pepe is a testament to the brilliance and resourcefulness of Rome’s famous cucina povera, a tradition that boasts mouthwatering dishes that are much more than the sum of their parts. Comprised of hand-rolled tonnarelli noodles tossed with generous amounts of grated pecorino cheese (more than you’d like to know), freshly cracked black pepper and whisked with pasta water to create a sauce, it is the perfect union of savory, spicy and tangy flavors. Cacio e pepe is not just the ultimate comfort food; it is an expression of culinary excellence that is sure to turn even the most cool and collected eaters into raving pecorino evangelists.
Here’s where to find the best cacio e pepe in Rome
Da Felice a Testaccio
Via Mastro Giorgio, 29
Arguably Rome’s best, if not most famous, restaurant for cacio e pepe, Da Felice is well known for tossing the bowl of steaming noodles directly at your table.
Piazza di San Giovanni della Malva, 14
Zi Umberto is a great go-to for its quality fare (including a perfectly balanced cacio e pepe) and boisterous atmosphere in the heart of Trastevere.
Via del Pigneto, 41
This understated little restaurant excels at both classic and creative adaptations of Roman dishes including a superlative cacio e pepe.
Via Giovanni Bettolo, 24
A favorite with locals, Osteria dell’Angelo has set menu prices and cooks up a very al dente plate of cacio e pepe for the Prati neighborhood’s businessmen, who flock to the restaurant at lunch hour.
Da Cesare al Casaletto
Via del Casaletto, 45
For a truly extravagant plate of pasta, don’t miss the deep-fried gnocchi served with creamy cacio e pepe sauce at this beloved eatery.