Brian Sheehan previews our list of America's 50 Best Italian Restaurants. The complete story is available in our Eat/Dine section.
The Italian restaurant in America has changed in style probably more than any other genre of restaurant over the past several decades. Even as recently as 50 years ago, the term "Italian restaurant" conjured images of red and white checkered tablecloths, carafes of middling chianti, and a red sauce-heavy menu with classics like chicken Parmigiana that were more Italian-American than authentic Italian. Then something interesting happened: People got bored, and a new breed of Italian restaurant came onto the scene, able to rival even the highest-end French dining rooms. From a playful Boston landmark with seven varieties of homemade bread to a Philadelphia institution where the chef customizes a menu for each guest, we’ve rounded up the 50 best Italian restaurants in America.
So what were our classifications for an "Italian restaurant," exactly? A prevalence of Italian or Italian-inspired dishes on the menu, of course. We were OK with pizzerias; we were also OK with restaurants that are Italian-inspired, like San Francisco’s Quince. A great Italian restaurant has many of the same standards that make any restaurant great: impeccable, un-snooty service; high-quality food sourced from the finest purveyors; creative-yet-classic preparation and craftsmanship; and an overall experience that leaves you happy and content in the fact that you just ate a world-class meal.
To assemble this ranking, we looked at restaurants that made it to our list of the 101 Best Restaurants in America, which we release early every year. The steps we took to build that ranking were as thorough and comprehensive as possible: We recruited an illustrious panel of judges that included some of the country’s top food writers, critics, and bloggers to submit their suggestions for the country’s best restaurants, which we supplemented with our own choices, including previous years’ rankings as well as lauded newcomers. This list of hundreds of restaurants was then built into a survey that was sent out to more than 100 panelists, who voted for their favorites. The final ranking included a significant number of Italian restaurants, and to create this list we supplemented the Italian restaurants that made it into our final list of 101 with those that came in as runners-up and those that were featured on this year's list of the country's 101 best casual restaurants — all places worthy of renown.
In the end, our ranking runs the gamut from old-school neighborhood joints with decades of history to the fine dining institutions helmed by the likes of Marc Vetri and Mario Batali, from red sauce to sea urchin and everywhere in-between. Read on for our third-annual ranking of America’s best Italian restaurants.
Additional reporting by Arthur Bovino.