What makes a great Italian restaurant? For some it may be the antipasti, while for others it’s the quality of the wines and pastas that’s the sure-fire test. Holding up one dish is dangerous. Octopus? Lasagna? Cacio e pepe? Which one dish should be the barometer of a great Italian restaurant?
The steps we took to compile our most-recent ranking were as thorough and comprehensive as possible: we looked at restaurants that made it to our 101 Best Restaurants in America; we also recruited an illustrious panel of judges that included some of the country’s top food writers, critics, and bloggers to submit their suggestions, 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 50 best casual restaurants. Turns out there are many Italian restaurants worthy of renown in America, and one resides in Portland, Orgeon.
Nostrana is often cited as serving one of the city’s most authentic Neapolitan pies, and for good reason. The blistered cornicione and thin crust provide scrumptious, beautiful canvases for the hand-made mozzarella the restaurant makes daily. There are eight pies on the menu including standouts like the diavola (spicy sausage, mozzarella, provolone, tomato, and Mama Lil’s peppers), alla fiamma (tomato, red onion, Mama Lil’s peppers, wild oregano, spicy oil, and black olives), the tricolore rapini (smoked provolone, ricotta, Mama Lil’s peppers, red onion, garlic, and lemon), and a vongole bianco with Manila clams and gremolata that defies New Haven tradition by featuring smoked provolone and mozzarella. No matter which pie you order, it’s going to be "served uncut, as is the traditional Italian style.” But chef Cathy Whims’ Buckman restaurant isn’t just about pizza. The delicious antipasti include fried oysters with fennel pollen, and bison polpettone with slow-roasted tomato and anchovy. Pastas like strozzapretti with wild nettle and almond pesto, and capellini with tomato butter sauce, and mains like the bistecca alla Fiorentina and pork shoulder are going to make it difficult to order without seeming like a pig. It’s all so good, the restaurant scored the #28 spot on our compilation, and since it’s the only one from the city to make the list, according to our panel of experts, Nostrana is the best Italian restaurant in Portland.