Whether tucked into a crusty Italian loaf, resting atop a mound of spaghetti, or served on their own with a ladle of marinara sauce, there are few dishes more comforting than those that include meatballs. From a hundred year-old deli in Baltimore to a sandwich shop in Brooklyn, from a glitzy Vegas hot spot to a renowned Italian restaurant in Colorado, we’ve tracked down the 20 best meatballs in America.
Just about every culture has its own native meatball. The Swedish have theirs, served with gravy and lingonberry jam. In Latin America and Spain there are albóndigas. Meatballs in Greece are made with mint and rice while in the Middle East and South Asia, they’re heavily spiced and called kofte. But the most popular and widely-consumed meatballs in America are, obviously, Italian-style.
Along with chicken parm and baked ziti, spaghetti and meatballs as we know it is one of those foods that you won’t find in Italy unless you’re at a tourist-oriented restaurant. (Some Italian pasta dishes contain small meatballs, but that’s different.) Spaghetti topped with a heaping ladle of tomato sauce and a couple big meatballs is a purely American invention, created by Italian immigrants in New York City in the early years of the 20th century. Meatballs do exist in Italy (they’re called polpette),but they’re usually served on their own as a side dish, topped with marinara sauce and a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
In America, though, Italian meatballs have taken on a life of their own. They’re typically made with either ground veal, beef, or pork (or a combination thereof) along with garlic, grated parmesan, bread crumbs, and parsley, but it seems like every family and restaurant has their own recipe, meaning that no two meatballs are alike. Some replace the breadcrumbs with stale bread soaked in milk, some fry them up first, some cook them entirely in a pot of sauce, and others mix in secret ingredients like Worcestershire sauce and bacon. Some meatballs are small enough to eat in a couple bites, others are bigger than your fist. No matter the recipe, however, most people will never encounter a plate of meatballs that’s anything short of delicious.
It was no small feat to track down the best Italian meatballs in America, but we stuck to strict criteria: They had to be made fresh in-house, had to be recognizably “Italian-style” with that familiar flavor profile and ladle of tomato sauce, and they also need to have reached a certain level or local or national renown where people simply clamor for these meatballs.
So loosen your belt, because a big plate of Italian-American comfort food is coming your way. Click here to learn which 20 eateries serve the best Italian meatballs in America.