The great American Italian restaurant 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 neighborhood trattoria in Brooklyn to a high-end restaurant in San Francisco with a tasting menu focused on the bounty of Northern California, we rounded up the 20 best Italian restaurants in America.
So what were our classifications for an "Italian restaurant," exactly? First, we decided that restaurants that specialized in pizza wouldn’t be considered, which excluded legendary establishments like Frank Pepe’s, Pizzeria Bianco, and Di Fara from this list. We were also OK with restaurants that are Italian-inspired, like San Francisco’s Quince. With a Caprese salad and gnudi on the menu, there’s no denying that Italian cuisine is a major, and consistent, influence. 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.
In order to assemble our ranking, we first 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, which included 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 our 174 panelists, who voted for their favorites. The final ranking included many 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 but are certainly still worthy of renown.
Without any further ado, we present our ranking of America’s 20 Best Italian Restaurants.