Luca / Facebook
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.
Yelp/ Jennifer A.
Tucked away on a quiet side street near the Jersey City Reservoir in sleepy Boonton, New Jersey, is the Reservoir Tavern, serving some of the state’s finest brick oven pizza and Old World Italian fare since 1936. Run by the Bevacqua family since day one, this no-frills bar and dining room commands a lengthy wait every night of the week. While the chicken francaise, fried calamari, lasagna, homemade sausage and peppers, and shrimp fra diavolo are all basically flawless, it’s the pizza that you’ll find on every table, and that put it on the map: The crust is thick, crisp, and chewy, the sauce is tangy, and the cheese is ample, and it all comes together to form a stunning pie unlike any other you’ll ever encounter.
Deninos Pizzeria & Tavern / Facebook
Residents of the Forgotten Borough have long known what the rest of the city, and more recently the country, are just beginning to understand: When it comes to pizza, Staten Island doesn’t play around. And Denino’s has led the charge since 1951, when Carlo Denino took over the tavern his Sicilian father John Giovanni opened in 1937. After his father passed away, Carlo introduced pizza at the tavern, and locals have been ordering bar pies and downing them with pitchers of beer ever since. A third generation of Deninos runs the operation these days (and opened a second spot, in New Jersey), and they keep pulling in regulars for their sweet Italian sausage pie, with sausage tossed in chunks over a light, pliant crust. For those not looking to brave the ferry ride, a second location recently opened in Greenwich Village.
Trattoria Marcella / Facebook
St. Louis has no shortage of great Italian restaurants, but ask any local what their favorites are and Trattoria Marcella will invariably be on everyone’s short list. In business since 1995, owners Steve and Jamie Komorek are serving stunning takes on traditional Italian fare like mortadella meatballs, toasted chestnut Roman-style gnocchi, toasted ravioli, chicken spiedini, pork osso buco, and braised veal tortelloni. The restaurant is homey and welcoming, the food is delicious, and nothing on the menu costs more than $24.
Zero Otto Nove / Facebook
For many New Yorkers, Arthur Avenue is a storied area of the Bronx where, supposedly, it’s possible to find the "authentic" Italian food no longer available at the Chinatown-encroached tourist traps of Little Italy. Whether or not you believe that the Italian Shangri-La matches the perception, Salerno native chef Roberto Paciullo is one of the driving forces behind this legend. The success of his first spot, Roberto’s, led to the pizzeria Zero Otto Nove ("0-8-9"), which was named for Salerno’s area code (Salerno being the port city about a 45-minute drive south of Naples), which has a second location in New York’s Flatiron District and a third in Armonk. The Neapolitan wood-fired pies cook under 900-degree heat for about 45 seconds, and they are exemplary. We can vouch for almost the entire menu, which includes pies with gorgonzola and tomatoes; sliced potatoes and sausage; and the more adventurous Cirilo, which features butternut squash purée and cream of truffles. But start off with the Margherita, which features a tangy, balanced sauce and a crust that’s light and a little chewy — far too good to leave behind as pizza bones.
Patsy’s Pizza / Facebook
Some would say that this is the only existing place where you can get a proper and authentic coal-oven slice in the universe, given that its founder Pasquale "Patsy" Lancieri supposedly opened Patsy's after working with the godfather of New York City pizza, Gennaro Lombardi. True or not, this 1933 East Harlem original can claim pizza heritage most only dream of, and was reportedly one of Sinatra's and DiMaggio’s favorite joints. Still, the original location is one of the most underrated and un-hyped pizza classics in the city. It’s a curious thing, given the history and quality, though there are some caveats. The pizza at Patsy’s is unusually thin, and relatively short compared to many other New York slices — you could easily scarf down six slices while standing at the counter. That’s what you’ll want to do, by the way.
Fiola Mare DC / Facebook
Chef Fabio Trabocchi and his upscale Penn Quarter trattoria Fiola have both won too many awards to mention here, and the reason is obvious: Just look at the menu, which changes daily based on what’s fresh and in-season. Sample menu items include porcini cappuccino with foie gras, bucatini and tiger prawn, pine smoked venison cacciatore, lightly grilled branzino with oysters and caviar, and Nova Scotia lobster ravioli. Can’t decide on what to order? Opt for the $125 tasting menu, which comes with five courses and dessert.
Yelp / Nelson W
When Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone opened the now-shuttered Torrisi Italian Specialties in 2009, serving sandwiches by day and an inexpensive tasting menu by night, they likely had no idea what a phenomenon it would become. The place blew up immediately, with lines out the door on a nightly basis, and in 2011 they opened a small annex next door called Parm, focused just on sandwiches. And what sandwiches these are. Their humble turkey sandwich has been praised by many as the city’s best, meatballs are brilliantly in patty instead of ball form, and the chicken parm sandwich is, hands down, the best in the country. There’s nothing too crazy about this sandwich. It’s simply made using only the highest-quality, freshest ingredients, all put together with a very deft hand. The sandwich starts with a freshly baked, soft round semolina roll from nearby Parisi Bakery. The bottom gets a layer of long-simmered tomato sauce, and a freshly fried chicken cutlet gets placed atop that, then another spoon of sauce. Fresh mozzarella is melted on top, and it’s finished off with a few leaves of fresh basil. And that’s it. It’s served in a waxed paper-lined basket, and tastes just like the chicken parms you’ve always eaten. Except it’s just better. Today it’s expanded to three locations, as well as a stand that happens to serve hands-down the best food in Yankee Stadium.
By all accounts, Totonno’s shouldn’t exist anymore. Consider first that it was opened in Coney Island in 1924 (by Antonio "Totonno" Pero, a Lombardi’s alum). Then factor in the fire that broke out in the coal storage area, ravaging the entire place, in 2009. Add to that insult the destruction and subsequent rebuilding costs (some reported $150,000 in repairs) incurred in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy, when four feet of water destroyed everything inside the family-owned institution. You’ll probably agree that Brooklyn (and the country) should be counting its lucky stars that Totonno’s is still around. And yet Totonno’s is so much more than “still around.” It doesn’t just keep a storied pizza name or nostalgia for simpler times alive. Owners Antoinette Balzano, Frank Balzano, and Louise "Cookie" Ciminieri don’t simply bridge our modern era’s festishization of pizza to the days of its inception at Lombardi’s. The coal-fired blistered edges, the spotty mozzarella laced over that beautiful red sauce… this is how you make pizza.
Some spaces are cursed. Others? Blessed. When Anthony Mangieri shuttered Una Pizza Napoletana at 349 East 12th St. and headed west, Mathieu Palombino took over the lease, renamed the space Motorino, and the East Village pizza scene hardly skipped a beat. Motorino offers a handful of spirited pies, including one with cherry stone clams; another with stracciatella, raw basil, and Gaeta olives; and the cremini mushroom with fior di latte, sweet sausage, and garlic. But contrary to every last fiber of childhood memory you hold dear, the move is the Brussels sprouts pie (fior di latte, garlic, Pecorino, smoked pancetta, and olive oil). Along with locations in the East Village and Williamsburg, Palombino has also opened locations in Hong Kong, Manila, and Singapore.
When Anthony Mangieri, pizzaiolo for the East Village’s Una Pizza Napoletana, closed in 2009 "to make a change," move west, and open somewhere he could get "a chance to use his outrigger canoe and mountain bike more often," it was the ultimate insult to New Yorkers. You're taking one of the city's favorite Neapolitan pizzerias, defecting to a temperate climate, to people who denigrate New York's Mexican food? So you can canoe and mountain bike? Traitor! Good for Mangieri, and good for San Franciscans who, with Una Pizza Napoletana, inherited one of the country's best Neapolitan pies (if only Wednesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. until they're "out of dough").
There are only five pies, all $25, plus a special Saturday-only pie, the Apollonia, made with eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, buffalo mozzarella, salami, extra-virgin olive oil, basil, garlic, sea salt, and black pepper. But when you’re this close to godliness, you don’t need extras. Keep it simple with the Margherita (San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, sea salt, tomato sauce) and know the good.
Domenico DeMarco is a local celebrity, having owned and operated Di Fara since 1964. Dom cooks both New York and Sicilian-style pizza for hungry New Yorkers and tourists willing to wait in long lines, and brave the free-for-all that is the Di Fara counter experience. Yes, you're better off getting a whole pie than shelling out for the $5 slice. Yes, it's a trek, and sure, Dom goes through periods where the underside of the pizza can trend toward overdone, but when he's on, Di Fara can make a very strong case for being America's best pizza. If you want to understand why before visiting, watch the great video about Di Fara called, The Best Thing I Ever Done. You can’t go wrong with the classic round or square cheese pie (topped with oil-marinated hot peppers, which you can ladle on at the counter if you elbow in), but the menu’s signature is the Di Fara Classic Pie: mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, plum tomato sauce, basil, sausage, peppers, mushroom, onion, and of course, a drizzle of olive oil by Dom. And with Dom’s sons Michael and Dom Jr. stepping in to make the pies on certain days when 81-year-old Dom isn’t feeling up to it, the next generation is being groomed for greatness.
Balena / Facebook
There aren’t too many restaurants where all the pastas, including the dried varieties, are made in-house, but that’s what they’re doing at this Chicago must-visit, and the end result is nothing short of stunning. Potato gnocchi with mushrooms and Parmigiano-Reggiano; orecchiette with kale and lemon crema; tagliolini nero with crab, sea urchin, and mint; and Sardinian gnocchi with walnut pesto and chard are some of the pasta dishes on offer; other menu standouts include lamb meatballs, salt and pepper chicken thighs, a 36-ounce Prime porterhouse with whipped lardo and porcini mustard, and a wide variety of hearth-fired pizzas.
Photo courtesy of Frank Pepe
If you want to discuss the loaded topic of America's best pizza with any authority, you have to make a pilgrimage to this legendary New Haven pizzeria. Frank Pepe opened his doors in Wooster Square in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1925, offering classic Napoletana-style pizza. After immigrating to the United States in 1909 at the age of 16 from Italy, Pepe took odd jobs before opening his restaurant (now called "The Spot" next door to the larger operation). Since its conception, Pepe’s has opened an additional seven locations.
What should you order at this checklist destination? Two words: clam pie ("No muzz!"). This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of them all — freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon. Just expect to wait in line if you get there after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.
Although this San Francisco restaurant claims to specialize in house-made pastas, its pizza is formidable. Baked in a wood-fired oven, the thin-crust pizza at Flour + Water blends Old World tradition with modern refinement, according to chef and co-owner Thomas McNaughton. Pizza toppings vary depending on what’s in season, making each dining experience unique, but Flour + Water’s textbook Margherita is amazing. Heirloom tomatoes, basil, fior di latte, and extra-virgin olive oil… if only the simplicity implied by the restaurant’s name could be duplicated in pizzerias across the country.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen
Lifelong friends Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman created Italian/Southern U.S. fusion heaven when they opened Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in a 1940s ranch-style house off Poplar Avenue east of midtown Memphis with some 54 seats, in late 2008. The two chefs credit their grandmothers Catherine Chiozza and Mary Spinosa for their inspiration, but have plenty of culinary pedigree beyond these maternal instrumental familial food memories, old-style Italian recipes, and traditions (there's a vegetable and herb garden for the restaurant too). You'll want to try the veal breast with celery root, parsnips, turnips, carrots, spinach soubise, and truffle; maw maw's ravioli with meat gravy; and the veal agnolotti with tomato braise and lardo.
Davanti Enoteca / Facebook
Chef–restaurateur Scott Harris is the brains behind the more than 20 Francesca’s restaurants in the Chicago area, but this rustic enoteca, which also has two locations in San Diego, is his masterpiece. Communal tables made from reclaimed wood and bare brick walls create the ideal ambiance for a meal filled with hearty Italian fare, including a wide variety of salumi and cheese; fiendishly delicious truffled egg toast; pastas including expertly prepared cacio e pepe and pork cheek and ricotta gnudi; and mains like seared day boat scallops with fava beans, pea tendrils, and guanciale. There’s an in-house wine shop, which helps to keep wine prices down (bottles average around $40), and nothing on the menu costs more than $33.
Luca / Facebook
“Strictly Italian spoken here,” notes the Luca D’Italia website. “Chefs Frank Bonanno and Eric Cimino execute Sicilian-style meats that are cured in-house; pastas, breads and cheeses made fresh daily, and recipes that change monthly to reflect the finest seasonal ingredients.” This spot in Central Denver named for Bonanno’s son pays homage to the food the chef grew up eating in his mother’s kitchen in New Jersey. A meal can include grilled octopus with borlotti beans and ‘nduja, dill cured salmon with lemon ricotta, tagliatelle lobster fra diavolo, and Barolo-braised bone-in short rib. But if you only have time for one thing, be sure not to miss the pappardelle Bolognese.
Staple & Fancy Mercantile / Facebook
In the Seattle dining scene, Ethan Stowell essentially reigns supreme. He’s opening up new restaurants there all the time, but his most acclaimed eatery, Staple & Fancy, is in a league all its own. There’s an à la carte menu, but diners are encouraged to pay it no heed and leave their meal in the kitchen’s hands; for $55 per person, they’ll "Do It Fancy," preparing a four-course family-style meal for your table. What can you expect? Perhaps a wood-grilled whole fish with brown butter, capers, lemon, and fried herbs, or perhaps a bowl of bucatini amatriciana with guanciale, tomato, and pecorino Toscano. Whatever you end up with, you’ll leave fully confident that your dinner was worth far more than $55, and glad that you put it in the kitchen’s hands.
Bestia DTLA / Facebook
Located in an old industrial warehouse in the Arts District of downtown L.A., the only clue tipping diners off to Bestia’s location is its spray-painted name and valet stand in the alley by the main entrance. Inside, Bestia has an upscale urban architectural feel with exposed brick walls, concrete floors, and an open kitchen where chef Ori Menasche (who owns the restaurant with his wife, pastry chef Genevieve Gergis) turns out near-miraculous Italian-inspired creations that have made his restaurant one of L.A.’s toughest reservations since it opened three years ago. Standout menu items include a wide selection of housemade salumi, roasted marrow bone with spinach gnocchetti, pizza with housemade spicy ‘nduja and black cabbage, and spaghetti with lobster and sea urchin.
Photo courtesy of Carnevino
Powerhouse restaurant duo Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich + steak + Vegas = greatness. CarneVino, their temple to all things beef in The Palazzo Hotel & Casino, pulls out all the stops, aging their beef for 30 to 60 days, and these steaks can compete with any other offering, anywhere.
Photo courtesy of Vincenti Ristorante
Maureen Vincenti’s Brentwood eatery is an old-fashioned Italian classic. This mature (in all the best possible ways) dining room is hitting all the right notes: Accented servers work with flawless proficiency, Maureen herself works the room like a pro, the pleasant light wood and elegant ambiance is relaxing but neither uptight nor sleep-inducing, and through the glass partition is the reassuring sight of chef Nicola Mastronardi, who’s turning out nothing but stellar food. The menu is comforting and classic, with pastas including house-made fusilli with Sonoma lamb ragu and squid ink risotto with lobster and asparagus; wood-burning-oven entrées include their legendary whole roasted Dover sole, sliced New York steak with herb raviolo, and house-made pork sausage with Brussels sprouts and roasted potatoes; and on Monday their thin-crust pizzas are some of the best around.
Photo courtesy of Nostrana
Nostrana is often cited as serving one of Portland’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 salumi finocchiona, tomato, provolone, mozzarella, oregano, honey), alla fiamma (tomato, red onion, Mama Lil’s peppers, wild oregano, spicy oil, and black olives), 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 includes mushroom and vermouth soup and steamboat oysters with limoncello vinaigrette. Pastas like blue prawn ravioli and wood oven-roasted cannelloni Bolognese, and mains like the 40-day dry-aged bistecca alla Fiorentina and grappa-braised pork shoulder are going to make it very difficult to decide what to order.
Dan Tana’s Restaurant / Facebook
With menu items like “penne arabiata a la Michael Kane” (the Canadian actor, not the British one), “fettucini Alfredo a la Mark Singer,” “cannelloni a la Constantino,” “steamed clams a la Rob Lee,” and “Tana salad a la Nicky Hilton,” you kind of get an idea of the scene at the 52 year-old Dan Tana’s, Los Angeles’ old-school, red sauce institution. This West Hollywood joint owned by Yugoslav-American restaurateur and former professional footballer Dan Tana may not be as exclusive, but this is Hollywood’s version of New York’s Rao’s, another restaurant known more for lore than linguini. And that’s OK, because even as the upscale Italian-American food movement continues to cross the country, there’s something special about treasures like this. Step out of the bright lights of Hollywood and sit down at a table or corner booth in the dimly-lit, seemingly-windowless, red-walled dining room, take a look around for Nicky and Michael, and enjoy the ride. Just keep in mind you’re more likely to see bad comb-overs than big celebrities.
Yelp / Rachel O
The more casual, trattoria-like offshoot of Vetri, Osteria is a big, lively place where the pizzas are terrific (try the octopus and smoked mozzarella) and the cooking is homey but first-rate, with items like mafaldine with beef and porcini ragu to spit-toasted duck with pomegranate and treviso. Homey and inviting, since opening in 2007 it’s racked up countless accolades, including a 2007 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic for its chef, Jeff Michaud.
Il Posto / Facebook
Il Posto means, “The Place” in Italian, and chef and owner Andrea Frizzi has largely backed up his contention that his breezy spot in City Park West is hot ― it’s routinely mentioned as one of the city’s best Italian restaurants for years now. Frizzi, originally from Milan, imports many Italian ingredients, incorporating them into a seasonal menu that changes on the chalkboard each day — “Cooking in the present,” he calls it. “It can be a rainy day, sunny and dry, or windy, or snowing — we as people react differently with the weather, so too with food.” Ah, Italians… poetry. And he may be right, but most don’t react differently to Frizzi’s food, especially his risotto, so don’t miss it.
Photo courtesy of Scampo
James Beard Award-winning chef and Daily Meal Council member Lydia Shire is one of Boston’s legendary chefs, and her restaurant, Scampo, is one of the best Italianish restaurants you’ll ever dine at. While Italian at heart, Shire isn’t afraid to incorporate a tandoori oven or Spanish ibèrico ham into the mix, and the menu is fun and playful. Handmade breads come in seven varieties. There’s a full "mozzarella bar" five different seasonal fresh mozzarella-based dishes (just opt for the mozzarella tasting, you know you want to). Spaghetti comes topped with cracklings and hot pepper and pizza is topped with white clam and bacon, among other things. Entrées include brick chicken with black garlic purée and Meyer lemon risotto, cotechino sausage ravioli with truffle foam and purple kale, and braised short rib with whipped celeriac. It’s one of those menus where literally everything looks delicious… but we’ll be waiting for Friday night, when the special is roast suckling pig.
Yelp / Mark F
Usually when you talk about the warmth and hospitality of a restaurant, you’re talking about the service, a smile from a waiter, the right thing said at the right time with the perfect lilting tone, and obviously how the food tastes and makes you feel. And you get all of that at Bistro don Giovanni in Napa Valley. At Bistro don Giovanni, there is also the physical warmth of fireside dining — there are two traditional wood-burning fireplaces, one in the enclosed terrace and one in the main dining room. But the heart of the restaurant, the true warmth emanating from Bistro don Giovanni, which has been delighting visitors for 20 years, has always come from co-owners Donna and Giovanni Scala. Donna’s tragic death of a brain tumor in 2014 leaves a void (she ran the kitchen, he runs the front of house), but her spirit lives on at the restaurant. The menu features simple pizzas and pastas, sustainably-farmed local fruits, vegetables, and organic meats.
"There’s no mystery to my pizza," Bronx native Chris Bianco was quoted as saying in The New York Times. "Sicilian oregano, organic flour, San Marzano tomatoes, purified water, mozzarella I learned to make at Mike's Deli in the Bronx, sea salt, fresh yeast cake, and a little bit of yesterday's dough. In the end great pizza, like anything else, is all about balance. It's that simple.''
Try telling that to the legions of pizza pilgrims who have made trip to the storied Phoenix pizza spot he opened more than 25 years ago. The restaurant serves not only addictive thin-crust pizzas but also fantastic antipasto (involving wood-oven-roasted vegetables), perfect salads, and homemade country bread. The wait, once routinely noted as one of the longest for food in the country, has been improved by Pizzeria Bianco opening for lunch, and the opening of a second location in the historic Town & Country Shopping Center (about 10 minutes from the original). There’s also a third location now open in Tucson. This is another case where any pie will likely be better than most you’ve had in your life (try the Rosa with red onions and pistachios!), but the signature Marinara will recalibrate your pizza baseline forever: tomato sauce, oregano, and garlic (no cheese).
With acclaimed chef Paul Bertolli at the helm, Oliveto was considered by many to be the best Italian restaurant in the United States for many years before he left to start Fra Mani in 2005 and the restaurant began to coast on its reputation. But all that changed in 2010, when Jonah Rhodehamel took over. The menu he introduced was vibrant and soulful, and since then Oliveto has returned to be a major player in the scene. The menu changes daily, but always features unexpected local fare like pan-roasted Monterrey Bay sardines (with fregola) and Santa Barbara sea urchin (with spaghetti in tomato sauce), and purveyors are always listed on the menu. At Oliveto you’ll try dishes and flavor combinations that you’ve never experienced before that are at once familiar and completely unique, and you’ll be very glad that you did.
Delfina Restaurant / Facebook
Owners Craig and Anne Stoll helped usher in a new era for the Mission district when they opened the groundbreaking Delfina in 1998, and while the four pizza-focused offshoots may garner (slightly) more attention at the moment, the original remains as legendary as ever. Fresh pastas, including chicken agnolotti with lemon-chive burro fuso, pappardelle with Liberty duck sugo, and spaghetti with a simple tomato sauce are the claim to fame, but other dishes including grilled Monterey Bay calamari and roasted chicken with king trumpet mushrooms and olive oil mashed potatoes are exemplars of Northern California cuisine.
Café Juanita / Facebook
Located in a mid-century house near the Juanita Beach Park in Kirkland, chef-owner and 2008 Best Chef: Northwest James Beard award-winner Holly Smith’s neighborhood spot Cafe Juanita focuses on Northern Italian cuisine. The menu changes frequently, “but always includes an eclectic mix of meats and seafood, illustrating the commitment to fresh, bold dishes that most often utilize organic products.” Sweetbread ravioli with Madeira, rabbit with pancetta and porcini, risotto al Barolo, and Ligurian silk handkerchief with sun choke and egg yolk are just some of the delicious items you’ll find on menu at this 30-seat restaurant that, from the outside at least, more resembles someone’s home.
Yelp / Peter D
With all the development and gentrification along the L line in Brooklyn that has happened since Roberta’s opened in January 2008, the great Brooklyn vs. Manhattan restaurant debate seems quaint, and it’s almost difficult to remember there was a time when this great joint was considered a trek.
OK, so Bushwick may not be on the average New Yorker’s rotation, but if not part of the city’s pizza old guard, Roberta’s is without question a member of New York’s pizza icons, one that has inspired other great pizzerias.
The appellations of Carlo Mirarchi’s pizzas have ranged from echoing schoolyard slang to literary references and clever puns. No matter whether you choose the Cheesus Christ (mozzarella, Taleggio, Parmigiano-Reggiano, black pepper, and cream), the Scrivener (buttery Melville cheese — Herman Melville, after all, wrote "Bartleby, the Scrivener" — along with chevrotin, spinach, double garlic, and Calabrian chiles), the classic Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, and basil), or the Famous Original (tomato, mozzarella, caciocavallo, oregano, and chiles), you’re guaranteed a chewy cornicione and an exemplary neo-Neapolitan pie.
Yelp / Jon L
If you’re from a certain part of Northern New Jersey, there’s about a 100 percent chance that you’ve heard of Spirito’s, and an equally good chance that you’ve been there. Owned and operated by the Spirito family since it opened in 1932, the dim, wood-paneled Spirito’s is a restaurant where time — and the menu — stands still. Crowds gather nightly for three equally legendary menu items: ethereally light homemade ravioli, swimming in marinara; veal parm that’s so big it doesn’t fit on the plate it’s served on; and, of course, the pizza. A thin, crisp crust, an oregano-heavy sauce, and just the right amount of cheese make this pizza one that mercifully won’t fill you up after a slice or two, even if you top it with sausage and pepperoni (which you should do). That’s a good thing, because you’re going to want some ravioli, too. And that veal Parm. A couple of things to know before going: It’s cash-only, and you have to bring your own butter for the bread. Why? Because that’s the way it is.
Cotogna / Facebook
Chef Michael Tusk’s Quince offers a refined, modern Italian and French-inspired menu. But Quince’s adjoining Jackson Square sister restaurant Cotogna just shows another great side of the same chef, something mirrored in the spot’s name. Cotogna, which means “quince” in Italian, is a casual spot that harbors a more rustic menu featuring spit-roasted and grilled fish and meats, homemade pastas, and wood-oven pizzas that change daily. Don’t miss pastas like strozapretti cacao e pepe, foie gras tortelli, and perhaps most important, the raviolo di ricotta with fresh farm egg and brown butter. Notable also are the Sunday Suppers, a four-course menu that changes every week (with special menus for holidays).
Domenica / Facebook
In the casual and elegant high-ceilinged dining Domenica, located in New Orleans’ Roosevelt Hotel (home of the original Sazerac), James Beard Award-winning chef Alon Shaya (who has a a stunner of his own) is serving eight pizzas, including the Calabrese (tomato, spicy salami, mozzarella, capers, olives), Smoked Pork (smoked pork shoulder, mozzarella, red onion, Anaheim peppers, salsa verde), and Tutto Carne (salami, bacon, fennel sausage, pork shoulder, yard egg). There’s also a wide variety of house-cured meats, pastas including stracci with oxtail and fried chicken livers, and entrées that include a whole roasted Gulf fish with tomatoes, olives, chile, and garlic. Make sure you save room for desserts like banana cake with bananas, crema cotta mousse, and peanut brittle.
Wynn Las Vegas / Facebook
When Paul Bartolotta’s excellent and beloved seafood palace Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare abruptly closed its doors two years ago, only to reopen the next day with a new name (Costa di Mare) and a new chef (Michael Mina alum Mark LoRusso) at the helm, customers had a right to be apprehensive. Thankfully, they had nothing to worry about. Forty varieties of fresh fish are still flown in daily from Italian coastal waters and served whole, live langoustines in four sizes are still a menu centerpiece (ranging in price from $30-$45 apiece), fresh pastas are still stunningly delicious (try the oven baked spaghetti with shrimp, spiny lobster, clams, mussels, scallops, and flying squid), the menu still changes daily based on what comes in, and prices are still astronomical. It’s a bit strange to think that what’s quite possibly the best seafood restaurant in the country is located in the middle of the dessert, but hey, that’s Vegas for you.
Husband-and-wife owner-chefs George Germon and Johanne Killeen received the Insegna del Ristorante Italiano from the Italian government, a rare honor for Americans, attributable to their informed passion for pasta along with their invention of the grilled pizza. They also, though, aim the culinary spotlight on Rhode Island's defining vegetables — corn, squash, beans, and tomatoes — prepared simply, with the authentic Italian panache one would expect of multiple James Beard honorees. Sadly, George passed away two years ago, but his flagship invention, grilled pizza, is still influencing chefs around the world, and Al Forno still serves the definitive version.
Al di la’ trattoria Brooklyn / Facebook
When chef Anna Klinger and husband Emiliano Coppa opened the Venetian-inspired Al di Là on Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue in 1998, it was located on a sleepy thoroughfare perhaps best known for its wide variety of bodegas, and most Manhattanites wouldn’t have even considered heading out to Brooklyn for a meal. But by the time then-New York Times critic Frank Bruni got around to giving the trattoria two stars in 2006, it was widely regarded to be the neighborhood’s best restaurant, packing in crowds every night and anchoring a burgeoning restaurant row on the now-thriving avenue. Klinger’s moderately priced menu of home-style antipasti, pastas, and braised and grilled meats rarely changes despite plenty of nightly specials, and that’s for a good reason: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Photo courtesy of Marea
When it opened, Marea was immediately acclaimed as one of the most original and consistently wonderful upscale Manhattan restaurants in recent memory. This very handsome establishment on Central Park South, in a sunny dining room that long housed San Domenico, specializes in exquisitely fresh fish and shellfish in Italian-inspired preparations by skilled chef and restaurateur Michael White. Try the crostini with lardo and sea urchin, which caused waves of buzz at the time and has since become one of the city’s "checklist" dishes, or the fusilli with octopus and bone marrow.
For almost 20 years, Il Buco has been one of New York’s most appealing Italian restaurants, serving unpretentious, savory food based on first-rate American and Italian ingredients. In late 2011, the proprietors opened this more casual sister restaurant — a loose translation of Alimentari & Vineria is "food shop and wine bar" — and it's so lively, with such vivid, hearty food, that it has all but overshadowed the original. Chef Josh DeChellis took over as executive chef late last year, and he’s serving a menu of hearty and comforting dishes including Calabrian pork sausage with broccoli rabe and braised rabbit, pork cheek with beluga lentils and giardiniera, ricotta gnudi with hazelnuts and parsley, salt-baked whole branzino, and porchetta with dried cherry mostarda. The bread basket may cost two whole dollars per person, but it’s a steal.
Decades before the likes of Mario Batali and Michael White reimagined fine Italian dining, Tony Mantuano taught Chicagoans how to enjoy refined Italian fare at Spiaggia (“beach” in Italian). Mantuano has won countless accolades, including the 2005 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Midwest, and was named Best Italian Restaurant in Chicago by The Daily Meal. Reopening after a redesign in 2014 (its first since 1999), the restaurant added 50 percent more seats with views, a new lounge, and a floor-to-ceiling glass-enclosed, temperature-controlled wine room showcasing 1,700 of Spiaggia’s nearly 5,000 bottles. The new restaurant menu follows the traditional Italian courses of antipasto, pasta, secondi, and dessert, but with almost entirely new dishes. One thing that hasn’t changed is Spiaggia’s ability to delight diners. Much of that can be credited to Mantuano and chef de cuisine Joe Flamm, who serves mouthwatering fare like duck tortellini with cherry, pistachio, and Parmigiano Reggiano; dry-aged bistecca alla fiorentina with truffle hollandaise, turnip, and onion jam; and their famed gnocchi with black truffle, ricotta, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. A five- or six-course tasting menu is also available, for $105 and $165, respectively.
Yelp / Wendy K
Menus wider than your chest. The tile floor from The Godfather. Waiters... er, "captains" hired for pure theater. A vision for the upscaling of all of New York's greatest Italian-American restaurants and a devotion to centralizing their cultures and atmospheric conventions. Carbone is a restaurant that New York, with all its storied tradition of great Italian culture (think Mamma Leone, Il Mulino, and Don Pepe), has been waiting for for decades. It just didn't know it.
At this joint venture between chefs Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone and their partner, Jeff Zalaznick, pastas thrill. Consider the linguine vongole, the spaghetti puttanesca, and one of the best renditions of rigatoni vodka you’ll ever have (spicy, too!). The lobster fra diavolo, pork chop and peppers, and cherry pepper ribs are all fun. You have to appreciate a place that takes seriously the idea of upscaling Italian-American classics like chicken scarpariello and veal parm. And there are nice touches to end the meal: a modern art carrot cake and homemade limoncello, for example. But be forewarned: This place is expensive.
Yelp / Eli G
Chi Spacca (“he who cleaves” — in other words, "cleaver" — in Italian) has been called a “meat speakeasy” with good reason. At this Silverton-Batali-Bastianich restaurant, accompaniments like warm salted medjool dates and smoked burrata with roasted parsnips are just sideshows for the rest of this meat-centric menu. Chef Ryan Denicola’s menu highlights a $220 50-ounce prime, dry-aged porterhouse bistecca fiorentina and a 36-ounce, $150 prime, dry-aged bone-in New York costata alla fiorentina. And according to the Los Angeles Times’ restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, the only reason why there isn’t an 80-ounce steak on the menu is “because it was pointed out that $350 was probably more than anybody was willing to spend on a piece of meat, no matter how spectacular, and that none of the tables in the restaurant seated enough people to actually finish the thing.” Despite all that, it would be unfair not to note that Chi Spacca isn’t about excess, but meat artistry. You could challenge yourself to discover someone more committed to the nuance and deliberation of charcuterie, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many equals to Chi Spacca’s approach.
Valentino Santa Monica / Facebook
For more than 40 years, Piero Selvaggio's Santa Monica landmark Valentino has set the standard for Italian fine dining in America. He served real Italian pastas and things like radicchio and balsamic vinegar when they were exotic in this country; he absorbed the inspirations of the nuova cucina and modernized his menu without losing touch with the homeland; he survived earthquakes and economic downturns and the onslaught of new, hip places that could have pushed his restaurant into the Boring Old Standby category — but didn't. Today, he is increasingly turning back to Italian regional cooking — especially that of Sicily, where he comes from, and Sardinia, birthplace of chef Nico Chessa. Yes, you can have prosciutto and melon or spaghetti alla carbonara here, and they'll be impeccable, but why not try the crudita di pesce (Italian “suchi” marinated with citrus and colatura di alici, a kind of anchovy syrup), the lasagne della nonna (grandmother's lasagna) with mushroom and duck ragù, or the veal ossobuco with risotto milanese? The wine list is one of the largest and richest in America, and service at this, one of The Daily Meal’s Best Italian Restaurants in America, is perfect.
Photo courtesy of Frasca Food & Wine
In the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, a frasca is a roadside farm restaurant, serving simple regional food. Frasca Food & Wine captures the spirit of these venues, while also championing the vast diversity of Colorado’s unique culinary resources. Owners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson have created a warm and inviting space that can accommodate an impromptu dinner or an evening of fine dining. They offer three unique menus that change daily – a four-course menu for $78 (with dishes also available à la carte); a “Friulano Tradizionale” menu of Friulian regional specialties for $105; and a $50 four-course Monday tasting menu. Just be sure that you don’t miss the frico caldo, a crispy pancake of potatoes, onions, and piave cheese — a Friulian specialty.
Osteria Mozza is a really good restaurant. And no wonder, right? It only represents the teaming up of Nancy Silverton (whose La Brea Bakery changed the game for artisanal bread in America) and New York-based Italian-food moguls Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in a lively LA setting. There’s a mozzarella bar with some dozen options; a menu that includes fantastic (and sometimes unusual) pasta (goat cheese ravioli with "five lilies," meaning five members of the allium family); maltagliati with lamb ragè, olives, and mint; and squid ink chitarra freddi with Dungeness crab, sea urchin, and jalapeños), and main dishes ranging from grilled whole orate wrapped in radicchio with olio nuovo to porcini-rubbed ribeye bistecca.
Quince Restaurant / Facebook
Located in a historic brick and timber building dating back to 1907 in San Francisco’s Jackson Square neighborhood, the recently redesigned Quince is both charming and elegant (there’s a new entrance, private dining rooms, and a chef's counter). Chef and owner Michael Tusk, who won the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Pacific, creates a dining experience rooted in his relationships with a tightly knit network of only the best Northern California food purveyors. Every night, the eight-course seasonal tasting menu ($190) and the 11-course “Quince Menu” ($220) feature vegetable-driven dishes highlighting the season’s produce, including some things grown on the restaurant’s rooftop garden (“first of the season” peas; Marcho Farm veal with Swiss chard, hedgehog mushrooms, and celeriac; and Monterey Bay abalone with green garlic, lardo, and plankton…).Those hoping to sample the food without splashing out on a tasting menu should visit the salon, where they can order à la carte. Now’s as good a time to visit as any – Quince was recently bumped from two Michelin stars to three.
Yelp / Megan S
As Mario Batali continues his reign atop the American culinary landscape, his flagship restaurant, Babbo, remains a New York essential. What can you say about it that hasn't been said? The pasta! That pork chop! Mario Batali is a genius! Well, sure, but the restaurant is a testament to his undying mission of keeping the food as close to Italy as possible. Whatever specialty ingredients aren’t imported from there are made at Babbo “as an Italian might in the Mid-Atlantic/Hudson region.” Although Babbo is nearly 20 years old (it opened in 1998), it’s still difficult to get a table. Not a surprise considering it would essentially be a four-star restaurant if former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni had liked Led Zeppelin a little more. But it’s not utterly impossible, especially if you don’t mind sitting at the bar. Either way, you’re going to want to arrive hungry, because the seven-course pasta menu is not for the faint of heart. Must-order dishes? Considering that the menu has become its own greatest hits list, that’s a tough call. You can explore Italy by land and sea with things like grilled octopus in spicy limoncello vinaigrette or pig foot milanese, but you’ll probably want to make sure you at least try the mint love letters with spicy lamb sausage; black spaghetti with rock shrimp, spicy salami calabrese, and green chiles; and beef cheek ravioli.
Photo courtesy of Vetri
In this little jewel box of a place, now nearly 20 years old, chef Marc Vetri (who sold his restaurant group to Urban Outfitters in 2015 but retains ownership of this place) offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian and Italianate specialties, served only in the form of six-course, $155 tasting menus. Available items are listed under Antipasti, Pasta, Secondi, and Dolce (dessert); chef de cuisine Joe Delago will personalize the menu to your taste. You might end up with, for instance, roasted cauliflower with bagna cauda, lumache with duck ragù, guinea hen with seasonal mushrooms, and chocolate polenta soufflé for dessert. All is served with precision and grace, and there is a wine cellar of more than 2,500 bottles to choose from. Mario Batali has hailed Vetri as "possibly the best Italian restaurant on the East Coast."
Del Posto Ristorante / Facebook
Del Posto is the result of a collaboration between Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich, and Mario Batali. With these three big names banding together, the result may be (as Del Posto's website proclaims) “the ultimate expression of what an Italian restaurant should be.” As a relative newcomer to the fine dining scene, Del Posto opened in 2010 in New York's Meatpacking District, and received a coveted four-star review from The New York Times, the first Italian restaurant to do so in nearly four decades. Executive chef Mark Ladner left in January to launch a quick-serve pasta concept called Pasta Flyer and former chef de cuisine Melissa Rodriguez has taken over (she’s now, amazingly, the first women to helm a New York kitchen that’s received four stars from the Times); she’s in the process of rolling out a new menu, but the restaurant hasn’t skipped a beat.