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. But a new breed of Italian restaurants has emerged onto the scene, and from Michelin-starred temples to classic pizzerias, we've rounded up America's 50 best.
To assemble this ranking, we looked at restaurants that made it to our lists of the 101 Best Restaurants in America as well as the 101 Best Casual Restaurants in America, which we release early every year. The steps we took to build those rankings were as thorough and comprehensive as possible: We recruited a panel of judges that included some of the country’s top food writers, critics, and bloggers to take a survey and vote for the best of the best restaurants from across the country. The final rankings included a significant number of Italian restaurants, and this ranking took those restaurants into account as well as ones included in recent roundups of the best Italian restaurant in every state, the best pasta dish in every state and the best pizza in every state.
All of these restaurants fit a certain criteria: 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. Our ranking runs the gamut from old-school neighborhood joints with decades of history to the fine dining institutions. Read on to learn which Italian restaurants are America's best.
Molly and Tom Broder opened their “pasta bar” in 1994, and the crowds have never let up. Why? Ingredients are sourced from Midwest farms whenever possible and some vegetables are grown in an on-site garden — “but really,” as the website states, “it’s all about the pasta.” Fresh pastas are made in-house and dry pastas are imported from Italy, and nearly 30 pastas and risottos are on the menu. You can’t go wrong with gnocchi with duck cacciatore ragù; quadrucci with roasted chicken, greens, prosciutto di Parma, almonds, asparagus, balsamic vinegar, and mascarpone; tagliarini with prosciutto and truffle cream; or the paccheri with braised short rib, pancetta, red wine, tomato, and gremolata. There’s also a daily risotto that’s usually pretty spectacular, as well as a wide variety of antipasti. The name might fool you into thinking that this is a low-rent buffet, but it’s anything but.
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 ample bodega options, 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.
Yelp / Wendy K
Menus wider than your chest. The tile floor from The Godfather. Waiters... er, "captains" hired for pure theater, bedecked in burgundy Zac Posen tuxedos. 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 venture from Major Food Group (perhaps best-known these days for taking over the famed Four Seasons), 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.
Apizza Scholls serves some of the best pizza in Portland — and, some argue, the best north of San Francisco. But if you want to choose toppings for their 18-inch pies, follow the guidelines: only three ingredients, and no more than two meats per pie.
So choose wisely from a list of toppings that, in addition to classics like anchovies, red onions, garlic, pepperoni, house-made sausage, and basil, includes Olympia Provisionscapocollo, house-cured Canadian bacon, cotto salami, arugula, and pepperoncini. (Yes, you can also top pies with jalapeños, mushrooms, pepperoncini, ricotta, green and black olives, and, sigh, truffle oil.) Just remember: Bacon is not available on custom pies.
If you aren't up to building your own pie, there are 13 classics to choose from with names like Pig & Pineapple, Tartufo2 The Electric Boogaloo, and Sausage & Mama. Among them, you’ll find the signature Apizza Amore: Margherita with capocollo (cured pork shoulder) that has a spicy kick offset by the somewhat sweet mozzarella and balanced sauce.
This beloved local spot in Charleston’s Elliotborough neighborhood is a winner all around. Chef-owner Ken Vedrinski was nominated for the James Beard Award in 2011, and he changes his menu daily based on what he finds at the farmers market and what local fisherman bring to his kitchen door. Pastas are handmade and cheese and salumi are imported from Italy. It’s tough to predict exactly what you’ll find on the menu, but recent standouts include house-made porchetta with arugula, pecorino, and apple mostarda; tagliolini with blue crab, anchovy, lemon, and bread crumbs; local doormat flounder with rye crust, cider, bacon, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts; and veal scallopini Milanese with trumpet mushroom caponata, spicy provolone, and Barolo vinegar. Hungry yet?
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 East Harlem 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.
When Anthony Mangieri shuttered Una Pizza Napoletana and headed west (only to make a triumphant return to New York earlier this year), 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 sprout 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, Malaysia, and Singapore.
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.
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.
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.
Chef Fabio Trabocchi and his upscale Penn Quarter trattoria Fiola have both won too many awards to mention here (including a 2018 Michelin star), 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 beef cheek tortellini with bone marrow agrodolce, black garlic, and brodo; spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino with Santa Barbara abalone, razor clams, and ‘nduja; and Canary Island branzino with prosecco zabaglione, leeks, and oscetra caviar. Can’t decide on what to order? Opt for the tasting menu, which comes with two, three, or four courses and dessert.
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 fetishization 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.
Yelp / Rachel O
The more casual, trattoria-like offshoot of Philly's legeendary 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 2010 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic for its chef, Jeff Michaud.
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.
Domenico DeMarco is a local celebrity, having owned and operated Di Fara since 1964 after coming to America from Caserta, Italy. Dom cooks both New York- and Sicilian-style pizza Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. (and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.) 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 when the underside of the pizza can tend toward overdone, but when he's on, Di Fara can make a very strong case for being America's best pizza. And if you stand at the counter and watch Dom make your pizza by hand, pull it from the ripping hot oven with his bare hands, and snip some fresh basil over it with a pair of scissors, it just might be America’s best pizza experience as well. Dom’s children occasionally step in to make the pies when Dom gets tired, but they’ve been watching him do it for so many years that the pies always turn out exactly the same.
"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 visited the storied Phoenix pizza spot he opened more than 20 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 worst for some of the best food in the country, has been improved by Pizzeria Bianco starting to serve lunch and the opening of an additional Phoenix location (as well as spinoffs Pane Bianco and Bar Bianco). Another location is coming to Los Angeles, making it one of the city’s most hotly-anticipated openings.
Even though Bianco no longer makes every pie the restaurant turns out (a bout of “baker’s lung” nearly killed him), Pizzeria Bianco is now an American classic. This is another case where any pie will likely be better than most you’ve had in your life (that rosa with red onions and pistachios!), but the signature Margherita will recalibrate your pizza baseline forever: tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil.
Chef Paul Kahan made a brilliant move when he chose Erling Wu-Bower to head the kitchen at his Italian seafood-focused Nico Osteria, which opened in late 2013 in Chicago’s Gold Coast. The restaurant racked up accolade after accolade as Wu-Bower’s star grew, and in mid-2017 he departed to open the California-inspired Pacific Standard Time nearby (it’s also been a huge hit). Back at Nico, however, chef Bill Montagne has updated and expanded the menu, keeping an eye on fine dining while also allowing for casual guests to simply enjoy a perfect plate of pasta and a glass of wine. Standouts from the locally-focused menu include Monterey Bay sardines with onion-currant agrodolce, pine nuts, and breadcrumbs; grilled fish collar with charred lemon; some of the finest meatballs you’ll find anywhere; stellar cacao e pepe and rigatoni bolognese; and whole salt-crusted branzino with prosecco salsa verde.
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.
Craig and Anne Stoll helped usher in a new era for the Mission district when they opened the groundbreaking Delfina in 1998 (winning the 2008 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Pacific in the process), 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.
Yelp / Peter D
Say Roberta's is in the new class of restaurants that has fanned the flames of the Brooklyn versus Manhattan debate, call it a great pizza joint, recall it as a frontrunner of the city's rooftop garden movement, and mention that Carlo Mirarchi was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine, and you'd still be selling it short. Roberta's is in Bushwick, six stops out of Manhattan on the L train, and it’s one of the city's best restaurants (and its next-door offshoot, Blanca, even serves one of New York’s hardest-to-score tasting menus). In Bushwick! Pizza may not be the only thing at Roberta’s, but its Neapolitan pies are at the high end of the debate about the city's best. As much as the Cheesus Christ (mozzarella, taleggio, Parmigiano-Reggiano, black pepper, and cream) may tempt, the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil) is the one to order if you’re a first-timer.
Few Rhode Island restaurants are as legendary or groundbreaking as Al Forno. 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 in 2015, but his flagship invention, grilled pizza, is still influencing chefs around the world, and Al Forno still serves the definitive version.
Photo courtesy of Vincenti Ristorante
Maureen Vincenti’s 21 year-old 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 bistecca alla Fiorentina and grappa-braised pork shoulder are going to make it very difficult to decide what to order.
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 more than 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.
For nearly 25 years, Il Buco has been one of New York’s most appealing Italian restaurants, serving unpretentious, homestyle fare 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.
Valter Nassi is the natty ever-present proprietor of his eponymous restaurant, and his lineup of Tuscan classics inspired by his mother have kept crowds coming back to his stylish, modern restaurant for years. The homemade fresh pastas are all standouts, but you’ll find the best dish on the menu — and the one that Valter’s most proud of — among the dried pastas. It’s the Rigatoni al Sugo Della Mamma, perfectly-cooked al dente rigatoni with a tomato-based porcini and meat sauce based on his mother’s recipe. Other standouts include fennel-crusted duck breast in cognac and grape sauce; salmon topped with clams, scallops, and baby calamari in tomato sauce; and butterflied pan-fried pork tenderloin with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil.
Vincenzo’s Palermo-born chef Agostino Gabriele has been cooking professionally since 1963, and has been at the helm here since the restaurant opened in 1986. To say he’s learned a thing or two in the past 54 years is an understatement, and he’s turned Vincenzo’s into a venerable Louisville institution and certified standout. His skills are on full display in dishes like risotto with fresh seafood in a spicy red clam sauce; mascarpone ravioli filled with grilled chicken, spinach, and mushrooms; a thick veal chop stuffed with prosciutto and fontina; and made-to-order soufflés.
Razza opened just across the Hudson River from New York in Jersey City in late 2012, and it quietly became renowned locally for its wood-fired pizzas prepared by chef-owner Dan Richer, who was a semifinalist for the James Beard Rising Star Award and is so meticulous about his craft that he was nicknamed “the Jiro of Bread,” after the sushi chef featured in Jiro Dreams of Sushi. But it wasn’t until New York Times critic Pete Wells showed up last year that pizza lovers across the river really took notice. Wells gave it about as glowing a review as possible, even going so far as to deem it “the best pizza in New York.” Not only has Richer perfected his crust — it’s crisp from end to end and its inside is soft with a complex flavor — he’s also meticulous about his toppings, which he sources locally. The mozzarella on his Bufala pie, for example, comes from water buffalo from Jersey’s Sussex County; he had to wait years for the herd to grow large enough to ensure a steady supply of the notoriously difficult-to-perfect cheese. And as for the sauce, Richer told the Times that he waits for the latest vintages of tomatoes from California, New Jersey, and Italy to be canned each January before blind-tasting and grading them all, then blending them like fine wine. When assembled, the pizza is damn near perfect.
Queens-born, Italy-raised chef Michael Pirolo spent time at some of Italy’s finest restaurants and enjoyed a stint as chef de cuisine at the much-loved Scarpetta before branching out on his own with Macchialina in 2012. The menu is primarily composed of antipasti and housemade pasta, and we strongly suggest you try as many of the pastas as possible (especially on Thursdays, when they’re just $10). Other standouts include gnoccho fritto, veal cheek and pork meatballs, and a 21-day dry-aged New York strip.
Sally's Apizza is a New Haven classic, operating from the same location in Wooster Square where Sal Consiglio and his wife Flo opened it in the late 1930s. Today it’s run by their sons, Richard and Robert, and their pizza is a traditional thin crust, topped with tomato sauce, garlic, and "mozz." The pies look pretty similar to what you'll find down the street at Frank Pepe, which, as any New Haven pizza believer will note, is because the man who opened Sally's is the nephew of the owner of Pepe. The folks at Sally's will be the first to tell you that Pepe makes a better clam pie, but as for their tomato pie (tomato sauce, no cheese)… well, Sally’s has the original beat.
Over the past 30-odd years, chef Frank Stitt has been credited for significantly raising the bar in Alabama’s culinary scene. As if the success of his restaurant Highlands Bar and Grill and the roster of culinary talents who have launched their own successful careers after spending time in his kitchen weren’t impressive enough, he’s now doing the same thing for the state’s pizza scene. While devoted regulars may have trouble steering themselves away from Stitt’s classic dishes at Café Bottega like the seared beef carpaccio, Niçoise salad, and chicken scaloppini, they’ll find themselves particularly rewarded by any of the eight pizzas on the menu. There’s a white pie with fennel sausage, a grilled chicken and pesto combination, and even a pizza with okra and corn. But the signature pie that the restaurant pointed to as the biggest crowd-pleaser is the “Farm Egg,” topped with mushrooms, guanciale, Taleggio, and porcini oil.
Arancino di Mare/Yelp
Located in the Waikiki Beach Marriott, Hawaii’s best Italian restaurant is renowned for its impressive pasta dishes and super-fresh local seafood. Standouts include elegantly plated scallop carpaccio topped with sea asparagus, tobiko caviar, and red onions; insalata frutti di mare with shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels, and local greens and tomatoes; spaghetti with fresh uni in a garlic wine cream sauce; spaghetti tossed with a simple sauce of garlic, white wine, and olive oil and topped with a bounty of calamari, clams, mussels, and shrimp scampi; and a 32-ounce bistecca alla fiorentina.
When it opened in 2009, 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 or the now-iconic fusilli with octopus and bone marrow, both of which caused waves of buzz at the time and have since become two of the city’s "checklist" dishes.
In the casual and elegant high-ceilinged dining Domenica, located in New Orleans’ Roosevelt Hotel (home of the original Sazerac), chef Michael Wilson is serving eight pizzas, including the Calabrese (tomato, spicy salami, mozzarella, capers, olives), Roasted Pork (roast pork, mozzarella, red onion, Anaheim peppers, salsa verde), and Tutto Carne (salami, bacon, and fennel sausage). There’s also a wide variety of house-cured meats, pastas including ceppo with slow-cooked rabbit and porcini mushrooms, and entrées that include redfish with mushrooms, olives, and charred herb vinaigrette. Make sure you save room for desserts like banana cake trifle, peach cake, and chocolate hazelnut pudding.
When Paul Bartolotta’s excellent and beloved seafood palace Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare abruptly closed its doors in 2015, 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.
Chef Michael Tusk’s Quince offers a refined, modern Italian and French-inspired menu. But its 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).
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 — whose "clam pie" has taken first place in The Daily Meal's ranking of The 101 Best Pizzas in America nearly every year. Frank Pepe opened his doors in New Haven, Connecticut’s Wooster Square in 1925, offering classic Neapolitan-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. Since its inception, Pepe’s has opened an additional 9 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.
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.
Renowned chef Paul Bartolotta’s flagship Italian restaurant is located on the outskirts of Milwaukee, and it’s been drawing guests from downtown for more than 20 years. A must-order is the Uovo in Ravioli (a single large raviolo encasing ricotta, spinach, and a whole runny egg yolk). Other standouts include hand-cut pappardelle with slow-braised duck ragù, a half chicken roasted under a brick, an assortment of grilled seafood, an oak-fired filet of beef with pureed potatoes and Umbrian black truffle sauce, and whatever happens to be on the chef’s three-course seasonal menu that day.
Yelp / Eli G
Chef Nancy Silverton's Chi Spacca (“he who cleaves” — in other words, "cleaver" — in Italian) is, as the name might imply, a temple to meat. At this restaurant, appetizers like roasted squash blossoms with ricotta and tomato vinaigrette, rabbit terrine, and salumi platters are preludes to big, meat-heavy entrees like porcini-rubbed short ribs with salsa verde, roasted lamb rack with black garlic and Dijon, and beef and bone marrow pie. The 36-ounce dry-aged bone-in costata alla fiorentina is one of the country's best (and most expensive, at $190), and the tomahawk porkchop is also a force to be recoked with.
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. 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 is perfect. If you want to dine there, however, you better do it quick: Selvaggio recently announced that the restaurant will be closing at the end of the year.
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.
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 $85 (with dishes also available à la carte); a “Friulano Tradizionale” menu of Friulian regional specialties for $115; and a $55 four-course Monday tasting menu.
Yelp / Megan S
Critics, philosophers, and pop-culture columnists have long argued, some more articulately than others, about whether we can separate the art from the artist. Can we appreciate the skills of a Roman Polanski, a Floyd Mayweather Jr., knowing what we do about how they've treated their fellow man and (especially) woman? How about a Mario Batali? Batali has indisputably influenced the American culinary landscape, through his restaurants, cookbooks, and TV shows, as well as his and his partners' multi-unit Italian market Eataly. Do the accusations made against him (which Batali doesn't seem to have refuted) suggest — or demand — that we shouldn't patronize businesses with which he is or was associated? That's a decision each of us has to make personally (presumably bearing in mind that a complex commercial empire like Batali's employs a great many people who are likely innocent of misbehavior but who would be affected by a Batali boycott).
On the basis of present evidence, not many diners feel the need to avoid Batali's flagship, Babbo. Although it turns 20 this year, it’s still difficult to get a table there — even after damaging revelations about its creator. The art, in this case as in so many others, seems to transcend the artist. 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.
Located in an old industrial warehouse in the Arts District of downtown LA, 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 LA’s toughest reservations since it opened in 2012. 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.
Located in a historic brick and timber building dating back to 1907 in San Francisco’s Jackson Square neighborhood, Quince is both charming and elegant. 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 ten-course, $275 seasonal tasting menu features 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…).If you're looking to spend a little less, you can take a seat in the salon, where an abbreviated tasting menu is available for $180 (along with a variety of a la carte caviar-based dishes). Now’s as good a time to visit as any; Last year, the restaurant was bumped from two Michelin stars to three.
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. 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 (and Top Chef champion) 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 eight-course tasting menu is also available, for $95 and $145, respectively.
Photo courtesy of Vetri
In this little jewel box of a place, now 20 years old, chef Marc Vetri offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian and Italianate specialties, including house-milled pastas made with sustainably-grown grain, served only in the form of multi-course tasting menus. Available items are listed under Antipasti, Pasta, Secondi, and Dolce (dessert); and chef de cuisine Matt Buehler's menu changes daily. But 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.
B&B Hospitality’s Osteria Mozza, helmed by La Brea Bakery founder Nancy Silverton and restaurateur Joe Bastianich, is a really good LA restaurant. 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 ragu, olives, and mint; and squid ink chitarra freddi with Dungeness crab, sea urchin, and jalapeños), and main dishes ranging from pan-seared ribeye cap with potato and brodo di Parmigiano to deep-fried whole branzino with eggplant and pickled Fresno chiles.
Del Posto is the result of a collaboration between Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich, and (formerly) Mario Batali. With these three big names banding together (even though Batali has stepped away from his restaurant group), 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 2016 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); her menu includes lobster caponata with fried artichokes; orecchiette with rabbit sausage, turnips, and Castelvetrano olive passato; Moorish spiced crispy lamb neck with labneh; and pork ribollita with bacon and onion marlellata and Parmigiano-Reggiano. It's easily one of the top fine-dining restaurants in America.
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