Iowa: Baroncini, Iowa City from The Best Italian Restaurant in Every State Gallery
The Best Italian Restaurant in Every State Gallery
The Best Italian Restaurant in Every State
The Italian restaurant in America has changed in style over the past several decades probably more than any other genre of restaurant. Even as recently as 50 years ago, the phrase "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. Every state is home to scores of Italian restaurants — some old-school, some modern, some simple pizzerias — and we’ve tracked down the best one in every state as well as the District of Columbia.
Alabama: Café Bottega, Birmingham
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.
Alaska: Sorrento’s, Anchorage
Going strong for more than 40 years, family-run Sorrento’s is an Anchorage landmark, dishing up solid and dependable Italian fare. The expansive menu doesn’t veer too far outside of the red-sauce comfort zone — popular dishes include fried calamari, fresh cannelloni with meat sauce, homemade meatballs, chicken cacciatore, steaks, and surprisingly solid pizzas — but you’d be hard-pressed to find a clunker in the bunch. Legions of fans have been regular customers at Sorrento’s for decades, and with good reason: It’s consistently delicious, and nothing on the menu will leave you disappointed.
Arizona: Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix
"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, the opening of three additional Phoenix locations, and one that’s 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.
Arkansas: Wood Stone Craft Pizza & Bar, Fayetteville
Wood Stone has been bringing top notch pizza to South Fayetteville’s Mill District since summer 2014. Owners Clayton Suttle and Jerrmy Gawthorp are crafting some unique and high-quality pizzas made with impeccably sourced ingredients (local when possible) and firing them in a custom-built wood-burning oven. Standouts include the Bloomington (caramelized onion and rosemary marmalade, gorgonzola, house-made Italian sausage, and rosemary); Late Harvest (local butternut squash puree, uncured ham, bacon, house-made ricotta, sage, parmesan, roasted Brussels sprouts, and honey gastrique); and the Carolina (smoked local pork, mustard barbecue sauce, asiago cream sauce, roasted red onion, cabbage slaw). Dip the “bones” in your choice of five sauces, and wash it down with a local beer.
California: Quince, San Francisco
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 an Italian dining experience rooted in his relationships with a tightly knit network of only the best Northern California food purveyors. Every night, the 12-course tasting menu ($250) features vegetable-driven dishes highlighting the season’s produce, including some things grown on the restaurant’s rooftop garden. Those hoping to sample the food (and a wide variety of caviar) 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 has been bumped from two Michelin stars to three.
Colorado: Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder
Frasca Food and Wine/Yelp
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. Just be sure that you don’t miss the frico caldo, a crispy pancake of potatoes, onions, and piave cheese — a Friulian specialty.
Connecticut: Frank Pepe, New Haven
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, which we recently rated as America’s best. 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.
Delaware: Mrs. Robino’s, Wilmington
Mrs. Robino’s has been serving classic Italian-American fare for nearly 80 years, and it remains a Wilmington favorite to this day. It got its start in Tersilla Robino’s home kitchen in 1939, when she started serving local Italian immigrants, and it moved into its current building the following year; today it’s run by the fourth generation. Pastas are homemade (try the Tour of Italy, with spaghetti and ravioli topped with meatballs and sausage), and other longtime favorites include greens with garlic, lasagna, cannelloni Florentine, veal and chicken parm, and roast pork with mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe. Homemade soups and thin, crispy pizzas are also popular.
Florida: Macchialina, Miami Beach
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 Scott Conant’s 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.
Georgia: Varasano’s, Atlanta
Bronx-born software engineer Jeff Varasano found a passion for pizza that led him down a saucy, bubbly road to pizza stardom. Atlanta has been the lucky beneficiary. It’s the city where Varasano has made a well-documented six-year stab at recreating his version of the Patsy’s pizza, which he credited with changing his life. The fact that the pizza isn’t quite Patsy’s-esque isn’t a bad thing. There’s a taller cornicione featuring a shard-thin exterior that gives to pliant air pockets and a soft underlying crust. This means more textural variation with each bite.
Varasano's serves two traditional pies: Margherita di Bufala and "Nana's," which is the house special: mozzarella and San Marzano tomato sauce with a “secret blend of herbs” (sweet roasted red peppers are suggested, too). There are 12 specialty pies with a variety of toppings (including interesting ones like Emmenthaler, a pinch of lemon zest, and spiced olives) that come standard, but menu notations suggest extras. Speaking of which, if you want to build your own or add to menu options, there are 17 toppings (including handmade meatballs). They also serve a wide variety of traditional Italian fare, like family-recipe meatballs and Sunday gravy, penne with sausage and arugula, and spectacular fresh-made doughnuts.
Hawaii: Arancino di Mare, Honolulu
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.
Idaho: Guido’s Original New York Style Pizza, Boise
Thanks to Guido’s, there’s a legit New York-style pizzeria in Boise, turning out some spectacular pies. Like all New York slice shops, this one is straight ahead and no-frills. You can get your pizza by the slice or in an 18- or 20-inch pie, and top it with a wide variety of meats and vegetables. Sausage rolls, Stromboli, and fresh baked garlic bread are also on the menu.
Illinois: Spiaggia, Chicago
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 Spiaggia 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.
Indiana: Diavola, Indianapolis
This upscale pizzeria and wine bar has been keeping the locals happy with some spectacular wood-fired pizzas since 2015. Just like in Naples, the pizzas cook in an 800-degree oven and come out bubbling and blistered after 90 seconds. The oven is also turning out some excellent pita bread, as one of the owners is Egyptian. There are 17 different pizza styles on offer, but the best one to sample is the Margherita, with simple tomato sauce, high-quality mozzarella (make it burrata for an extra $2.50), and basil; two different crust styles (original and thin crust) are also available. Other must-trys include house-made polpette, seafood ravioli, and whatever the calzone of the day is.
Iowa: Baroncini, Iowa City
Chef Gianluca Baroncini spent time cooking at some of Verona, Italy’s finest Italian restaurants (including the two-Michelin-starred Il Desco) before opening this Iowa City favorite. He’s committed to turning out spot-on interpretations of Italian classics made with fresh, seasonal, local ingredients, and the star of his menu is his fresh house-made agnolotti filled with a mixture of local beef and Parmigiano-Reggiano, tossed with a traditional brown butter and sage sauce.
Kansas: Albero Café, Wichita
This College Hill standby offers a wide selection of Italian classics and creative specialties like Italian nachos and shrimp dip, and there’s a wide variety of customizable pastas. Chef-owner Hassan Ballout spent 10 years in the kitchens of some of the city’s best Italian restaurants, and when he decided to strike out on his own three years ago he struck gold. Standouts include fried calamari (sliced into strips instead of rings), Tuscan white bean soup, penne al pesto, grilled grouper with lemon herb garlic butter, and Italian lemon cream cake.
Kentucky: Vincenzo’s, Louisville
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.
Louisiana: Domenica, New Orleans
In the casual and elegant high-ceilinged Domenica, located in New Orleans’ Roosevelt Hotel (home of the original Sazerac), they’re 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 zuppa inglese with bananas, crema cotta mousse, and peanut brittle.
Maine: Paciarino, Portland
At this pasta-centric Portland favorite, pastas and sauces are made fresh daily, meat is all-natural and locally sourced when possible, and ingredients are of the highest quality available. All of this translates to some spectacular dishes, including a perfect and simple spaghetti pomodoro, ravioli bolognese, lasagna, and spaghetti aglio e olio. It’s very difficult to make these classic pasta dishes in a way that stands out, and Paciarino hits the nail on the head.
Maryland: La Tavola, Baltimore
Located in the heart of Baltimore’s Little Italy, the elegant La Tavola showcases the cooking of Venice-born chef Carlo Vignotto. His lineup of traditional Italian classics is buttressed by creative uses of fresh local ingredients, and all of Vignotto’s skills are on display with dishes like a light and crispy fritto misto; traditional veal saltimbocca; house-made ravioli topped with cream sauce and sautéed mushrooms; house-made gnocchi; and a legendary lasagna bolognese.
Massachusetts: Scampo, Boston
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" with 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.
Michigan: Bacco, Southfield
Chef and restaurateur Luciano Del Signore’s home base, Bacco, has been drawing crowds for its contemporary high-end Italian cuisine since 2002. High-quality ingredients, prepared simply, result in some truly outstanding dishes. Take the strozzapretti, for example: These long tubes of fresh house-made pasta are tossed with a sauce made with house-made sausage, tomato, cream, and a touch of truffle oil and plated like no other pasta dish you’ve ever seen.
Minnesota: Broders' Pasta Bar, Minneapolis
Molly and Tom Broder opened their “pasta bar” in 1994, and the crowds have never stopped coming. 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.
Mississippi: Stalla, Biloxi
Located inside Biloxi’s Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, Stalla is an unpretentious Italian spot specializing in traditional Italian fare prepared with quality ingredients, served in a beautiful dining room. Florence-born chef Paola Bugli has been with the restaurant since it opened three years ago, and is bringing some serious skill to the kitchen. Carpaccio with Grana Padano, horseradish, lemon aïoli, and arugula; Tuscan shrimp and grits with pancetta and smoked gouda; pizza topped with béchamel, mozzarella, pancetta, cippolinis, roasted peppers, and oysters; handmade seasonal ravioli; Gulf shrimp fra diavolo; and veal cheeks piccata with capers, parsley, and spaghetti are just a handful of the standouts on Bugli’s menu.
Missouri: Trattoria Marcella, St. Louis
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.
Montana: Lucca’s, Helena
Lucca’s is a high-end Helena hotspot that’s been named the best restaurant in Montana by Business Insider. And with good reason: Chef-owner Frederick Stout has created a supremely elegant dining room serving expertly prepared dishes using the freshest ingredients possible. Don’t miss the shrimp fra diavolo: angel hair pasta with big shrimp, fresh grape tomatoes, and spicy cream sauce.
Nebraska: Spezia, Omaha
The charming Spezia, which also has a location in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is a total crowd pleaser. The menu is expansive and offers a wide variety of antipasti, flatbreads, salads, pastas, wood-grilled and oven-roasted specialties, and Angus steaks. Specialties include flatbread with Italian sausage and roasted peppers, a wood-grilled chicken salad with crispy prosciutto and gorgonzola, Scottish salmon and farfalle in a tomato and basil cream sauce, seafood risotto, rack of lamb, wood grilled scallops, and a grilled 14-ounce rib-eye with Burgundy jus and roasted onions.
Nevada: Costa di Mare, Las Vegas
Costa di Mare/Yelp
When Paul Bartolotta’s excellent and beloved seafood palace Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare abruptly closed its doors a few 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.
New Hampshire: Tuscan Kitchen, Salem and Portsmouth
With a menu inspired by owner Joe Faro’s travels to Italy, Tuscan Kitchen is bringing some Tuscan sunshine to the Granite State. There are plenty of authentic Italian dishes on the menu, and the house-made pasta is made with imported “double zero” flour. Lobster is the name of the game in this neck of the woods, and here it’s put to good use in ravioli, sauced with lemon butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
New Jersey: Spirito’s, Elizabeth
If you’re from a certain part of Northern New Jersey, there’s approximately 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 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.
New Mexico: Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza, Albuquerque
Il Vicino has eight locations in the region, and has been going strong in Albuquerque (the original location) since 1992. Pizzas here are baked hot and fast in a wood fired oven, made with fresh, high-quality ingredients, and are inspired by chef Tom White’s trips to Italy. You can build your own pizza using creative ingredients like balsamic onions, green chile, capicola, white anchovies, Portobello mushrooms, and fiery shrimp, or choose from a gourmet selection including Motorino (Alfredo sauce, spinach, artichoke hearts, roasted tomatoes, balsamic onions, and pesto); Prosciutto e Rucola (prosciutto, San Marzano tomato sauce, olive oil, fresh mozzarella, arugula, cherry tomatoes); and Tartufo (truffle mushroom cream, mozzarella, Portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, and chopped parsley). There’s also a wide variety of soups, salads, panini, and oven-baked pasta dishes, including a stellar lasagna bolognese.
New York: Del Posto, New York City
is the result of a collaboration between Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich, and Mario Batali. With these three big names banding together (even though Batali has stepped away from his restaurant group), the result may be () “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 , and , the first Italian restaurant to do so in nearly four decades. Executive chef Mark Ladner left last year to launch 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. A five-course or eight-course tasting menu is available ($164 and $194, respectively), as well as an eight-course vegan tasting menu. The $59 three-course prix fixe is still one of the city’s great high-end lunch deals.
North Carolina: Mama Ricotta’s, Charlotte
Mama’s Ricotta Restaurant/Yelp
This Charlotte institution is a neighborhood favorite that’s renowned locally for its high-quality ingredients, attention to detail, and house-made ingredients. Its New Haven-style pizza is a standout (the one topped with Italian beef, provolone, and giardiniera is a mashup for the ages), but make sure you sample the pasta (especially the penne alla vodka, rigatoni with meat sauce, and family-recipe cheese ravioli) and entrées (including Chianti-braised short rib and old-school chicken parmesan).
North Dakota: Toscana, Fargo
Lucca-born chef Mirco Morganti is bringing a taste of Italy and France to Fargo. At Toscana, he’s turning out show-stopping creations like osso bucco, tournedos Rossini, and noisette of lamb in a curry-chive cream sauce, and needless to say he also knows his way around pasta; standouts in that department include tagliolini granchio (shrimp and crab with tomatoes, garlic, and spinach in a light cream sauce); penne ortolana (penne with wild mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, peppers, and garlic in mushroom ragù); and gnocchi fattore (house-made gnocchi with chicken, garlic, and mushrooms in a tomato gorgonzola sauce.
Ohio: Trentina, Cleveland
Everything chef Jonathon Sawyer touches turns to gold, and that’s certainly true of his three-year-old Trentina, which he runs with his wife Amelia. There’s a nice selection of wood-fired pizzas (try the one with duck confit, whipped taleggio, Ohio corn, caramelized onion and sherry gastrique); pastas including a stunning house-made bucatini della nonna and wood-fired lasagna; and entrées including a local strip steak grilled over hay. Can’t decide? The 12-course, $115 tasting menu is one of the Midwest’s finest.
Oklahoma: Stella, Oklahoma City
This elegant OKC hotspot has been going strong since industry veteran Lori Burson first opened the doors in 2010. You’ll feel at home here whether you’re eating a pizza in shorts or osso bucco for two in your Sunday best, and nearly every table orders a pasta. The one to get is the first pasta on the menu, called simply “Sausage Pasta.” The sausage is homemade, and it’s served with campanelle pasta, mushrooms, red wine sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Oregon: Nostrana, Portland
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.
Pennsylvania: Vetri, Philadelphia
In this little jewel box of a place, now nearly 20 years old, chef Marc Vetri (who but retains ownership of this place) offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian and Italianate specialties, served only in the form of multi-course 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.
Rhode Island: Al Forno, Providence
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 a few years ago, but his flagship invention, grilled pizza, is still influencing chefs around the world, and Al Forno still serves the definitive version.
South Carolina: Trattoria Lucca, Charleston
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?
South Dakota: Boticelli, Rapid City
A warm and inviting family-owned Black Hills destination, the 20-year-old Botticelli was run by Michelle Peregrine for 16 years before she handed the keys to her daughter, 32 year-old chef Aleaha Ghere, earlier this year. The menu has a nice selection of bruschetta (including one that changes seasonally); pastas (including house-made ravioli and pappardelle bolognese); chicken dishes; steaks (including one topped with roasted garlic, gorgonzola, mushrooms, and red wine demi-glace); and, in a nod to the region, bison osso bucco.
Tennessee: Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Memphis
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.
Texas: La Traviata, Austin
A downtown mainstay that’s been pulling in crowds since 2000, La Traviata is turning out a different homemade ravioli every day, and its lineup of pastas is classic and comforting. All the basics are covered here — spaghetti alla carbonara, pasta norma — and they’re all done very, very well; but make sure you try the rigatoni with spicy lamb meatballs, San Francisco-style cioppino, and veal piccata.
Utah: Valter’s Osteria, Salt Lake City
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.
Vermont: Trattoria Delia, Burlington
One of Burlington’s most romantic restaurants, 25-year-old Trattoria Delia occupies a charming basement space and warms the cold night with a fireplace and traditional regional Italian fare. It’s been going strong since 1993, and all pastas are either hand-rolled and cut or made using an Arcobaleno extruder with traditional Italian brass dies. So we definitely suggest you sample some pasta dishes — the chitarra all’Amatriciana (with house-cured guanciale) and tagliatelle al terre e mare (with local scallops and porcini mushrooms) are standouts — but entrées like prosciutto-wrapped Vermont rabbit and slow-braised short rib are also spectacular. Make sure you sample the house-made gelato for dessert.
Virginia: Graffiato, Richmond
Top Chef star Mike Isabella gave Richmonders a real treat a few years when he opened a new location of his popular D.C. Italian spot Graffiato in a former furniture showroom there. The wood-burning oven is the centerpiece, with some amazing pizzas (including a must-order with black truffle, fontina, and soft-cooked egg) emerging from it, as well as seasonal vegetable dishes like carrots with cumin, salsa verde, and hazelnuts. The menu focuses on seasonal small plates, vegetables, pizzas, and pastas, and must-orders include butternut squash agnolotti; short rib ravioli with trumpet mushrooms and ricotta salata; gnocchi with pork ragù and whipped ricotta; prosciutto and apple with mint and pickled Fresno chile; and bone marrow with bacon, lemon, and pistachio. Add in a variety of both classic and creative cocktails, and a trip to Graffiato is destined to be a fun (and tasty) time.
Washington: Café Juanita, Kirkland
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.
Washington, D.C.: Fiola
Chef Fabio Trabocchi and his upscale Penn Quarter trattoria Fiola have both won too many awards to mention here (including a 2017 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.
West Virginia: Fazio’s, Charleston
This Charleston favorite was founded in 1950 by Nell Fazio, and her son, chef Danny Fazio, has been at the helm for more than 35 years. Nell recently passed, and today Danny runs the restaurant with his wife, Marsha. A true family operation, Fazio’s specializes in the red-sauce basics, and they also happen to turn out some mean fried chicken (not exactly Italian, but we’re not complaining). But if you want to get a real sense of what’s kept the place in operation for so long, just order the spaghetti and meatballs; al dente spaghetti is topped with luscious tomato sauce and hearty meatballs, both from old family recipes. You also can’t go wrong with house-made Italian sausage, fried ravioli, stuffed eggplant, baked lasagna, or the 12-ounce New York strip.
Wisconsin: Ristorante Bartolotta, Wauwatosa
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, and whatever is on the chef’s three-course seasonal menu.
Wyoming: Bella Fuoco Wood Fired Pizza, Cheyenne
Bella Fuoco Wood Fired Pizza/Yelp
Bella Fuoco started as a food truck back in 2012, and two years ago owners John and Maria Kopper turned it into their dream restaurant in a historic Downtown Charleston house. Today, they’re making fresh dough daily and turning out some astounding pizzas and breads in their old-school wood-fired oven. Try the weekly rotating chef’s special, design your own from 26 topping options, or try one of theirs, like the Veggie Galore, a red or white pie topped with onions, peppers, zucchini, olives, spinach, and mozzarella. There’s also a pleasing selection of appetizers, soups, salads, and a must-order weekly pasta special.
Just like every state has a great Italian restaurant, every state has a great Chinese restaurant as well. Check out the best Chinese restaurant in every state!