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.
So what were our classifications for an "Italian restaurant," exactly? A prevalence of Italian or Italian-inspired dishes on the menu, of course. A great Italian restaurant has many of the same standards that make any restaurant great: impeccable, un-snooty service; high-quality food sourced from the finest purveyors; creative-yet-classic preparation and craftsmanship; and an overall experience that leaves you happy and content in the fact that you just ate a world-class meal. But these aren’t all fine-dining institutions; in fact, most of them are casual and inexpensive. In some states, the best Italian restaurant is a simple pizza joint.
To assemble this ranking, we looked at restaurants that made it to our list of the 101 Best Restaurants in America, which we release early every year, as well as other rankings like America’s 50 Best Italian Restaurants, the 101 Best Pizzas in America, the Best Pizza in Every State, and the Best Pasta Dish in Every State. From there, we consulted rankings and reviews from local publications across the country, scanned menus and ratings sites, and kept our eyes open for restaurants that have amassed huge local followings for their cooking. In the interest of fairness, we didn't consider big chains; you can find that ranking here. If you live near any of these restaurants (and you very well might), we suggest you make dining there a priority.