Whether tucked into a crusty Italian loaf, resting atop a mound of spaghetti, or served on their own with a ladle of marinara sauce, there are few dishes more comforting than those that include meatballs. And we’ve tracked down the restaurants that serve the 18 best meatballs in America.
Charlie Gitto’s is a St. Louis institution, arguably its most famous Italian restaurant. Sure, it may be touristy, but that doesn’t mean the food isn’t good; in fact, locals will tell you that there’s no better place for a big platter of Italian-American classics, especially spaghetti and meatballs. Meatballs are perfectly sized and long-simmered until tender, and they’re nestled in a bed of al dente spaghetti and topped with house-made Bolognese and a healthy dose of shredded mozzarella before being finished in the oven.
Yelp/ Mike C.
This mom and pop meatball shop has been featured on shows including Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and serves some killer meatballs as well as arguably the best Philly cheesesteaks in Salt Lake City. Philly native Joanna Rendi prepares her meatballs with a base of ground beef and both hot and sweet Italian pork sausage mixed with eggs, chopped garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs, and (secret ingredient alert) oatmeal. These giant meatballs are then baked, sliced in half, and simmered in fresh-made marinara sauce all day long. As Fieri might say, “Winner, winner, meatball dinner!”
This Baltimore landmark is half-deli, half-grocery, and there are lines out the door on a daily basis for a very good reason: everything served here is astoundingly delicious. Seriously, you can drink the marinara sauce straight and be licking your lips. Celebrating 100 years in business, the closely-guarded meatball recipe doesn’t appear to have changed at all since day one. The meatball subs, with meatballs and marinara sauce tucked into a hollowed-out freshly-baked hero roll, are so good that you won’t be able to put it down until every bite is gone, try as you might.
Yelp/ ML V
Hidden in the northeastern corner of New York’s Upper East Side is a tiny little café that’s been open for nearly a century. Run by the same family as the renowned Ottomanelli’s line of butcher shops, the menu is full of Italian-American classics based on old family recipes, as well as burgers, pan pizzas, and ribs that are far better than they have any right to be. Just about every item on the menu is comforting, none moreso than the spaghetti and meatballs. The gigantic meatballs are made with beef from the family butcher shop mixed with plenty of cheese, garlic, and bread crumbs. When nestled atop a heaping bowl of spaghetti and topped with a huge ladle of sauce, it’s as perfect a rendition of this classic pasta dish as you’ll ever see.
Yelp/ Sam L.
The meatballs created by James Beard Award-winning City House chef Tandy Wilson contain just five ingredients: pork shoulder, garlic, parsley, milk, and bread crumbs (made from leftover pizza dough). There’s actually more bread than meat in them, which is traditionally frowned upon but really works here; it makes them melt-in-your-mouth tender, and after they’re baked they’re simmered all day long in a heady tomato sauce. Served with a thick slice of toasted focaccia and a big glug of olive oil, they’re a must-try in Nashville and far from a gut-bomb.
The meatballs at Maroni are legendary, so much so that Bobby Flay himself challenged owner Mike Maroni to a meatball Throwdown, and Maroni won. They’re made with ground beef and baked instead of fried, but the secret to this winning recipe (which is more than 100 years old) are the copious amounts of pecorino Romano and garlic that go into the mixture. The hour they spend braising in fresh tomato sauce doesn’t hurt, either.
Bartolini’s might be most famous for their Annual Meatball Eating Championship and a 10-pound meatball sandwich challenge (with 40 meatballs), but gimmickry aside, these are also some stellar meatballs. Pork and beef are mixed with garlic, Parmesan, eggs, and milk-soaked bread, formed into 2-ounce balls, and baked. If you can’t wait until your next trip to Chicago to try these, they’ll also ship them to you.
The meatballs at Rubirosa are tender, flavorful, and loaded with Parmigiano-Reggiano; they’d even be perfectly complemented by boxed spaghetti and jarred sauce. But at this New York favorite, they’re served with fresh-made spaghetti alla chitarra and tossed with a chunky homemade sauce that sticks to every strand.
Yelp/ Christine L.
This Mission District market is nothing short of a San Francisco institution, and their meatballs are one of their most legendary offerings. Made with beef from local farms mixed with real Parmigiano-Reggiano, onion, garlic, Italian herbs, milk-soaked panko breadcrumbs, and (secret ingredient alert) ketchup, they’re baked, topped with homemade marinara sauce, and served on their own, no roll or spaghetti necessary.
At LAVO, a swanky restaurant/ nightclub with locations in Las Vegas and New York, the meatballs aren’t exactly a good precursor to a night of dancing, but they are absolutely delicious. They start with a full pound of meat (Kobe beef, pork, and veal), mix in traditional add-ons like bread crumbs, garlic, and parsley, brown them in a skillet then bake them for up to an hour while covered in sauce. The resulting softball-sized meatball is falling-apart tender, swimming in a pool of sauce and ricotta, and most importantly, delicious.
At Locanda Verde, chef Andrew Carmellini serves meatballs with a couple unique twists. He uses lamb (which he grinds with onions) instead of beef, pork, or veal, simmers them in tomato sauce, and serves them on small house-baked parmesan-onion buns topped with a dollop of goat cheese and a thinly-sliced pickle coin. They are unique, delicious, and still unmistakably Italian-inspired.
Yelp/ Audrina K.
The Franks (Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo) run a handful of casual Italian restaurants in New York, and the meatballs served at Frankie's 457 Spuntino just might be the best thing on any of their menus. These beef meatballs are made with pine nuts and raisins, baked, and then simmered in their famous Sunday gravy. Served with the sauce in a bowl, a sprinkling of grated pecorino is the only other thing they need.
Yelp/ John K.
How is a salumeria able to get away with serving meatballs based on a recipe devised by the grandmother of none other than Mario Batali? When it’s run by Batali’s father and sister, that’s when. Armandino Batali opened Salumi in 1999 after retiring from a career with Boeing, and today it’s run by his daughter Gina and her husband Brian. You can’t leave without sampling some of their traditionally-produced cured meats (made in-house), but save room for these meatballs made with braised shredded pork necks and preferably stuffed into a hero and topped with marinara, provolone, peppers, and onions.
This popular South End spot is the best place in Boston for meatballs thanks to the care and dedication that chef Evan Deluty puts into every component. The meatballs are loosely formed and nicely browned before finishing in a pot of thick homemade sauce; the spaghetti they're served with is homemade and tender, and it’s topped with a sprinkling of Parmigiano and parsley. And to top it off, the kitchen is open until 1:30 a.m., an hour and a half later than most other restaurants.
Michael Chernow and Daniel Holtzman started the “one restaurant serving one thing” craze with their first location of the Meatball Shop on the Lower East Side, and now locations are opening up all over the city. Meatballs here come in several varieties, but the true litmus test is that Classic Beef meatball, served with the Classic Tomato sauce. Lightened up with some fresh ricotta, their simplicity and traditional approach would make any Italian grandma proud.
Harry’s has an unassuming name, but the chef–owner has a heck of a resume: it’s Michael Schwartz, famous for Miami’s legendary Michael’s Genuine. Schwartz makes his meatballs with ground beef, pork, and veal, mixed with parsley and brioche before being formed into medium-sized balls, pan-fried, and simmered in a no-frills tomato sauce. Delicious on their own in a bowl of sauce and grated Parm, they’re also available as a pizza topping or in a slider.
Yelp/ JohnnyPrimeC C.
The meatballs served at New York’s popular Parm, helmed by the on-fire duo of Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, aren’t exactly balls: they’re flat, in order to better fit inside a sandwich. They’re also still a little pink in the middle, but the comparisons to a burger stop there. A combination of beef, veal, and sweet Italian sausage is mixed with fried onions, celery, carrots, stale bread, milk, grated cheese, and eggs. When topped with melted mozzarella and tomato sauce and tucked into a soft loaf from Parisi Bakery, it’s one of one of the greatest sandwiches you’ll ever eat.
Yelp/ Jane B.
Man, would we love to see a New York Meatball Battle Royale between the Parm and Meatball Shop guys, The Franks, Andrew Carmellini, and The Little Owl’s chef Joey Campanaro. Campanaro definitely gives the other guys a run for their money, using a recipe inspired by his grandmother’s. They’re about as traditional as can be, made with a combination of beef, pork, veal, pecorino Romano, panko bread crumbs, and parsley, pan-fried and simmered in a fennel- and garlic-speckled tomato sauce. The golf ball-sized balls are served in a homemade roasted garlic bun topped with sauce, basil, and more pecorino. If you fall in love with these, you won’t be the first; they sell more than 1,000 per week! Meatball heaven.