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Where to sample the best Italian food this side of the Atlantic, whether you’re craving pizza or a chef’s tasting menu starring prosciutto and truffles.
L'Amante, Burlington, VT
Best Italian Restaurants in the U.S.
L'Amante, Burlington, VT
Husband-and-wife team Kathi and Kevin Cleary opened L’Amante a block from the Lake Champlain Waterfront with an everything-old-is-new-again Italian idea: that they try to make as much as possible by hand, pastas, gnocchi, sauces, bread, desserts, you name it. And whether you’re sitting in the bright, open dining room with white tablecloths, or on the clean wood banquette, you reap the benefits of the philosophy they’ve fine-tuned during their more than 40 combined years of culinary experience in the States and in Italy. Squash blossom fritters stuffed with Taleggio and drizzled with local honey is one of L’Amante’s greatest hits, but chef Kevin Cleary’s favorite dish to cook is the potato-crusted sea bass with sautéed greens and citrus beurre blanc.
“There are two kinds of people in the world,” chef Mario Batali said recently at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, CO, “those who are Italian, and those who wish they were Italian.”
No wonder: Italian restaurants across America are raising the bar. Think of all the Neapolitan pizzerias opened in the past decade, the focus on handmade pastas and authentic ingredients, and hip concepts like Torrisi Italian Specialties, which put New York’s Little Italy back on the serious foodie’s map. Consider the success of Batali himself: his Del Posto is the first four-star Italian restaurant in New York since 1974, and his emporium Eataly teems with both locals and tourists.
Just when you think Italian can’t get any hotter, it does. So what are America’s best Italian restaurants? And should four-star restaurants be considered alongside exemplary pizzerias like Frank Pepe in New Haven, CT, and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix? Heck, yes. For an Italian restaurant to be considered truly great, it should do what it does best.
At Trattoria Lucca, which opened in Charleston, SC, in 2008, that means dishes that showcase fresh local seafood, from the crudo of grouper to homemade ricotta cavatelli with flounder in a shellfish broth. For a truly special treat, time your visit to the Monday evening family supper, a communal seating during which chef Ken Vedrinski serves a four-course prix fixe menu for $38.
While there’s a charm to old-school places like Bamonte’s in Brooklyn, we skewed to innovative recent arrivals like Trattoria Lucca and to longtime restaurants that have upped their game beyond the red-sauce standards, such as Chicago’s romantic Spiaggia, overlooking Lake Michigan, and San Francisco’s Acquerello, where the tasting menu includes parmesan budino with piquillo peppers and pickled Italian eggplant.
Some of our favorite Italian restaurants made their reputations on outstanding wine lists. Others go beyond Tuscan or Roman cuisine to acquaint diners with the pleasures of culinary traditions from, say, Italy’s northeastern Friuli region—the driving influence at Frasca in Boulder, CO, where a visit begins with addictive grissini, pencil-size crispy breadsticks.
What’s certain is that each of these 30 Italian restaurants is a destination worth checking off your list. See how many you’ve tried, and then share your local favorites in the comments below.