Best Italian Restaurants in the U.S.
“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.
Trattoria Lucca, Charleston, SC
In downtown Charleston’s Elliotborough, Ken Vedrinski celebrates family-style dining, paying tribute to his grandmother who grew up in the Abruzzo region. There are imported cheese and salumi, and hand-rolled pastas, but Vedrinski is perhaps best known locally for his commitment to farm-to-table produce and fresh seafood from the waters surrounding Charleston. So you can’t go wrong ordering any of the crudos the chef has put on the menu. Or put your meal entirely in his hands by joining the Monday evening family supper, a communal seating during which Vedrinski serves a new four-course prix fixe menu for $38.
Del Posto, New York City
Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich are the forces behind this opulent 24,000-square-foot temple to upscale Italian dining, accompanied by live piano music. It took millions to create, but payoff came with star-studded reviews, notably four stars in 2010, from The New York Times’ then–restaurant critic Sam Sifton—a first for Batali, despite all his restaurants, and a first for the publication in 34 years. And while you don’t eat stars, chef Mark Ladner’s lardo with bread, jalapeño crab pasta, and heavenly 100-layer lasagna make you feel like you’re eating among them. The emphasis on high-end service and preparation should make the French jealous.
Chef Tony Mantuano’s romantic restaurant overlooks Oak Street beach (spiaggia means “beach” in Italian), and the airy dining room is tiered, so every table has a view of Lake Michigan. It’s been a Magnificent Mile fixture since 1984, long before executive chef Sarah Grueneberg was on Top Chef—and before President Barack Obama called Mantuano his “favorite chef.” Look forward to the homemade pastas, the wood-grilled veal chop, and, if you vote Democrat, the wood-roasted diver scallop, which is said to be the president’s favorite dish.
Frasca, Boulder, CO
Boulder isn’t the first place you’d look for one of America’s best Italian restaurants, but it certainly shouldn’t be last. The philosophy of master sommelier Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s Italian restaurant in the shadow of the Rockies is based on the neighborhood restaurants in the subalpine region of northeast Italy—informal gathering places inspired by the cuisine and culture of Friuli. Begin with the grissini (pencil-size crispy breadsticks) and cocktails at the bar before moving on to whichever pastas you’re lucky enough to find on the menu that night—pray for tortelloni). Oh, and there’s the matter of that wine list, which boasts more than 200 varieties.
Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix
Pizza fanatics know that this spot has a reputation for the best pies in the Southwest. The recently expanded hours make for an easier-to-attain experience, detracting a bit from the bragging rights of getting here, but enabling more people to get a taste. Start with the basics: The Sonny Boy (salami and olives, wood-roasted onion, house-smoked mozzarella, and fennel sausage), The Rosa (red onion, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pistachios), or an old-school Marinara.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven, CT
This New Haven pizzeria is the stuff of legend. It’s all about a thin, light crust, formed in coal-fired brick ovens and topped with a salty-sweet sauce, and the cheese—specifically, knowing when to say, “Hold the mozz.” There are other Frank Pepe locations, including one in Yonkers, NY, which makes pies almost as good as those in New Haven. But there’s nothing like eating a Frank Pepe pie on Wooster Street or at the adjacent original location next door, The Spot. The must? Clam pie. And once you’ve tried it, the conversation about the best pizza in America really begins.
Next to Hotel Vintage Park, chef Walter Pisano has made a name for himself with Tulio, a reliable source for boldly flavored, sophisticated dishes in an unpretentious, warm setting. Consider the sweet potato gnocchi with sage butter and mascarpone; the linguine with local clams, preserved lemon, chile flake, and garlic bread crumbs; or the braised Kurobuta pork shank with ricotta-whipped potatoes and mostarda.
Palena Café, Washington, D.C.
Really the tale of two restaurants, Palena combines an upscale dining room with a prix fixe, and a less formal café with more options. Former White House chef-restaurateur Frank Ruta wows visitors to the Cleveland Park neighborhood with fresh ingredients, elegant pastas, and wood-fired pizza. Pickings include the Shenandoah rabbit, Bacon and Eggs (goose egg ravioli with smoked pork belly and shiitake), and, that’s right, the Palena cheeseburger: a house-ground patty, on a baked sesame bun, with truffle cheese and pickles.
Bar La Grassa, Minneapolis
The husband-and-wife team of James Beard Best Chef Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre followed up 112 Eatery with this fantastically popular restaurant in the Warehouse District serving fantastic cured meats, pastas, and small plates. Go ahead, survey the menu’s seven sections, but don’t miss signatures like the soft eggs and lobster bruschetta, gnocchi with cauliflower and orange, and the silk handkerchiefs with basil pesto.
Marea, New York City
When it comes to the cred of chef Michael White, Mario Batali has spoken: “He definitely spent more time in Italy than I did, he married a real Italian and probably makes love like an Italian too, definitely better than me.” So seek out a coveted reservation for White’s flagship—this swanky seafood restaurant just off Central Park West—and then do your meal right: lardo-draped uni with sea salt; Nova Scotia lobster with burrata, eggplant, and basil; and the fusilli with red wine–braised octopus and bone marrow.
Valentino, Santa Monica, CA
Piero Selvaggio started his restaurant career as a busboy at the New York University cafeteria after arriving from Modica, Sicily. Today, he owns three iterations of Valentino, the first founded in 1972 in Santa Monica. After decades of accolades and amassing a wine collection that currently features more than 81,000 bottles, the restaurant has been reinvigorated by Sardinian-born chef Nicola Chessa. His specials, offered as a tasting menu, are generally regarded as the way to go.
Philadelphia isn’t always given its due, but when it comes to Italian food, the country has a lot to learn from James Beard Award–winning chef Marc Vetri. He studied in Bergamo, Italy, before opening this 40-seat namesake restaurant in 1998 in a brownstone with hardwood floors, exposed ceiling beams, and candlelit tables. All he’s done since is garner some of the highest accolades from the most trusted critics and sources. The menu changes frequently, but some signatures to seek out include the spinach gnocchi with brown butter, the sweet onion crêpe with white truffle, and the baby goat with freshly stone-milled polenta.
Terramia Ristorante, Boston
Before the hip Torrisis of the world, before Eataly, before there was an actionable plan to follow to revitalize some Little Italys, there were still the restaurants in those traditional neighborhoods—and a few select ones serving up good, honest Italian food. In Boston’s North End that was and still is Terramia Ristorante. Owner and North End native Carla Agrippino Gomes and chef Joshua Breen are doing lots of thing right, with a menu serving largely southern Italian cuisine.
Al Forno, Providence, RI
Husband-and-wife owner-chefs George Germon and Johanne Killeen opened Providence’s most famous restaurant in 1980, bringing grilled pizza into the American consciousness. More than 30 years later, the restaurant is still drawing crowds, not accepting reservations for parties fewer than six, and not having to—this Italian is worth the wait. There’s a wood grill and roasts, but you’ll want to try one of the irregularly shaped grilled pizzas that are served as appetizers (Margherita, calamari, or with hot pepper-infused oil) and any of the famous baked pastas.
Bartolotta, Las Vegas
After establishing Spiaggia in Chicago, chef Paul Bartolotta didn’t have much to prove, but his recent success is on an even grander stage at the multilevel eponymous Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare in the Wynn Las Vegas. Whether you’re eating in the (comparatively) casual top level, in the more elegant dining room with glass-bubble chandeliers, or by the “lagoon” filled with reflecting balls in one of the surrounding private cabanas, you can bet on an authentic Italian meal. Bartolotta’s regional specialties focus on seafood, with ingredients reportedly flown in daily straight from the Mediterranean. Dentice All’ Acqua Pazza (Mediterranean red snapper in “crazy water”) and the Costole di Maiale Nero al Rosmarino e Ginepro (Berkshire black hog chop sautéed in a white wine sauce and scented with rosemary and juniper) are standouts.
Domenica, New Orleans
No, “John Besh” doesn’t sound like the kind of name you’d expect from a chef at one of America’s best Italian restaurants, but with his restaurant Domenica (“Sunday” in Italian), this Mississippi-born, Louisiana-bred, former Marine Corps reservist proves that’s no obstacle to excellence. Also credit chef and partner Alon Shaya for the success of the homey food at the renovated historic Roosevelt Hotel. You’ll have a hard time choosing between the 15 or so different pizzas made in the Pavesi pecan-wood-fired oven featuring top-notch ingredients like cotechino, clam, speck, roast pork shoulder, anchovies, and peaches. Save room for the homemade pastas (specifically the tagliatelle with rabbit ragù), and end your meal with the Gulf fish with peperonata.
Osteria Mozza/Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles
There are about 20 pizzas on the menu at any time, and their ingredients are a mouthful: Ipswich clams, garlic, oregano, Pecorino, and Parmigiano; squash blossoms, tomato, and burrata; or egg, guanciale, escarole, radicchio, and bagna cauda. And while pizza is in the name, it’s only part of the game at this two-part restaurant opened by renowned chef Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali, and Joseph Bastianich in 2006. Burrata with Tsar Nicoulai caviar; sweetbreads picatta; squid ink chitarra freddi with Dungeness crab, sea urchin, and jalapeño…you really can’t go wrong. And if you can’t choose and don’t want pizza, well, there’s always the five-course $69 pasta tasting.
Flour + Water, San Francisco
Before opening this pizza-meets-pasta spot in the Mission District with partners David Steele and David White, Thomas McNaughton was sous chef at two of San Francisco’s great restaurants, Gary Danko and Quince, and staged at Michelin-starred restaurants in France, Germany, and Italy. So what? So this is serious pizza: light and crispy with great sauce, delicate crust, and toppings like sausage, summer squash, eggplant, and Padrón peppers. The changing tasting menu features light, well-crafted pastas with interesting off-center flavors: pickled veal tongue, rabbit, hen, and lamb shank.
Roberta’s, Brooklyn, NY
It popularized rooftop restaurant gardening, put the Bushwick neighborhood on the foodie map, and made innovative wood-oven Neapolitan pizza as expected a part of a fine dinner out as homemade garganelli and Red Wattle pork chop nonpareil. Not content to rest on his success, Food & Wine’s Best New Chef Carlo Mirarchi invented a pasta tasting that turned into a tremendous 25-course chef’s table tasting menu in an adjunct dining room with its own hipster soundtrack.
Obelisk, Washington, D.C.
There’s a place for showmanship and fireworks, but it’s not at Obelisk. When you’re passing by, there’s barely any indication that a restaurant waits within this Dupont Circle townhouse. But that’s part of the romance of dining at this discreet 30-seat spot. Besides, chef Peter Pastan’s tiny, five-course, handwritten Italian prix-fixe menu of seasonal delights makes its own big impression. Housemade burrata and arancini to start, some veal tongue or chicken liver pudding for the adventurous, perhaps some beet, squash, or porcini ravioli to follow? Entrees like the suckling pig carved tableside, or steak for two may help you leave room for one of Pastan’s famously not-too-sweet desserts.
2029 P Street, 202/872-1180.
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.
The Backspace, Austin, TX
What does a CIA graduate who has worked at The French Laundry and Café Boulud, then opened his own restaurant Parkside to critical acclaim, do next? Lucky for Austin, chef Shawn Cirkiel chose to cook pizza in a wood-fired brick oven from Naples at a temperature of 900 degrees. Pizza topped with fennel sausage, mozzarella, roasted peppers, and garlic; pizza pepperoni Americano with picante salame, tomato, mozzarella, and basil; pizza bianca with arugula, mozzarella, ricotta, and pecorino Romano; and roasted mushroom pizza with ricotta, tomato, capers, and thyme. Don’t forget to add farm egg and prosciutto for the full desired effect.
Mani Osteria, Ann Arbor, MI
Wood-fired ovens turn out exemplary Neapolitan pies as well as classics with more nuanced ingredients like pickled chilies, garlic cream, mint, chili pesto, and black truffles. And just to show those New Haven folks they can’t corner the market, there’s a great clam pie (yes, with mozzarella, take that). Looking at the crowded bar and around the lively dining room, it’s hard to imagine this lively restaurant as the office furniture store it used to be. Credit Mani Osteria’s popularity to Adam Baru, who worked under famed New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer before returning to his hometown to open his first restaurant.
Jasper's, Kansas City, MO
It’s been a fixture of the local culinary landscape since 1954, when Jasper Mirabile Sr. opened his doors to Midwesterners who embraced his family’s Old World-Italian recipes. His son Jasper Mirabile Jr. continues the restaurant’s familial tradition and consistent vision with the help of Marvin Lewis, his chef of 22 years. There’s a list of more than 200 wines from Italy, an extensive pasta menu, and the classic chicken saltimbocca, osso bucco, and chops you’d expect from the best Midwestern Italian steakhouse. But Jasper’s signature item is one that’s been on the menu since the beginning: shrimp Livornese cooked just so with a hint of garlic in a wine-laced cream sauce. Cap off your meal by sampling extensively from the self-proclaimed largest selection of grappa in Kansas City.
Harry's Pizzeria, Miami
Michael Schwartz (of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink) chose the edge of Miami’s Design District for his game-changing pizzeria, whose modern, industrial feel garnered a mention among Details’ list of America’s 10 sexiest new restaurants. The hottest number is the seasonal pizza from Harry’s wood-burning oven, topped with oyster mushrooms and roasted poblanos, rock shrimp and Manchego, short rib and Gruyère, or slow roasted pork with fig and fontina. Daily dinner specials also vie for your attention. Consider the Poulet Rouge chicken with salsa verde, Cuban-style pork with mojo and calabaza hash, and braised short ribs with peperonata and orzo salad.
Caffé Mingo, Portland, OR
Dinner at 8? Not if you want a table at Caffé Mingo. Showing up at 5pm has been the rule for some time at Michael Cronan's spot. The menu is celebrated for fresh ingredients, subtle shifts on classic Italian comfort food, and nuanced elaborations. So yes, you'll find a Caprese salad, but you it may be a winter Caprese with oven-roasted tomato. Your homemade penne pasta comes tossed with beef braised in Chianti and espresso, and the baked pasta laced with Dungeness crab. And hey, if you just can't wait, there's always Bar Mingo next door, where Jerry Huisinga cooks up small plates.
Tony's, St. Louis, MO
Tony's may actually be the city’s best restaurant, period. With the casual trend sweeping America, jacket-and-tie joints can at times seem like a lost art. Not so here. This downtown St. Louis institution goes back to the 1940s and, along with a mandatory dress code, it upholds another lost art: tableside preparations. There's an extensive wine list and a menu featuring upscale versions of old-school Italian: ziti, scampi, and osso buco. One of Tony's signatures is the lobster albanello served in a white wine cream sauce with shallots and mushrooms. But there's a five-course tasting menu for two with wine pairings for $210—if you'd rather someone make up your mind for you.
Central and northern Italian cuisine is what you'll find on the menu at this white tableclothed Belltown classic, opened in 1993 by a self-taught chef. These days, you're more likely to find the Ancona, Italy, native Mauro Golmarvi making his way from table to table to check that guests are enjoying their carta musica, fried green olives stuffed with ground chicken, and pappardelle with wild boar ragù.
Da Marco, Houston
Illuminated by large windows and dramatic black chandeliers, Chef Marco Wiles’s raved-about Texas temple to Italian cuisine is a dining experience worth the investment. Fresh ingredients, many of which are imported from Italy, find their way into decadent, sophisticated dishes like tagliarini with black truffles, grilled octopus, and pasta with white truffles. As The Houston Press put it, “there isn't another Italian restaurant in Houston that's even in the same league with Da Marco.” Those Chianti-braised short ribs with burrata risotto, pizza with prosciutto, burrata, and egg, and garganelli, well, they’ll make you a believer.