Who doesn’t love Italian food? From rich cream sauces and fresh bounties of regional vegetables to ribbons of colorful pasta and the briny flavors of the sea, Italian food embodies all the values we hold most dear in food – beauty, color, taste, and the comforts of generations past. Whether you prefer the robust tastes of Rome and Tuscany or the maritime mains of Sardinia, there are some Italian restaurants that take the cuisine to a whole new level. Here are some of our favorites:
10. La Ciccia
San Francisco, CA
Italian food varies wildly from its Northern border to its Southern tip, but the island of Sardinia is a whole different beast altogether. You won’t find an abundance of heavy meatballs on the spaghetti at this cozy Mission area eatery – its take on the classic pasta dish is light and seaworthy, tossed with olive oil and bottarga. A Wine Spectator approved wine list and other Mediterranean flavors like pan-seared ahi with Sardinian olives and fregula pasta with ricotta and cured tuna heart keep San Franciscans coming back for more.
9. Antico Forno
Antico Forno is billed as “The Most Authentic Italian Restaurant,” and we’re hard pressed to argue. This mainstay in Boston’s North End manages a cozy mom-and-pop atmosphere with world-class traditional cuisine. Entrees like Saltimbocca di Pollo and Linguine al Frutti di Mare hearken back to the old country, but Antico Forno is best known for its brick-oven pizzas piled high with house-made Italian sausages and mozzarella.
Las Vegas, NV
Whether you’re staying at the ultra swank Wynn Hotel or just out on the town and looking for a memorable Italian dining experience, Stratta is well worth a reservation next time you’re in Las Vegas. World renowned chef Alex Stratta deals in the red-checkered basics, from linguine with clams to veal parmigiana. But an upscale lounge atmosphere and elegant touches like saffron and bufala mozzarella give this comfort food a decidedly luxe twist.
7. Buon Ricordo
In the suburban town of Paddington, just outside of Sydney, chef Armando Percuocco has built up one of Autsralia’s most distinguished Italian restaurants. Though the menu draws influence from many of Italy’s regional cuisines, Percuocco’s Neapolitan roots lie at the heart of Buon Ricordo. The simple menu includes delicacies like quail with caramelized figs and pancetta-wrapped aged Angus beef, but the signature dish is Fettucine al Tartufovo, with its cream sauce topped with a truffle-infused fried egg.
6. Del Posto
New York, NY
A spectacular restaurant space is a wonderful thing, but it means nothing without the food to back it up. Mario Batali’s Del Posto has both, with a menu that represents a concept of “trans-generationalism,” tracking the evolution of cuisine that defines this country’s Italian dining experience. That means classic flavors like calamari with capers and gnocchi al pomodoro, contrasted with fresh takes like lobster and arugula risotto and whole wheat tonnarelli with fried rosemary and shaved bonito. For an all-out dinner adventure, try Del Posto’s renowned Collezione Grand Tasting Menu.
With all the talent out of California’s wine country, it takes something special to make a name for yourself. That proved no problem for award-winning celebrity chef Michael Chiarello, who opened Bottega in Yountville to great success. The easygoing spirit of Tuscany and California merge and thrive in both the ambience and the food at Bottega. From crudo appetizers to pork osso bucco, Chiarello’s micro-regional dishes are simple and bursting with flavor. Don’t forget a bottle of wine with dinner – whether you’re in Sonoma or San Gimignano, it’s a must.
4. Osteria Mozza
Los Angeles, CA
At Chef Nancy Silverton’s Osteria Mozza, the emphasis is on freshness and simplicity in both ingredients and preparation. Though everything on the menu is mouthwatering, diners would be remiss to visit without a sampling from Nancy’s mozzarella bar. Whether topped with bottarga and Meyer Lemon or chives and Tsar Nicoulai caviar, the bufala and burrata served here are so much more than a mere pizza topping. (Although they are pizza toppings at the world-class Pizzeria Mozza, conveniently located right next door.)
On vacation along the banks of Forti di Marni, Owner Larry Levy was inspired to create a high-end Italian restaurant worthy of celebration like no other. For the past twenty years, award-winning head chef Tony Mantuano has brought that vision to life with a menu that runs the gamut from the rustic (bigoli spaghetti with basil fed snails, artichokes and spring garlic) to the sublime (wood roasted Mishima Wagyu ribeye with truffled potatoes, English peas, and aged San Giacomo gold balsamico and Toscana I.G.P. Extra Virgin Olive Oil).
Located in the heart of Florence, Angels Restaurant & Wine Bar is more vibrant and modern than anyone would expect from an Italian restaurant built inside a former chapel. Its menu is small, but makes a powerful statement with simple dishes like roast bread, ravioli, and charcoal-grilled Florentine steak that properly honor Tuscany’s rich culinary heritage. In a fun twist, Angels also features an “American bar” decked out with zebra stripes serving up liquid comfort food for homesick expats.
1. Osteria Francescana
“Nourishment is not mathematical,” says Osteria Francescana founder and chef Massimo Bottura. “It is emotional.” At Osteria Francescana, the top Italian restaurant on Restaurant Magazine’s S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Bottura evokes true emotion with local ingredients. Wafer thin crusts of Parmigiano. Foamy waves of egg white and yolk over slivers of prosciutto di Modena and asparagus. Each dish is a tribute to Modena and Bottura’s own memories of food compressed and reborn as something beautiful. Can this be called a traditional Italian restaurant? With its devotion to fine art, fine wine, and local flavors, it is practically the spirit of Italy personified.