“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.
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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 might include ridged pasta in foie gras and Marsala sauce with black truffles.
Some of our favourite 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 addictivegrissini, pencil-size crispy breadsticks.
What’s certain is that each of these 20 Italian restaurants is a destination worth checking off your list. See how many you’ve tried, and then share your local favourites in the comments below.
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This Nob Hill institution helmed by co-owners Giancarlo Paterlini and Suzette Gresham-Tognetti isn't just the fine-dining Italian restaurant you go to for special occasions out of habit. It's stayed consistently great and kept relevant since its 1989 debut, winning a coveted Michelin star for six years and counting. For the best representation, try the classic tasting menu, where you're likely to sample the ridged pasta in foie gras and Marsala sauce with black truffles or the truffle-stuffed chicken with leek custard with potato gratin and creminis. There's a seasonal tasting, too, and you can always order à la carte for a more contemporary take on the classic flavours of Italian food using the freshest ingredients California can provide.
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.
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.
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 neighbourhood restaurants in the subalpine region of northeast Italy--informal gathering places inspired by the cuisine and culture of Friuli. Begin with thegrissini (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.
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.
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.
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.
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