We as a culture have become obsessed with pizza, pasta, and the Italian way of eating. Cheesy sauces, perfect al dente noodles, and lots and lots of carbs — what’s not to like? But we’ve also done a great job of corrupting standard Italian fare with our pizza cone crusts and sliders, ignoring the simple, homemade ingredients that make food from the Old Country so wonderful in the first place. Thankfully, there are still Italian gems in every city across the US and the Zagat editors took it upon themselves to find. They then put together a list of the top restaurants in 25 cities from Austin to Washington, DC. — for traditional Italian dishes.
#1 ATLANTA: Valenza
Beloved for its specials, this Northern Italian spot serves the freshest food in large portions. The Venetian-inspired décor and low, ambient lighting make it pitch-perfect for a dinner date, too. Pro tip: Don’t miss the wine list or the butternut squash ravioli.
#2 AUSTIN: Vespaio
This restaurant offers a broad selection of Italian meats, pastas, and pizzas through lunch and dinner — they even make gluten-free pasta! The only negative about Vespaio is that the wait time can get long at prime meal times.
Brick-oven baked pizzas and Muffuletta are the norm at this East Baltimore specialty store. Not only can you eat-in with delicious sandwiches, homemade soups, and mozzarella, but it doubles as a great Italian grocery store, too.
#4 BOSTON: La Campania
This rustic resto is known for its inventive take on traditional Italian country dishes, like its duck confit risotto. Each course is definitely worth the price, especially when paired expertly with their wine selection. Just watch out for the mandatory reservations — even for bar seating.
#5 CHICAGO: Riccardo Trattoria
Located in Lincoln Park, Ricardo has homemade everything. Think of it as real Italian — not just Italian-style — with a variety of traditional dishes and a varied wine list. Can’t miss dish: The simple, classic spaghetti carbonara.
#6 CLEVELAND: Giovanni’s Ristorante
Excellent Tuscan food and wine are what this elegant restaurant is known for. It’s the go-to-place to impress your dinner guests in Cleveland. Just remember that sports jackets are highly encouraged if you want to dine on these veal chops and foie gras.
#7 DALLAS: Lucia
A creative twist on classic Italian food makes Lucia worth the wait. With only 36-seats in the historic 1920s building, Dallas residents are vying to get reservations months in advance just to taste their take on chicken liver crostini or salumi misti.
Reservations are recommended to dine at Chef/owner Angelo Elia’s Northern Italian restaurant. Homemade pasta and free range chicken are just a few of the reasons to dine here, as is the impeccable service and extensive wine list.
#9 HOUSTON: Da Marco
Da Marco was voted number one for Food and Most Popular in Houston by Zagat, and with artistic meals and virtually everything made with truffles, why wouldn’t it be? The lamb chops alone easily make this one of Houston’s greatest gems.
#10 LOS ANGELES: Michael’s on Naples
This hidden treasure boasts excellent food, superb service, and a great wine selection. The view from the rooftop patio is unbeatable, plus add in the daily happy hour from 5-7pm with 50% off beer, wine and spirits, and you can’t leave unsatisfied.
#11 LAS VEGAS: Nove Italiano
This chic Italian restaurant has fantastic views from the 51st floor of the Palms’ Fantasy Tower. Though the music can get a bit loud, the fresh farm-to-table ingredients insure that every dish is a stand out all on its own.
#12MILWAUKEE: Ristorante Bartolotta
The hype surrounding this perennial favorite is well-earned — the outdoor seating in the summer is a neighborhood gem. But its the warm and inviting Italian dishes (like their ragu or risotto) that keep guests coming in all year round.
#13 NEW JERSEY: Sapori
Chef/owner Franco Lombardo serves up contemporary Italian cuisine that impresses guests with its diverse and adventurous flavors. Those familiar enough with the restaurant simply request the chef to cook a tasting prix fixe, but if you’re looking for something to try, go for the fettuccine al ragu.
#14 NEW ORLEANS: Irene’s Cuisine
This piano bar might have a long wait time, but the well-done garlicky dishes are a fantastic Southern Italian experience worth waiting for. The space is small — think speakeasy — but it’s romantic too, with an excellent staff, menu, and live music.
#15NEW YORK CITY: Marea
Topping the most expensive on the list, Chef Michael White’s restaurant is world-class. His incredibly well-done sea urchin, octpus, and housemaid pastas are part of the reason guests keep coming back. The gorgeous décor and celebrity spottings are just an added bonus.
#16 ORLANDO: Prato
From the meatballs to the salted caramel gelato, Prato is a mid-priced restaurant that stands shoulder to shoulder with more upscale competitors. The restaurant is well decorated, and for those looking for a value, their $8 lunch or $9 dinner pasta will do the trick.
#18 PHILADELPHIA: Vetri
In a townhouse in Washington Square West sits Marc Vetri’s eponymous Italian spot. It’s definitely on the high end with a prix fixe that starts at $155, but it has out-of-this-world spinach gnocchi and the wine pairings are all perfect.
#19 PORTLAND: Genoa
The five course prix fixe meals at Genoa rival some of the best in the country. The wine, atmosphere, and food are all impeccable and imaginative. This restaurant doesn’t just serve “America’s version of Italian” and is one of the best in Portland, period.
#20 SAN ANTONIO: Sorrento
Don’t be fooled by the strip mall surroundings, checkered tablecloths, and low prices — Sorrento has the greatest pizza, antipasti, pastas, and entrees in San Antonio. Think of the tablecloths as homey and the low-prices as their gift to you.
#21SAN DIEGO: The Godfather
This restaurant looks exactly how it sounds — low lighting, red leather booths, and fancy white tablecloths. But it’s traditional décor also comes with old-time Italian food like ravioli portobello that rivals dishes made back in the Old Country.
#22 SAN FRANCISCO: Seven Hills
This family-run establishment puts an emphasis on homemade pasta and excellent wine — two huge staples of Italian cuisine. The farm-to-table food has locals coming back for more and tourists searching for this tiny gem in Russian Hill just to try the chicken livers.
#23 SEATTLE: Staple & Fancy Mercantile
Ethan Stowell’s four-course tasting menu offers a constantly changing array of dishes on his Ballard Avenue restaurant. The room is quiet enough to carry on a conversation while enjoying what some call the best meal they’ve had in Seattle.
#24 ST. LOUIS: Anthony’s
Known as the casual dining option to the upscale Tony’s, Anthony’s should not be underrated. There’s something for everyone at this America-style Italian restaurant, from the appetizers to the dessert. They also make a fantastic burger and filet mignon, just FYI.
#25 WASHINGTON, DC: Obelisk
Obelisk only sells a prix fixe dinner (no à la carte option), but regulars think it’s well worth it. Peter Pastan runs the 37-seat DuPont Circle Italian restaurant, with a hand-written menu that changes daily. The food here may be simple, but it’s expertly prepared.