The Best Italian Restaurants in NYC
New York City's abiding love of Italian food extends well beyond pizza. Including informal trattorias, old-school red sauce institutions and refined Michelin-starred establishments, here are our picks of the Big Apple's very best Italian restaurants.
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Chef Andrew Carmellini and crew may have launched numerous restaurants since Locanda Verde (which counts Robert De Niro as one of its partners) opened in 2009, but there's no replicating their firstborn's inherent loveliness. Sprawled across the ground floor of the Greenwich Hotel (and spilling into the bucolic courtyard), it remains an all-day destination for nibbles of sheep's milk ricotta speckled with sea salt and herbs, light and bright Atlantic halibut with lemon conserva and artichoke vignarola, and rustic and endearingly humble pasta plates such as paccheri with "Sunday night ragu" or the dish dubbed My Grandmother's Ravioli.
Though big sib Charlie Bird has drawn praise for pasta, the menu at this equally hip follow-up is more unabashedly Italian. It maintains a delectable Mediterranean through line from small to large plates (summer peppers with anchovies and Italian oregano, lobster paccheri, black sea bass with burst cherry tomatoes) and dedicates an entire section to wood-fired pizzas as well. Granted, you'll spend up to $30 on a pie, but that stunner will be anointed with littleneck clams, broccoli rabe and cream.
Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli used the success of their speakeasy-style pop-up, Dinnertable — and its shareable pinwheels of lasagna — as a springboard to open this contemporary red-sauce spot that's been awarded two stars by The New York Times. Drawing on their Italian-American backgrounds and their stints at eateries like Torrisi Italian Specialties and Quality Italian, the married team turns standards like spaghetti and meatballs on their heads. Instead of the expected versions, you'll find oversized tubes of garganelli dunked in broken meatball ragu, a Caesar salad-inspired assemblage of spicy chrysanthemum leaves spiked with garlic and sesame and showered in shredded Parmesan, and smoked mussels sauced with Peroni beer and flavored with pimenton.
After Missy Robbins earned her stripes as executive chef at Chicago's Spiaggia and NYC's A Voce, Lilia cemented her status as a queen of Italian cuisine. Adulation from The New York Times (which awarded the restaurant three stars) and the James Beard Foundation (which gave Robbins the Best Chef NYC award) attests to the supremacy of her cacio e pepe fritelle, veggies with warm bagna cauda, and saffron-tinted agnolotti dripping with dried tomatoes and honey. Yet the power of Lilia is probably best expressed by the fact that it's just as difficult to nab a table there now as it was the day it opened in 2016.
Lupa Osteria Romana
While many Italian restaurants plumb multiple regions for inspiration, single-subject Lupa homed in on Rome. Practically part of the fabric of lively, artsy Greenwich Village since opening in 1999, the convivial trattoria wouldn't be out of place in Piazza Navona, either. Thank the classic antipasto of tomato-braised tripe for that, along with primi like bucatini all'amatriciana and rigatoni alla Norma, and secondi such as saltimbocca or lamb scottadito.
Al Di La Trattoria
Widely credited with positioning Brooklyn as a restaurant destination when it opened in 1998, Al di La essentially laid the blueprint for all the intimate, independently owned, walk-in-only eateries to come. But while a hyperfocus on seasonality (not to mention a new wave of young, easily distracted diners) has inspired most of its descendants to change menus by the second, Al di La has staunchly refused to rewrite its own playbook. That means you can still find 1998-era favorites, such as Swiss chard malfatti with brown butter and sage, red beet casunziei peppered with poppy seeds, and supple braised rabbit delectably slumped over wrinkled black olives and heaps of creamy polenta.
Café Altro Paradiso
The sophomore effort from the team that launched the critically acclaimed Estela (famously patronized by the Obamas during a New York visit), this all-day cafe conveys the unique sensibilities of Chef Ignacio Mattos, who learned to cook from his Italian grandmother while growing up in Uruguay. He also studied under grill master Francis Mallmann, which means his most-compelling dishes owe very little to tomato sauce. Think sausage over potato salad with Dijon mustard, pork chops atop butter beans and caramelized fennel, and sizzling steak teamed with blue-cheese butter and beets.
L&B Spumoni Gardens
When a restaurant has existed since 1939, you better believe it has found a way to evolve with the times. L&B is still a draw, not only for spumoni but also for its often replicated but never duplicated square pies — especially during summer, when downing sheets of pizza in the courtyard is practically a Brooklyn tradition. And it excels at abundantly portioned red-sauce favorites (baked ziti, spaghetti and clams), doled out in the lavishly appointed dining room. But L&B's real secret weapon is its scarcely advertised Chef's Table, priced per person and served family style: $50 to $70 will buy you an extravagant, off-menu feast consisting of an endless array of courses such as Roman-style roasted artichokes, scallop and orzo-stuffed lobster, and "dueling" fried and cocktail shrimp.
It takes a lot to replace the seminal Franny's in the hearts, minds and stomachs of its faithful patrons. But if anyone could take over the literal and figurative space left by Park Slope's modern Italian trailblazer, it's Joe Campanale, who's also proved a formative force in New York's dining scene. After becoming one of the youngest sommeliers in the country when he took that post at Babbo in 2003, he went on to open local Italian power trio Dell'anima, L'Artusi and Anfora. All that is to say — as evidenced by his first Brooklyn-based project, Fausto — he knows his way around a Mediterranean kitchen and wine list. Chef Erin Shambura employs Franny's old wood-burning ovens not for pizzas but for whole roasted porgy, blistered tomatoes for ravioli, and chicken with spring onions, all of which are accompanied by inspired wine pairings from Campanale.
Though the Major Food Group has become synonymous with high-profile, pricey projects (including multiple venues in the revamped Four Seasons, and its own elevated red-sauce restaurant, Carbone), Parm is the unassuming sandwich spot that started it all in 2011. You won't need to blow a paycheck on the textbook Italian combo heroes or gold-standard chicken Parm. And the iceberg-based Sunday Salad, fusilli with meat gravy and pork Milanese are served sans irony and surge pricing.
Many consider Marea, one of only a handful of NYC eateries with two Michelin stars, Chef-Owner Michael White's crown jewel — especially if one's tastes run to impeccably prepared seafood. With a name that translates as "tide" in Italian, Marea is a veritable wonderland of undersea delights, such as Mediterranean red prawns kissed with market chiles and capers, or an Adriatic seafood soup with scallops, bass and clams, and a glorious succession of pastas, including the justly lauded fusilli with red wine-braised octopus and silky slips of bone marrow.
Marrying leisurely European elan with on-the-go NYC chic, Il Buco has held court in NoHo for more than 20 years. And it hasn't achieved that staying power through Instagram — although the fact that owner Donna Lennard is also a taste-making art collector certainly doesn't hurt. It's that this place is simply indispensable to the neighborhood, whether for a romantic supper of egg tagliatelle with lobster mushrooms and expertly executed negronis at the original location, or a leisurely lunch of baked-on-premises bread and housemade salumi at its sister restaurant Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria.
The fact that its name (Italian for "little pig") is Danny Meyer's nickname would lead you to believe that Maialino is one of the restaurant impresario's most-personal projects. Splitting the difference between his swank Union Square Cafe and his everyman franchise, Shake Shack, the Roman soul-food spot exudes casual elegance. Look for inspired yet approachable offerings during breakfast (scrambled egg carbonara), lunch (porchetta panini), dinner (crab and jalapeno tagliolini) and even late night — from 10 to 11:30 p.m., charred suckling-pig hearts sell for $9 at the bar!
As longtime leader of the esteemed Rubirosa, Al Di Meglio already boasts serious pizza cred. But at his wood-fired Barano in Williamsburg, he's demonstrated facility with the entire Italian canon — composing glorious antipasto platters of house-baked farro sourdough, seasonal pickled giardiniera and stretchy stracciatella, along with pappardelle striped with squid ink and mounded with tuna belly Bolognese, and meatballs made with 21-day dry-aged beef.
The embodiment of a red sauce joint, the basement-level Sam's — with its throwback signage, plastic tablecloths, wooden telephone booths and cracked-leather banquettes — hasn't changed an iota since opening in 1930. That makes it a reassuring relic of old "South Brooklyn" in widely gentrified and prettified Cobble Hill. You don't need to wait hours to be seated and to be served affordable, unfussy fare such as massive and molten calzones, gleefully gloppy eggplant Parm, and truly legit pizzas, delivered by servers who are lovably gruff instead of off-puttingly snooty.
It's no accident that you'll find the same cast of culinary characters revolving around NYC's best Italian restaurants. Case in point: Scampi is owned and run by the talented PJ Calapa, one of Michael White's most-valued right-hand men. And Calapa's debut solo venture, opened in 2017, has already asserted itself as a rising star on the local Italian scene, blessing the Flatiron District with Southern Italian-style seafood selections such as the eponymous Langoustines "Scampi," grilled head-on and slicked with butter, parsley and lemon.