It was a months-long quest, and it took us through mountains of pasta, gallons of gravy, and more Limoncello than can possibly be healthy, but here, now, are the 30 greatest spots to eat Italian food in this city.
Philadelphia practically bleeds red, white and green. Here, Italian culture and Italian food are woven inextricably into the fabric of our lives—from the little street-corner trattoria where you drank chianti with your first love, to the neighborhood market where you buy your olives and parm and sfogliatelle, to the rollicking, endless Sunday dinners full of more characters than any Martin Scorsese film.
And that’s what we’re celebrating this month: this city’s edible Italian soul. We point you to the best places to eat, where to shop for the most authentic ingredients, what to buy and what we love. We sit down for a family dinner in South Philly, honor the institutions (and the paesanos) that have kept Old Country traditions alive across a century or more, and tell you where to find the best spaghetti and meatballs in town. So what are you waiting for? Dig in.
Best Italian Restaurants in Philadelphia
If you try to order bruschetta at this tiny family-run BYOB, your waitress may look at you funny. Don’t take offense. They don’t serve bruschetta here. They serve garlic bread, each piece broiled to order. Get the picture? Unlike at some of the Italian restaurants in Delaware County, the menu at Bona Cucina isn’t huge. But it does include ample selections of the kinds of things you want in a bustling neighborhood Italian joint. If you’re going, bring cash as well as patience, because they only accept the former, and the latter is required to deal with the waits.
Don’t miss: The spinach ravioli, with meatballs on the side.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Bona Cucina, 66 Sherbrooke Boulevard, Upper Darby, 610-623-8811.
Hostaria Da Elio
When friends call us and say, “I need an affordable dinner option for 10 next Saturday night,” Hostaria Da Elio, red-gravy crowd-pleaser is where we send them. Why? Because the linguini with clams is always good, because service is friendly and familiar, because the price is right (BYO!), and because even though it’s a popular pick, the hostess always seems to be able to squeeze a large party in.
Don’t miss: The delightful backyard patio.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Hostaria Da Elio, 615 South 3rd Street, Philadelphia, 215-925-0930.
There are moments when Davio’s feels like a distaff relative of the Palm—one with a decidedly Italianesque bent and none of the willfully uncool clubbiness; one that’s a little more … fun. This is the place that serves the cheesesteak spring rolls, after all (along with a half-dozen other varieties). The cuisine is Italian-American with an odd, grill-heavy California twist on the admittedly overlong dinner menu—lots of steaks and chops, fish and lobster tails, but offset by such smart inclusions as fresh pappardelle with jumbo lump crab, artichokes and sherry butter, and hand-rolled gnocchi with an admirable lack of pastiness (which is more than can be said for so many other gnocchi in this town).
Don’t miss: The lobster ravioli with fennel, tomato and sherry cream. You won’t find better.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Davio's, 111 South 17th Street, Philadelphia, 215-563-4810.
Chef Joe Scarpone has a reputation in Philly; he was the name behind the three-bell Sovalo in NoLibs and (briefly) manned the stoves at Agiato. But recently, he came back to the scene with Ulivo, a more casual and comfortable Queen Village BYOB, where the ever-changing menu and handmade pastas are attracting both those who miss the days of Sovalo and neighbors looking for a compelling option when a simple plate of spaghetti and meatballs just won’t do.
Don’t miss: The main dishes—like the slow-roasted pork with polenta—which are lavished with just as much attention as the pastas.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Ulivo, 521 Catherine Street, Philadelphia, 215-351-1550.
Way back in 1946, Peter and Frances Marrone opened a bar in Ardmore. Then they added pizza, followed by spaghetti and meatballs. Decades later, daughter Patti runs Marrone's, which has turned into a dining institution on the eastern Main Line—the kind of place where when you ask a question that begins, “Could I … ,” the response will always be something to the effect of “You can do whatever you want here, hon.” It’s not Vetri or Il Pittore, but that’s exactly why we love it.
Don’t miss: The upside-down pizzas. (Go for the triple cheese!)
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Marrone's, 2744 County Line Road, Ardmore, 610-642-9567.
No matter how many amazing Italian restaurants Peter McAndrews decides to open (see: Popolino; Monsú), Modo Mio—his first baby—will always be our favorite. Short on space but long on soul, this lusty, lively little corner spot just never gets old.
Don’t miss: The four-course $35 turista menu, which remains the best deal in town, and all the fabulous house-made bread you can eat—overindulging is basically a requirement here.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Modo Mio, 161 West Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-203-8707.
It’s tough to exist as an identified upscale Italian restaurant in a city where the food scene was more or less built on the backs of a few well-known upscale Italian restaurants. And yet one look at the crowds flocking to Melograno on a busy Friday night and you might wonder why Roman-born chef Gianluca Demontis isn’t mentioned alongside guys like Marc Vetri and Peter McAndrews more often. The answer is this: Melograno, with its fragrant fritturina and pork/veal/beef polpette with gorgonzola fondue, is essentially a neighborhood restaurant. It’s just one that happens to serve a very specific (and well-heeled) neighborhood extremely well.
Don’t miss: The gamberoni—sautéed shrimp over polenta with gorgonzola sauce. The combination of creamy sauce, warm starch and sweet shrimp is exactly as good as it sounds.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Melograno, 2012 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, 215-875-8116.
No, Chris Painter’s elegant namesake restaurant, Il Pittore, isn’t cheap—but it’s a damn good way to spend your money. You’ll find yourself craving the duck agnolotti from this longtime Stephen Starr chef days after you eat it, and the wild boar ragu is truly memorable, despite the fact that everyone seems to be cooking it these days.
Don’t miss: The four-day suckling pig. The skin is crisp, the flesh is succulent, and the pear mostarda accent is divine.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Il Pittore, 2025 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, 215-391-4900.
For those who find the board at Vetri just a bit too dear but the rollicking barroom at the new(ish) Alla Spina too casual and chummy, Osteria stands as Vetri’s compromise: a homey place where chef Jeff Michaud and his crew offer seasonal pastas and composed plates like rabbit casalinga with pancetta, sage and brown butter mounted on a cloud of polenta, served in a welcoming room by staff who know enough to keep their thumbs out of the pesto.
Don’t miss: Osteria’s prosciutto-and-arugula-topped Parma pizza, or the wood-grilled octopus with lemon and potatoes on the antipasti menu.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Osteria, 640 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-763-0920.
Gemelli On Main
Chef Clark Gilbert made his bones in the kitchens of Taquet and Four Seasons, after which he branched out on his own with Gemelli—a cramped BYOB in Narberth that maintained a devoted following until its recent closure. Now, all those Main Line folks have to cross the bridge into Manayunk, where Gilbert continues to put up top-shelf Italian plates, but in a much larger space, and one with a liquor license. So the fantastic veal bolognese with sweetbreads is still on the menu, but now it’s accompanied by a well-rounded wine list.
Don’t miss: Did we mention the veal bolognese with sweetbreads?
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Gemelli On Main, 4161 Main Street, Manayunk, 215-487-1230.
People on the Main Line like to complain that there are no great restaurants out that way, and for those of you in the general vicinity of Bryn Mawr, we feel your pain. But you people in the Malvern area have nothing to complain about with Restaurant Alba, romantic, special-occasion-worthy gem in your backyard.
Don’t miss: The $14-per-person chef’s antipasti tasting—a great way to kick things off.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Restaurant Alba, 7 West King Street, Malvern, 610-644-4009.
Dante & Luigi’s
Lots of locals know this place—part fine-dining restaurant, part Sunday-dinner-at-Aunt-Carla’s—as the site of the (alleged) Mob shooting of Nicki Scarfo Jr. back in ’89. But they should really know Dante & Luigi’s for the lasagna, which is easily the best in the city, served in slices as big as your forearm yet still light as a cloud, even smothered in the house’s hefty red gravy. In fact, a lot of dishes here are in the running for the city’s best, from the humble but note-perfect Caprese salad to a veal bolognese that could convert half of PETA’s membership in an afternoon.
Don’t miss: The sauces, as many varieties as you can manage—on pasta, on fish, on meat, or just spooned off the plate.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Dante & Luigi's, 762 South 10th Street, Philadelphia, 215-922-9501.
Joey Baldino doesn’t cook anything that a thousand other chefs haven’t cooked before him. He just does it better than about 998 of them. Simple Sicilian flavors shine at Zeppoli, his homey Collingswood BYO, where tagliatelli with lemon and bottarga is redolent of a citrus grove perched above a fishing village, and spinach-and-ricotta gnocchi could melt in the warmth of your breath.
Don’t miss: His Sicilian stew—all saffron and swordfish and shellfish—or his whole roasted fish with artichoke hearts, which is unsurpassed on either side of the Delaware River.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Zepppoli, 618 Collings Avenue, Collingswood, 856-854-2670.
An argument could be made for Barbuzzo being more Mediterranean than straight-up Italian, but just one taste of the kitchen’s ravioli with sheep’s-milk ricotta, its tufoli Calabrese with pork ragu, or the caciocavallo-stuffed meatballs with Calabrian chili will point you toward the truth: that intimate little Barbuzzo is one of the city’s best Italian restaurants despite its occasional diversions.
Don’t miss: The deservedly famous salted caramel budino.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Barbuzzo, 110 South 13th Street, Philadelphia, 215-546-9300.
Mr. Joe’s Café
You can’t talk about South Philly’s history of Italian food without mentioning Termini Brothers. And you certainly shouldn’t talk about Termini Brothers—or South Philly’s Italian food history, for that matter—without mentioning the family’s teeny-tiny luncheonette (open till 5 p.m. only!) just across the street. Longtime server Annamaria presides over meals at Mr. Joe's Café, which all come with a pour of jugged chianti, crusty Italian bread, a plainly dressed salad and a dessert (from Termini Brothers, naturally).
Don’t miss: The ricotta gnocchi, rolled and cut by Termini patriarch Vince Sr. across the street in the bakery.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Mr. Joe's Café, 1514 South 8th Street, Philadelphia, 215-334-1414.
The Ghosts of South Philly Past haunt every inch of this venerable establishment, from the hand-carved wooden lintels to the ancient group portrait of the Germania Society. Saloon's menu takes precedence over the chefs, who turn out dishes like clams casino, silken fettuccine with huge veal shanks, and impeccable langoustines simply brushed with olive oil.
Don’t miss: The clams Pavarotti, an over-the-top casino variation featuring shrimp, lump crab and béchamel.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Saloon, 750 South 7th Street, Philadelphia, 215-627-1811.
Popolino is Peter McAndrews’s ode to the peasant cuisine of ancient Rome—made from the bits and pieces of an animal left over once the rich, powerful and quick have had their pick. The place is both casual and refined (with prix-fixe and à la carte service, and an antipasti bar that feels like a bizarrely Italian churrascaria), comforting and challenging (offering oxtail, tongue and tripe right alongside more recognizable favorites like spaghetti carbonara and veal saltimbocca).
Don’t miss: McAndrews’s favorite dish, a calamari fritti with hard-boiled egg, apricots, almonds, and a version of Roman fish sauce that he swears predates any other country’s attempts at squeezing the juice from fermented anchovies.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Popolino, 501 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-928-0106.
Villa di Roma
Whether you dine in one of the two quiet front rooms, or in the romantic backyard garden, or in the large dining room filled with girls-night-out parties and wine-soaked double dates, you’re going to enjoy your meal at Branzino. The gnocchi are light and delightful, and the fish for which the restaurant was named—marinated and cooked in olive oil, fresh herbs, lemon and white wine—will make you wonder why this place is still something of a secret.
Don’t miss: The gnocchi Sorrento, with olive oil and garlic in a tomato-basil sauce, topped with fresh mozzarella.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Branzino, 261 South 17th Street, Philadelphia, 215-790-0103.
It would be a terrible cliché to say that Tre Scalini's Franca DiRenzo makes Italian food the way your grandmother does. It would probably be wrong, too, as it is highly unlikely that your grandmother came from Molise, in the Apennine Mountains at the heart of Italy, or that she cooks as well as DiRenzo cooks. But one thing DiRenzo does have in common with all those mythical Italian grandmothers is her love of feeding you. And then feeding you more.
Don’t miss: The squid ink pappardelle with crabmeat and prawns.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Tre Scalini, 1915 East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-551-3570.
There’s something entrancing about Le Virtu—something that goes beyond the space and the bare tables and the brick patio swarming with customers on warm summer nights. It’s in the food, in the handling of the sea-and-mountain dichotomy of Abruzzo cuisine. It’s the feeling that you want to move right in, spending weeks eating every single thing chef Joe Cicala can cook, because all of it—from the fried olives stuffed with porchetta to the fettuccine in pistachio pesto to the smoked potato gnocchi in lamb ragu—is comforting and familiar and yet intriguingly alien at the same time.
Don’t miss: The maccheroni alla mugnaia—a single 60-foot strand of hand-pulled pasta, served for the whole table, dressed in extra-virgin olive oil, pecorino romano and black pepper.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Le Virtu, 1927 East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-271-5626.
Lady and the Tramp and Rocky Balboa aren’t movies that you’d usually mention in the same breath, but sit down for just one meal at this South Philly institution and you’ll have both on your mind before the tiramisu hits the table. For starters, Victor Café's dining room is featured in Sly’s 2006 comeback Rocky flick. And the charming operatic interludes provided by the cheery servers every 20 minutes (they ring a bell and introduce themselves before breaking into arias) will make you want to spaghetti-noodle-kiss whomever you happen to be sharing your dinner with.
Don’t miss: The crespelle capriccio—smooth, rich crabmeat in a béchamel sauce, rolled into crisp prosciutto.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Victor Café, 1303 Dickinson Street, Philadelphia, 215-468-3040.
L'Angolo is great (just ask the adorable Italian men up front, playing cards and swilling red wine), but don’t waste precious digestive real estate on entrées: Appetizers and pastas are a hundred times more gratifying. The grilled artichoke alone is the stuff dreams are made of (if you’re some kind of weirdo who dreams about artichokes, anyway).
Don’t miss: The spaghetti bolognese, which has been described as “pasta with a burger on top.” (That’s a good thing.)
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: L'Angolo, 1415 West Porter Street, Philadelphia, 215-389-4252.
Roberto and Fernando Vincenti take good care of all the customers at their inviting South Street BYOB, but there’s a clear bond between the brothers and their regulars: a welcoming wave at recognized faces; a pat on the back as the water is poured; a hearty laugh shared over Fernando’s (or was it Roberto’s?) absence from the floor that evening. It’s a warmth you want to feel for yourself—and with Italian standards done this nicely, why wouldn’t you come back to Roberto Café again and again?
Don’t miss: The spaghetti Tarantini with mussels, calamari and clams, served simply with a splash of oil and garlic.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Roberto Café, 2108 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-545-0793.
You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: Marc Vetri is the standard-bearer for Italian cooking in Philadelphia, and his flagship still draws pilgrims from far beyond. Does pasta get any better than truffled almond tortellini as rich as marzipan and as delicate as tracing paper, or morsels of boar in cocoa-dusted fettuccine? It does not. But pasta isn’t the only attraction here. From antelope with Amarone sauce to a Campari-tinged sorbetto, Vetri seamlessly blends originality and authenticity.
Don’t miss: The coursed wine pairings. While dinner here is a splurge, smart diners know to double down when it matters.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Vetri, 1312 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, 215-732-3478.
In a town overrun by Italian BYOBs, Franco Lombardo’s Sapori stands out for its dedication to truly Italian cuisine.He offers specialties, primarily from his hometown of Palermo, as though every meal is a lesson in history and geography. All this pride of place and style is evident in the cooking and service, as plates of penne in red wine sauce with smoked pancetta are delivered from the kitchen, and whole fish are expertly
Don’t miss: The specials, like chicken and pork meatballs stuffed with prosciutto and scamorza cheese.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Sapori, 601 Haddon Avenue, Collingswood, 856-858-2288.
The third member in the holy trinity of Marc Vetri’s Truly Italian Restaurants is definitely the partier of the bunch—all convivial and lively and loud. It’s almost impossible not to get in the spirit at Amis. First, there are those little counter seats that put you so close to the action, you can reach out and touch a chef (though they really prefer that you don’t). Second, there are the rustic, lively dishes (swordfish meatballs! Pig’s trotter arancini!) that are designed to be ordered en masse, then nibbled at and fought over by you and yours.
Don’t miss: That pig’s trotter arancini (to share) and the pappardelle with oxtail ragu (to keep for yourself).
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Amis, 412 South 13th Street, Philadelphia, 215-732-2647.
If fine dining is your bag, and you get excited at the thought of well-executed Italian pastas and have a strong affinity for marble, there is no better place for you to dine than La Famiglia. This old-world institution features starchy white napkins, waiters who still pull your chair out for you, a red sauce that rivals any in the city, and the most delicious biscotti you will ever encounter.
Don’t miss: The plump rigatoni smothered in sweet-but-not-sugary cherry tomato sauce.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: La Famiglia, 8 South Front Street, Philadelphia, 215-922-2803.
There’s simple Sicilian, baroque Sicilian, and Peter McAndrews’s spin on Sicilian—which takes it up yet another notch at this casual Italian Market BYO. At Monsú gnocchi come with sausage ragu, chocolate, cinnamon and rosemary, and pork osso buco scented with apricots and marsala plays like a collision of Italy and North Africa. And that’s what we love about Monsú: Its influences are as diverse as the civilizations that have made a mark upon Sicily itself.
Don’t miss: The arancia-saffron rice bowl with short-rib ragu, exotic mushrooms and bordelaise sauce.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Monsú, 901 Christian Street, Philadelphia, 215-440-0495.
Mr. Martino’s Trattoria
A little prep before you visit Mr. Martino’s: 1) Google-map it. There’s no name on the sign, and with all the Cantina hubbub across the street, it’s easy to miss a place nestled on the first floor of a South Philly rowhouse. 2) Invest in an extra bottle (or four) of red. The staff isn’t kidding when they tell you about the kitchen’s leisurely pace. 3) Order the veal tortellini with gorgonzola, which packs a potent bite; the balsamic chicken; and—for dessert—the lemon shortbread, topped with fresh lemon curd.
Don’t miss: The homemade citrus-herb vinaigrette. You can take a bottle home with you for $11.
Eat at one of the best Italian restaurants in Philadelphia: Mr. Martino’s Trattoria, 1646 East Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-755-0663.
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