Where to Eat Italian in Philadelphia: The Ultimate Guide

Because if you're going to eat, why not eat the best?


Fiore Fine Foods | Photo provided

Italian is Philly’s mother cuisine. It’s what we have done best the longest. Whether you’re talking about world-beating destination restaurants or little neighborhood temples to red gravy and veal parm, pasta joints are woven tight into our culinary DNA. And while we understand that everyone who eats in this town already has their favorites for every occasion, we also get that sometimes it’s good to stretch a little. To go somewhere different and try something new. And as hard as it is to keep up with all the history and change in every other part of Philly’s restaurant scene, keeping track of Philly’s best Italian food is almost impossible.

What you need is a guide — a list of the best places to eat no matter where you are or what you’re looking for — and we’re here to help. Below is a list of the Italian restaurants that matter most in Philly — the new, the old, the beloved and the most interesting. They’re in no particular order, but every single one of them is worth your time and attention. Let’s start with…

The Italian Restaurants in Philadelphia You Must Try First

best italian in philadelphia vetri

Vetri | Photo by Michael Persico

Vetri, Midtown Village
The greatest thing about Vetri? It’s among the best Italian restaurants in the country, and it lives right here in Philly. Vetri’s big magic is that the restaurant never sits still, it never rests. There’s always something happening there — whether it’s classes on pasta and pizza-making in the upstairs dining room, dinners downstairs featuring winemakers brought in from Italy, or just the fact that the kitchen turns out groundbreaking menus and the staff set the standard for hospitality in a city that too often forgets what the word means. 1312 Spruce Street

Andiario, West Chester
If Vetri is the best Italian in Philly, then Anthony Andiario is the upstart newcomer doing the best Italian just outside the city. His new-ish place Chester County is casual, comfortable, and welcoming, and the kitchen is so ridiculously talented that on any given night they might serve two or three or four of the best plates you’ll have all year. 106 West Gay Street

Res Ipsa
Res Ipsa is technically an all-day cafe. But it’s really a spare, simple breakfast and lunch place that transforms into a killer Sicilian BYO five nights a week. From the fantastic grill-charred octopus with squid ink agrodolce to the brilliant gnocchi and the egg-filled raviolo that sometimes hits the specials menu, Res Ipsa strips all the pretension from Italian dining (both checked-tablecloth traditionalism and white tablecloth fanciness) and replaces it with a purity of cuisine that’s stunning to witness. 2218 Walnut Street

Giuseppe & Sons, Center City
Schulson and the Termini family threw in together to create this ode to South Philly Italian right in the middle of Center City. It is big, it is gorgeous, it is buzzy and loud and vital with hoagies, pastries and pizzas upstairs and a full-on Italian restaurant fantasy happening below ground. And while this might’ve been fine as a stunt, what’s important here is that the food is not only very good, but is also a faithful representation of the menus it is paying tribute to. 1523 Sansom Street

Alimentari, Center City
Di Bruno Bros. has pretty much everything. The one thing it was missing? A good use for the upstairs space at the Center City flagship store. But Alimentari has changed that, opening as a cafe and wine bar with charcuterie, whipped ricotta tartines, a fantastic grilled cheese sandwich and, of course, one of the best meat and cheese selections in the city. 1730 Chestnut Street

Zeppoli, Collingswood
The best part about Joey Baldino’s award-winning Sicilian BYO is the food, hands down. But the second best part? Spending a warm night on the back patio, eating spaghetti vongole and drinking some cheap red. You’d never think that a place with a view of a parking lot could possibly be so romantic, but here it is. 618 West Collings Avenue

Mr. Joe’s Cafe, East Passyunk
A tiny, daytime only luncheonette by the Termini family (across the street from the Termini Bros. Bakery) that does perfect homemade ricotta gnocchi, crispy panini, a slice of ricotta pie for dessert (of course), and a free glass of red wine. Because hospitality. 1514 South 8th Street

Ralph’s, Bella Vista
Ralph’s has been a Philly institution for more than a century. That’s more than enough time to learn how to make a decent plate of pasta, right? More importantly, Ralph’s is one of the few (or only) places in town to get some classics that never make the menu anymore in these modern time — things like veal French and spaghetti with chicken livers. 760 South 9th Street

The Best Italian Restaurants in South Philly and East Passyunk

best italian in philadelphia brigantessa

Brigantessa | Facebook

Brigantessa
This casual, approachable pizza-and-pasta joint has always been a dependable go-to on the Passyunk strip. But recently, they’ve been upping the stakes with events and menu changes that have kept this spot at the forefront of Philly’s new guard of Italian specialists. 1520 East Passyunk Avenue

Mr. Martino’s Trattoria
Small, hidden away, dark and cozy, Mr. Martino’s is a family joint. It’s cash-only, BYO, and open just three days a week — so Philly it should have some kind of historical designation. But until that happens, this is the place you go to pretend it’s your own secret spot — to eat octopus and veal tortelloni and recall what it was like before everyone knew how good Philly restaurants could be when they weren’t even really trying. 1646 East Passyunk Avenue

best cocktail bars philadelphia palizzi

Palizzi Social Club | Photo by Jason Varney

Palizzi Social Club
This place is just magic, an impossible Italian Brigadoon full of beans and greens, Louis Prima music, martinis, and crab spaghetti. The semi-private, members-only Italian supper club could have been a complete disaster: too exclusive, too precious, too rules-bound. But instead, Joey Baldino — whose family had been members of the Palizzi Social Club for generations before he took it over — and his team walked an almost impossibly narrow line. They’ve created a place where time seems to stop and the kitchen creates classic Italian comfort food so simple and so perfect that it’s like the kitchen is run by a team of Italian grandmothers rather than an award-winning chef. 1408 South 12th Street

L’angolo
Chicken parm and spaghetti with meat sauce. If that’s what you’re looking for, this is where to go. 1415 West Porter Street

Victor Cafe
The Victor is one of those places where the waiters sing opera at you, whether you want them to or not. Personally, I’m horrified by the very idea of singing waiters, but if you’re not, then this is definitely your place. The food is surprisingly good, the bar is cozy (when the staff isn’t singing), and it would be a great restaurant even without the arias echoing off the walls. 1303 Dickinson Street

Le Virtù
Le Virtù has long been one of the most rigorous defenders of classic Abruzzo cuisine in Philly. That’s something they take very seriously in the kitchen and on the floor, and you can taste it in every plate that hits the table. 1927 Passyunk Avenue

Best Italian Restaurants in Rittenhouse and Center City

 

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DaMo Pasta Lab
Dude, it calls itself a pasta lab. What are you waiting for? 105 South 12th Street

Gran Caffe L’Aquila
This place is three stories. It has its own bakery and in-house gelato lab. It does lunch, dinner, dessert, coffee, happy hour, cocktails — everything, really. What’s remarkable is that it’s all done really well. The menus offer a crazy array of small plates and snacks (mozzarella from two different regions, seven different seasonal vegetables), plus full-sized plates like wild boar and long hot meatballs in a tomato sugo or gnocchi with Taleggio cream. And then there’s the internationally acclaimed, award-winning gelato to finish. 1716 Chestnut Street

La Fontana Della Citta
An old-fashioned, Old World BYO that’s served its Rittenhouse neighbors for years. This is Tuesday night Italian — simple, always available, not overpriced, good for large parties, and BYO to boot. 1701 Spruce Street

LaScala’s
If a history that encompasses penniless Italian immigrants, a secret dough recipe, six neighborhood pizzerias and, finally, a sit-down Italian joint on Chestnut Street doesn’t define the Philly version of the American Dream, I don’t know what does. 615 Chestnut Street

Trattoria Carina
The former Fitler Dining Room became Trattoria Carina when owners Ed Hackett and Dan Clark decided that the area didn’t need a fancy, destination-worthy New American restaurant as much as it did an easy, bright, and approachable place to get ziti with squash ragu, chicken parm with buffalo mozarella, and an Aperol spritz. A purely neighborhood restaurant, Carina is the kind of place you go to when you’re next door and hungry on a Tuesday night. A sweet, simple, pretty spot that’s always better than you expect it to be, no matter how often you go. 2201 Spruce Street

Melograno
It’s hard to believe that a place that’s been open for years right in the middle of Rittenhouse can qualify as a hidden neighborhood joint, but that’s really what Melograno is. There are people who’ve been coming here for years to get chef Gianluca Demontis’s Roman-style Italian food and there are those who have never heard of it — nothing in between. 2012 Sansom Street

The Best Italian Restaurants in Fishtown, Fairmount and Spring Garden

best italian in philadelphia a mano

A Mano | Facebook

A Mano
Tod Wentz’s Italian spot is the kind of place that focuses so singularly on the food coming out of the kitchen that, once the plate hits your table, nothing else seems to matter. It’s a high-gloss Italian BYO mixing the regional and the hyper-traditional with modern ingredients to create dishes that are both rustic and upscale. The kitchen turns braised pork shank into a work of art, a simple parsley cavatelli into a rich exploration of intersection of Italian ingredients with French technique. It’s also small, loud, and often crowded — but absolutely worth a visit if you want to see the cutting edge of intellectual Italian cuisine in Philly. 2244 Fairmount Avenue

Murph’s Bar
Yeah, that’s right. The Fishtown Irish bar with the (not really) secret Italian kitchen operating out of the back. This place is still kind of a mystery to a lot of people, but here’s how it works. Chef Francesco Bellastelli rents kitchen space at Murph’s and serves dinner six nights a week to a cash-only crowd large enough (and in a dining room small enough) that wait times can be as long as 90 minutes. The juxtaposition of Murph’s very Irish bar and its very Italian kitchen is so Philly that it almost seems like a joke, but it isn’t. It’s the real deal. So if you’re in the neighborhood, just look for Murph’s big shamrock sign, be ready to wait with a Guinness at the bar, and get ready for what has to be the best Italian restaurant operating out of an Irish pub anywhere in the country. 202 East Girard Avenue

Osteria
Osteria impresses in so many ways, and it sometimes seems like everyone in this city has a story about a time the staff went above and beyond to make their meal special. But what it really comes down to is that this restaurant (now under the command of the Schulson Collective) has defined modern Italian in Philly for an entire generation of eaters — no small achievement in a scene as competitive as this one. 640 North Broad Street

Wm. Mulherin’s Sons
Look, if you haven’t already eaten here, there’s something wrong with you. Because yes, it’s that good. Mulherin’s one of those restaurants that became indispensable almost the minute it opened, a perfect neighborhood spot that’s also destination dining from anywhere in the region. The pastas are extraordinary, the pizzas coming from the big wood-fired oven in the back are among the best in the city, the bar is simultaneously casual and cool, and the space even smells better than anywhere else in the city. Mulherin’s is one of those places you have to experience for yourself, so if you haven’t been, go right now. 1355 North Front Street

The Best Italian Restaurants in Graduate Hospital, Queen Village and Bella Vista

best italian in philadelphia lanima

L’anima | Photo by Steve Legato

L’Anima
Melograno’s Giancarlo Demontis wanted to do something a little lighter, a little brighter, and a little more modern, and this bright, glass-walled space on 17th Street is where he’s doing it. L’Anima offers a casual, modern take on Italian classics every night for all the neighbors in his new ‘hood. 1001 South 17th Street

Dante & Luigi’s
All of the newer red gravy Italian joints that open in Philly? Dante & Luigi’s is what they’re trying to be. 762 South 10th Street

Cry Baby Pasta
Yes, it is a little bit weird that someone made an Italian restaurant themed after a cult movie. But what’s even more weird is that it is so good–an absolutely joyful place where even the simplest things (fried potatoes with scratch-made pesto, tortellini soup and handmade pastas) are so much better than you expect. Being there just makes you feel good, and eating there is even better. 627 South 3rd Street

 

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Fiore Fine Foods
An all-day cafe and amaro bar? Sure, why not? At breakfast, you can get house-made Italian pastries and coffee from Rival Bros. At night, there’s a wood-fired oven in the kitchen and a crew that turns out rustic meats and vegetables, handmade pastas served family-style, tortelloni with braised lamb, corn agnolotti and duck smoked with black tea and served with dried cherries. 757 South Front Street

Villa di Roma
White plates, red gravy, big meatballs, nine kinds of spaghetti, and a menu that still features clams casino. What else do you need to know? 936 South 9th Street

Saloon
Shrimp Oscar, lobster French, and a New York strip swimming in marsala circumscribe one end of the menu. Rigatoni sesso and the ravioli of the day define the other other half. It’s a place where just about anyone can find what they need, plus a couple martinis to wash it down. 750 South 7th Street

Ambra
A small, dark, intimate spot brought to you by the crew at Southwark, which is right next door. Ambra’s staff is dedicated to taking care of its customers’ every whim and offering an end-to-end service experience that begins with snacks and drinks the minute you’re seated and doesn’t end until the final course of the tasting menu has been cleared away. 705 South 4th Street

Best Italian Restaurants in Midtown Village, Fitler Square and Old City

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Little Nonna’s
Modernized red-gravy Italian (think: lobster fra diavlo, eggplant parm, Sunday gravy platters) in a space designed for maximum comfort — plus a beautiful all-year outdoor patio. 1234 Locust Street

Cotoletta
Like the name implies, this little BYO in Fitler Square is a cutlet specialist–chicken and veal, done Milanese, parm, marsala or picatta. The menu is filled out with pastas, meatballs, some seafood and eggplant parm, but the cutlets are the real draw and the specialty of the house. 2227 Pine Street

Ambrosia
Homemade pastas, mussels in a shallot and saffron broth, grilled artichokes with warm ricotta, shortrib with polenta and horseradish gremolata. Ambrosia is doing the casual, neighborhood Italian BYO thing that Philly loves and that Fitler Square needs right now. 231 South 24th Street

Tredici Enoteca
Though Tredici shades more Mediterranean on most days, I’m including it here because I really like it. And because the lasagna verde and crab spaghetti are worth a visit all on their own. 114 South 13th Street

Palma’s Cucina

This place used to be Mama Palma’s, and that was fine. But after twenty-odd years, it was time for a fresh start. So after renovating both the space and the menu, it reopened as Palma’s Cucina, doing modern, seafood-heavy Southern Italian cuisine, wine, beer and cocktails. 2229 Spruce Street

Barbuzzo
Another Turney and Safran spot, this one serving the kind of comforting, rustic fare that gave birth to the modern Italian movement. The space is cramped, the negronis are powerful, the pizzas are excellent, and the menu of pastas and small plates have kept this place at the top of everyone’s favorites list for years. 110 South 13th Street

Zavino
There are a lot of reasons why people love Zavino. Some treat it like a pizza place, others like a wine bar. But really, it’s the whole package — a solid Italian restaurant that executes everything it does very well. Bonus: the meats and cheeses are like a greatest hits collection of the past 20 years of gastronomy. 112 South 13th Street

Panorama
Sure, you probably know the name (or maybe remember it as Ristorante Panorama), but the Panorama you’re thinking of is so 2015. A recent chef change — Mathew Gentile, ex of Ela and Lacroix, replaced the former chef, who’d been there for decades —  a million-dollar renovation, and a new menu focused on local sourcing and modern flavors rather than tired pasta trios have reinvigorated this venerable spot and turned it into a restaurant deserving of a return visit. Wine nerds, have no fear: the massive by-the-glass system that kept Ristorante Panorama humming even through its laziest years is still there, offering amazing opportunities for those who care as much about what’s in their glass as what’s on their plate. 14 North Front Street

La Locanda del Ghiottone
Come here for big portions of classic Italian dishes served in a close-set, brick-walled space. The menu is kind of like a time capsule from a point in food history before everyone went crazy for authenticity and just wanted to eat things that tasted good all the time. 130 North 3rd Street