New York City excels at many things, but one of its finest achievements? Italian food. As the birthplace of red-sauce, Italian American cooking, there are plenty of top-notch options in the five boroughs, and these days, it can feel as is if all of Italy is represented here. From rustic Tuscan dishes to saucy Sicilian specialties, this list of sit-down restaurants captures the best of the best — both new and old — in New York City right now. For our guide to the city’s best pizza parlors, click on over.
The Top Italian Restaurants in New York City
Saucy pasta, tender meatballs, and old-school charm
Roberto’s modern Italian fare, served on a side street tucked away from the hubbub of the Bronx’s Little Italy, is a welcome contrast to the red-sauced Italian American food common in the neighborhood. The wine list is more sophisticated, too, backed up by a menu that trumpets dishes like seasonal vegetables steamed “in cartoccio” (in a foil pouch) and a rabbit stewed with potatoes. Roberto Paciullo, a native of Salerno, Italy, is behind Roberto’s, where there’s not a meatball in sight.
Let’s face it: The menus of most upscale Italian restaurants have fairly predictable menus, and you can visit them confident that you’ll find, say, an al dente cacio e pepe or a decent veal Milanese. When Rezdora set out to push the envelope on the classic Italian menu, it caused a sensation three years ago. The menu is anchored in Emilia-Romagna, and thus we have the gnocco frito of the region — thin cool slices of prosciutto matched with puffy warm fritters — and cappelletti verde, little pasta hats stuffed with leeks and peas that the menu rather poetically calls, “grandma walking through a forest in Emilia.”
Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli have ushered in a new era for red sauce cooking at this West Village restaurant. The duo’s creative take on Italian American fare has included caramelle pasta with pickled cantaloupe and buffalo milk mozzarella, and the garlic bread — sesame-seeded flatbread stuffed with stracchino and Parmesan — is a consistent hit. Conclude with a glass of the couple’s amaro, made in-house from sarsaparilla and tasting vaguely of root beer. Be sure to make a reservation: It’s no secret that this is one of Manhattan’s top Italian restaurants.
Step into the cozy bar that leads to the cavernous dining area for this Italian seafood restaurant named for the anchovy. Owned by Emanuele Nigro, Riccardo Orfino and Wael Deek, the restaurant is a lively spot for a snack and an Italian cocktail or a full fledged meal with salads, crudo, seafood pastas, and a daily catch.
The new location for I Sodi feels like the old one, thankfully, but there’s a whole other back room and a stylish outdoorgarden that’s the place to be. Get the meat and cheeses and some sort of salad to start, the rabbit porchetta, and the artichoke lasagna with what seems like one hundred layers.
This Italian American classic has been a MacDougal Street staple since 1918; housed in a basement, though the average passer-by may not know it, it’s often packed with diners here for the history, conviviality, good food, and fair prices. Our critic Robert Sietsema says the mains are better than the starters and recommends the baked clams, cannelloni, and beef short ribs, with zabaglione for dessert.
Also featured in:
Carbone is the peak for reinvented Italian American restaurants in NYC. Is the Caesar alla ZZ really a standout? Have you ever paid $89 for veal Parm? Does it matter? Chances are, you’ll have a story to tell by the night’s end and probably leftovers for tomorrow.
Petite Tuscan restaurant Fiaschetteria Pistoia makes up for its size with charm — the servers are brusque yet friendly, known to slam down a wooden crate of wine when asked for the list. Still, their recommendations for affordable bottles rarely miss, and everything from the salads and pork cheek to the cacio e pepe and spaghetti con bottarga are celebrations of the genre. For dessert, the creamy tiramisu is so ethereally light, it’s a a must-order.
From the doorbell where you’re greeted, to the interior sign allegedly painted by Andy Warhol, to the front right table where Emilio sits with friends, to the back room that’s bound to seat someone famous: Emilio’s is a scene — and we haven’t even gotten to the food. Start with a glass of house red or white. Make sure you try that focaccia (Emilio started as a baker). Order a plate of red peppers. Consider the tripe. Move on to linguine with white clam sauce. Share a plate of fennel sausage and broccoli rabe. The veal Milanese is pretty great, too
If Spiaggia in Chicago is what put chef Missy Robbins on the map, Lilia in Williamsburg is what rocketed her to stardom. Lucky diners might encounter Robbins hovering over the flame-spitting wood grill, the device responsible for singing Lilia’s succulent lamb steaks. Others might stop short at the host stand, quoted a two-hour wait for walk-ins.
Over a century in Williamsburg has made old-school, red-sauce Italian restaurant Bamonte’s a local legend. (Appearing in an episode of the Sopranos along the way didn’t hurt, either.) Opened in 1900, the restaurant is still owned by its founding family, who serves up classic Italian American dishes via servers in suits. Must orders include briny clams oreganata, spaghetti and meatballs, and the famous pork chops with pickled peppers. Don’t miss the cannoli, an off-menu dessert.
The family-owned dining room with its large Sicilian menu, open since 1982, is a bounty of classics: a chicken Francese swimming in lemon-butter sauce, calamari doused in fra diavolo, and fettuccine alfredo bathed in creamy sauce. The are six kinds of spaghetti alone (get the one with eggplant), and don’t miss the anchovy appetizer or the baked clams oreganata. A meal here feels like you’re sitting in someone’s living room.
Also featured in:
One of the city’s oldest Sicilian restaurants, dating to 1904, is Ferdinando’s Focacceria in Carroll Gardens. The “focacceria” part of the name doesn’t refer to the familiar southern Italian bread, but to a type of snack shop often found in the island’s capital of Palermo. The menu here, once limited to small sandwiches of cow spleen or chickpeas and composed plates of seafood and vegetables, now serves a full-blown Italian American bill of fare. Depend on baked clams, fried squid or shrimp, and tomato sauce-soaked rice balls, along with squid ink linguine that’s best washed down with a coffee soda.
Frankies 457 Spuntino
A picturesque backyard and a neighborhood vibe are the cherries on top at Frankies 457 Spuntino, which launched a small empire of restaurants on well-executed Italian American classics. The restaurant is as well-known for its sandwiches — the meatball parm and the eggplant marinara are both worth trying — along with its pastas, particularly the cavatelli with hot sausage and browned sage butter. Wines are affordable, and it’s a great restaurant for groups. Reservations are recommended, but it’s usually possible to snag a seat at the wine bar, where the restaurant’s full menu is served.
Al Di La Trattoria
The dark, cozy space of Al Di La has been a Park Slope favorite since 1998, both as a dining destination for Anna Klinger’s northern Italian pastas and as a go-to for locals around dinner. Go for the spaghetti neri all chitarra (black spaghetti with octopus confit, basil, and hot chile peppers) and tagliatelle if it’s a first-time visit, but know that there’s plenty else to explore. Listen for the specials, and prepare to wait for a table at peak hours.
Get the calamari, the mozzarella in carrozza, fettuccine Bolognese, or the chicken Milanese at this halal Italian spot from Abdul Elenani and Akram Nassir, behind Palestinian restaurant Ayat and Al Badawi. Inside, an old gas-fired oven hulks behind the bar, while tight round tables in the dining room are pushed together to accommodate extended families that can flood the place.
Joe's of Avenue U
Joe’s is the city’s quintessential Sicilian spot, straight out of the 1950s and located on the cramped streets of Gravesend, Brooklyn. Look at the glass case filled with vegetable and seafood dishes near the entrance, noting which ones appeal, then sit down in a dining room decorated with a delightful mural that depicts an island landscape with century-old themes. Don’t miss the chickpea fritters called panelle, the pasta con sarde loaded with sardines and sweetened with fennel, or the octopus salad.
Randazzo's Clam Bar
This Sheepshead Bay establishment has been a neighborhood staple for decades, serving a variety of seafood dishes and pasta in a crowded dining room a stone’s throw from the waterfront. The restaurant is known for its red sauce, which can be ordered at varying heat levels and comes served atop various seafood dishes, including its standout fried calamari. Don’t miss the shrimp fra diavolo, as well as the raw oysters and clams.