Outside of Italy, NYC is one of the best places in the world to eat Italian food. So, yes, this list could have been much longer than 20 restaurants. It also could have included places that specialize in pizza. But that’s a whole different list. So before you start tweeting at us about Di Fara, just know that we’re getting to that guide (maybe). For the most part, these are the spots where you go for a somewhat special occasion. Or maybe you just have some extra cash on hand and you want to sit at a bar on Wednesday and eat some bangin’ pasta. (Side note: lots of these places have great bars where you can eat.) Whatever the situation, if you want the very best Italian this city has to offer, you need only consult this list.
Pasquale Jones could be one of the best Italian restaurants in New York based on its clam pizza and nearly-perfect pastas alone, but those dishes alone aren’t what make this restaurant a 9.5. It’s everything else that happens here. It’s the fact that they’ll serve you even an affordable wine in a $60 wine glass usually reserved for high rollers in fine dining restaurants. It’s the fact that they clean up your placemat with what looks like a whiteboard eraser when you drop some crumbs. It’s the fact that even though it can be tough to get a table here, they make you feel like you were personally invited to this party once you sit down. Pasquale Jones does great food, in a great little space, and they treat you like you’re a lot more important than you are.
Infatuation readers know there is a Correct way to do L’Artusi, and this is it: You come in a group of two, and you sit at the bar. You order the ricotta with homemade crackers and the mushrooms, and then you share two pastas. You drink wine. You go home happy. A dinner at this West Village restaurant is about as good a date night as they come.
Carbone is a production, and if the maroon tuxedos on the waiters were just one shade brighter, the whole place might seem a little cheesy. But they pull it off. Maybe because the food is actually good, or maybe because it’s a fun place to eat. Carbone is a tiny red-sauce Italian spot in Greenwich Village, and it both looks and feels like the set of a film about mobsters who eat a lot. The curtains are always drawn on the front windows, but if you’re able to book a table, you can get a look at what goes down in here. You might see a Real Housewife, or Katy Perry, or your parents - and you will almost definitely see a waiter in a maroon tuxedo making some bananas foster tableside (live flame included).
We’ll never not want to eat at Rubirosa. You could come over to our office during lunchtime, knock some food out of our hands, then tell us to follow you to Rubirosa, and we’d just nod and come along. This place is casual and vibey, and it’s perfect for date night, dinner with friends, and most other scenarios too. They’re best-known for their thin-crust pizzas, but Rubirosa is much more than a pizza restaurant, and they do some excellent small plates, pastas, and entrees as well. Although you really should get at least one pizza (go vodka sauce). And either make a reservation or be prepared to face a long wait.
There are a ton of Italian restaurants in Brooklyn, but there’s nothing else like Lilia. It’s a giant, high-ceilinged, exposed-beam covered whitewashed space that just feels awesome to be in. And the modern, light-leaning Italian food is even more impressive. While this place is great for parents and out-of-towners, our favorite way to do it is with one other person at the bar (which also happens to be the only walk-in availability in the house). Start with one or three of their spot-on negronis, take the wine advice of the bartender, and plan to go deep on pastas. Also plan to get the cacio e pepe fritters, housemade mozzarella, bagna cauda (seasonal crudite with an incredible anchovy dipping sauce), wood-grilled clams, and the vanilla gelato with lemon ice. So really what we’re saying is, come to Lilia hungrier than you’ve ever been and you’ll be happy you did.
New York City can get you down. The subway never working when you need it to, the people always in your way, the constant feeling that everyone is competing to have the coolest dog. When it all starts to feel like too much, Al Di La is where you go. The brick-walled, rickety-chandeliered space feels like a wise, worldly Italian grandmother’s home, but the food coming out is the kind of stuff that no normal human can achieve in their kitchen. Learn from our mistakes and do not attempt the seven-hour recipe for Al Di La’s tagliatelle ragu. It will never taste how it does here, which is probably the closest thing we’ve found to actual magic in real life.
Il Buco used to be an antique store (and still kind of feels like it), has a 200 year old wine cellar that Edgar Allen Poe apparently used to hang out in, and has been one of the city’s best date night spots since it opened in 1994. And we haven’t even talked about the food yet. Well, it’s great too. You certainly will want to have some pasta on your table, and we strongly recommend getting a piece of fish. We’re not the kind of people who usually recommend a piece of fish, so we mean it.
Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria
This is the second, more casual spot from the people behind Il Buco, and it’s essentially the same concept: fresh ingredients, and the brief illusion that you might actually be in Italy. Case in point: the bucatini cacio e pepe. It comes covered in cheese and fresh ground pepper, and the noodles are so al dente you get minor jaw workout. We (perhaps falsely) assume this is how real Italian people like their noodles, and we wouldn’t have this dish any other way. The space isn’t quite as vibey as the original Il Buco, but it does have a little grocery section up front where you can stock up on bread, meat, and cheese.
If you’ve been to Locanda Verde, maybe you can remember your first time trying the ricotta with sea salt, or your first time biting into the blue crab on toast. Those are probably very good memories. And you’ve only gotten to the “crostini” part of the menu. Locanda Verde is the Tribeca Italian restaurants we used to send all of our friends from LA to in 2010, but we’d still send you there in a heartbeat, because it’s actually gotten better with time.
I Sodi feels like the West Village’s neighborhood Italian clubhouse. And because this is the West Village, its neighborhood Italian clubhouse is more upscale than, say, the East Village’s neighborhood Italian clubhouse. There are white tablecloths and waiters in ties, and the food isn’t especially affordable - but don’t let that scare you off. The regulars are here for a reason: the negronis (there’s an entire menu of them), the all-Italian wine list, and the traditional Italian food are all excellent. If there are only two of you, the bar is where all the action is.
Maialino is permanently closed
Maialino is a terrific restaurant to eat in any time of day, but we’re going to let you in on a not-very-well-kept secret: Maialino is absolutely incredible at brunch. The light will be shining in, and you’ll be across the street from Gramercy Park, and you’ll be eating some exceptional food. You can have an exceptional cacio e pepe, followed by a plate of porchetta, followed by a toffee-glazed brioche. We wouldn’t recommend eating this way every Saturday, but you should know it’s a viable option, and one which you might want to consider… every other Saturday? Or come for dinner like a normal person and have a great dinner any day of the week.
Without spots like Bamonte’s, you don’t have spots like Carbone. And while we could have done a completely separate list of OG red-sauce Italian spots, we’re just gonna stick Bamonte’s in here as the official representative for that group. This restaurant has been open over a century, and (despite the fact that it’s in prime Williamsburg) it still feels like somewhere you might see Joe Dimaggio. The food at Bamonte’s isn’t out-of-this-world, but it’s more about the old-school experience here, and you won’t be unhappy with a big plate of their ravioli.
We debated quite a bit over whether Lil’ Frankies belonged on this list - it’s on our Greatest Hits List, and has a very high rating, but not because it serves the best food in the city. It’s on those lists because it’s one of those places we go back to over and over again, and because it perfectly captures what eating in the East Village is all about. This place is so full of heart that we ultimately couldn’t leave it off. Get the spaghetti limone, some pizzas to share, and the roasted eggplant. We need to stop over-thinking these things and just go with our gut.
If we ever taught a class about Italian restaurants in New York, our first session would be called Underrated Italian Restaurants You May Not Have Heard Of. And we’d teach you about Sandro’s. Do you think this is something The Learning Annex would be into? No? OK, we’ll just tell you about it here then. Sandro’s is a small Upper East Side restaurant, serving what is quite possibly the best bucatini amatriciana in New York. Eating here isn’t cheap, but the very-Italian owner will pour you a glass of grappa at the end of your meal, and it will have been completely worth it.
Marea is a lot of things: a seafood restaurant, a fine dining restaurant, and a midtown corporate card restaurant. But it’s also definitely an Italian restaurant, and one of the city’s very best for a fancier meal. Eating here always feels special, but without the stuffiness of other restaurants on this level. You’ll want to go heavy on the crudos and shellfish, and you absolutely should not miss the fusili with braised octopus and bone marrow, which is one of New York’s great pastas. It costs $32, so come prepared.
Frankies (457) Spuntino
Frankie’s 457 has vibes. It’s small, dark, cozy, and you can smell the food as soon as you walk in (there’s an open kitchen behind the bar). That’s why it’s been a top date spot in Carroll Gardens for over a decade. But if you have kids, you can bring them too. Also, your grandmother probably won’t be the only grandmother there (even on a Saturday night). This is a neighborhood spot from two guys named Frank, and it’s where you go to eat no-frills Italian. Your food won’t be as pretty as the stuff at Marea or Del Posto, but you’ll finish every last bit and plot to steal their recipe for Italian sausage. There’s also a back patio and a second (much less vibey) location in the West Village.