PHLGuide

The Best Italian Restaurants In Philadelphia

Where to eat Italian food in Philly when you aren’t willing to settle.
The Best Italian Restaurants In Philadelphia image

photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO

Some of the country’s oldest and best Italian restaurants are right here in Philly—after all, we started the whole dining out thing in the late 1600’s. After eating endless plates of pasta, whole fish, pizza, and nearly everything covered in mozzarella, we’re confident in giving you this guide: the 20 best restaurants for Italian food in the city. From veal parmigiana at old-school red sauce joints to Sicilian agrodolce chicken in a high school, we’ve eaten it all.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: RACHEL LERRO

Pasta

Center City

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Vetri isn’t just the best Italian restaurant in Philadelphia—it’s one of the best restaurants in the city, period. The Center City staple can get extremely expensive, so it works best for a special occasion. As soon as you walk in the door, you’ll get an aperol spritz on the house, which feels nice until you realize you’re shelling out $165 for the tasting menu. The meal is actually worth all that money, though, because you’ll eat around 15 courses that include excellent housemade pasta, cured meats, and other Italian dishes like salt-baked branzino. If you have an occasion important enough to warrant dropping a few hundred dollars on dinner, Vetri is where you should do it.


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Fiorella is where you should spend all night eating pasta until someone tries to kick you out or demand rent. While the Bella Vista pasta bar has outstanding small plates like wild boar terrine with cherries, make no mistake:it’s the pasta you’re here for. If you snag any of the bar seats inside, you’ll have a great view of ricotta gnocchi, chestnut lasagnetta with goose, and their legendary sausage rigatoni being made right in front of you. Bring some out-of-towners here if you want to impress them while simultaneously ruining all other pasta dishes they've ever eaten. Unless your guests are from Italy, of course.


This is a food spread at Royal Sushi & Izakaya.

PHL Guide

The 25 Best Restaurants In Philadelphia

Wm. Mulherin’s Sons looks like a house in the Catskills that Martha Stewart owns. The part-boutique hotel, part-restaurant in Fishtown has big wooden tables and a fireplace in the middle of the dining room. They also have some great outdoor seating for groups, whether you're sitting on the sidewalk or in the garden that feels straight out of a scene from Downtown Abbey. On top of just looking really nice, the cocktails and Italian food are also excellent. There are lots of things to choose from, but what they do best are pastas like the braised beef cheek agnolotti and Neapolitan pizzas—especially the double margarita pizza topped with both mozzarella and burrata.


With massive picture windows and bright green signage, it’s hard to miss this Kensington pasta bar and wine shop. But even if you don’t notice the couples sharing bottles of merlot as you walk by, the unmistakable scent of lamb ragu will draw you in. From perfectly blended cocktails and unique, affordable wines to pastas so good that you’ll consider proposing to the chef, this intimate corner restaurant should be your go-to for any time you’re craving carbs. Tulip serves up modern takes on Italian classics, like cacio e peperoncini, Thai-inspired linguine and mussels, and our favorite, the charcoal roasted beet ravioli.

If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to have an exclusive dinner party inside of your high school, head to Irwin’s inside of South Philly’s Bok Building. The restaurant is inside a converted classroom that’s full of plants and mid-century furniture like old bookshelves you haven’t seen since third period English, and they have a large patio that wraps around the outside. Even though the atmosphere is laid back and casual, the Sicilian dishes, like citrusy whole fish, tender agrodolce chicken, and handmade pastas feel like they could be served to somebody who lives in a palace. Come here for a fun group dinner and experience one of the best views in the city.

Osteria is a spacious Italian spot on North Broad that has a beautiful covered greenhouse. It's flowing with flowers and a long bar that makes it an easy place to drop in before a show at The Met. The cocktails, pizzas, and handmade pastas are all excellent—especially their creamy and earthy francobolli ravioli that’s packed with robiola cheese and topped with large trumpet mushrooms. But we’re also big fans of the wood-grilled chicken if you want something that won’t weigh you down on an intimate date night.

Open since 1899, this is Philadelphia’s oldest Italian restaurant. It's overwhelminingly old school—think white table cloths and candlelight, chandeliers, black and white photos, and dining rooms throughout converted townhouses. The South Philly spot uses that century of experience to whip up top-notch pastas like the gnocchi romano, fettuccini filetto with filet mignon and sun-dried tomatoes, and a baked lasagna that’s the best in town. And even though the interiors look fancy with paintings on the wall that look like they belong at a museum, you can eat here without dropping some serious money—none of the entrees cost more than $30.

When you drive by Café Carmela, you’ll see a line that looks like PennDOT on the weekends. And it’s no wonder—they’ve mastered the carb holy trinity of pizza, sandwiches, and pasta. The interiors are a mix of classic Italian red booth seating, checkered tablecloths, and bulb marquees spelling out “pizza” that always gets the attention of kids with their families. There’s not a bad dish on the menu (we checked), but if you stop by and don’t try the American Boy pizza with creamy mozzarella or a cheesesteak with thick cuts of ribeye, you’ll miss out on what everyone in that line is probably waiting around for.

Saloon is an Italian restaurant, but it’s also a quintessential South Philly dining experience. It’s been around for 55 years, and is still outfitted with dark wood walls and candlelight, stained glass windows, and paraphernalia from 19th and 20th century Philadelphia. The staff has as much personality as the building itself (and most have been around just as long). The menu ranges from traditional steakhouse dishes like clams casino and petite filet with mashed potatoes, but we’re partial to the Italian house specialties, like the linguine pescatore with jumbo shrimp and a buttery lobster Francaise (and if Rocky were real, he would be, too). 

You’ll probably see a few tourists when you go to Ralph’s in South Philly, but considering it’s one of the oldest Italian restaurants in the country (it opened in 1900) and one of the best in Philadelphia, what else can you expect? As soon as you walk through the front door, you feel like you’re stepping back in time—the wood-trimmed walls are decorated with black and white photos of Italy, and the floors still have the original subway tiles. All of the food comes in huge portions, from spaghetti in red gravy and shrimp scampi to one of the best veal parms in the city. And because all the portions are so big, you can expect to leave with lunch for the next day.

When only checkered table cloths, Frank Sinatra's greatest hits, and comically large maps of Italy will do, head to The Victor Café in Passyunk Square. It's a classic Italian place—they even have live opera every night—where you can share a bottle of wine, eat creamy vegetable risotto, and perfect your spaghetti twirling technique. It's incredibly useful for a date night or weeknight when only a tasty plate of carbs will do. Grab an order of the salty veal saltimbocca along with one of their many spritzes and pretend you're at Adrian's beside Rocky himself (in fact, it's where Rocky Balboa was filmed).

Barbuzzo is one of those rare places that manages to please just about anyone, and although it brands itself as largely Mediterranean, the kitchen here makes some excellent pizza, pasta, and Italian small plates. You’ll probably need to make a reservation, but the bar and chef’s counter are first come, first serve. Start with a few negronis, order a pizza, a few small plates to share (the grilled octopus is a must), and make sure to split the salted caramel budino for dessert.

Located in an old hardware store in South Philly, Mr. Martino’s Trattoria is exactly the kind of Italian BYOB that tourists expect when they visit. There’s homemade pasta cooked in a one-woman kitchen, tons of antique furniture, and a staff that acts like you’re a part of the family. The veal tortelloni is a must-order, and there’s an off-menu octopus appetizer with beans that you should ask about before you even look at the menu. The one problem is that it’s not exactly easy to eat here—they’re only open monthly (as a pop-up), and spots fill up early. You have to either get there before prime time or call for reservations on a day when they happen to be answering the phone (which isn’t often).

Murph’s is a dark, cash-only Irish pub in Fishtown with very good Italian food. It’s so good that people show up at 5pm on the dot to try and get one of the six tables in the back that are reserved for people ordering food. One guy cooks everything in a tiny basement kitchen, so the service can sometimes be a little slow. However, the pasta is worth waiting for—especially the lobster ravioli. A meal here probably won’t change your life (like a lot of people suggest), but you’ll certainly want to come back often for a plate of pasta.

You know when you train for a race for months and then your brother decides to run at the last minute and somehow beats you? This scenario reminds us of how effortless having dinner at A Mano in Fairmount feels compared to every other Italian BYOB in Philly. The dining room is upscale but still feels casual, and the plates of pasta look just as good as they taste. You would expect a place like this to have a long, expensive wine list, but they don’t have a wine list at all. Instead, bring your own $15 bottle to pair with a plate of gnocchi that costs about the same.


Most Italian places in South Philly, even the OGs, feel more like tourist traps than they do old-school Italian hangouts. Villa Di Roma is the exception. Walk into this spot in the Italian Market and you’ll see pictures of customers and their families hung up on the walls and regulars who’ve been eating pasta here since it opened in the ’60s. The menu is long and has all of the things you’d expect from a red-sauce Italian spot, including meatballs in gravy, veal francese, and countless different pasta options. It’s the kind of place you want to keep to yourself and tell everyone about at the same time.


Le Virtù is where you go in East Passyunk when you want to eat Italian dishes like arancini with spicy sausage and a lemony branzino, but don’t want to do it in a closet-sized room where you end up grazing a stranger's knee. There’s a lot of space here, including a lovely candlelit patio, so it’s a good spot for a weeknight group dinner where you pass a plate of garlicky tagliatelle around the table while sipping on a glass of rosé. 

This small BYOB right off Passyunk Ave has a handful of pastas, incredible family-style mains, and a dining room that (on a sunny day) gets a ton of natural light coming through their massive windows. From the white tablecloths and candles to fresh flowers on every table, it has all the elements to warm up any date night. Make sure to order one or two pastas for the table–including the fettuccine tossed with jumbo gulf shrimp and a buttery cream sauce. 


There are plenty of old school red sauce places in South Philly, but L’Angolo is one of the best. They take reservations, which is a huge advantage, and with a few separate rooms in the back, they don’t mind if you bring a group and enough wine to have a good time. Plus, their menu is full of fresh pasta and seafood dishes that are easily big enough to share. For a little bit of both, get the spaghetti scoglio.


Ambrosia Ristorante is a casual Italian spot in Fitler Square where you can eat bowls of mussels in a saffron broth, mushroom risotto, and plates of squid ink spaghettini that’s tossed with crab meat and calamari. The handmade pastas here are usually big enough for two, can all be made gluten-free, and can get a handfulof shrimp or chicken for a few extra bucks. There’s also a wine shop down the street if anyone in your group forgot a bottle to pair with the gigantic chicken milanese. 


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