Some of the oldest Italian restaurants in the country are in Philadelphia. They opened around the start of the 20th century and predate air conditioning, the radio, and our obsession with Dua Lipa. If nothing else, that should at least demonstrate how far back the tradition of Italian food goes here. We have a ton of different spots all over the city, from the old-school South Philly red-sauce spots to newer places where you can have a bowl of bucatini inside of an old high school. What all of these 16 places on this list have in common, though, is that we think about them in our dreams and they’re the best places for Italian food in the entire city.
Vetri isn’t just the best Italian restaurant in Philadelphia, it’s the best restaurant in Philadelphia. It’s also 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 $150 for the tasting menu. The meal is actually worth all that money, though, because you’ll eat around 15 courses that include the most excellent bites of pasta, cured meats, and other Italian dishes you’ve ever tasted. If you have an occasion important enough to warrant dropping a few hundred dollars on dinner, Vetri is where you should do it.
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 mozzarella in carrozza and charred polenta with brisket, 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, asparagus rotolo covered in morels, 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.
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 space is inside a converted classroom that’s full of plants and retro 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 like swordfish sausage orecchiette with fava beans, feel like they could be served to somebody who lives in a palace. Come here for a fun group dinner where you can experience one of the best views in the city.
The 25 Best Restaurants In Philadelphia
Wm. Mulherin's Sons
Wm. Mulherin’s Sons looks like a house in the Catskills that Tom Brady owns. The part boutique hotel, part restaurant has big, round wood tables and a fireplace in the middle of the dining room. They also have some great outdoor seating for groups, whether you're sitting in the street or in their garden that feels straight out of a scene from Downtown Abbey. And 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 pasta like lobster gnocchi and Neapolitan pizzas—especially the double margarita pizza topped with both mozzarella and burrata.
Little Nonna’s is deceptive. From the outside, you would think you’re just passing by a bakery or small cafe. But this is just a front for what’s happening in the back—a big garden space with string lights hung up on the trellis that covers the whole patio. For a date in Midtown Village, you can’t do much better. The menu is full of classic Italian things, but the Sunday gravy is why you should come here. You'll get a plate full of braised short ribs and fennel sausage covered in marinara, and they sometimes run out of it before the night is over, so you want to make a reservation here on the earlier side.
Ralph's Italian Restaurant
You’ll probably see a few tourists when you go to Ralph’s, 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 the food comes in huge portions, from spaghetti in red gravy to shrimp scampi to one of the best veal parmesans in the city. And because all the portions are so huge, you can expect to leave with lunch for the next few days.
Midtown Village’s Prunella has a great outdoor dining setup that works for almost any occasion, from first dates to rosé-filled dinners when the sun is shining. Inside there’s a long marble bar where you can get a first-row seat to wood-fired pizzas piping out of the oven or pastas being topped with bread crumbs, mint, and grated parmesan. There’s not a bad dish on the menu either. The Rabe The Bank pizza has peppery sausage and the crust is perfect, the saffron cavatelli comes coated with a savory lamb ragu, and the octopus is light and crispy. And if you don’t have room for the lemon or caramel mousse in the end, make another reservation and do it all again the next day.
Dante & Luigi's
Open since 1899, this is Philadelphia’s oldest Italian restaurant. Between the white table cloths, chandeliers, black and white photos, and dining rooms in the converted townhouses, you’ll feel the old-school charm each time you come here. The South Philly spot uses that experience to whip up some top-notch pasta like 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.
Mr. Martino's Trattoria
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 on weekends, and walk-in 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).
Barbuzzo Mediterranean Kitchen & Bar
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 served. Start with a few negronis, order a pizza, a few plates to share (get the grilled octopus), and make sure to split the salted caramel budino for dessert.
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 as a lot of people insist it will, but you’ll certainly want to come back often for a plate of pasta.
Gran Caffe L'Aquila
Gran Caffe L’Aquila opens pretty early daily and stays open all day, so it’s one of those rare places where you can have a pastry-heavy breakfast, sit down for a power lunch, and have a last-minute second dinner date with someone you really like. The Center City spot is identical to an Italian cafe that used to be open in Abruzzo, which means they actually had all the tile flooring, marble counters, and the wine rack shipped from Italy to America. They serve handmade pastas like pappardelle al ragu, spaghetti vongole, and a wildly good fire-roasted whole branzino. While the pasta is the main attraction here, you definitely need to go for the gelato. The fluffy salted caramel will haunt your memories for weeks and will drive you to make any excuse just to stop by again.
Le Virtù in East Passyunk does Abruzzese food—namely, seafood pastas, cured meats, and cheeses. Some of the standouts are the lamb skewers and lump crab tagliatelle, and on Sunday and Monday nights they do a $35 tasting menu that includes an appetizer, main dish, and a glass of wine. Plus, they have a huge, vine-covered patio, so during the summer, you can share a charcuterie plate and a bottle of wine with a few people you met in your amateur Scrabble league.
Villa Di Roma
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.
Saloon is an Italian restaurant, but it’s also a steakhouse—one with dark wood walls and stained glass windows that make it feel like the rectory of a church. The menu skews more towards a traditional steakhouse, with things like clams casino and a petit filet served with mashed potatoes. But the Italian specialties are just as good, especially the linguine pescatore and lobster francaise.
Zeppoli technically isn’t in Philadelphia (it’s over the bridge in Collingswood), but considering it’s good enough to drive to New Jersey for, we had to include it. This Sicilian spot only has 35 seats, but you need to go if you can get a reservation. The menu is heavy on seafood and pasta, and the spinach and ricotta gnocchi are a must-order. Plus, this spot earns the best dessert on this list with their cinnamon-sugar zeppole in a pool of dark chocolate.