The Best Old-School Italian Restaurants In Philly, Ranked

Philly’s ode to red sauce and meatballs.
This is the dining room of Dante & Luigi's.

photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO

Philly has some of the oldest Italian restaurants in America, so we know more than most when it comes to paintings of the old country, white tablecloths stained with red sauce, and dining rooms that double as wine cellars. Old-school Italian spots are a classic setting for a candlelit Friday night, nudging nephews to settle down over meatballs, and everything in between. Not every place nails the perfect balance of familial warmth and huge portions of pasta, but many get close. Here’s a ranking of the 13 best.

The Spots

photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO


Bella Vista

$$$$Perfect For:Special OccasionsLiterally EveryoneClassic EstablishmentBig GroupsCasual Weeknight DinnerDinner with the Parents
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Lots of places replicate Italian-American nostalgia. But Bella Vista’s Dante & Luigi’s, which has been in business since 1899, lived it. The restaurant is in a converted townhouse with vintage photos on the walls, fancy plates on the table, and yellow mesh over lemons. Sure, spaghetti can be found on lots of menus, but dining in an old-world dining room with tuxedoed servers is what makes the experience so special. Go for the savory lasagna and layered eggplant parmigiana, which are so good they make all other pasta seem like egg noodles and ketchup. Save room for a chocolate cannoli that should be on your pre-grave bucket list.  

photo credit: Rachel Lerro



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South Philly’s L’Angolo has a simple red awning, so it kind of blends into the surrounding area. But you can’t miss the couples huddling outside of the BYOB eager to celebrate a holiday, anniversary, or Wednesday night. The rustic dining room has brick archways, murals of the Italian countryside, and dim lanterns on the wall—providing just enough light to see multiple milanese on the menu and tableside parmesan shaving. The pastas are all homemade and delicious—we love the creamy lobster ravioli—and everything on the menu is large enough to share, even though you won’t want to. 

Philly has a long, bizarre legacy of members-only clubs, many of which are still around today. To get into this cash-only Italian social club in East Passyunk, you need a membership or a friend who has one and is willing to let you be their shadow. But it's not nearly as expensive or soul-sucking as the famous members-only club on Broad Street you're probably picturing right now. Imagine an uncle's basement on Snyder Ave. from the 1950s that stays open until 3am and serves very good amaro, spaghetti and blue crab, and late-night stromboli. You can try emailing them nicely to ask about memberships (these cost less than $50), though it might not work. But once you're in, you’ll want to bring every out-of-towner here to show off. 

Il Ghiottone is a small, casual restaurant in Port Richmond with so many Catholic saints on the walls that you’ll lose count. The dining room opens right into the kitchen, so you’ll hear sausages sizzling and a server yelling about the heat coming off the pan before she opens a window and tells you not to touch it (we would never). But it’s the food that you’ll be discussing the next day. Some pasta can be hit-or-miss, but the starters and mains—like the chicken parmesan—are incredible. Pro tip: ask questions about any picture on the wall, and you’ll hear someone’s grandfather’s life story and probably be invited to Sunday dinner at his house. 

Covered in dark wood, stained glass windows, and vintage signs, Bella Vista’s Saloon feels like it’s of another era—like the guy who built the Art Museum might sit down next to you, order a steak, and talk to you about its columns. But it’s 2024, and it’s usually filled with people on dates or older ladies who look like they left the salon 10 minutes ago swigging martinis. It’s an Italian steakhouse, so yes, they have a New York strip, but the classics, like linguine pescatore and veal piccante are the highlights and make up about 80% of the menu. Head here post work for a seat at the massive bar, or share clams casino and the bone-in veal parmigiano with friends.

$$$$Perfect For:BYOBDate NightBirthdays

Scannicchio's is pretty cramped. So tight, in fact, that you may learn garlic slicing tips from one table, and have strong opinions on whether a stranger should dump her boyfriend at another (she should). The friendly, communal feeling is part of its charm, but so are the crispy calamari, linguine with clams in white sauce, or a smoky pork chop, which are all served in massive “you haven’t eaten in a while” portions. Because of its location on South Broad, it’s a great choice for after a game. Or just skip the Sixers, and come straight here for something that won’t let you down. 

Yes, this Italian Market spot is known for its sandwiches, but they also make one of our favorite lasagnas in town. Paesano’s knows that the main calling card of any old school place is hospitality—which is why the chef tells you he’ll make anything the way you like it. While waiting for your food, you’ll notice the family photos, wax candles, and pasta rollers from the days of 10-cent gas. While it gets less attention than the older Italian restaurants in the neighborhood, Paesano’s food, like the beefy sandwiches, crispy arancini, and bucatini with a super savory amatriciana sauce, is much more consistent. Come for a casual sit-down lunch and watch someone’s grandma sniff a melon alongside trash can fires on 9th Street. 

When only checkered tablecloths, Frank Sinatra, and comically large maps of Italy will do, head to The Victor Café in Passyunk Square. It's about as classic as it gets—enjoy perfectly salty veal saltimbocca, creamy vegetable risotto, and perfect your spaghetti twirling technique to the sounds of opera (the staff actually performs it every 30 minutes). It's incredibly useful for a romantic date night or weeknight when you need a spritz and want nothing more in life than pasta and a Pavorotti impression. 

Located in an old hardware store in South Philly, Mr. Martino’s Trattoria is exactly the kind of Italian BYOB that out-of-towners expect when they visit. There’s homemade pasta cooked in a one-woman kitchen, tons of antique furniture, and a staff that treats you like family. Almost everything is a must-order, but choose wisely—they’re only open monthly (as a pop-up). Spots for generously stuffed veal ravioli and scallops in risotto fill up fast, so arrive by 4:30pm or call for reservations on a day when they happen to be answering the phone (which isn’t often).

Once the waitress calls you “hun” and you see the market price listed next to the whole branzino, you’ll know this East Passyunk spot is in the OG Italian hall of fame. Sure, we love the paintings of gondolas lining the walls, but the warm neighborhood-y atmosphere is the real draw here. It’s like everyone knows each other well enough to check-in on nonna and borrow a folding chair to save a spot outside in December. The pasta is the best thing on the menu, so get an order of the garlicky cavatelli and shrimp or giant plate of linguine alla scogliera that drenches shrimp and lobster in marinara. 

Old City's La Famiglia looks like it was a Medici's second coat room. Yes, the Versace-esque theme is tacky, but it's also fun to sit near a miniature David statue and fantasize about having enough money to buy all the marble in Carrara. Everything here tastes good, from the homemade pasta to the $56 veal chop, though nothing is truly memorable. Well, except for the owner Giuseppe going from table-to-table to make jokes and the cavernous wine cellar in the basement that has its own well.

Most Italian places in South Philly feel more like tourist traps than hangouts. Villa Di Roma is one of the exceptions. Walk into this spot in the Italian Market and you’ll see pictures of long-time guests and their families, and sit alongside regulars who have been eating chicken parm here since it opened in the ’60s. The menu is long and has everything you’d expect from a red-sauce joint, including golf ball-sized meatballs in gravy, lemony veal francese, and countless different pasta options. Though none of it will blow you away with flavor or execution, it has the charm of a spot where you can have some serviceable pasta and hear a grandpa say, “be good to your mother” to some kids while handing them $20.

You know the touristy places we just talked about? Ralph’s is one of them. But considering the South Philly icon is one of the oldest Italian restaurants in the country, what else can you expect? It has an antique appeal—wood-trimmed walls have black and white photos of Italy, and the floors are covered in the original subway tiles. All of the food comes in huge portions, from spaghetti in red gravy and shrimp scampi. Overall it’s pretty lackluster, but it’s all about the experience of such a historic place. Just be happy they survived prohibition—the wine list is still large. 

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