DCGuide

The 10 Best Italian Restaurants in DC

Because you need more red sauce in your life.
The 10 Best Italian Restaurants in DC image

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo

DC has great Italian food. Historic Italian enclaves like Adams Morgan have introduced the city to creamy risotto, juicy ragu, and coffee-soaked tiramisu. And this guide is here to prove it. Here are the chicken parms that inspire bipartisanship, spaghetti that saves relationships, and lasagnas that provide emotional support in times of need.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: LeadingDC

Italian

Capitol Hill

$$$$Perfect For:Dinner with the Parents
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Dining at this Italian restaurant in Capitol Hill feels like entering a world where bad days don’t exist. Diners are snugly packed into tomato-red cushioned booths, trading in the day's passive aggressive emails for zesty lemon-butter chicken piccata and rich and velvety blood orange crème brûlées. The restaurant is always bustling with regulars who know to book a week in advance so as to not get stuck eating dinner at 9:30pm. But it doesn’t really matter when you eat—or what you eat because each bowl of truffle butter alfredo and spicy seafood tagliatelle is here to remind you that while not every problem has a solution—pasta is always there to make it just a little better.

It’s natural to wonder if some award-winning restaurants are worth the hype (and the price tag) but at Fiola, there’s no need for second guessing. Steps away from the Washington monument, the restaurant is decked out in white table cloths, gleaming silverware, and handwritten notes welcoming you to the table. The attention to detail creates the perfect setting for a special occasion or a dinner where you’re looking to impress. There are three tasting menus, but the five-course Tradition is our go-to. Begin with a caviar and ricotta appetizer that’s followed by a succulent lobster and toro seafood pasta, and end the night with vanilla and pear panna cotta that will have you booking your next reservation before you leave the table.

Filomena Ristorante has been serving DC pasta for 40 years, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a spot that does a better job. Which is probably why the Georgetown basement eatery is packed day and night, as folks turn everything from a simple weeknight dinner to a milestone birthday into an experience as big as Filomena’s chicken parmesan. The waiters are fresh to death in their tuxedos, while you try—and fail—to avoid dripping red sauce onto the white knit placemat under your ravioli. That mix of fancy and homey is what continues to make Filomena a spot where everyone comes to celebrate big moments, share fun nights with friends, or test their new elastic waist pants trying to down an entire plate of Pasta Mamma-made ravioli in one sitting.

If you live in Bloomingdale, count yourself lucky to call The Red Hen a neighborhood restaurant. Come here to catch up with friends over glasses of orange wine and crispy fried arancini—and soon enough, you'll be basking in the warm glow of the red brick room. The entrees, like their slow-cooked and succulent beef cheek pappardelle, are delicious, and do that thing that good Italian food does which makes you feel like you’re eating at someone’s home. Just make sure y'all don't start feeling so comfortable that your friends start kicking off their shoes and undoing their belts. You’re still in public.

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo

Trattoria Alberto is the one of the few things everyone on Capitol Hill can agree on. The old-school restaurant with its cherry wood furniture and white linen table cloths is usually full of senators and staffers not-so-quietly discussing cuts to healthcare access over piping hot plates of chicken parm. And while the present company might leave a bad taste in your mouth, the food, like their creamy pesto fettuccine, is done well. Their creme brûlée, which they keep simple with cream, vanilla, and sugar, is one of the best in the city.

$$$$Perfect For:Date Night

Adams Morgan has a number of good Italian restaurants, but Retrobottega is the best. Cozy up in the restaurant’s snug dining nook where you can impress your date with front-row seats into the open kitchen. And if you really want to show off, order the charred octopus as an appetizer—it’s got this incredible smoky flavor—and the oxtail lasagna because it’s oxtail lasagna (and also really good). That way, even if your date turns out to be a bit of a dud, at least you've scored yourself a fabulous meal. We call that self-love.

photo credit: Via Ghibellina

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight Dinner
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When you step into Via Ghibellina, it's a homecoming, not just a meal. Staff dressed in all black banter with regulars who know they’ve hit the jackpot as far as neighborhood restaurants go. Groups of friends huddle in the dimly-lit corner restaurant gossiping over plates of homemade tagliatelle and flawlessly grilled white wine branzino. Families perched on the restaurant’s petite wooden stools fight over cheese-pull worthy slices of pecorino pizza. And as soup people, we’re going back for the lobster bisque which holds a special place in our cold, cold hearts.

photo credit: Osteria Al Volo

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Osteria Al Volo’s faded gray awning is easily overlooked, tucked beside a taqueria with the world’s largest and brightest neon sign. But make the effort to find it because once you step inside, just the smell of freshly baked bread, garlic, and olive oil will make the search worthwhile. The kitchen sits in the center of the room and acts like one giant diffuser, filling the space with the scent of endless short rib and ravioli. The cozy spot is great for laid-back hangouts and the long wooden table in the back is ideal for large group get-togethers. The standing menu is full of classics like cacio e pepe and spaghetti carbonara, but it’s the restaurant’s weekly specials like their saucy and tenderly braised duck ragu that keep us coming back.

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo

$$$$Perfect For:Special Occasions

L’Ardente is one of DC’s poshest restaurants, so naturally securing a reservation at the Italian spot in the East End is hard, but you won’t regret hunting on Resy two weeks in advance once you taste their 40-layer lasagna. Slide into a teal booth seat in the gold and white dining room with floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows, and order the buttery pasta dish, rich in truffle and cheese, and full of tender short ribs. If lasagna’s not your thing (it should be, it’s the best thing on the menu), get the zucca, little bell-pepper-shaped pasta served with a spicy sausage ragu that has a generous meat-to-pasta ratio. Finish your evening with dessert—and the fire presentation that comes with the tiramisu. Don’t say we didn't warn you.

Brunch might not be the first meal you think of when someone says “let’s get pasta,” but at Lavagna, it should be. Every weekend, the Capitol Hill spot is packed with locals indulging in mascarpone pancakes topped with whipped nutella that taste like they should be dessert instead of breakfast. The staff carries huge plates of bacon-topped spaghetti carbonara past black-and-white photos of James Dean and Audrey Hepburn, but are never too busy to stop and laugh with customers they haven’t seen in a while. Come Saturday, for more of a typical DC brunch scene, or take it slow on Sunday with the quietly sip mimosas crowd.

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