There’s almost a symbiotic relationship between New York City and Italian cuisine. Some people jokingly refer to The Big Apple, or La Gran Mela, as the twenty-first state of Italy. After all, you can’t throw a meatball in the city without hitting a sign that says “Trattoria” or “Ristorante.”
Plus, there’s a huge amount of diversity. In addition to pan-Italian fare, there are Italian-American eateries, as well as regional restaurants serving up the cuisine of Rome, Sicily, Sardinia, Venice, and Naples. There are fine dining versions, creative takes, and salt-of-the-earth, no-frills versions of Italian fare too.
Because of this ubiquity, though, it also means there are a lot of mediocre Italian restaurants in the city. How to sort through them and get your gluten’s worth without forking over a princely sum for bad food? The following eight spots, the best Italian restaurants in NYC, are good enough that you’ll scream “Mamma mia” with glee.
al di la
This Park Slope restaurant has been anchored on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Carroll Street since 1998. The phrase “al di la” in Italian means “the great beyond,” and let’s hope it doesn’t live up to its name any time soon.
The restaurant mostly focuses on the cuisine of the Veneto, an under-appreciated region for food in northeastern Italy. After sticking a fork into the rich ragu with tagliatelle, the black spaghetti with octopus confit, and/or the braised rabbit (served with creamy polenta) you’ll appreciate the Veneto too.
About a decade ago, New York City diners fell hard for Roman cuisine—and that love has not stopped since. Enter Camillo, a restaurant with its heart in the Eternal City and its feet in Brooklyn’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
While Camillo specializes in pinsa, a Roman pizza that is lighter and crisper than your average pie, don’t let that stop you from devouring other dishes too. The pastas, including a nicely and properly made carbonara and a bowl of pappardelle strewn with rich oxtail, are excellent.
The name comes from Count Camillo Negroni, whose name is now synonymous with that potent Italian cocktail. The restaurant—surprise, surprise—has a long list of variations on the Negroni.
Chef Ryan Hardy, who is also in the kitchen at his other two lauded Italian restaurants in NYC, Legacy Records and Pascuale Jones, cooks up one of the best versions of Roman pasta dish cacio e pepe on this side of the Atlantic.
Located on the border of SoHo and the West Village, Charlie Bird’s atmosphere is cool and casual, and hip-hop is often oozing from the speakers (Hardy was once the private chef for Jay-Z and Beyonce). There’s also a splurge-worthy ribeye for two—Hardy cut his teeth at the elegant restaurant inside Aspen’s Little Nell and thus knows a thing or two about cooking large pieces of meat.
Translated as “Here We Are” in Italian, Ci Siamo is housed in a large, sprawling space.
Restaurateur Danny Meyer’s attempt to inject some soul to the harshly anesthetized Hudson Yards area is a welcome relief. Thank goodness they are here! The chef is Hillary Sterling, who sharpened her knives with Bobby Flay and Missy Robbins.
The emphasis here is cooking over an open flame. The pasta dishes here are standouts—the Roman rigatoni alla gricia, something you don’t see outside of the Eternal City very often, is excellent. But order anything that was cooked over that flame and your palate will be very pleased: the wood-fired whole trout or splurge on the bistecca alla Fiorentina.
I Sodi is the classic Village restaurant people dream of just stumbling upon. Many people stroll right by the sedate, inconspicuous frosted-glass facade mid-block on Christopher Street without really noticing it. Inside there are a smattering of white table-clothed tables and a long bar.
Tuscan-born chef Rita Sodi, who also owns popular West Village spots Via Carota, The Commerce Inn, and Bar Pisellino, is at her best with the pasta dishes here. The perfectly done cacio e pepe, the butter-and-sage ravioli, and the legendary lasagna, which has so many layers it could be a geological specimen, are dishes that will lure you back here again and again.
Owned and run by three women (two in the kitchen, one in the front of the house), King serves up consistently excellent Italian delights, usually in the form of pasta, on the corner of Sixth Avenue and King Street.
The menu changes based on seasonal ingredients and the whims of the chefs. There are only a handful of offerings, but expect your palate to be wowed with flavor-packed pastas like cheese-and-sage-stuffed malfatti dumplings or long thick strands of pasta tangled around a sauce of nuts and chilis.
Chef Missy Robbins, who wowed the palates of the Obamas many times over at Spiaggia in Chicago, as well as Michelin inspectors at A Voce in Manhattan, opened this Williamsburg gem in 2016. From day one it was the place to get your gluten fix, and nabbing a table was about as easy as getting a seat at Rao’s in Harlem. And it almost is still as difficult. Lilia offers delectable things like her famed cacio e pepe fritters, luscious grilled lamb, and grilled sardines.
But the Lilia cognoscenti dive right into the pasta dishes: tangy rigatoni diavola, saffron-spiked sheep’s-milk-stuffed agnolotti, and malfadini with pink peppercorns. The dishes do what Italian food (should) do best: remain deceptively simple with a deep flavor strata.
Chef Stefano Secchi worked in the kitchen alongside Massimo Bottura at Osteria Francescana in Modena, which some consider to be the best Italian restaurant on the planet. It’s no surprise that Secchi churns out mind-blowing pasta dishes at his debut New York eatery on E. 20th Street and Broadway.
The focus at Rezdôra is the region of Emilia-Romagna. Here you’ll get intensely flavored pasta dishes with whimsical names (“Grandma Walking Through a Forest in Emilia”). There’s a short list of secondi or main courses, such as the saliva-inducing steak, called “Cow Grazing in Emilia-Romagna.”
David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes here and here.