My Fave Italian Restaurants in NYC
When someone asks me what my favorite Italian restaurant is here in NYC, it’s like asking me who my favorite child is. When it comes to dining out, Italian is almost always my go to. It’s a safe bet, unless you’re taking a celiac out to dinner. After much thought, here’s my list of faves, and at the end of this, I break down which ones I think are a teensy bit overrated, and which ones I still want to try. To be transparent, I’ve tried a ton of Italian spots. I’ve posted about almost all of them, because Italian food really can’t suck. But, after going to Italy, and expanding my palette to understand Italian cooking and flavor, these are the ones that I think are best. Some are obvious and some are hidden gems, and some of the overrated ones might surprise you. There are endless Italian spots in the city, so I hope this helps you figure out where to book that next res!
181 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012
Can I tell you how long I put off going to Carbone because I was stubborn? I thought it was all about the scene, and not about the food. Ok, well now I’m here to report (after going twice!) that it’s really both. Carbone has got Italian classics and shareable plates. Think: spicy rigatoni vodka (you basically are sinning if you don’t order this), a perfectly simple Caprese salad, veal Parmesan the size of my thigh, and a classic Caesar salad. There’s more, but these are the must-orders. I want to stress one more time that Carbone is for sharing. This is something you just have to know before you go because the servers don’t make it a point of telling you. Portion sizes are massive and sharing is part of the fun. The energy here is vibrant with a classic downtown NYC edginess. It’s also what I like to call “unexpected upscale,” meaning, you can be casual, but usually everyone who comes here is dressed up a little bit to fit into the edgy scene, or they are just celebrating a special occasion of some sort. There’s also a trendy cocktail bar upstairs called ZZ’s Clam Bar, for a pre or post dinner cocktail. Both ZZ’s and Carbone and competitive when it comes to reservations, so be sure to book months in advance!
218 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012
I haven’t been here in years, but it holds a place in my heart and forever will. That place in my heart is called the truffled ricotta cappelletti with prosciutto and butter. I went here back in 2012, and since then, it’s expanded to multiple cities and locations. Sometimes that can kill a restaurant’s quality, but I have a feeling Osteria Morini is still delivering strong Italian dishes. It’s part of Altamarea Group, which has such a strong restaurant lineup and always ensures good quality food and experience. This spot is great for the casual friend dinners, casual family dinners, date night, or just grabbing dinner with a friend. It’s casual and lively, in the heart of one of NYC’s most bustling downtown neighborhoods. It’s a place where you throw on jeans and a shirt and still get to eat like a king or queen. I love that.
567 Union Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222
I don’t go to Brooklyn often, but when I do, I go to Lilia. This place has absolutely blown up since it hit the restaurant scene in 2016. Why? Well, great Italian food obviously. But in particular, their pink peppercorn malfadine (a fun spin on cacio e pepe) is impressive and simple. Another dish I love? The grilled clams. Didn’t know I could really love clams that much. And finally, the sheep’s milk cheese filled agnolotto with saffron, dried tomato and honey. That’s a flavor explosion, but it’s also so simple.
88 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016
Another restaurant I didn’t want to like but 1000% loved. Scarpetta is trendy and sceney you guys. Basically, you know if they have a restaurant in Vegas (just like Carbone) it’s a scene. But, I just have to point out that the pasta is really just delicious. I’ve been here multiple times, and I still crave their classic spaghetti with tomato and basil. Its got that perfect sweet tomato sauce that sticks to each piece of pasta, and there’s not too much pasta in the dish to put you in a coma.
85 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011
If you are looking for the perfect upscale Italian spot for a special occasion, Del Posto is the place. The dining room is large, like a beautiful ballroom, and the dishes don’t disappoint. I haven’t been here in a while, but I have been a few times (all for special occasions.) If you want that casual, trendy Italian food, this isn’t the restaurant you should go to. But, if you want to celebrate an anniversary, a birthday, a family gathering, or just be romantic for the hell of it, Del Posto is your spot.
Il Buco Alimentari
53 Great Jones St, New York, NY 10012
There are a few Il Buco’s in the city, but my favorite is Il Buco Alimentari. The menu is Italian Mediterranean, so it’s on the lighter side (less heavy meat ragu, and more lemon and olive oil.) The vibes are great, and the food is great. Never had an experience here that I didn’t like!
Frankies 457 Spuntino
457 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
On the flip side, if you want hearty red sauce and meatballs… enter Frankies 457 Spuntino! This spot is Tuscan-inspired Italian, which is basically like getting a hug from an Italian grandma with every dish. If you don’t know this, Tuscan food is comforting. I mean, just take a look at this tagliatelle. Frankies 457 is a great neighborhood spot in Brooklyn. It’s casual, and chilled out enough to just go and enjoy food, company and a good glass of vino. By “chilled out” I mean, it’s not full of models 24/7, or a place that you need to put on your trendiest outfit to feel like you fit in. It embodies what going to Tuscany is about — great food, great wine, happy vibes, and celebrating all of these things in a comforting place.
21 E 7th St, New York, NY 10003
There’s something about a low key restaurant with impressive dishes that just sends me over the edge in the best way. Porsena is one of them. This small East Village spot is cozy and relaxed, with a hell of a good menu. Currently booking a reservation because I haven’t been in so long…
2 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10010
Truth be told, I usually don’t love hotel restaurants. Maialino is an exception to this rule. This is a spacious spot in Gramercy (at the Gramercy Park Hotel) and it’s very well-rounded. What I mean by “well rounded,” is that you can come for any occasion, dressed in anything, and in the mood for anything… they will have something for you. The cuisine here is “Roman-Italian Soul food,” which is a 100% accurate description. Roman food is simple, yet flavorful, with a heavy pasta presence. There’s also a lot of international influence (which we all now just call “Roman food.” Some staples: Bucatini all’Amatriciana, Cacio e Pepe, & Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Pasta aside, the main courses or “I Secondi” are comforting and hearty. If you’re going for a secondi, I recommend a meat dish. I usually only get fish at Southern Italian restaurants.
240 Central Park S, New York, NY 10019
I raved about Marea in my Fave Fine Dining Spots in NYC piece, but I just want to rave about it again. Unlike a lot of the restaurants on this list, this place has refined, upscale Italian. For example, bits of burrata paired with buttery poached lobster….or fusilli with bone marrow infused tomato sauce and octopus. The vibes are upscale, and it’s definitely a special occasion restaurant.
110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011
While we are on the subject of high-end Italian, I can’t forget about Babbo, in the West Village. Babbo is high end, but it’s not as prim and proper as Marea. It’s got more character. This spot also has some funky and classic Italian ingredients on the menu. Take beef tongue, for example. Didn’t think I could like it but I loved it. On the classic end, they have a delicious burrata and the pastas are on point.
165 Duane St, New York, NY 10013
I’m surprised I don’t see this place on more recommended restaurant lists! I’ve been here a few times, and each time, it’s been impressive. The only thing I didn’t like about this place was a kind of sketchy vibe from the owners… but the food is top notch. If you go here, definitely go for a pasta.
165 Duane St, New York, NY 10013
Fancy schmancy but damn delicious. Ai Fiori is a pricy midtown gem brought to us by Altamarea group. There’s nothing worse than an expensive restaurant that doesn’t deliver, and I’m happy to report that Ai Fiori does, in fact, deliver! Exceptionally well! This is good for special occasions, engagement or wedding dinners, corporate lunches, or the restaurant week splurge. Of course they have the white truffle tagliatielle, but you don’t have to splurge on truffles to get some great pasta. I also want to note that their lobster is truly unforgettable. One of the most tender poached lobster tails I’ve ever had.
55 E Houston St, New York, NY 10012
Leonardo Dicaprio comes here all the time, so that’s all I will say. No, I’m kidding. He does come here all the time, but there’s a lot more to say. Emilio’s Ballato is like old school Italian meets new-age celebrity. But, that being said, it’s super low key. Not the same kind of low key as Porsena… it’s more of a “I’m dining with celebrities but I’m going to act super chill while giving off authentic Italian food lover vibes” kind of low key. The food here is comforting, and you have to get a ragu or a red sauce.
Fresco by Scotto
34 E 52nd St, New York, NY 10022
Fresco by Scotto has a soft spot in my heart. I go all the time to shoot social media content, and I have seen their creativity sky rocket recently with their new chef, Alessandro Pendinelli. Going to Fresco is like going to your new Italian family’s house for dinner. They take care of you and have a dish for every mood. If you want comfort red sauce? No problem. If you want light butter ravioli? They got you. Not a carb eater, the steak is to die for.
30 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011
Scampi is southern Italian with a seafood focus, and a killer shrimp malfadini dish. The restaurant itself is classy and elegant, but casual, and this is a great spot for a double date or just grabbing dinner with a friend. Just make sure you like seafood. If you don’t then just don’t even bother.
24 E 81st St, New York, NY 10028
This is a fancy hidden gem in an upper east side townhouse with a delicious cacio e pepe. The clientele is older, but whoever said being in a room full of older people stopped themselves from having a good time must not have fun very often! This is definitely a special occasion place, or where you bring your parents.
There are also some spots that I think are solid and reliable. My die hard faves? No. But would I go back? Yea.
Piccola Cucina is a cute, cozy and well-priced restaurant in Soho. They have multiple locations and serve pastas quite literally in the pan. Olio e Piu is conveniently located in Greenwich Village and gets the job done with their starters and pastas. Cacio e Pepe in the East Village is fun and classic, with a beautiful garden out back. Parm is solid. Overly hyped? Yes. But good? Yes. This is for you red sauce comfort food lovers. San Marzano is extremely well priced with great dinner deals for groups. They also have a lot of gluten-free pasta options. This was my college spot. It’s reliable and always crowded. Lupa and Bar Primi (same owner) are also reliable choices for Italian. Quality Italian is also a good pick if you’re in midtown and in need of some Italian food.
Ok, now there are some that I think are overrated, in my humble opinion. I’m about to make some of you angry, or crush some dreams, and for that I am sorry. I’ve been reading a lot about Sandro’s on these “Best Italian” lists and after going, I’m sorry to report that I was not impressed. I had high hopes and was biased because it’s located in my neighborhood, but nope, it just didn’t do it for me. It was fine. Locanda Verde is also on some of these lists, and while I enjoyed my meal there, my favorite part was the ricotta spread, which in my opinion, was a sign that maybe I just didn’t like it as much as everyone else. Now I’m going to make some of you cry. Rubirosa has a cult following, and it’s one of the hardest spots to get into in NYC. WHY THO? I’m sorry I don’t understand. The vodka pizza is good, yes, but I am sorry I’m not willing to wait 23948 hours for it and compete with New Yorkers for a seat. I will gladly pass this spot up because it’s not worth the stress. You can find vodka pizza elsewhere or make it on your own, since it’s so simple. Bar Pitti is the same thing. I’ve been twice and while it’s charming and delicious, I can go eat pasta somewhere else without having to get there 3 hours early to secure a spot. The food here is classic, and the star of the show is the pappardelle vodka. It’s great, but not worth sacrificing my mental health to get the reservation. The servers also scolded me for taking a photo (no flash, just a simple picture) which I found to be annoying 🙂 Rossopomodoro didn’t really impress me, and the same goes for Macchina, which blew up on Insta for a second because of the burrata pizza. I did post about the pizza, but the rest of the food was underwhelming. Another one that has a cult following that I just don’t really love? Gemma at the Bowery Hotel. I have never had a good service experience, and the food, once again, just does the job. Gemma is a hot spot for celebs, so it’s always crowded for the scene. But if you are like me and you go to dinner for great food and happy vibes, don’t bother with this place. Via Carota is also SUCH a hype, and while their cacio e pepe is absolutely delicious, the rest of the dishes I’ve had there were fine. Not worth the 2 hour wait.
Haven’t tried but I sure want to!
Here’s my next up list: Al di La, Carmine’s, L’Artusi, I Sodi, Felidia, Felice, Pasquale Jones, Marta, Misi, Becco. Of course there are more, but I’m going to leave it here. 🙂
Absolutely agree with your overhyped list 👌….I also go for great food and great vibes, so your recs are definitely Rock solid! Nice work.
Love this! Have you tried Uva or Ristoranti Morini in the UES? When I lived up there both of those were my go to for amazing pasta that never disappointed. Everything on Uva’s menu is tasty. Ristoranti Morini also has a pasta special late night weekdays which is great, since it’s a bit pricey for the portions. Would love to hear your thoughts!
Cafe buen gusto in the UES!? Hidden gem in my old stomping ground
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