50 Best Old-School Italian Restaurants in America
Hankering for Italian food? There's no shortage of cheap, delicious pizza across America, but sometimes something that demands a little more finesse, like veal parmigiana or ravioli heaped with red sauce, is required. Whether they're hidden gems known mainly to locals or historic landmarks that have been open for decades, we've tracked down the best old-school Italian restaurant in every state.
A short drive south on I-65 from Birmingham, Joe's is off the beaten path but worth the drive, reviewers say. Fans say staples like lasagna and spaghetti are solid, but Joe's is best known for its impressive selection of cakes and desserts. Pro tip: Get the strawberry cake.
City: New Haven
A New Haven staple for more than 70 years, Consiglio's is still family-run and stands out with a few modern flourishes: A food truck that brings authentic Italian fare to local events, and Murder Mystery dinners to entertain customers. It's still the food that rules: Reviewers say the homemade cavatelli with braciole can't be beat.
Nino's, opened in 1968 and claims to be the oldest family-owned Italian restaurant in Atlanta. It also has an impressive roster of celebrity guests, including Paul Newman and Kenny Rogers. Zagat praises the "red-sauce fare with old-time flair," awarding particularly high marks for both food and service.
The Northern Italian food is top-notch, but customers also appreciate the hand-painted floor-to-ceiling copies of Michelangelo's frescoes at cozy Café Sistina. Gayot recommends sticking to the menu's traditional staples, like a starter of bruschetta followed by the linguine alla putenesca.
Popular Luciano's bills itself as "Boise's favorite hole-in-the-wall local Italian restaurant," and TripAdvisor reviewers confirm that it's a great place for a classic, unpretentious meal. Dinner often comes with a wait (reservations aren't accepted), but diners say the pasta and warm ciabatta are worth the wait.
Stepping into Sabatino's is like an automatic time warp. There's a bow-tie-wearing staff, live music, and a supper-club feel, plus diners say the complimentary pizza bread is a nice bonus. It's only fitting that an old-school dish like veal earns the most raves from reviewers.
Iaria's, opened in 1933 and is the very definition of an old-school, hole-in-the-wall Italian joint with its red booths and neon signs. Diners say the lasagna and cannoli are both worth a trip, and the red sauce is a winner for anyone who likes it on the sweeter side.
City: Des Moines
Tursi's Latin King has been serving authentic Italian in Des Moines since 1947, and has scores of "Best Italian" awards from locals. Don't leave without trying their specialty, chicken spiedini: It's marinated chicken breast that has been rolled in breadcrumbs, charbroiled, and is served up with a special sauce.
Opened in 1944, family-owned Savute's has reportedly fed Elvis Presley and other luminaries. A dive in the best sense of the word, the dinner-only restaurant also churns out respectable steaks, though reviewers say traditional red-sauce favorites like lasagna and spaghetti are your best bet.
Trolleys bound for Cincinnati used to clack by the doorway of Pompilio's when it opened in 1933, and its storied history continues: Everyone from gangsters to Marilyn Monroe are said to have eaten here. It even played host to a famous scene in "Rain Man." Fortunately, the food is still up to snuff – the cannoli in particular, fans say.
Elegant Aldo's in Baltimore's Little Italy manages to bring a more upscale, romantic feel to old-world Italian dining. The osso bucco and all of the veal dishes are standouts, fans say, but those in the mood for a splurge might want to try the signature Tournedos Rossini -- grilled filet mignon and seared foie gras in a truffle wild mushroom sauce.
Tucked alongside scores of other Italian joints in Boston's famed North End, La Famiglia Giorgio still manages to stand out with its heaping portions of Roman cooking, served family-style. Diners say one way to save is by coming at lunch and getting the generously portioned sampler of five different dishes for just $8. Save room for cannoli, they recommend.
Tucked in an industrial area of Detroit, decades-old Giovanni's is worth tracking down if only to see the spot where Frank Sinatra once had a private dinner party. Happily, the food is worth the trek, reviewers say. If you don't fill up on the lasagna and warm, crusty garlic bread, find some room for the cannoli.
City: St. Paul
Cossetta's has morphed from a tiny Italian market that opened in 1911 into a destination that includes two restaurants, a pastry shop, and a (much bigger) market. Devotees say the food has stayed true to its old-world roots, though. They recommend the sausage and peppers, plus a heaping portion of gelato.
The Deep South may be known for barbecue, but The Sicilian II proves you can find authentic Italian if you look hard enough – in this case, tucked in an unassuming little strip mall. This family-owned dive churns out delicious pizza, fans say, and the homemade mozzarella sticks are more than worth the stop.
City: St. Louis
Charlie Gitto's has been serving traditional Italian food in St. Louis since 1981. Elegant enough for a special occasion, the restaurant still serves truly authentic dishes. Don't miss the toasted ravioli, one of the house specialties. Diners also praise the veal dishes, seafood pasta, and cannoli.
Though it only just opened its doors in 2009, the Naples-born chef has quickly made ScottiBelli's a go-to spot for old-school Italian fare in Big Sky Country. Reviewers recommend the lasagna for traditionalists, but adventurous diners should try the vongole marinate, a sourdough-covered twist on Italian steamed clams.
A trip to Orsi's, founded in 1919, is a trip back in time, devotees say, and they wouldn't have it any other way. The thick-crust pizza and garlic bread are worth the trip alone, but don't leave without picking up some meat, cheese, bread, or peppers at the deli.
City: Las Vegas
With its red leather booths, memorabilia-covered walls and a strolling accordion player, Battista's has old Italian atmosphere in spades. Along with a main entrée, all dinners include soup or salad, garlic bread, a side of pasta and cappuccino. Diners certainly appreciate the large carafes of free house wine, too.
It's easy to zip right past Trattoria Amalfi, which is wedged into a strip mall. But that would be a shame, devotees say, because the food is fantastic despite the unassuming setting-- some even compare it to Italian restaurants in Boston's North End. The stuffed artichoke and veal dishes come highly recommended.
City: Point Pleasant Beach
Much-lauded Spano's has pleased a lot of palates since opening in 2000 – it won the reader's choice award for best Italian restaurant in New Jersey from NJ.com, and chef Joe Spano was named "Boss of the Sauce" in 2004 for his marinara. Wine lovers can grab a bottle on the way in, as Spano's is B.Y.O.B.
City: Rio Rancho
In a state where Southwestern fare takes center stage, Joe's Pasta House offers an oasis of Italian just north of Albuquerque. Go traditional with a dish like carbonara, ziti alla vodka or gnocchi, or try the well-reviewed Southwestern fettucine, which has green chile and crushed red peppers for a local twist.
City: New York City
It's almost impossible to choose just one old-school Italian restaurant in New York, but Bronx favorite Mario's tops the list because it's been serving up crowd-pleasing Neapolitan dishes for 92 years. Luckily, the place is still unassuming enough for its longtime regulars. Reviewers say veal dishes are top-notch.
Though it's only a few years old, Di Lisio's Naples-born owner has made his young restaurant a success among diners searching for authentic Italian food in the Triad area. Reviewers say the seafood dishes are delicious, but the lasagna and anything with meat sauce also inspire a lot of praise.
North Dakota doesn't have a slew of old-world Italian joints, but the Italian-born chef might make you forget that inside cozy, gold-walled Toscana. Reviewers give this restaurant top marks for service and say the pasta dishes, just one portion of the extensive menu, are solidly delicious.
There's no doubting Guarino's longevity: It's Cleveland's oldest restaurant, founded in 1918 as a speakeasy. The traditional fare and old-school marinara remain unchanged, as does the wood-paneled interior. Try to nab a seat on the lovely patio in nice weather, reviewers recommend.
Opened by immigrants from northern Italy, Villa Ravenna has the ambiance of a special-occasion restaurant and the classic comfort food of a red-sauce Italian joint. Enthusiastic diners say the pear gorgonzola appetizer is the one to beat; they also recommend the osso bucco for a main dish.
Piazza Italia is waiting with open arms for those who tire of Portland's contemporary farm-to-table restaurants. A prime spot to catch a soccer game on TV, the restaurant is family-run and a great place to dig into Pappardelle al Cinghiale -- that's pasta with wild boar meat sauce -- or tiramisu.
Competition is stiff among Philadelphia's old Italian joints, but venerable Ralph's in South Philly may still be the one to beat: It opened in 1900 and has counted Frank Sinatra, Taylor Swift, and Joe Biden as customers. Reviewers' favorites include the mussels, veal parm, and cannoli cake for dessert.
Old-school neon sign hints that Joe Marzilli's, founded in 1956, is the real deal in Providence. This high-class throwback has remained largely unchanged since opening, with pink walls and high ceilings. Diners say the menu is huge and full of favorites, including a seven-course option that makes for a hearty, well-priced meal.
City: Myrtle Beach
Visitors to one of the nation's biggest tourist hotspots can fill up with some authentic Italian at Villa Romana, which has been serving Myrtle Beach since 1985. Reviewers say it's hard to go wrong the veal marsala or the cannoli, and they love the accordion player who is often strolling around to entertain diners, too.
City: Rapid City
Elegant but comfortable Botticelli has an enviable wine list -- more than 200 selections -- and the traditional Italian favorites to match. Fans say the chicken dishes and lasagna are all stand-outs, while lunch specials offer a good value for weekday meals.
Named after the chef's grandmother, Caffe Nonna has been serving up from-scratch Italian dishes for 18 years. Reviewers give high marks to the house-specialty Seafood Angelina, which includes shrimp, scallops, baby clams and mussels on fettuccini in a white-wine cream sauce.
Sandwiched between Dallas and Fort Worth, family-owned Saviano's has been dishing out its tried-and-true recipes since 1992. The beloved garlic knots come complimentary with salads and main courses. Reviewers warn that you'll want to save room for favorites including lasagna and penne alla vodka, however.
City: Salt Lake City
Cozy Cannella's has a more polished feel than most old-school Italian restaurants, but this family-run restaurant has been around for almost 40 years. Best of all, the dishes are as authentic as ever. Popular dishes include the chicken marsala and carbonara, and the lasagna gets a thumbs-up, too.
Busy Sarducci's offers lovely views of the Winooski River while serving homestyle Italian fare. The restaurant does accept reservations, and frequent diners say it's a good idea to make one to avoid a wait. Favorites include the crab ravioli with shrimp and the thin-crust pizza.
Tiny Mamma 'Zu epitomizes the phrase "hole in the wall," and diners will have to check the large chalkboard menu for the day's selections. Service is also inconsistent, some warn. But many fans say the food is worth the quirks. Try the scungilli (conch in olive oil and garlic) and the tender osso bucco, while others recommend the eggplant parmesan.
A staple of Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood since 1988, unassuming Ristorante Machiavelli has endured despite being in a city known for its fast-moving food trends. Follow up the inevitable wait with a plate of spinach ravioli, devotees say, but save some room for the tiramisu.
Family-owned Muriale's opened in 1969, and its traditional Italian staples remain largely unchanged. Diners praise the attentive service and generous portions that often leave them asking for a take-home box. For an easy way to taste a range of the restaurant's favorites, try the "Taste of Italy" -- lasagna, rigatoni, ravioli and a meatball for under $20.
Balistreri's has two locations a few blocks from one another, but for a real old-world, unpretentious atmosphere, head to the 68th Street joint where it all began 40 years ago. The crispy, thin-crust pizza rules here, but the fried eggplant also earns raves. For more upscale fare, the Bluemound Inn location has an extensive menu of classics.
Many devotees say the pizza at L'Osteria Mondello is the best in town, and you can easily pick up a pie or down a slice in the pizzeria up front. But venture to the back of the restaurant and you'll find a quaint, sit-down restaurant serving Italian standards from pasta and seafood dishes to chicken and veal.
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