Hankering for Italian food? There's no shortage of cheap, delicious pizza across America, but what about something that demands a little more finesse, like veal Parmigiana or ravioli heaped with red sauce? From 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.
ALABAMA: JOE'S ITALIAN
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.
A local favorite for more than 40 years, cozy Sorrento's proves great Italian has made its way to Alaska. Reviewers rave about the traditional pastas, but you'll also find a few halibut dishes in a nod to local cuisine.
ARIZONA: DEFALCO'S ITALIAN EATERY AND GROCERY
Whether you just want to stop in to buy some homemade sausage or sit down to a plate of pasta, DeFalco's has family recipes dating back more than 100 years. Devotees say you can't beat the calzones or the Italian combo subs.
ARKANSAS: VENESIAN INN
Proudly serving northwest Arkansas since 1947, the family-owned Venesian Inn serves up classic Italian fare like chicken Parmigiana and three-cheese lasagna. Try out a local favorite: fried chicken and spaghetti with meat sauce.
CALIFORNIA: FIOR D'ITALIA
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.
DELAWARE: MRS. ROBINO'S
Mrs. Robino's is a Best of Delaware award winner that has been serving traditional Italian favorites since 1940. Crab lovers take note: A special Thursday menu includes crabs and spaghetti, a dish highly recommended by diners.
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.
HAWAII: CAFÉ SISTINA
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 puttanesca.
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. 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.
IOWA: TURSI'S LATIN KING
City: Des Moines
Tursi's Latin King has been serving authentic Italian in Des Moines since 1947 and won scores of "Best Italian" awards from locals. Don't leave without trying the restaurant's specialty, chicken spiedini. It's marinated chicken breast rolled in bread crumbs, charbroiled, and served 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, although reviewers say traditional red-sauce favorites like lasagna and spaghetti are the 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 is said to have eaten here. The restaurant was even the location of a famous scene in "Rain Man." Fortunately, the food is still up to snuff — the cannoli in particular, fans say.
City: New Orleans
Vincent's serves up Sicilian-inspired grub in an elegant but low-key atmosphere in Cajun country. Customers say the house-special cannelloni doesn't disappoint, and neither does the extensive wine list.
Elegant Aldo's in Baltimore's Little Italy manages to bring a more upscale, romantic feel to old-world Italian dining. The osso buco and all 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.
MASSACHUSETTS: LA FAMIGLIA GIORGIO'S
Tucked alongside scores of other Italian joints in Boston's famed North End, La Famiglia Giorgio's 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.
MINNESOTA: COSSETTA'S ALIMENTARI
City: St. Paul
Cossetta's has morphed from a tiny Italian market, which 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.
MISSISSIPPI: THE SICILIAN II
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.
MISSOURI: CHARLIE GITTO'S ON THE HILL
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, Scottibelli's has quickly become a go-to spot for old-school Italian fare in Big Sky Country under its Naples-born chef. Reviewers recommend the lasagna for traditionalists, but adventurous diners should try the vongole marinate, a sourdough-covered twist on Italian steamed clams.
NEBRASKA: ORSI'S ITALIAN BAKERY AND PIZZERIA
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 alone are worth the trip, but don't leave without picking up some meat, cheese, bread, or peppers at the deli.
NEVADA: BATTISTA'S HOLE IN THE WALL
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.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: TRATTORIA AMALFI
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.
NEW JERSEY: SPANO'S
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 BYOB.
NEW MEXICO: JOE'S PASTA HOUSE
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 fettuccine, which has green chile and crushed red peppers for a local twist.
NEW YORK: MARIO'S
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 93 years. Luckily, the place is still unassuming enough for its longtime regulars. Reviewers say the veal dishes are top-notch.
NORTH CAROLINA: DI LISIO'S
Though it's only a few years old, Di Lisio's Naples-born owner has made this 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: TOSCANA
North Dakota doesn't have a slew of old-world Italian joints, but the Italian-born chef of Toscana might make you forget that. Reviewers give the cozy, gold-walled 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. Reviewers recommend trying to nab a seat on the lovely patio in nice weather.
OKLAHOMA: VILLA RAVENNA
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 buco for a main dish.
OREGON: PIAZZA ITALIA
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 family-run restaurant is 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.
RHODE ISLAND: JOE MARZILLI'S OLD CANTEEN
An old-school neon sign hints that the Old Canteen, 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.
SOUTH CAROLINA: VILLA ROMANA
City: Myrtle Beach
Visitors to one of the nation's biggest tourist hot spots 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 with the veal marsala or the cannelloni, and they love the accordion player who is often strolling around to entertain diners.
SOUTH DAKOTA: BOTTICELLI
City: Rapid City
Elegant but comfortable Botticelli has an enviable wine list — more than 200 selections — and traditional Italian favorites to match. Fans say the chicken dishes and lasagna are all standouts, while lunch specials offer a good value for weekday meals.
TENNESSEE: CAFFÉ NONNA
Named for the chef's grandmother, Caffé Nonna has been serving up from-scratch Italian dishes for 19 years. Reviewers give high marks to the house-specialty Seafood Angelina, which includes shrimp, scallops, baby clams and mussels on fettuccine in a white-wine cream sauce.
TEXAS: SAVIANO'S ITALIAN KITCHEN
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 are complimentary with salads and main courses. Just be sure to save room for favorites including chicken Alfredo and penne alla vodka, reviewers say.
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 40 years. And the dishes are as authentic as ever. Popular menu items include chicken marsala and carbonara, and the lasagna gets a thumbs-up, too.
Busy Sarducci's offers lovely views of the Winooski River while serving home-style Italian fare. Favorites include the crab ravioli with shrimp and the thin-crust pizza. Frequent diners say it's a good idea to make a reservation to avoid a wait.
VIRGINIA: MAMMA 'ZU
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 reviewers warn. But many fans say the food is worth the quirks. Some suggest trying the scungilli (conch in olive oil and garlic) or the tender osso buco, while others recommend the eggplant Parmesan.
WASHINGTON: RISTORANTE MACHIAVELLI
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 suggest, and save some room for the tiramisu.
WEST VIRGINIA: MURIALE'S ITALIAN KITCHEN
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 take-home boxes. 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 truly unpretentious, old-world atmosphere, head to 68th Street, where it all began some 40 years ago. 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.
WYOMING: L'OSTERIA MONDELLO
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 and you'll find a quaint, sit-down restaurant serving Italian standards from pasta and seafood dishes to chicken and veal.