The best Italian restaurants in Los Angeles are as different as the country that inspired them. From the hugely acclaimed Valentino, the Santa Monica landmark that focuses on cuisine from Sicily, to Cecconi's, the Tuscan hotspot in West Hollywood or the Neapolitan-influenced (and award-winning) Pizzeria Mozza in Hancock Park overseen by Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton, there are plenty of wonderful chances around L.A. to try cuisine from all parts of La Bella Italia. Locanda del Lago consistently serves up world-class Northern Italian fare from the Lake Country region, prepared by Chef Gianfranco Minuz, a Venetian native whose work over the years has consistently received Michelin star honors, both in Italy and California. Meanwhile, since 2001 Chef Gino Angelini of Angelini Osteria has been concocting specialties from the Emilia Romagna region (where he was born) at that restaurant in the Fairfax District near the Grove Shopping Center, also to much acclaim. Many of L.A.'s top ten Italian places have one thing in common: their wine cellars and by-the-glass offerings are almost as important to them as the food they serve. Valentino's cellar alone is a wonder, filled with over 100,000 bottles of wine from Italy, France, America and other top wine regions worldwide; reading that list is an oenophile's delight. But every place on this list takes pride in pairing the perfect wine with each of their unique culinary offerings.
Cecconi's is an Italian place with an inside track to L.A.'s the rich and famous, since it is the sister restaurant to the private club SoHo House (there's one in London, too, where SoHo House began). That means you're very likely to see movie stars and studio heads dining here, people that can afford any restaurant in town yet continue to flock to Cecconi's. It could be simply because of the thin-crust flatbread-style black-truffle pizza, eaten piping hot with your fingers, but there are many other exemplary dishes on this menu reminiscent of one you'd see in Venice or other parts of Northern Italy. Go for lunch, when the prices are more reasonable, or stop in from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. when the Aperitivo menu is in effect, with food and drinks from $4 to $7. (310-432-2000)
Tra di Noi
Tra di Noi, the traditional Italian restaurant located in the Malibu Country Mart shopping center, has been drawing locals and visitors since 1991. Tra di Noi means "between us," a name chosen by co-owners Antonio Alessi and Tarcisio Mosconi to evoke a homey, casual atmosphere where patrons can enjoy dining and conversation with friends and family. It has obviously been a good choice, as the famed eatery continues to lure movie stars (many of whom are locals), tourists and anyone who loves a great Italian meal. The menu has an array of Italian cuisine "inspired by the countryside," from plump homemade gnocchi and spaghetti to pizzas, risottos, meats and fish. Try the Zuppa di Pesce (Cioppino) for a fragrant, heady taste of the Mediterranean. (310-456-0169)
The Factory Kitchen
The Factory Kitchen is a Northern Italian eatery from chef Angelo Auriana and Matteo Ferdinandi, whose past stints at Valentino and Drago Central prepared them for starting their own place. Here, they have made it all about the pasta. Of course, they offer a complete menu in this large, friendly restaurant in the heart of L.A.'s burgeoning Arts District, but the pasta really is the king. We'd suggest sharing, so that you can try everything; be sure to taste the mandilli de seta, paper-thin handkerchief pasta drenched in an almond basil pesto as well as the agnolotti stuffed with a flavorful veal-beef filling. Main courses cover seafood and meats, while vegetarians can choose from a variety of side dishes to construct a satisfying meal. Pair all with the well-selected Italian wines by the glass, and don't miss the homemade cannoli for dessert. (213-996-6000)
Masa of Echo Park Bakery & Cafe
Masa of Echo Park Bakery & Cafe doesn't exactly sound like a pizza place, but it is their Chicago Deep Dish that has made them famous throughout Los Angeles. This family-run restaurant bakes the pizza dough fresh every day, uses locally sourced ingredients for their homemade sauces and imports special elements straight from Chicago (including Scala's Authentic Hot Giardiniera, those spicy pickled vegetables that go so well with the pizza). The pies have a cornmeal crust and are made to order, with any topping you desire; that means your pizza takes 40 minutes to make, so settle in and get comfortable with a nice glass of Masa's House Chianti. There are plenty of other choices on the menu, too, from burgers and panini to pastas, salads and even meatloaf. But trust us, the deep-dish pizza is the bomb. (213-989-1558)
Culina at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills
Culina - Modern Italian is a sleek, inviting space located inside the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, helmed by Food Network's "Chef Wanted" culinary star Mette Williams. She brings a deft hand to this menu filled with modern Italian taste delights. Her crudo sampler is the place to begin, as each piece of raw fish drenched in olive oil is a taste delight; of course, those choices are market driven. There's something for everyone here, from the "Culina Classics" including lasagna stuffed with lamb, kale and mushrooms or the homestyle papardelle bolognese smothered in a killer blend of beef, pork and veal ragu, to more waist-protecting choices like a flaky Branzino served with tomatoes and capers. Sit out on the patio and be sure to look around, for this is a perfect spot for celebrity watching as you dine. (310-860-4000)
At Pizzeria Mozza, it's all about the crust. For when Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali teamed up with restaurateur Joe Bastianich to launch this notable pizzeria in 2006, they based everything on Silverton's skill as a baker, and the rest is history. Always a hot ticket, lines for tables still run out the door seven days a week (make a reservation way ahead of time to avoid that fate). Known for handcrafted crusts that are both airy and crisp, the pizza offerings range from the traditional Margherita to the amazing Squash Blossom, served with burrata cheese and tomatoes. Try the various bruschetta choices, too, for they are crunchy and full of unique flavors, and save room for dessert. Silverton's baking skills are incredible, so be sure to try every course that features bread, crust or dessert. You can diet tomorrow. (323-297-0101, 323-297-0100)
Locanda Del Lago
Locando del Lago, or "Lago Santa Monica" as the locals call it, has been a mainstay of that beach community since it opened in 1991. Located just steps from the sand and right on the Third Street Promenade, Lago draws first-time tourists as well as longtime fans to its inviting patio and warm interior. Chef Gianfranco Minuz and his crack staff offer Northern Italian specialties, many gleaned from the foods served on the shores of Lake Como. So start with Vitello Tonnato or Calamari Fritti and continue on with a creamy risotto or a fresh, house-made pasta. Main courses range from spectacular seafood dishes including sea bass, salmon or whitefish to a mouth-watering veal osso bucco or beef short ribs. (310-451-3525)
Angelini Osteria handsomely recreates the fabled osterias of prewar Italy, relaxed meeting places where locals socialized over simple yet luscious meals and carafes of wine. At Angelini, the delectable lasagna verde, an homage to Chef-Owner Gino Angelini's nonna (grandmother) will transport you from the hustle and bustle of L.A. to the rural countryside of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy (where he hails from). Pumpkin tortelli with butter, sage and asparagus is a mouthwatering first plate, while dishes like the Dover sole Romagnola, a succulent fish encrusted with garlic and parsley, or the a breaded veal chop alla Milanese are excellent secondi. Whatever you choose, you'll taste the fresh ingredients that Chef Angelini insists on. (323-297-0070)
For over 40 years, Piero Selvaggio's award-winning Valentino has provided not only excellent Italian cuisine with a Sicilian bent, but also impeccable service and a vast wine list. The famed wine list has over 1200 choices, located in a cellar holding more than 100,000 bottles. Wines by the glass change every week, with thoughtful pairings designed to go with the restaurant's signature dishes and newer vegan or gluten-free choices. Try the grilled octopus with squid ink for your antipasti, then go on to a Sicilian orange salad, created from Selvaggio's memories of home. Don't miss the slow-cooked veal osso bucco or go lighter with a delicate Branzino grilled with capers, olives and tomatoes. And don't be surprised to see a famous Hollywood star at the adjoining table, for Valentino's remains an industry favorite decades after it opened its doors in West Los Angeles. (310-829-4313, 310-829-0144)
About Jenny Peters
Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good things in life. She is a founding/voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, who present the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards every January. Her favorite places to be are on the beach in Southern California playing volleyball, scuba diving with the sharks in warm tropical waters or strolling the streets and soaking in the atmosphere of one of the world's great cities (New Orleans and Florence are her favorites).
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