10 Best Italian Restaurants
By Tara Nurin
Do you love Italian food? We do too, and that's why we dedicate ourselves to finding the best places to enjoy Italian cuisine in Philadelphia. We've diligently scouted out the top eateries, and we've listened to our readers and their reviews of Philadelphia restaurants. We share the places that get great buzz, like Modo Mio, and we showcase the ones that have proven themselves over time, like Vetri Ristorante. We also point out good neighborhoods for Italian restaurants in Philadelphia - South Philly, for instance. When the craving hits, we'll make sure you get your fix!
10 High Note Café
Though he's been professionally cooking his family's Cambrian recipes for 20 years, Franco Borda may be best known to Philadelphians as "the singing chef." Formally trained under some of the nation's leading vocalists, Franco entertains his guests with arias as he prepares homestyle dishes that sing with simple yet strong ingredients. (2157558903)
With its open kitchen and snug yet comfortably-appointed dining room, it's easy to see why this neighborhood BYOB charmer draws such a loyal following from year to year. In fact, if you want the point made even more poignantly, try to snag a table on a Friday or Saturday without making reservations. Superbly done pasta dishes, of course, are the house specialty, and you'll find few kitchens as dedicated to and as proud of their craft as L'Angolo's. Greatly assisting the place's enormous popularity is the fact that it's more than fairly priced. (215-389-4252)
8 Positano Coast by Aldo Lamberti
Enjoy the luxuries and pleasures of the Amalfi Coast in Italy right in Old City Philadelphia. From the cobalt blue floor, to the spectacular life-sized postcards to the contemporary menu, when you step into Positano Coast, you will need to catch your breath. Serving modern Italian cuisine via small plates designed for sharing, Positano Coast welcomes guests to sample delicious selections from the menu, including the freshest fish and seafood, the must have "Crudo"(the Italian version of sushi) and creative variations of many classic Italian dishes. Positano Coast offers a dining experience unlike any other in the area, with guests truly feeling as if they were on an Italian seaside holiday..." (215-238-0499)
Marc Vetri, the talent behind Center City's award-winning Vetri Ristorante, brings his world-renowned cooking to the city's emerging restaurant row on North Broad Street. Osteria carries a more casual, bistro vibe than its fine-dining older sister and presents gourmet pizzas, antipasti and fresh seafood and meat entrees at a mid-range price-point, along with a full bar. Vetri proteges Jeff Michaud and Jeff Benjamin, who run the restaurant, have garnered their own share of awards, with Michaud earning recognition from the James Beard Foundation as the Best Mid-Atlantic Chef in 2010 and the restaurant receiving a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant in 2008. Flavors range from pizza topped with trentino grilled figs, gorgonzola dolce and speck, to primi courses like duck casoncelli with quince, brown butter and sage and secondi courses for two such as house aged rib-eye "fiorentina" with tricolored cauliflower cooked in beef fat. (215-763-0920)
6 Modo Mio
Modo Mio's tables can seem tightly packed, but once you taste the food, you won't care a bit. Everything from "ethereally light" gnocchi to the dual textures of the crusty-but-soft bread is impeccably prepared and presented. The inventive combinations that grace the menu keep diners lively and sociable — the dining room is always energetic. A sample menu would include Lingu, braised calf's tongue, crispy potato, salsa verde, tomato mostarda, Agnolotti, veal and rabbit ravioli, sage butter, and Animelle, veal sweetbreads, artichoke, pancetta, lemon, thyme. With all entrees clocking in at less than $20 and no alcohol to jack up the ticket total, you can expect to get out of here paying less than $40 per person after a three-course meal. (215-203-8707)
5 Bistro la Viola
Tiny, loud and delicious is how regulars fondly describe this cash-only Center City BYOB. With high-quality food at prices that fall well below $20 per entree, it's always a favorite among the Italian-craving crowd. The antipasta mista is a daily-changing assortment of pre-entree delicacies, followed by homemade gnocchi or ravioli served with seafood in a pink cognac sauce then a veal or chicken course. (215-735-8630)
Tradition meets invention at this lively Italian BYOB, popular for pre-theater feasts, special occasions or simple everyday indulgence. Patrons rave about the top-notch staff as well as the seasonal menu that fuses old-world Italian cuisine with modern inspirations. Tantalize taste buds with tender grilled octopus in a basil-lemon vinaigrette or grilled artichoke with bright citrus aioli before diving into elegant entrees like short rib ragu over ricotta gnocchi or spicy cioppino brimming with fresh seafood. (215-985-2962)
When you call Tacconelli's for a reservation, you aren't reserving a seat; you're actually reserving your pizza. And you absolutely must call ahead if you want to be sure of getting what the locals consider the VERY best pizza in Philly ... a white pizza with garlic oil and spinach. The casual no-frills restaurant has a few tables and the menu is limited to pizza and non-alcoholic beverages (you can bring your own beer and wine, however), and closing time depends on how long the pizza dough lasts, which is usually about 8:30 or 9pm. (215-425-4983)
2 Vetri Ristorante
With only 35 seats, this nationally acclaimed restaurant is booked one to two months in advance, so call way ahead for reservations. Chef-owner Marc Vetri prepares elegant "new" Italian cuisine, served only as a prix fixe menu for $135. Seasonally rotating entrees include unusual meats like chestnut fettucini with boar and cocoa, baby goat with freshly stone milled polenta and Texas antelope with squash and amarone sauce. The signature dessert, chocolate polenta soufflé, sounds wacky, but it's quite good. Business dress appropriate. Vetri closes for one week in January and two weeks in August, so call ahead if you're thinking about dining here during those months. (215-732-3478)
1 Le Castagne Ristorante Italiano
Le Castagne Ristorante features creative Northern Italian cuisine with the delicate flavors of an authentic cucina. The menu includes modern and original interpretations of handmade pastas, seafood, veal and other traditional dishes that maximize the fresh ingredients of the season. More than a tip of the hat to the address, the name Le Castagne - chestnuts in Italian - honors one of the most important products of Northern Italy. The name also highlights a common thread between Philadelphia and Italy: once the streets of this city were lined with the solemn trees that lend Chestnut Street its name. Start with Salsiccia con aglio e lenticchie, House-made garlic sausage served over braised lentils & stewed tomatoes in a red wine reduction topped with shaved provolone cheese; then order Tagliolini ai frutti di mare, Black tagliolini with clams, mussels, shrimp, sepia, smoked bacon, & cherry tomato, as a pasta dish; finish with Timballo d'agnello brasato, Timballo of slow-braised lamb with sautéed wild mushrooms on a garlic crostino, & topped with a poached egg, finished with a lamb glacé, an entree so good that Philadelphia magazine named it "Dish of the Year '09." (2157519913)
About Tara Nurin
Tara Nurin is a veteran freelance journalist based just outside Philadelphia. The former TV reporter specializes in craft beer, dining and destination coverage and writes regularly about her three passions -- Philly, food, drink -- for local and national pubs. Tara, who grew up speaking Spanish and French, spent childhood holidays on a Puerto Rican beach and bummed around Paris for her junior year of college. She’s lived in more than a dozen American cities and still travels globally in search of a plate of local food, an artisanal beer and a hearty laugh with the countrymen.
Read more about Tara Nurin here.