These 10 Italian Restaurants Are A Memphis Must

Photo courtesy of Amerigo - Memphis
By Sally Walker Davies, Memphis Local Expert

At 10Best, we're always on the lookout for Memphis's best restaurants, and while we appreciate places that have a broad culinary range, we can't help but adore restaurants that specialize in a given cuisine.

Sure, we are known for barbecue around these parts. But when we're in the mood for Italian food in Memphis, which is quite often, we have a range of fabulous restaurants from which to choose. By far the best-known and likely the most talked about in the city is Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, where you definitely need a reservation and should be prepared to try whatever the waiter recommends. AMIK's chefs have two more eateries on this list, too - more casual yet still amazing spots to try. Midtown's  Bari Ristorante e Enoteca - a reader favorite - and the old-school  Frank Grisanti's  - and any of the restaurants on our list - to be fantastic options for Italian cuisine. 

10. Fino's Italian Grocery
Photo courtesy of Kerry Crawford, I Love Memphis

A great little Italian deli and market, Fino's has just a few tables for the lunch crowd, and does a ton of take-out business. During the warmer months, picnic tables are set up out on the sidewalk of this Midtown Memphis gem. Sandwiches and pasta dishes rule the menu, and the creativity is endless. Combinations include spaghetti with spinach and mushroom marinara, chicken-pancetta Amorosa soup, and a daily sandwich special like turkey & salami with provolone,lettuce, and tomato/onion marinade. Luscious cakes and desserts are the perfect ending to any meal - and given the huge serving size, could even be a meal all its own.

9. Amerigo - Memphis
Photo courtesy of Amerigo - Memphis

A small chain of Italian eateries can be a dangerous thing - as in, dangerously dull. But that's not the case with Amerigo, which has one outlet in Memphis (there are two in Nashville / Brentwood, and another in Jackson, MS). White tablecloths are covered with butcher's paper, and the ambiance is old world but not stuffy. The food is fresh, simple, and generous - almost any pasta dish ordered is destined to be lunch the next day. The menu is huge, including traditional Italian favorites as well as a deep list of creative entrees featuring steak, chicken, and seafood. Our favorite indulgence are the cheese fritters - a heady combo of blended cheeses that are lightly breaded and flash-fried...in a word, divine. Two sauces for dipping are part of the fritter plate - do yourself a favor and just order the large plate. (These were featured in Bon Apetit, so you know they're fab).

8. Lucchesi's Ravioli & Pasta Co.
Photo courtesy of Lucchesi's

Lucchesi's offers authentic Italian food the way it's best � handmade from time-tested recipes. Try spinach gorgonzola ravioli to sample the goodness, and be sure to pick up one of their frozen meals or packaged sauces for dinner. Take-and-bake items are most popular, but lunch is great for dine-in when you've got extra time. A huge cheese section was added when the restaurant portion expanded, so there's more seating, fresh sandwiches, and plenty of sweets to try. The market space offers loads of Italian goodies, from housewares to specialty foods.

7. Cafe Piazza
Photo courtesy of Cafe Piazza

In a charming old house nestled along the railroad tracks in Collierville, Cafe Piazza is just south of the town square. Old family favorites are freshly crafted in the kitchen, with traditional Italian dishes - pastas, pizzas, and anti-pasta plates; fresh cakes and other sweets are offered for dessert, with the selection changing daily. This is the kind of place where the black and white family photos actually belong to the owners, and it's a local favorite, with those who live in the city of Memphis often finding an excuse to head east to Collierville for authentic, traditional Italian.

6. Frank Grisanti

Nestled into a corner of the hotel lobby, Frank Grisanti ranks among the best-loved Italian restaurants in Memphis, and has for years. This is definitely an old-school Italian restaurant, in both its ambiance and its menu; that's one of the reasons we love it. Its soothing decor features autumnal colors, polished woods and soft lighting. Seafood and veal are among the most popular options, but classic pasta dishes are excellent as well. Consider Maine lobster ravioli, veal picatta, grilled chicken lasagne, or tournedos of beef Oscar. Entrees come with a hot loaf of bread and a fresh garden salad tossed with homemade vinaigrette.

5. Ciao Bella
Photo courtesy of Ciao Bella

This casual Italian restaurant is a family staple in east Memphis, and sets the perfect mood with an appealing atmosphere, heady aromas and the smooth stylings of Sinatra or Como coming from the speakers. But you're as likely to see canoodling couples in the booths as you are full-out family gatherings. The menu offers a range of pastas and pizzas, along with fresh seafood, rack of lamb, veal scaloppini, and grilled pork tenderloin. Prices are reasonable, portions are large, and the food's always tasty. When the weather's fine, there's an outdoor patio, and the bar is often a lively spot, even when the restaurant may not be packed.

4. Hog & Hominy
Photo courtesy of Hog & Hominy

The more casual brainchild of young chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, Hog & Hominy is a tribute to the pair's roots - both Southern and Italian. The result is a mix of vegetable dishes, pork-focused main dishes and wood-fired pizzas – all set in a super-casual atmosphere yet with refined service. Located just across from their namesake Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen on Brookhaven Circle, H&H, like it's sister restaurant, is housed in a former ranch-style residence. Walls have been moved and opened up to create an active space - and a wall of windows infuses the dining room with light. The bricks from from old chimney found new life as the brick oven, and colorful metal chairs add pops of color to the open dining space. Outside, there's not only a nice patio for al fresco dining - there's a bocce court. My Italian ancestors are rejoicing.

3. Porcellino's Craft Butcher

Chefs Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman have another hit on their hands; Porcellino's is the duo's third restaurant on Brookhaven Circle, joining their upscale original, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and their superbly casual pizza & comfort food spot Hog & Hominy. Porcellino's has a much different focus and feel; it's open from breakfast through dinner daily, offering a set menu of pastries and coffees, plus fabulous daily specials (kimchee and Siracha-brined fried chicken biscuit, anyone?) at breakfast, with tapas-style offerings at lunch and dinner. There are certainly craft cocktails and plenty of wine options by the glass and bottle, and the idea is to order a bunch of plates to share � although we've been known to order a second round of croissonts at breakfast just for ourselves. The atmosphere at Porcellino's is like the neighborhood cafes that make visiting European villages so charming; there's a friendly staff, a cozy environment, simple metal chairs and dark wooden tables (plus counter seating throughout the space. And Porcellino's has one distinct differentiator from its sister restaurants � it's also a butcher shop filled with delightful meats and charcuterie to take home.

2. Bari Ristorante e Enoteca
Photo courtesy of Bari Ristorante e Enoteca

Influenced by the flavors of Southern Italy, especially the Puglia region, Bari serves authentic Italian fare made from only the freshest ingredients. Its intimate setting and attentive service are perfect for a romantic evening out. Offering one of the most extensive wine and cheese lists in the city, the charcuterie and cheese plates are generous enough for sharing - and we prefer to make that our meal when we are visiting the lively bar. Bari also treats diners to dishes like pan-roasted grouper, seared scallops, a pepper-dusted filet, and spaghetti alla carbonara, which is truly one of our favorite dishes in town.

1. Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen

Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and its two namesake chefs are the toast of the town - and not just in Memphis. With a stellar review from the New York Times plus loads of attention from other national foodies, including numerous James Beard Award nominations and being named Food & Wine's Best new Chef Award in 2013, AMIK is probably the most well-known of the restaurants that were part of the Memphis dining renaissance. The food is, indeed, worthy of all the superlatives. The chefs combine the recipes and influence of their Italian families with a nod to their Southern roots, and the result is consistently spectacular. They have a dedicated and equally inventive mixologist, plus a lust-worthy wine list. Book way in advance if you have a special occasion.