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Mama Mia! Naples lives up to its name with great Italian restaurants



With a name like Naples, you might expect a heavy population of Italian restaurants. In the case of Naples, Florida, you would be right. A number of Italian-born and Italian-American chefs have made their mark on the local restaurant scene. This list cuts through the fierce competition to bring you the most popular and brightest stars in the genre.

The variety ranges from your standard-issue pizza and pasta joints to fine dining experiences that draw on the Italian philosophy of simplicity, quality ingredients and pairing products grown and raised in the same region.

The newest Italian eatery on the scene, Dorona Modern Italian Steakhouse raises the bar with the finest steaks and a break from tradition. It also breaks from the downtown scene, which alone counts a dozen or so Italian restaurants. This list includes fine dining Osteria Tulia and the more casual, lighthearted Pazzo! among that particular roll call of Italian restaurants.

The list demonstrates the seriousness with which local Italian restaurant chefs treat their creations - from hand-cut pasta to house-made fennel sausage. It covers off the "eaten path" treasures from Bonita Springs in the north to Marco Island in the south. 


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DeRomo's Gourmet Market & Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


New in 2015, DeRomo's is taking over the Promenade shopping center with a foodie-fantasy market, a spacious indoor-outdoor restaurant and a pasta factory. Equally ambitious, the menu covers everything from classic Italian and New York-style Italian to some inventions of its own. To help you narrow down your choices, choose from the specialties listing: risotto di mare, veal medallions with sea scallops and jumbo shrimp, and tortellini filled with braised veal and cheese. Soup, carpaccio, antipasti, "Old Favorites," pasta, and fish and meat sections offer everything from a fried calamari and zucchini starter and spaghetti and meatballs to grilled Norwegian salmon and lamb chops.

Recommended for Italian because: This massive operation pays serious homage to Italian cuisine.

Chelle's expert tip: End on a sweet note with the fluffy ricotta cheesecake, plenty generous for sharing.

Read more about DeRomo's Gourmet Market & Restaurant →


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Old Naples
Pazzo!
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


Pazzo! is one of the most reasonably priced Italian restaurants in Naples, particularly for Fifth Avenue South. The decor at this "crazy" (as the name translates) restaurant, purportedly one of the most exciting in town, is casual and modern with a bit of a Southwestern influence. The display kitchen adds an air of Iron Chef drama to the dining area. Menu favorites here include a shrimp scampi or house butternut squash ravioli appetizer, fine Caesar and Caprese salads, homemade pasta dishes, grilled fish and meat, veal piccata and branzino sambuca scampi. The wine list is quite admirable, and the dessert menu downright irresistible.

Recommended for Italian because: Opened in 1996, it was at the head of the dining renaissance scene on Fifth Avenue South.

Chelle's expert tip: Pazzo! pours a nicely rounded selection of wines by the glass, including a bubbly prosecco.

Read more about Pazzo! →


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Old Naples
Barbatella
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


Have a seat in the European-style courtyard or make new friends at the communal table inside. Known for its authentic Italian pizza and gelato, it equally excels at a select menu of pasta, seafood, meats and sandwiches. This is cousin to Sea Salt just down the street â€" the casual one in the family. But the food is every bit as complex and creatively conceived. Start lunch with figs and burrata on ciabatta bruschetta or fennel and radicchio salad. Order a glass of wine from the extensive cruvinet offerings. The signature pizza at lunch and dinner holds eggplant, pork sausage, fresh tomato and buffalo mozzarella. Or go for the BLT-e with a fried organic egg and smoked paprika mayo. For heartier appetites, there's a seafood platter with everything from octopus to Maine Lobster or rabbit cacciatore with rabbit sausage meatballs. But remember to leave room for a scoop of creamy, silky gelato, at the very least.

Recommended for Italian because: Barbatella creates an atmosphere of convivial Italian feasting that is truly original.

Chelle's expert tip: It may sound extreme, but you have to try the dessert pizza â€" sweet pizza dough with hazelnut-flavored Nutella, caramelized bananas and whipped cream.

Read more about Barbatella →


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Old Naples
Campiello
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


This class-act Third Street South restaurant occupies the historic Naples Mercantile Building and a pleasant Rome-reminiscent courtyard to its west. Inside, you will find an inviting dining area, spacious bar area and large, open kitchen complete with a traditional wood-burning oven. Some of the pasta, such as the pappardelle with braised veal, is made in house. Many of the ingredients - capicola for one of the wood-fired pizza, cheeses and sausage - get shipped from Italy. There's short ribs with smoked tomatoes or pan-roasted black grouper for dinner, chicken and caramelized pear salad for lunch and amaretto panna cotta with blueberry almond granola for dessert.

Recommended for Italian because: It does Italian with one eye on regional tradition, another on contemporary. It's a favorite among locals.

Chelle's expert tip: Each month Campiello's showcases the cuisine of a different region in Italy on a special Regional Menu.

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Caffe dell'Amore
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


When Conde Nast Traveler magazine readers voted Naples #17 on the U.S. Cities for Foodies list, editors named Caffe dell'Amore as one of the reasons. Its off-Fifth strip mall setting belies an elegant, Old World atmosphere of linens and candlelight. The menu sticks close to Old World tradition itself, with classic favorites such as the lasagna Alla Bolognese and homemade tiramisu. Others show a streak of imaginative originality: wild boar alla cacciatora, Cornish hen braised in white wine with a touch of sambuca, ravioli stuffed with grilled vegetables and goat cheese and pasta pouches filled with gorgonzola cheese and pear.

Recommended for Italian because: It consistently wins awards and kudos for its brand of off-the-beaten-path Italian cuisine.

Chelle's expert tip: Don't miss the spinach delizie appetizer - a labor of love that tastes like it.

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Whether it's your fantasy to dine under the Tuscan sun or the Florida moon, Sale e Pepe brings it to reality in a replicated, palace-proportioned, Italian-villa setting with an outdoor terrace. Perched on the second floor, it affords a sweeping gulf view. Inside, choose a formal frescoed dining setting or a more casual lounge setting. Everything's made fresh, from the crusty bread to the pasta, soup, sausage and traditional Piedmont cake. The succinct dinner menu adapts to the seasons, paying tribute to antipasto, fish, meat and pasta. In the pasta department, there might be ravioli filled with buffalo ricotta. Entrees draw from the land and sea: black Angus ribeye or flounder almond flour meuniere. The formal dining room also offers a tasting menu and summer early dining specials. Stop in the huge gas-lit bar, a shrine to artist Toulouse-Lautrec.

Recommended for Italian because: Sale e Pepe has consistently won awards for its authentic, homemade cuisine and lovely setting.

Chelle's expert tip: The beach is steps away, and a good way to walk off that chilled lemon souffle.

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Alberto's on Fifth
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


Torino-born Alberto Varetto created a sensation as the original chef at Sale e Pepe on Marco Island. He left several years ago to open his name-brand place along dining hot spot Fifth Avenue South. The sensation continues in a sleek, sand-toned dining room that spills out onto the sidewalk. Using house-made ingredients such as sausage, pasta and sauces, Chef Alberto creates a select menu of authentic Italian dishes such as yellow tomato soup with shrimp, pasta with pesto and jumbo lump crab, risotto with lobster and calamari, Chilean sea bass with wild mushrooms, lamb chops with mango mint sauce, and tiramisu.

Recommended for Italian because: Alberto Varetto has made a name for himself as a master at classic Italian cuisine with specialization in the Piedmont area.

Chelle's expert tip: For an inexpensive sample of Chef Alberto's talent, come early (4:30 to 5:30 p.m.) or late (9 to 10 p.m.) for a two-course meal with a glass of wine for $24.

Read more about Alberto's on Fifth →


Dorona Modern Italian Steakhouse
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


From the dynamic Venetian-born Chef Fabrizio Aielli and his wife Ingrid, owners also of Sea Salt and Barbatella, comes this newcomer to Naples' rich Italian scene. Away from the other two's downtown locations, Chef Aielli here can work his magic in a more affordable vein, aside from the wonderfully house-aged Nebraska and wagyu cuts of meat. Freshly made pasta, imported charcuterie, ravioli stuffed with Osso Bucco, and dishes such as pork Milanese with burrata, tomato and crispy artichoke put the "Italian" into its name. The menu, however, strays wide of steak and traditional Italian with simply grilled fish, paella, wagyu or Calabrese sausage burgers and a wonderfully charred octopus. If you can't decide between the Venetian doughnuts and carrot cake for dessert, order both.

Recommended for Italian because: Not only is "Italian" in the name, but it also threads through a menu that dares beyond the traditional.

Chelle's expert tip: Dorona resurrects the almost-lost art of tableside Caesar salad, presented with impressive panache.

Read more about Dorona Modern Italian Steakhouse →


Angelina's Ristorante
Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster Walton


The kitchen's excellence stems from exquisite attention to detail-from a house-cured cherry in the Manhattan cocktail in the convivial bar to fanfare touches such as baby kale and prosciutto salad with blueberries, orange tomato butter with Angelina's long-favored butternut squash ravioli and slow-roasted pork belly with the pan-seared scallops. Other stellar dishes: Caprese salad, mussels with lobster-shrimp broth, agnolotti pasta stuffed with slow-roasted veal and topped with wild mushrooms, and sea salt baked snapper for two. An award-winning selection of wine occupies a three-story glass tower in the elegant, Old World-style dining room. The final superlatives go to the staff - friendly, unflappable and uncommonly capable.

Recommended for Italian because: Angelina's has elevated its brand of stylized Italian cuisine to stellar status in the past few years.

Chelle's expert tip: Step out of your comfort zone with the Caprese Moderno salad - burrata cheese and blood oranges plus other twists on classic Caprese.

Read more about Angelina's Ristorante →


Osteria Tulia
Photo courtesy of Osteria Tulia


The first dilemma: Sit al fresco and people watch along busy Fifth Avenue South or enter the embrace of "farmhouse chic" indoors, where repurposed barn wood creates warmth and character? Then the food ordering decision! Like the décor, the menu reflects the rustic side of Italian cuisine refined. Culinary marvels range from antipasti selections such as Brussels sprouts caramelized with house-made fennel sausage and Sicilian meatballs studded with the added serendipity of pine nuts and currants to homemade pastas such as kale and sheep ricotta and the fennel and cumin rubbed Faroe Island salmon. Besides the pasta, Chef Vincenzo Betulia prepares most of his cured meats in-house. What he doesn't make himself he imports from Italy or sourced from local seafood and produce providers.

Recommended for Italian because: This fine Italian restaurant has a strong following appreciative of its rustic Italian cuisine and setting.

Chelle's expert tip: For a refreshing warm-weather cocktail, try the Fiori - passionfruit-infused vodka with passionfruit nectar, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, muddled raspberries and effervescent limonata.

Read more about Osteria Tulia →


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Meet Chelle Koster Walton

Chelle Koster Walton – the Local Expert for Naples, Florida and the Caribbean – has been covering the destination for 30 years. Her top-selling Sarasota, Sanibel Island, and...  More About Chelle

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