Joe Scaravella opened Enoteca Maria in 2007, it looked like he put a call out to central casting as Nonnas from 20 regions of Italy marched into the open kitchen to cook every single night. As you might expect, each location and each woman shares her secret recipes with no one, but will cook them to your delight presenting it all in the way only a grandmother can. But, like roses grandmothers are known by many names: nonnas, abuelitas, bubbes, and bunicas and yayas, so recently Enoteca began inviting Grandmothers from all over the world: Argentina, Belarus, Czech, Syria, Trinidad, and Peru. Now imagine you're having this experience on the banks of Staten Island - transporting you from one area of Italy or the world to another; culinary lifetimes served up on the plate in front of you, a feast from grandma's hometown wherever it may be.
Recommended for Italian because: A crazy idea that brings comfort, joy and fun to the dining room table like nowhere else. It's amazing. Don't question this. Just go ...
Andrea's expert tip: Call ahead to find out which region of Italy is on the menu.
You will be welcomed at the door by the maître d', a tall, handsome Albanian gentleman named Norie; and likely be watched over by Renee. Don't be discouraged if you may have to wait 15-20 minutes on a Saturday night, you won't be ignored. If it's nippy out, Norie will find a warm place for you inside.Even the pickiest Italian diners will love Trattoria Spaghetto (tourists arrive from everywhere), that is, unless of course they are looking for white tablecloths and starchy waiters. Try the signature dishes: the thick minestrone, pesto on anything and Veal Marsala, all three are based on Enzo's original recipes. For starters, try the roasted peppers with olives and buttery, melt-in-your-mouth buratta, it is per morire, to die for. If you don't see what you want on the menu, don't be shy, ask.
Recommended for Italian because: Bustling and brimming with laughter and friendly service, albeit sometimes cramped, consistency is what makes this place a local and international favorite.
Maria's expert tip: At the corner of Bleecker and Carmine St. is the third-generation Trattoria Spaghetto that started life as a luncheonette called Italian Home Cooking.
This is the Italian restaurant that has won the respect of restauranteurs and chefs the city over. Spread over two floors, L'Artusi's menu is simplicity personified. Instead of hard-to-pronounce ingredients with something to prove, you'll instead find pastas like spaghetti with garlic, chilies and parmesan, or branzino brandished with roasted lemon, olives and honey and finally yes, orecchiette with sausage and pecorino the little ears that will knock your socks off. The wine list is similarly simplistic and features a wide range of Italian drops from nearly every region of the boot. On the weekends, L'Artusi also offers brunch: think lemon-ricotta pancakes, delicate frittatas and creamy polenta with poached eggs, pancetta-tomato sauce and pecorino.
Recommended for Italian because: Perfectly executed dinner and brunch menus at an affordable price range puts L'Artusi at the top of the list.
Maria's expert tip: The wine list is great, but don't shy away from the cocktails. A word from the wise: reservations are your friend.
Vesta is a neighborhood place with a mission: childhood friends and now owners Giuseppe Falco and Leo Sacco are also homegrown in Astoria. Their Sicilian ancestors left them with fine palates for food, wine and loyalty. Vesta's products are locally gathered and made: from the homemade bacon to the pea tendrils that grew on New York City's first rooftop farm to Long Island wines, this place is all about nearby. Arrive before 7 PM to try out the wines-on-tap for $5 a glass, yes they were among the first to have wine-on-tap. Highly recommended: Mussels and Manila clams sprinkled lightly with chipotle pepper, bacon, ribbons of basil; homemade duck prosciutto with strawberry mostarda. Everyone loves the very thin hangover pizza. Shrimp Spaccatelli is out of this world delicious either with the squid ink pasta or if not that, the cavatappi. Leo and Giuseppe also own Pachanga and Ventura, both in Queens.
Recommended for Italian because: Three reasons: the menu is guided by the greenmarkets; everyone who comes for the first time either becomes a regular or a very frequent patron.
Maria's expert tip: There is not a bad seat in the house; leave room for the Baby Jesus dessert, yes we said Jesus.
Paolo Lattanzi brought Cucina Ebraico Romanesca the classic cuisine of Roman Jews to New York City's Theater District via Trastevere in Rome. From the start, it garnered three stars from the NY Times and was listed as one of the "100 Best Restaurants in the United States," recognized for "One of the Five Best Dishes in NYC"... . Nine tables, four pastas, four main courses and two desserts... this was the little restaurant that stood New York on its collective taste buds. Lattanzi still dazzles with classics. The Jerusalem artichokes are made to papery perfection, nibble on the matzoh drizzled with olive oil, you'll never look at a matzoh in quite the same way again. Italian-sized portions will waken your appetite but not overwhelm, perfect date place with softly lit tables just distant enough to have a private conversation. From there, Trastevere 84 and Erminia (in partnership with Luna Rossa's chef Floesse) on 2nd and 83rd followed.
Recommended for Italian because: Lattanzi is one of those places that brought distinction to the New York restaurant scene.
Maria's expert tip: For pre-theater dinners, reservations are a must.
Visiting Luna Rossa is like booking a grand tour of Italy from north to south because Chef Paul Floess prides himself on his dexterity in producing specialties from Italy's 20 regions. Snuggle into this narrow space on the Upper East Side where diners are treated with old-world grace and charm, in a serene and romantic yet never starchy atmosphere. The wine list also reflects regions from Apulia to Emilia Romagna to Sicily and Alto Adige. From milk-fed veal chop Milanese, to fresh branzino and think creative like fig gnocchi in sage butter, carpaccio and buratta. This is a place where the staff is still key. Just a great intimate place where couples and families will feel exquisitely at home in a city filled with noisy gargantuan restaurants. Floess and Paolo Lattanzi have just taken over Erminia another well-loved Upper East Side restaurant.
Recommended for Italian because: Floesse hails from Bolzano and has managed to absorb the high notes of regional cuisine up and down the boot.
Maria's expert tip: Save room homemade desserts like millefoglie and flourless chocolate hazelnut cake, if it's flourless has zero calories, no?
dell'anima means "of the soul" in Italian and the food features seasonal, eloquent dishes of thoughtful simplicity , including bruschetta and fresh pastas made in-house daily by Executive Chef Andrew Whitney. The wine list features more than 150 hand-chosen wines, with an emphasis on traditional and natural winemaking, with more selections at their wine bar Anfora located next door, all of which are poured into hand-blown crystal glasses from Milan. This tiny and dare we say it "carino" Italian restaurant appeals to a rich diversity of an upscale crowd and foodies who vie for prime seating at the chef's counter to nibble on some of that charred octopus or pulpo with rice, beans and chorizo, Whitney's original vision of "downtown Italian." Whitney competed on the Bravo reality show Best New Restaurant.
Recommended for Italian because: Magic happens when you combine pedigrees â" a former Babbo sommelier and the kitchen whiz from Del Posto.
Maria's expert tip: dell'anima accommodates up to 50 guests, and six lucky people may sit at the chef's counter with a commanding view of the kitchen. Inquire about chef Andrew tastings at the chef's counter. Reservations are a must.
al di la Trattoria is based on a love story: Venetian Emiliano Copa first met Chef Anna Klinger when she studied at the cooking school he operated. One of the grand dames of our list, this popular trattoria has served a savvy crowd of local NYU professors, media types and food-minded families in Park Slope for over a decade. al di la Trattoria serves traditional Venetian cuisine in a warm dining room with a hammered tin ceiling and lovingly mismatched light fixtures. Primis like malfatti and casunziei, ravioli filled with red beets and ricotta are particularly Venetian as are bacala Montecato, spaghetti vongole with Manila Clams keep the clientele smiling, as does the extensive wine list, which consists of both Italian and international bottles. This team now owns two classy watering holes: Bar Corvo Bar Corvo at 791 Washington Ave. and Lincoln Station at nearby 409 Lincoln Place.
Recommended for Italian because: A Northern Italian menu, solid reputation and convivial atmosphere make Park Slope's al di la Trattoria a perennial crowd-pleaser.
Maria's expert tip: If you're hungry for dinner but starved for time, the full menu is also served at the adjoining wine bar, visit aldilavino.com online for a preview. A walk-in dining spot, reservations can be made for a few parties of 6-10.
Modeled after a classic restaurant in downtown Salerno, Roberto's was an instant success in this corner of likely the most authentic Little Italy in New York right now. The scene is convivial, even a tad rustic thanks to elements like the wooden, farmhouse-style tables (great for larger parties). Homemade pasta dishes are delivered in deliciously heaping portions, but wise regulars know to check the chalkboard of daily specials before they order. Indeed, Chef Roberto Paciullo never fails to offer a handful of dazzling choices like veal scaloppine or baked cavatappi or corkscrew pasta wrapped in tin foil. For the finest pizza around, take some home from Zero Otto Nove, Roberto's trattoria up the block. Roberto also owns the more reasonably priced "Zero, Otto, Nove" with a branch in the Flatiron district and a newbie in Armonk â" all with with really fantastic food.
Recommended for Italian because: Roberto's became a destination of its own and the reason people started coming back to the Bronx.
Maria's expert tip: Combine lunch or dinner with a visit to the Bronx Zoo or the Bronx Botanical Gardens.
Marea, meaning "tide" in Italian is a perfectly balanced combination of an ingredients-driven, award-winning Italian menu, impeccable service, and a fantastic wine list with more than 750 selections. At the helm is Chef Michael White. Marea has earned three stars from The New York Times, two stars from Michelin, and a city of devoted regulars who claim that this is the best Italian seafood in the city. Dishes like dressed blue prawns with carrot crisp and tarragon to share, or choose from the Crudo al Taglio, or sliced raw fish and shellfish or choose from four different types of caviar, starting at a mind-boggling $150 per ounce. Our recommendation: opt for the 4-course prix fixe, a modest $99 affair that allows you to sample a crudo, pasta, entree and dessert; if you can wait for the weekend, try the five-course tasting brunch menu for $80.
Recommended for Italian because: Two Michelin stars mark this high-end seafood destination from Michael White in a chic Central Park South setting; one of Anthony Bourdain's favorites.
Maria's expert tip: If crudo or raw fish is what tickles your palate, look no further, this is a special seafood experience, and handle your pocketbook with care. Brunch starts at $52.