Anyone who grew up with an Italian grandmother knows the word mangia. Italian for “eat,” the phrase serves more as a battle cry than a command when digging into plates of fresh pasta, savory sauces, and decadent desserts. For those without the Grandma, never fear: metro Detroit is home to an abundant supply of fresh, downright delicious Italian joints serving up cuisine some would argue is just as good -- just don’t tell our grandmas. Lucky for you, we sorted through dozens to find the best. (It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.) Here are 14 Italian restaurants to try out for yourself. Mangia!
Since 2002, this Southfield eatery has been serving up simple, delicious Italian cuisine in a modern and chic setting. With powerhouse chef Luciano Del Signore, a three-time James Beard Best Chef: Great Lakes semifinalist, at the wheel, it’s easy to see why the spot has been won a number of awards, including Top Table from Gourmet magazine. With the help of his Italian immigrant parents, the chef began experimenting with traditional Italian food from a young age, developing his own signature recipes at 14 while the rest of us were fretting over freshman year drama. His passion for high-quality imaginative dishes shines through in Bacco’s menus, highlighted by fresh pasta and elegant entrees such as the Agnella -- tender Colorado lamb chops served with a potato puree and sautéed heirloom spinach.
“Detroit’s best kept secret” is apparently hidden away in Palmer Park. La Dolce Vita serves up regional Italian cuisine with various European influences, such as the Ravioli D’Aragosta Allo Zafferano, made with saffron ravioli stuffed with lobster and served with palomino sauce. It’s one of the few Italian joints serving up brunch on the weekends, so don’t be afraid to carb-load early. Although brunch options are a bit more global, with offerings like French toast and Sardou (like a creole eggs Benedict), the quality of the dishes falls in line with the dinner menu's.
New to Eastern Market, La Rondinella is one of the few Italian restaurants where you’ll find vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. Although most are relegated to antipasti and sides, the vegetarian ricotta gnocchi served with fresh pesto and primo sale cheese is as filling and delicious as other meat-filled dishes. Headed by chef Dave Mancini of the acclaimed Supino Pizzeria, the Northern Italian cuisine has earned high reviews from both diners and critics. Make sure to save room for fresh roasted Anthology coffee and house-made desserts, including one of the best panna cottas in the city.
Royal Oak & other locations
We get it. The DelSignore family, owners of Bigalora and Bacco, know good Italian, and with Bigalora locations in Ann Arbor, Royal Oak, and Southfield, as well as a mobile food truck, you can know it too. The star of the show is easily the pizza, but don’t be fooled -- this isn’t your normal pie. The chain is serving up the real deal: Napoletana-style, wood-fired, crispy-crust pies worthy of the three James Beard Awards Chef Signore has taken home. The specialty fermented crust is made without any additional yeast or sugar, creating a savory, delicious base complemented by high-quality toppings like imported Italian buffalo mozzarella and Bacco's own sausage.
For almost 50 years, this Detroit institution has been dishing out Old World Italian food in the warmest, most appropriate setting. Seriously -- take a step inside. You’ll feel like you’re in The Godfather, which is appropriate considering the location has a separate dining area literally called the “Godfather Room.” Headed by chef Randy Truant, the eatery prides itself on its homemade pasta, fresh fish, and locally grown vegetables. Beyond that, the restaurant is true to its roots -- Chef Randy is the son of Frances Truant, the original owner to this day. Classic and delectable.
Named for an Italian grandmother (the true beacon of quality Italian food), this Detroit bistro does things the old way -- from scratch. The menu is laden with handcrafted fresh pasta, and house-butchered and -smoked fish and meats. In terms of location, you can’t get much better. Hidden inside the Madison Building, the interior overlooks Grand Circus Park, the Detroit Opera House, and Comerica Park, visible via floor-to-ceiling windows. It's the perfect location for dinner before a game or an opera, or simply a deliciously elegant night out.
Italian and Mexican: when this restaurant says it's combining the best of both worlds, El Barzón isn't kidding. No, this isn’t a cruel joke. Chef and owner Norberto Garita practiced fine Italian cooking in New York before coming to Detroit and working for Il Posto Ristorante for eight years. El Barzón brings together his love of the two cuisines on one menu. Only here can you get homemade pasta alongside authentic street tacos and pozole. Is there any better solution when you just can’t decide what you feel like eating?
In the heart of Corktown, Ottava Via is serving up homestyle Italian staples like formaggi and salumeria (butcher’s boards) and crispy Neapolitan pizzas. Although the menu is somewhat small, the selections are fresh and delicious. Beyond the pizza, favorites like fresh pasta or simple roasted vegetables are consistently delicious visit after visit. The friendly staff is happy to make suggestions. Get in before the cold sets in and enjoy another Italian favorite -- there's bocce ball in the courtyard!
Although not a traditional restaurant, Gonella’s makes a legendary Italian sub that is worth its weight in gold. For 75 years the shop has been serving up the classic with its signature Italian dressing. The original Detroit location boasts an impressive 4.5-star rating on Yelp, which we all know can be unforgiving, at best. Look for the Italian flag facade and banner (accurately) reading, “World’s Greatest Submarines.” The made-to-order sandwiches will surely make a believer out of you too.
You can’t talk about Detroit’s top Italian restaurants without mentioning the classic, the original, the oldest Italian restaurant in Detroit. Established in 1890, Roma Cafe is still in its original location in Eastern Market. The interior is exactly what you may expect from a small, old Italian joint -- red tablecloths, simple black chairs, wood panels. But let’s admit it: you’re not going for the atmosphere. You’re going for its renowned spaghetti made with the “famous” meat sauce or tender veal Parmesan, both served in portions that would make any Italian grandma proud.
New on the scene with a cutesy name, this Ferndale restaurant specializes in family-style cuisine and Neapolitan pizzas big enough to share. Nona’s Bolognese, made with a traditional meat sauce, is a definite crowd pleaser, as are the house-made meatballs, which have a bit of a spicy kick. Beyond the cuisine, the location sports an impressive wine list including over 30 rotating wines on tap. Yes, wines on tap. The system keeps the vino fresh and available not only by the glass but in tasting flights. Pizza, pasta, wine flights -- what else could you really want?
Grosse Point Woods
Bucci definitely takes the title of “most fun name to pronounce.” Aside from the name, the location serves up fresh, made-from-scratch dishes. Owned and headed by Chef Bucci, his namesake restaurant's dinner menu is defined by simple and delicious pasta dishes and meaty entrees like the marinated and chargrilled veal or the filet mignon, served in truffle zip sauce with jumbo shrimp. Prices are reasonable, with most entrees listed at less than $20. Combine that with its comfortable, modern interior, and you might just become a new regular.
Winner of Hour Detroit’s best Italian and OpenTable's Diner’s Choice Award in 2015, Troy’s Tre Monti is sure to impress. Favorites dishes include the seven-year-aged Acquerillo Risotto, served with seasonal gourmet mushrooms, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Kick it up a notch and try the 20oz imperial wagyu NY steak, dry-aged for 55 days and served with assorted root vegetables, dehydrated soil, truffle potato croquette, and a bordelaise sauce. It’s a delicious, wonderfully funky mouthful that's well worth the price tag.
Under new ownership since 2013, Birmingham’s Bella Piatti has been totally revitalized, from the decor to the menu. Venetian-born chef Francesco Apollonia uses seasonal produce and artisan ingredients to create traditional Italian dishes with a modern twist. Dishes stem from all over the Italian region, like Pesce Spada, a pan-seared swordfish prepared with honey, balsamic brown butter, capers, tomatoes, and lentils. Celebrities like Kate Upton, Justin Verlander, Michael Bay, Henry Winkler, and Margaret Cho have all been seen eating at the establishment, which is your cue to not look so schlubby on your next trip -- who knows who you'll run into?
Sign up here for our daily Detroit email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun the Motor City has to offer.
1. Bacco Ristorante29410 Northwestern Hwy, Southfield
2. La Dolce Vita17546 Woodward Ave, Detroit
3. La Rondinella2453 Russell St, Detroit
4. Bigalora711 S Main St, Royal Oak
5. Giovanni's Ristorante330 S Oakwood, Detroit
6. Angelina Italian Bistro1565 Broadway St, Detroit
7. El Barzon3710 Junction St, Detroit
8. Ottava Via1400 Michigan Ave, Detroit
9. Original Gonella's295 S Oakwood, Detroit
10. Roma Cafe3401 Riopelle St, Detroit
11. Pop's for Italian280 W 9 Mile Rd Ste 2, Ferndale
12. Bucci Ristorante20217 Mack Ave, Grosse Pointe Woods
13. Tre Monti Ristorante1695 E Big Beaver Rd, Troy
14. Bella Piatti167 Townsend St, Birmingham
This is the flagship restaurant of Luciano del Signore, the Godfather of Detroit food. It is one of the only modern-style Italian restaurants in the metro area and is known for fresh ingredients and simple yet stunning presentation. The menu is constantly changing, so you can be eating Branzino imported from the Mediterranean on one visit and pasta from Abruzzo, Italy on another.
A double-threat, La Dolce Vita is equally capable of satisfying you with bottomless mimosas and shrimp benedicts in the early hours or wowing your date with lobster-stuffed ravioli and house-made gnocchi in the evening. When the weather allows, don't settle for anything less than a spot on the patio as you fatten up to jazz music.
La Rondinella offers all the bold flavors of Northern Italy, and is significantly more affordable than purchasing a plane ticket to the country itself. The bustling eatery is the second project from Dave Mancini, whose success at Supino Pizzeria led him to opening a slightly more high-end operation just next door in Eastern Market. Food offerings highlight the chef's modern interpretation of Italian cuisine, utilizing gluten-free crepes to make the delicious lasagne di crespelle; while vegans will swoon over the swiss chard bietola and braised bean fagioli, dishes like the stracotto di agnello -- wine-braised, grass-fed Michigan lamb shoulder over polenta -- are the clear standouts. The wine list is as accessible as it is robust, focused entirely on Italian wines; on the cocktail list, signature drinks highlight Italian spirits like amaro and cynar. Combined with the tastefully minimalist space, it's the perfect spot for a refined yet relaxed dinner.
At Bigalora restaurant, you can make-your-own meat and cheese plates, pasta, and order from a huge list of wood-fired pizzas. This spot also serves New England style pies, specifically New Haven, where clams are a regular topping. We suggest the Manila clam pizza at Bigalora, topped with pancetta, mozzarella, spicy chile, and parsley.
This mom-and-son establishment is famous for their handmade pastas and rustic Italian fare. They bring a farm-to-table element to their old school style and serve food mostly from the San Marino region. Frank Sinatra even stopped in once for a taste of their authentic food.
Located inside the Madison Building, this Italian restaurant keeps things modern in a sleek urban loft space with exposed brick and floor to ceiling windows overlooking Grand Circus Park and Comerica Park. The wine list is consistently interesting and the spacious bar makes grabbing a drink and antipasti a delicious breeze.
Since its debut in 2007, this Southwest Detroit spot has garnered a loyal following of regulars and significant acclaim for its unique Mexican-Italian menu. Helmed by chef Norberto Garita (who cut his culinary teeth in New York's fine dining scene), the kitchen serves upscale renditions of classic dishes like chicken Milanese and mole poblano, staying true to the staples of each cuisine. El Barzon also boasts a solid cocktail menu of vibrantly colored margaritas, top shelf liquors and rare mezcal selections. Combined with an inviting outdoor patio (decked out with lush plants and Christmas light strung from the wooden rafters ahead), it's a popular spot for relaxed yet refined dinners.
A traditional Italian joint in Corktown that also boasts a backyard with bocce ball, Ottava Via makes tasty Neapolitan-style pizzas cooked in a brick oven, with traditional flavors like the Margherita or catch-all Italian. We won't stop you from trying a classic, but we suggest the Funghi, which comes with portobello, crimini, shitake, and cipollini mushrooms, and Tartufo cheese.
An old-school Italian deli, Gonella’s has been serving classic Italian subs that have made it a legend in Southwest Detroit for decades. With ingredients that are either homemade or imported straight from Italy, the friendly team here creates these subs using a variety of Italian meats, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and their signature house dressing. It all comes served on a chewy, fresh-baked roll. You'd be hard-pressed to find another sub in the city that's as high-quality. Just look at the long line of regulars that shows up here.
Opened in 1890, Roma Café is Detroit's oldest restaurant. The classic late-19th-century immigrant Italian eatery is every inch a taste of Detroit's history; it was even a favored haunt of Detroit's notorious Purple Gang, and for good reason: chicken parmesan served with ample doses of gooey cheese, pasta in perfectly bright tomato sauce, and veal marsalas all comfort the heart while exciting the taste buds. And because this is an old-school joint, you can rest assured your Manhattans and Old Fashioneds will be prepared in authentic, accurate fashion.
On 9 Mile in Ferndale is Pop's for Italian, a trendy, casual Italian joint specializing in wood fired Neapolitan pizzas, handmade pastas, and, surprisingly, brunch. With a wine list as long and explanatory as Pops’, you won’t have (as much) trouble pairing them with menu options like the succulent Fried Roman Artichoke, homemade gnocchi with sausage, cream, gorgonzola, and red pepper flakes, lightly breaded Veal Picatta with garlic mashed potatoes, or thin yet doughy hand-tossed pizza ranging from classic Margherita (basil, tomato, and mozzarella) to inventive choices like white Clam pizza (clams, pancetta, onion, and mozzarella). At brunch if the breakfast pizza doesn’t tickle your fancy, try the decadent Cannoli Waffles, fried French Toast, or lobster Benedicto with poached eggs and champagne hollandaise.
Helmed by Chef Bucci, his namesake restaurant in Grosse Pointe Woods is modern and intimate, boasting a seasonal Italian menu that centers on simple pasta dishes and meaty entrees. They're cooked inside Bucci's open kitchen, and include must-tries like marinated and chargrilled veal, and filet mignon, which is served in truffle zip sauce with jumbo shrimp. All of this will be eaten by candlelight, of course.
Housed inside a grand, castle-like mansion in Troy, Tre Monti impresses with high-end Italian dishes including the seven-year-aged Acquerillo Risotto, served with seasonal gourmet mushrooms and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. If you're really looking to splurge, go for the 20oz imperial wagyu NY steak, dry-aged for 55 days and served with assorted root vegetables, dehydrated soil, truffle potato croquette, and a bordelaise sauce. The price tags are high, but it's an elegant dining experience like none other in Metro Detroit thanks to its friendly, attentive staff and sweeping interior.