Food & Drink

The Best Italian Restaurants in the Twin Cities

Published On 07/27/2015 Published On 07/27/2015

Let your days of eating impostor Italian at the local OG (or some other wannabe) come to an end, for Italian food has finally hit the Twin Cities in a big way. Sure, we’ve had some excellent longtime spots, but several more have opened their doors recently, so our list of MSP’s 11 best Boot-inspired fooderies will let you know which are worth it and which ones you... um, wannabe skipping.

I Nonni

I NONNI

Lilydale

One of the Twin Cities' best Italian treasures is located just outside St. Paul in a small stretch of land called Lilydale. I NONNI focuses on seasonal foods which it then gives the Roman touch. Start off with the Stinco Maiale, which comes with agro-dolce grilled micro pork shanks and chive crème fraiche, or try the Cozze in Acqua Pazza --  steamed Maine mussels with garlic, parsley, and chilies in a tomato brodo. Be sure to check out one of their fresh pasta dishes, like the Tagliatelle con Polpette, which features fried wild boar-veal liver meatballs, cremini mushrooms, lemon crema, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, or go for something heartier like the Scottadito, which highlights grilled Iowa lamb chops, sour cherry mostarda, garden chives, rosemary-garlic potatoes, and wild mushroom-marsala pan sauce.

TERZO MPLS

Terzo

Southwest

Brought to you by the folks behind Broders' Pasta Bar, this sister restaurant delivers in the Italian department. With a focus on fresh, locally sourced, and seasonal ingredients, Terzo offers a unique take on modern Italian cuisine. Try out the Fresno pepper-glazed octopus, the tajarin, which is a traditional hand-cut egg yolk pasta with sage butter and a porcini mushroom ragu, or go for the ever-classic broiled bronzino. Wash it all down with a glass from the ever-changing wine list, or a bottle from Terzo’s cellar, which holds over 300 varieties. Beer drinkers have a place here too, with 10 taps dedicated to unique, regional, and imported beers.

Mucci's Italian

Mucci's Italian

West 7th

While still relatively new, these folks instantly became one of the best Italian restaurants in the Twin Cities the second they opened their doors. Focusing on simple yet familiar flavors kicked up to the next level through the thoughtfully refined techniques of the chef, Mucci's lets you know you’re in for a treat every time you sit down at their tables. The bisques are out of this world, the fritti are lightly fried to absolute perfection, the pizzas are unique and delicious, and the pastas are made fresh and served with a variety of robust sauces that’ll have you feeling nostalgic even if you didn’t grow up with an Italian grandmother.

Cossetta's

Downtown St. Paul

No list of Italian dining in the Twin Cities would be complete without the inclusion of this St. Paul institution. While the cafeteria setting offers pretty basic renditions of Italian fare including a variety of pastas and pizza, this place is still a mecca for all things Italian. Head upstairs to Louie for more refined cuisine, or hit the adjacent market to pick up a selection of Italian ingredients including delicious meats, cheeses, and pastas, to work with at home.

Al Vento Restaurant

Al Vento

South Minneapolis

The original restaurant from Chef Jonathan Hunt offers up a delicious array of quality Italian fare coupled with hard-to-pass-up weekly food and drink specials. Half-price bottles of wine are available Monday-Friday from 4-6pm, with a $20 per person 4 course menu on Tuesday nights. Whether you want to stop in for a simple Neapolitan-style pizza with basil and house-made mozzarella, or half a roasted chicken smothered with an escarole and stone fruit agrodolce, Al Vento has the goods to help quell any Italian craving.

Amore Uptown

Amore Uptown

Uptown

The restaurant formerly known as Amore Victoria has found new owners. While they’re now known as Amore Uptown, they continue to serve a variety of well-crafted Italian inspired appetizers, pasta dishes, and entrees. Start out with an order of their delicious Amore Rolls, which feature ricotta, mozzarella, and pesto wrapped in thin Italian dough, then go for the gnocchi pistachio  in a rich, savory cream sauce with gorgonzola cheese and pistachios.

Ristorante Luci & Luci Ancora

Highland Park

Yeah, we know they're two separate restaurants, but these sister establishments sit right across the street from one another and both offer delicious Italian inspired cuisine. At Ristorante Luci, dine on simply constructed Italian classics like carbonara or penne with a pork ragu, while at Luci Ancora, you can catch a glimpse of modern Italian cuisine with dishes like the manzo ai ferri featuring American wagyu beef, potato gnocchi, buttered leeks, and honji-meshi mushrooms.

Zelo

Zelo

Downtown

One of the first big forerunners in Italian fine dining Downtown, this place is great if you’re looking for a tasty local locale for a lunch meeting or just a pleasant dinner while out on the town. For an excellent rendition on Italian-inspired cuisine, start off with a vibrant burrata caprese. Follow it up with a rich, house-made lasagna, or go for the brasiliana salad with palm hearts, celery, tomato, avocado, and a fresh lemon vinaigrette and chase that with a pesto-crusted seabass.

Bar La Grassa

Northloop

James Beard award winning Chef Issac Becker’s flagship restaurant is still killing it when it comes to modern Italian-inspired cuisine. Dishes like the soft eggs and lobster, and the gnocchi with cauliflower and orange have become Twin Cities classics, while the other seasonally rotating dishes continue to inspire.

Broders' Pasta Bar

Broders' Pasta Bar

Southwest

When you’re looking for pasta, it doesn’t get much better than what the folks at Broders' are throwing down. Featuring an excellent selection of house made pastas coupled with fresh, seasonal ingredients, this is what Italian food was meant to be. Check out the incredible carbonara with crisp snap peas, salty speck, rich egg yolk, and vibrant green onions, or go with the cannelloni d’angelo featuring house-made lamb & ricotta salata smothered in a delicious tomato cream and topped with crispy bread crumbs.

Monello Cucina

Monello

Downtown

This coastal Italian-inspired restaurant was the first in what has been a long line of restaurants offering refined, Italian inspired cuisine along with, you guessed it: freshly prepared crudo. As is true with many things, being first often pays in dividends because under the guidance of La Belle Vie alum Mike DeCamp, Monello might just be the best. The sea urchin crudo with smoked marrow and apple, and the seabass crudo with caviar and crème fraiche are both next-level, while the cappelletti with morels, smoked mozzerella, and truffle, along with the grilled octopus with pine nuts, paprika, and grilled cucumber, are both shining examples of how far Italian food has come in the Twin Cities.

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Keane Amdahl is a Twin Cities food writer who loves to chow down on Italian foods. Follow him on his crusade to find all of the best foreign fare on Twitter @FoodStoned.

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1. I Nonni 981 Sibley Memorial Hwy, Saint Paul, MN 55118

Located just outside of St. Paul, I Nonni is a Roman-style Italian restaurant that emphasizes seasonal ingredients. As such, the menu changes every few months to feature different ingredients -- many of which are locally sourced from Midwest -- but you can always expect inventive pastas in sauce and topping combinations you've never had before, and rich meat dishes. The well-curated wine list features over 400 wines from regional, small producers across Italy.

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2. Terzo 2221 W 50th St, Minneapolis, MN 55410 (Southwest)

Terzo Vino Bar is not only one of the best Italian restaurants in Minneapolis, but it’s also one of the best spots for a glass of wine in all of Minnesota. With a cellar holding over 1,000 bottles of 300 different selections, the wine list updates often, allowing you to become well-versed in the Italian way of wine. Plus, it’s reasonably priced (by-the-glass options for just $10-$15), which is perfect because Terzo’s also has some great food that screams to be paired with a decent glass of vino. Expertly prepared dishes include duck egg with sautéed king trumpet and beech mushrooms and a prosciutto-wrapped pork loin with fingerling potatoes and dandelion greens.

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3. Cossetta 211 Seventh St W, St Paul, MN 55102

This place is part pizzeria, park Italian market, and part pasticceria. Try the veal parm hot sandwich and cannoli.

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4. Al Vento 5001 34th Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55417 (Nokomis)

Choices vary from week to week at this cozy hidden gem in Nokomis, where Italian specialties take center stage and brunch draws large crowds on weekends, particularly for the buffet-style service and, of course, the bottomless mimosas. While the menu isn't guaranteed, the warm and welcoming service is, as well as the relaxing vibe on the outdoor patio. Not to mention, whether it's a classic like spaghetti & meatballs or an inventive twist like fennel sausage pizza, the quality is always top-notch.

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5. Amore Victoria 1601 W Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55408 (Uptown)

Pizza, beer, rooftop patio -- sound good? This Italian eatery offers this and more stories above the street, including brunch and a cocktail menu.

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6. Ristoriante Luci & Luci Ancora 470 Cleveland Ave S, St. Paul, MN 55105

Yeah, we know that these are two separate restaurants, but these sister establishments sit right across the street from one another and they both offer delicious Italian inspired cuisine. At Ristorante Luci dine on simply constructed Italian classics like carbonara or penne with a pork ragu, while at Luci Ancora, you can catch a glimpse of modern Italian cuisine with dishes like their manzo ai ferri featuring American wagyu beef, potato gnocchi, buttered leeks, honji-meshi mushrooms.

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7. Zelo Medical Arts Building, 831 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (Downtown)

One of the first big forerunners in Italian fine dining Downtown, this place is great if you’re looking for an excellent spot for a lunch meeting or just a pleasant dinner while out on the town. Start off with a vibrant burrata caprese and follow it up with a rich, house made lasagna, or go for the brasiliana salad with palm hearts, celery, tomato, avocado and a fresh lemon vinaigrette and chase that with a pesto crusted seabass. No matter how you crack it, you’re getting a nice rendition of Italian inspired cuisine.

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8. Bar La Grassa 800 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (North Loop)

From James Beard-winning Chef Isaac Becker, accolade-heavy Bar La Grassa serves up sumptuous Italian eats like bucatini bolognese in their cozy North Loop digs.

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9. Broders' Cucina Italiana 2308 W 50th St, Minneapolis, MN 55410 (Southwest)

This authentic Italian eatery is an institution in Minneapolis, and with speciality pizzas like the artichoke, tomato, spinach, mushroom & mozzarella Rossa, it's easy to see why. With equally delicious sister restos Pasta Bar and Terzo Vino, they can be part of our family any day.

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10. Monello 1115 2nd Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55403 (Downtown)

Monello is modern Italian with an emphasis on crudo. Dishes like the urchin crudo with smoked beed marrow, cappeletti with morels, smoked mozzarella & truffle, and the grilled octopus with pine nuts and grilled cucumber are all wildly popular.

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11. Mucci's 786 Randolph Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102 (West Seventh)

Eating at this West 7th Italian restaurant comes close to eating in your own home. Owner and Chef Tim Niver likes to work the room, adding to the cozy, familial vibe of the purposely small dining space. Getting a table at Mucci's is first-come-first-served, which makes seating a group difficult, but it is so worth it. House-made pastas and traditional Italian pizzas (big slices of mozzarella, entire leaves of basil, and thin crust) are the shining stars here. Not in the mood to wait for a table? You can order any of the dinner dishes for takeout, too.

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