New Orleans may be more famous for our Creole, Cajun, and French-style fare, but our Italian game is also strong. To prove it, we’ve rounded up the finest spots in town, from romantic, fine-dining spots to more casual classics. So if you want some Italian eats in NOLA, here are the ones that should be on your red-sauce radar.
The Best Italian Restaurants in New Orleans
Come to Paladar for the pizza (where the lamb sausage and tzatziki pie will bowl you over), but the menu offers many Italian delights if you’re willing to share some of the small plates. Try the lovely fried arancini or the fantastic chicken liver mousse, before moving on to other pleasures. Super bonus points, too, for Paladar’s wallet-friendly prices -- $11 for the house-made raviolo with egg yolk, ricotta, maitake mushrooms, porcini cream, and truffle pecorino? Sold!
There are few modern surprises or quirky culinary tricks at Marcello’s -- which also has an outpost in Lafayette if you’re out that way -- but it does old-school red sauce and Southern Italian favorites just right. Expect classics like chicken cacciatore, veal, chicken, or eggplant Parm, and spaghetti bolognese, as well as a massive wine list for all your vino needs.
This list couldn’t be complete without Alon Shaya’s Italian love letter in the Roosevelt Hotel. The Napoli-style pizzas are always a favorite, especially during happy hour, when they’re half-price (2-5pm daily), and you’d be a fool indeed to miss out on its selection of house-cured salumi, from lardo to coppa, prosciutto, biroldo, and even a chicken liver mousse.
This beautiful Bywater restaurant opened in 2013 and quickly earned raves for its casual-but-thoughtful approach to Italian fare. It sports a nifty raw bar featuring oysters and crudos, not generally found in Italian joints, but certainly par for the course in NOLA, and entrees as diverse as anchovy and pig ear salad, sweetbreads risotto, and lamb meatballs with a poached duck egg.
The approach at Oak Oven is all about the seasonal ingredients, sourced from a network of local organic farms (including one of its own -- it even makes its own mozzarella and vinegars), and incorporated into traditional Italian favorites like veal marsala and piccata, fresh penne with rosemary chicken, grilled mushrooms, spinach and garlic, and, of course plenty of wood-fired pizzas. If you’re smart, you’ll hit the one with lamb meatballs, tomato, sweet peppers, basil, red chile, and ricotta.
A lot of people don’t realize that “Italian Creole” is a specialty in the 504, but you’ll find some of the best po-boys nestling side by side with chicken Parm and veal scallopini at some of the finer neighborhood joints in the city. And nowhere is there a more spectacular embodiment of this phenomenon than Mandina’s, which never fails to disappoint with everything from turtle soup to soft-shell crab meuniere and, of course, spaghetti with meatballs. Come hungry... the portions are not to be trifled with.
One local’s instructions on finding Mosca’s: “Drive to the West Bank. Keep driving until you’re absolutely certain you passed it up five minutes ago. Then you’re almost there.” Sure, a visit to Mosca’s involves a trek, but it’s always been a trek worth making. Its sublime, garlic oil-rich dishes, served family-style, have been lauded by locals since 1946. Skip the spaghetti and meatballs and head directly for the Italian crab salad, Oysters Mosca, Shrimp Mosca, Chicken a la Grande, and spaghetti bordelaise. Go with a group and don’t forget to bring cash (no credit cards here, but it does have an ATM).
This Magazine St spot is all about Sicilian tradition, including a coal-fired pizza oven that bakes the pies at 1,100°F to get that sweet spot of crispy, bubbly, charred crust with a fluffy interior. The rest of the menu is all familiar Sicilian and Sicilian-American fare, but there are some cool additions as well, like Nona Lena's Bruciuluni: “Pork medallions stuffed with beef, Italian sausage, and egg served with angel hair pasta & marinara sauce.” Si, signore!
Lower Garden District
Want to turn heads with a new restaurant in New Orleans? Spruce up a historic mansion into a B&B, then add a serious red-sauce joint to the mix. That’s the story behind the long-awaited Altamura, helmed by ManhattanJack’s Jack Petronella and Coleman Jernigan. Altamura is a loving ode to Petronella’s New York-Italian heritage, and if there’s anything we’ll never get tired of in NOLA, it’s a spot-on Sunday gravy and pasta so perfectly al dente, madonna, you could just die.
Like Mosca’s, you’ll have a hike ahead of you if you want to visit Del Porto, which is located in Covington on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain. And, like Mosca’s, it’ll be a hike worth making, since the restaurant has been receiving critical raves since it opened in 2002. The deceivingly simple preparations shine here, especially the house-made artisan pastas.
You know an Ace Hotel isn’t going to mess around when it comes to dining, and that’s surely the case with Josephine Estelle’s entry into the NOLA dining scene. The pasta list alone is something of a marvel, with entries ranging from a killer bucatini amatriciana and short rib fusilli with mushroom and taleggio cheese, to gemelli with duck confit. The simple canestri cacio e pepe will make you weep for your gluten-free friends.
Get ready to get messy; if you’re going to “Manale’s,” you’d best order the BBQ shrimp, a dish that, strangely, has nothing to do with barbecue or grilling. It’s all about the sauce, a decadent combination of butter, olive oil, and black pepper used to poach the whole, huge Gulf shrimp. Shelling those shrimp, bathed so heavily in that sauce, means that you’re going to have butter leaking all the way down into your armpits if you’re not careful. Totally worth it, though.
If you’re visiting NOLA and staying in the Quarter and looking for great Creole-Italian nearby that’s something above a muffaletta, Irene’s is definitely your best bet. And you’ll be even more pleased if you have a hankering for comfort dishes prepared with generous amounts of butter, cream, and cheese. Just be prepared to make a reservation in advance or you’re sure to run into a serious wait for a table.
It can be hard for a chef to really stand out amongst all the spectacular Italian food in NOLA, but Nick Lama hit this one out of the park. His Magazine St eatery satisfies both in style and substance, clearly showing off Lama’s Italian roots and painstaking attention to detail, all while managing to avoid fussy pretension. Get the rosemary fettucini with rabbit ragu and chanterelles, then thank us after.
If you enjoy your mini alligator meatballs in spicy Alfredo sauce with a side of live music, head to Giovanni’s in the Quarter, where you’ll find opera singers as well as “Pasta Jambalaya” and “Fried Medallions of Eggplant with Louisiana Shrimp & Crawfish in a Vodka Dill Cream Sauce.” Combining Louisiana cuisine with Italian is clearly the hallmark here, and it’s a combo that definitely works.
Let’s say your plan to hit Irene’s didn't work out, and maybe you’re in the mood for something a bit more intimate. The Italian Barrel it is. This spot is best known for Northern Italian fare, not the red sauce, sausage, and peppers you’ll find at a ristorante specializing in fare from Naples or Sicily. Here you can have everything from an imported olive oil tasting to simply prepared white anchovies, to more hearty fare like a killer veal osso buco, as well as porcini and truffle-stuffed ravioli.
As you might tell by the name, Pizza Delicious is known for, well... pizza. In fact, it offers the most authentic New York-style slice the city has to offer, and many consider it the best pizza in New Orleans overall. But what many don’t know is that “Pizza D” also cooks up some fantastic pasta and salad dishes as well, at prices that would be twice as much in any other restaurant. Seriously, “Seared gulf fish w/ sweet corn risotto” for only $14? Or “Bucatini carbonara with farm egg, pancetta, parmigiano, peas” for $12? That, friends, is a total steal. Oh, and the slices are fantastic, too.
Sign up here for our daily New Orleans email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in the Big Easy.
Scott Gold is a writer in New Orleans who's a sucker for your nonna's pasta e fagiole. Follow him and his rusty college Italian @scottgold.
1. Marcello's Restaurant & Wine Bar715 Saint Charles Ave, New Orleans
2. Mariza2900 Chartres St, New Orleans
3. Domenica123 Baronne St, New Orleans
4. Oak Oven6625 Jefferson Hwy, Harahan
5. Mosca's Restaurant4137 Highway 90 W, Avondale
6. Amici Ristorante & Bar3218 Magazine St, New Orleans
7. Del Porto Ristorante501 E Boston St, Covington
8. Irene's Cuisine539 Saint Philip St, New Orleans
9. Italian Barrel1240 Decatur St, New Orleans
10. Pascal's Manale Restaurant1838 Napoleon Ave, New Orleans
11. Cafe Giovanni117 Decatur St, New Orleans
12. Pizza Delicious617 Piety St, New Orleans
13. Avo5908 Magazine St, New Orleans
14. Altamura2127 Prytania St, New Orleans
15. Josephine Estelle600 Carondelet St, New Orleans
16. Mandina's Restaurant3800 Canal St, New Orleans
17. Paladar 511511 Marigny St, New Orleans
Adding to the rich Italian scene of New Orleans, Marcello's offers a huge menu filled with the classics, as well as a few modern additions, not to mention an extensive vino list to go with them.
Mariza takes a casual but thoughtful approach to Italian fare. Try the lamb meatballs w/ a poached duck egg.
Named after the Italian word for 'Sunday,' this spot in the CBD's Roosevelt Hotel is meant to evoke feelings of dinner at your nonna's casa. The menu takes simple, rustic fare to the next level. The thick crusted pies here are the show-stoppers, especially the Tutto Carne with bacon, salami, and sausage, all topped with a farm egg.
Although it's a bit of hike from the city proper, this pint sized bistro in Harahan is worth the trek. Traditional Italian cooking informs the extensive menu of wood-fired pizzas, pasta, and seafood. What makes Oak Oven especially unique is the fact that it grows most of their own produce for its salads, pizza toppings, and pasta sauces.
Despite being off the beaten path, this West Bank outpost has a solid flock of local regulars and “in the know” tourists. The family-style eatery serves Italian comfort food in an old school setting, with standout dishes ranging from hearty and garlic-obsessed spaghetti bordelaise and the signature Oysters Mosca (crispy baked oysters served in a succulent white wine and herb sauce).
This spot is all about tradition-- housed in an old Victorian manse and working off a menu of family style Sicilian fare, Amici is one of those places you coming back to. Its coal-fired pizzas hit the sweet spot of being not too soft and too not too crispy, with a bubbly, charred crust and a warm, saucy center. The spacious bar area features over 30 beers on draft and a full bar.
Yes, it is located in Covington on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, but it's well worth the trip. The deceivingly simple preparations shine here, especially the house-made and artisan pastas.
Creole Italian is a specific sub-genre originating in New Orleans after Italians started emigrating here in the 19th century. The red sauce found in most Italian-American eateries is less prevalent here, where fresh Gulf seafood preparations and creole-French flavor profiles attain more prominence on the menu. The upscale restaurant has a homey dining room, complete with a piano bar.
Maybe you're in the mood for something a bit more intimate, but still with comfort food levels of cream and cheese. Head to the Italian Barrel and get the vkiller veal osso bucco as well as porcini and truffle-stuffed ravioli.
Look for the brightly glowing neon cursive on Napoleon Avenue, follow the tantalizing scent of Cajun spices, and voilà: you’ve arrived at Pascal’s Manale, a cozy Uptown joint where shellfish reign. Blending bold Creole flavors with Italian influences, the kitchen serves heavy-hitting favorites like frutta del mare drenched in homemade marinara sauce and the house specialty: Pascal’s Barbecue Shrimp, a local legend for its hefty portion and spice-obsessed butter sauce.
Giovanni's serves up mini alligator meatballs in spicy alfredo sauce with a side of live music, amongst other things. Combining Louisiana cuisine with Italian is clearly the hallmark here, and it’s a combo that definitely works.
Located on Bywater's Piety Street, NOLA's first NY-style slice shop was started by two Long Island guys who'd, surprisingly, never made pizza before. The menu incorporates local produce from nearby Alexandria's Inglewood Farms and features daily pizza specials like the Homemade Hot Italian Sausage pie with caramelized onions and peppers.
Chef Nick Lama is a NOLA native, third-generation Sicilian and grew up working in a seafood market his family owned. His authentic Italian and New Orleans background shines in inventive ways at his Uptown restaurant in both his pastas and entrees. The candle-lit courtyard provides a romantic and intimate atmosphere, and it holds their happy hour on Monday through Thursday. Don't forget to leave room for the decadent Italian desserts. Gelato, anyone?
Set inside the historic antebellum Magnolia Mansion, Altamura brings the Northeastern sub-genre of Italian-American cuisine to New Orleans. The space has a slight, mid-century Frank Sinatra vibe (complete with a baby grand piano), and the menu relies heavily on simplistic pasta dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, linguine with clams, and baked macaroni.
The New Orleans anti-hipster-influx movement found a new poster child when an Ace Hotel opened up downtown, but moustache wax or not, we’re glad it did, because it brought in Josephine Estelle. Not that NOLA needed more Italian restaurants, but this one is clearly a welcome entry to the local dining scene, with a "European boot meets American boot" culinary philosophy combining the best of South Louisiana with the best of Italy, meaning that a spot-on pasta cacio e pepe is right at home alongside collards. It’s the best of two fantastic worlds.
This Canal St destination for Italian fare and creole seafood is renowned for its pink building as much as it is for its turtle soup and fried trout. The brick- and wood-accented space enforces a family-friendly atmosphere, and on any given night, you'll see tables packed with multiple generations of cajun lovers indulging on signature oversize portions of fried fish.
Paladar 511 isn't your average pizza joint. Located in Marigny, the restaurant serves slices for the adventurous and sophisticated with toppings including braised artichoke, roasted asparagus, and yogurt. The restaurant's warehouse-like decor nicely compliments its seasonal menu.