Food & Drink

Philly's Best Italian Restaurants

Published On 03/25/2015 Published On 03/25/2015
Courtesy of Kateri Likoudis/Le Virtù

Philly is home to one of the highest concentrations of Italian-Americans in the country, which means we all get to reap the benefits of the city’s heritage when it comes to pasta, Neapolitan pizza, and generously portioned meat and fish entrees. It is nearly impossible to take a walk around Philly without passing at least one (or five) tempting Italian restaurants, and narrowing them down by history or level of Old World influence doesn’t help cut the list much either. Here are 15 of our favorites, from over-the-top, no-expense-spared dining experiences to refined, simplistic menus.

Le Virtu

Le Virtu

Passyunk

Everything you order from Le Virtu, from porchetta to lamb to sausage ragu, will taste fresh thanks to the restaurant’s promise to use all locally sourced ingredients. If the resources of PA and surrounding states run dry, though, the restaurant has a backup plan: get ‘em straight from the Central Italy region of Abruzzo, which inspires Le Virtu’s cuisine. That is what we call being legit.

Modo Mio

Fishtown

Even when it’s not Restaurant Week, you can still opt for the $35 Menu Turista at Modo Mio, which gives you a four-course meal to sample a bit of everything when you can’t decide what to order on the ever-changing “micro-seasonal” menu. Sugo Sundays are another way to lots of food, offering family-style servings of antipasti, pasta, meat, salad, and dessert.

Fiorino

East Falls

The intimate spot gives a rustic vibe in which to delve into an avocado-shrimp cocktail or platter of white-wine mussels. Bigger plates bring pastas like gorgonzola-soaked gnocchi and seafood-heavy spaghetti scoglio. For an afternoon delight, fear not: Fiorino opens its doors, with a pretty extensive midday menu, to lunchers in search of carbs.

Amis Trattoria

Amis

Washington Square West

Amis has been in Philadelphia's cutthroat Italian scene since 2010. Watch from the church-pew seating as the line cooks its refined, scaled-back classics in the open kitchen. Small plates run from no less than five bruschetta varieties to almond-dusted sweetbreads, while larger plates feature ragu, saltimbocca, and other dishes. Don’t skip dessert, either: you’ll want to try the walnut sticky buns.

Courtesy of Vetri

Vetri

Washington Square West

Marc Vetri’s Italian restaurant opened all the way back in 1998 to rave reviews almost immediately, in part from Chef Vetri’s experience working in premier kitchens both in the US and Italy. The operation has only grown since, as has admiration for the nationally acclaimed spot. Dining here means a commitment to the sampling menu, which is a pricier option at $155 a pop, but for a specially custom-tailored menu, it's absolutely worthwhile.

Osteria

Osteria

Fairmount

Osteria easily earned a spot as one of Philly’s most heralded Italian restaurants thanks to its position on the Vetri family tree when it opened in 2007, nine years after chef Marc Vetri opened his first local Italian restaurant. Osteria features an open kitchen with a wood oven as its centerpiece, drawing inspiration from the traditional osterias of Northern Italy. If you can take yourself away from the endless salad and pasta options, try the Lombarda baked-egg pizza and finish your meal with gelato.

Paradiso Restaurant

Paradiso

Passyunk

Paradiso is home in one of the oldest Italian neighborhoods in Philly -- which makes it one of the oldest Italian ‘hoods in the US -- and that's not something the restaurant takes lightly. How does it pay homage to the area’s roots? Wine. So much wine. Everything you order, from sauce-soaked antipasti to a spinach & goat cheese frittata, can be paired with rich Italian wines to match your meal. Even if you order the cheapest glass of red, you shan't wince once.

Victor Cafe

Passyunk

As one of the city’s oldest Italian restaurants, Victor Cafe seals the deal of its authenticity with red-checkered table cloths and serenading opera singers, who will either make you feel awkward or like you've been transported to Italy -- your choice. In 1933, the space became known as The Victor Cafe, Music Lover’s Rendezvous, after first functioning as a gramophone shop in the late 1910s. The menu works to meld Old World classics with modern takes on Italian fare, along with seasonal daily specials.

La Famiglia Ristorante

La Famiglia Ristorante

Old City

La Famiglia doesn’t skimp when it comes to Old World ambiance, especially if you opt for private dining in the wine cellar -- a prime spot when you’re looking to turn up the romance factor. La Famiglia has been functioning out of Old City for 40 years now, and for good reason: any restaurant with a wine list as thick as a Leslie Knope parks proposal binder has timeless appeal.

A Mano

A Mano

Fairmount

A Mano is one of the newest restaurants on this list, but it made a great impression on Philly diners with its quiet winter opening in early 2016. Its menu of antipasti, primi, and secondi courses all fits on a tiny sheet of paper, which might seem simplistic at face value. But don't duck out quite yet -- just because it's short doesn’t mean it won’t fill you up or have something unique in store, like apple char crudo or parsley cavatelli with escargot.

Macaroni's

Bustleton

With generous portions and the brand-new P_Square outdoor lounge, Macaroni’s is an unexpected treasure in the Far Northeast. The menu serves approachable modern takes on Italian classics, like the roasted lamb rack encrusted with pistachios and drizzled with a gorgonzola port reduction, or the lobster risotto with bottagra.

Dante & Luigi's

Bella Vista

Dante & Luigi’s opened its doors in 1899, making it among the longest continuously running Italian restaurants in the United States. As such, the restaurant doesn’t skimp when it comes to traditional Old World cuisine, offering no less than 15 types of pasta dishes and comparably vast pork, lamb, filet, seafood, chicken, and veal menus. Try the tiramisu with hand-dipped ice creams for an authentic taste of the Italian classic.

Brigantessa

Brigantessa

Passyunk

If you’ve been feeling as if pizza was sorely missing from this list, fear not: Brigantessa has now arrived. Served in the traditional Napoli style without pre-cut slices, it's a pizza that forces you to get creative and fork-and-knife your way along... before resigning yourself to asking the server to cut it for you. Any pizza featuring San Marzano tomatoes is the way to go, and if you’re craving something hot, try the Carciofo, which is served doused in chili oil.

Panorama

Old City

Oh, the wine. Panorama is yet another fine Italian establishment which takes its wine pairings very seriously, and luckily it's stocked with plenty of options to try -- 120 on tap and 150 bottles -- without breaking the bank. Stop by for wine flights of five carefully selected samples. Don’t forget to eat, too: pasta dishes are available in half and full sizes (perfect if you can control yourself around burrata-filled pasta), and the antipasti dishes are perfectly portioned for those wine samples.

Mercato BYOB

Mercato

Washington Square West

This cash-only BYO is a perfect hideaway on Spruce St, offering only the best versions of classics: mussels with Asiago and prosciutto, short rib ragu, and the daily fish selection are just a few examples. If the main menu isn’t enough, there’s also an entire other menu dedicated to just cheese, meats, and oil. For a particularly one-of-a-kind dish, try the spicy crab bucatini, acquiring spice from calabrian chilies that cover black squid ink pasta.

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Marielle Mondon is a writer from Philly who had to order pasta while writing this. Follow her @MarielleMondon on Twitter and Instagram.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Le Virtù 1927 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148 (South Philadelphia)

This taste of Italy in Philly serves fresh fare crafted with local ingredients. And if it can't locate the elements for a dish locally, it'll import them from Abruzzo, a region in Central Italy that was the inspiration for the place.

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2. Modo Mio 161 W Girard Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19123 (Nolibs)

Modo Mio is serving up some great Italian food in NoLibs and is a great place to bring a bunch of friends to enjoy a good meal and good times.

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3. Fiorino 3572 Indian Queen Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19129 (Roxborougheast Falls)

Quietly open in the former digs of Hidden River/Silver Spoon/Corner Cafe, rustic menu-plating Fiorino is the latest project from the dude behind Franco's Osteria and the now-shuttered Franco's Trattoria, who claims to have introduced Philly to squid ink pasta, presumably just beating out Ceph Boyardee.

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4. Amis 412 S 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147 (Market East)

There's something about Italian trattoria's that made them ideal date spots, and it's especially the case when a James Beard Award-winning chef is in charge. Marc Vetri's Roman-inspired plates emphasize the satisfying simplicity of Roman fare in the rusticly outfitted 70-seat Amis in Washington Square West. The room tends to buzz, which covers up groans you may illicit you sample the dishes ferried from the open kitchen, from long-stemmed fried artichokes to pork & fennel pollen sausage over peperonata. Even if you're not with a date, a selection of Italian beers, whites, reds, and cocktails like negronis can be sipped solo at the zinc-topped bar.

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5. Vetri 1312 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA 19107

From the moment you enter, you’re enveloped in the finest smells and offered the finest wines. Even when ordering, it takes care of most of the work for you by only offering a pricey prix-fixe tasting menu that’s custom-tailored to your personal tastes and desires.

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6. Osteria 640 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19130 (Fairmountart Museum)

Check out this trattoria featuring wood grilled meats and fish, thin crust pizzas, and homemade pasta. Osteria is a real gourmet heavyweight in Philly. Its 100+ Italian wine list has nearly everything you could crave with your meal. The Ventri family has created a warm and inviting atmosphere that’s great for date nights or special occasions.

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7. Paradiso Restaurant 1627 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148

Paradiso delivers not only succulent Italian dishes with everything from sauce-soaked antipasti to escargot with fresh tomato, but offers dozens upon dozens of only the best Italian wines to match your meal, which means you can order the cheapest glass of red and not wince like you do with two-buck chuck.

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8. Victor Cafe 1303 Dickinson St, Philadelphia, PA 19147

If you’ve seen Rocky Balboa -- it’s actually not that bad, easily in the top five Rocky movies -- you’ve seen the interior of Victor’s Cafe. When Sly Stallone wanted a place to film shots of Adrian’s Restaurant, he chose the South Philly staple. Victor’s has everything you’re looking for in a classic Italian restaurant: red-checkered table cloths, great food, and opera singers serenading you and your date throughout the meal.

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9. La Famiglia Ristorante 8 S Front St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

This fine Italian spot offers a curated wine list and classic Italian dishes served in an elegant setting.

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10. A Mano 2244 Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19130 (Fairmountart Museum)

This cash-only corner BYOB in Fairmount serves house-made pastas and other Italian fare curated into minimalist, three-course menus. Beautiful wooden tables, a long banquette, and an open kitchen give A Mano a modern feel, and a mostly local crowd adds a sense of familiarity to the ambience. The menu is hyper-seasonal, tending to draw from Northern Italy in the winter and Southern Italy when it gets warmer.

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11. Macaroni's 9315 Old Bustleton Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19115

Macaroni’s is an unexpected treasure in the Far Northeast. The menu serves approachable, modern takes on Italian classics, like the roasted lamb rack encrusted with pistachios and drizzled with a gorgonzola port reduction or the lobster risotto with bottagra.

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12. Dante & Luigi's 762 S 10th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147 (Italian Marketbella Vista)

When a restaurant has been going strong since the 1930s , you know it's doing something right. Enter Dante & Luigi’s, the epitome of old-school, upscale Italian in Philadelphia (it's really been around since 1899 if you count previous names). They take gravy seriously here -- that's Italian-American for sauce, by the way -- which is spooned liberally onto the signature meatballs (of course). Antipasto like caprese salad or sauteed chicken liver are the way to begin a meal, which should progress to any of the pastas (the list is long, from baked manicotti to lasagna), before a finale of a meat, fish, or chicken main. The dining room, which got a 2013 renovation, is filled with white tablecloths, and is where mob boss-son Nicodemo Scarfo Jr. was shot on Halloween night in 1989 -- but that doesn't mean it wouldn't still make a great date night.

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13. Brigantessa 1520 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19147

This Italian restaurant, with marble and wood accents, centers its menu on its wood-fired oven that bakes authentic pizza and other eats inspired by southern Italy. Pizzas are served without pre-cut slices, as is traditional to the region of Naples, though your server will be happy to cut it for you if you’re weary of pulling it apart on your own. Baked pastas, meats, and fish round out the menu in addition to beer and wine.

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14. Panorama 14 N Front St, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (Old City)

Home to the world's largest wine dispensary, Panorama is an upscale North-Italian eatery, tucked away in the heart of Philadelphia's Old City. The menu is stocked with handmade pastas, fresh vegetables, and thick cut local meats, most or which are served encased in cheese or alongside stacks of herb-dusted house focaccia bread. The whole place practically oozes old-school Italian charm with candle chandeliers dangling from the ceilings, large Tuscan doors, and vintage upholstery lining the seat cushions. Certified sommeliers guide patrons through the Restaurant's ridiculously extensive wine list while the hungry guests salivate over hand rolled ricotta gnocchi with broccoli rabe pesto, or braised leg of lamb with spicy salsa verde. Full of dark wood and low chatter over rich, sauce-coated plates, the whole place is a romantic ode to classic Italian dining.

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15. Mercato 1216 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA 19107 (Midtown Village)

Mercato is a cash-only BYOB Italian joint in Philadelphia serving up fresh-made market favorites from Italy, as well as bold Italian-American fare. Entrees change on a weekly or monthly basis to incorporate the freshest ingredients of the moment. Mercato offers both indoor and outdoor dining, both of which have great ambiance.

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