When you’re craving authentic Italian food there’s simply no substitute (try as the mafia might to fool us). From extremely fine dining to rustic neighborhood gems, these are the best Italian eateries in DC. Please note that we honed in on restaurants that don’t specialize in pizza. That’s why you won’t see strong specimens like these or these.
The Best Italian Restaurants in DC
A row-house restaurant that writes the menu moments before service each night, this spot has acquired some serious devotees -- including one man who has been coming every Friday for four years, according to staff. The four-course tasting menu ($75 Tues-Thurs; $85 Fri-Sat) leans towards Northern Italy (Piedmont in particular), but Chef Esther Lee says she draws inspiration from all of Italia. Dishes rarely get encores, but here’s hoping these cod cheeks with Manila clams and peas reappear. Diners will find a wine list that’s 100% Italian.
Fabio and Maria Trabocchi’s most affordable restaurant is an osteria named after their son Luca. Serving food from Fabio’s home region of Le Marche, every meal there should start with the cured meat and cheese board -- a gorgeous array of meat, cheese, and olives. Think of it like stretching before a workout, except instead of a treadmill, you’re taking on pasta, seafood, and steaks. Drink-wise, pay attention to the wine list because there are plenty of bottles that are $55 or less. Casa Luca also offers the "Presto!" lunch special: $20 for a drink and an entree. No matter what time of day you dine, it's a good idea to finish with a thimble of Casa Luca’s limoncello.
Chef Amy Brandwein’s market and restaurant is just a little over a year old, but as with many fine Italian goods, it’s already getting better with age. Wood-roasted anything is a safe bet, and so too are the rotating pasta offerings. If you’re not in the mood for a sit-down meal, you can stop in the market for breakfast, or grab a ready-made antipasti for the road. Be sure to stock up on quality ingredients like dry or fresh pasta, olive oil, anchovies, cheese, meat, and sauces to try your hand at cooking Italian at home. It won’t be as good as Amy’s, but we have faith it’ll be extremely edible.
The history behind Capitol Hill’s Florentine charmer dates back longer than 2010 when the doors first opened. The original Acqua Al 2 has called Florence home for close to 40 years, and Ari Gejdenson took a turn cooking there. That makes him uniquely qualified to bring a nearly identical menu to DC diners. Bring your most indecisive friend -- Acqua Al 2’s menu takes away the burden of making tough choices. Want to try a sampling of five pastas? No problem. Florence is also known for its steaks, so opt for the carnivorous trio. Grab patio seats and sip on Italian beers for the optimal al fresco experience.
This is the kind of place that can prompt you (OK, us) to unironically utter old-timery statements like, "They don’t make ‘em like that anymore." The 33-year-old restaurant too often labeled a tourist trap serves dishes as familiar as the bends in the road near your childhood home. Think gnocchi rolled out by an ideal grandmotherly figure, three kinds of ravioli, and a beautiful, traditional lasagna. Beyond pasta, there are textbook plates of fried calamari, chicken Parm, veal marsala, and more.
Antipasti is where Lupo Verde shines. That’s where you’ll find beef carpaccio, fried artichokes with bagna càuda, and tuna tartare with fried capers and warm fennel cream. The cheese and salumi selection also impress. You could visit Lupo Verde every day for a month and try a different cheese, a practice we strongly recommend pairing with the lambrusco by the glass. Also consider trying it for brunch when typical AM dishes get an Italian upgrade. Think poached eggs with scamorza cheese, salame toscano, prosciutto cotto, and leeks.
Don’t forget that when the clock strikes six, G by Mike Isabella transforms from sandwich slinger to what we can only imagine (and we'll admit that we like to imagine this) is like the kitchen Mike Isabella grew up in. Sundays are one of the best times to visit because comfort food takes center stage at a family-style meal called "Sunday Gravy." The main attraction of the $40 per person meal is a big bowl of meatballs, sausage, and pork shoulder. But Monday through Saturday isn’t exactly a drag: the a la carte menu features treasures like arancini, gnocchi with lamb puttanesca, and focaccia flatbread.
Hidden in the rows of wholesale stores surrounding Union Market, you might miss Masseria if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Inside the wooden gate, the warehouse vibe gives way to a stylish courtyard, which leads to an industrial-chic covered patio and dining room. Both the decor and the menu are inspired by Chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s fond memories of Puglia’s idyllic landscapes and welcoming country houses. Tasting menu is the only way to play, unless you take a seat at the bar for small plates. Choose three courses for $69, four courses for $78, or five courses for $89; or splurge on the customized six-course La Cucina Menu for $125. The dishes are modern and artistic takes on classics, like the linguine with XO sauce and the tripe topped with lobster. Don’t skip the cocktails, or you’ll miss the smoke show that is the Fumo di Uva.
Though it isn’t strictly Italian, Tail Up Goat’s Mediterranean cuisine has more than earned its place on this list. The restaurant from Komi and Little Serow alums has been turning heads since it opened, and was one of 50 nominees for Bon Appétit's best new restaurants list (not to mention, the winner of BA’s Pasta of the Year). The quirky name is a nod to co-owner Jill Tyler’s childhood home, the US Virgin Islands, where locals distinguish between goats and sheep based on the position of their tails. (Tail up goat; tail down sheep). The menu devotes an entire course to bread, but it’s not your standard rustic loaf: seaweed sourdough is garnished with pickled sardines, whipped lardo, and Hungarian wax peppers, while brown rice bread wears red kuri squash, hot honey, pecans, and benne seeds. The showstoppers are found in the pasta and entree courses: leaning layers of goat, kale, anchovy, and noodles are topped with salsa verde for the goat lasagna; and delightfully messy and tender lamb ribs are made for two.
Michael Schlow expanded his DC empire this year, opening three new Italian spots. The first was Alta Strada, a homey trattoria that dispenses with pomp and circumstance in favor of the kind of vibe you look for in a favorite neighborhood hangout. The menu aims to cultivate loyal regulars with simple but delicious thin-crust pizzas, pastas, and entrees. This is a spot for the pickiest of eaters, since anyone can appreciate the no-frills burrata, the crunchy meatballs, the tagliatelle with Bolognese, and the chicken Milanese. The dessert menu features familiar flavors -- there’s a Nutella tart, an orange creamsicle panna cotta, and a DIY Italian Oreo: the mascarporeo, which is a simple chocolate shortbread cookie that you can dip in a mascarpone cream.
Alta Strada’s cool older sister lives in the room next door, only separated by a velvet curtain. Schlow’s tiny crudo bar is secretive and elegant, with a menu that’s much more sophisticated than its neighbor’s. Fish courses range from tuna poke and hamachi with uni and caviar to giant shrimp carpaccio with lardo toast and octopus in a spicy citrus juice. Fear not, carnivores: there are also land creatures, like the tataki of prime beef with crispy chicken skin, and the duck and foie with charred kumquats. Cocktails are delivered via a bar cart, as there isn’t space for a full bar (it's pretty charming, for the record).
Schlow’s third Italian concept in DC opened mere months after Alta Strada and Conosci welcomed their first guests. If that sounds like a lot to handle, that’s because it is. Schlow had planned to open Casolare a year earlier, but major construction delays at Kimpton’s Glover Park Hotel (where the restaurant is housed) changed the timeline a bit. Nevertheless, the coastal Italian joint is slinging seafood without missing a beat. Shrimp are dressed with lemon, chilis, and breadcrumbs; mussels, clams, and calamari swim in a tomato broth that begs to be soaked up by grilled bread; and swordfish perches on a pile of eggplant caponata. Beyond seafood, Mama Zecca’s eggplant is an absolute must try (it’s named after an actual Mama Zecca). Fried and pressed layers of eggplant are flanked with cheese, topped with tomato sauce, and baked to perfection. The meatless meatballs (polpette) are an unreal creation: we’ll never understand how balls of fried bread can be so delicious. The dessert menu gets innovative with a marriage of two Italian standbys: a pizzelle waffle cookie that surrounds creamy cannoli filling.
The cast of characters at Osteria Morini can only be bested by those in Saved by the Bell (and NOT the College Years). Beverage guru Fidencio Rubio will ready your palate for an Emilia-Romagna feast with fun-to-say cocktails that pay tribute to Italian classics, before tossing you to pasta guru Chef Ben Pflaumer. His knack for pairing the right shape with the right sauce and season creates the perfect moment in your mouth -- especially the crab- and uni-studded bucatini. Pray that you have room in your stomach for some wonders from pastry chef Alex Levin. You'll want to try something off his menu that probably looks like a landscape painting... but tastes the way winning feels.
The first-born son, if you will, of the Maria and Fabio Trabocchi trifecta of restaurants continues to produce Italian food with finesse. Their menu is graced by fresh seafood selections, pasta that’s most likely topped with truffles or stuffed with lobster, and refined takes on classic dishes like a duck confit with seared foie. If you’re worried you won’t make rent after your meal, try sitting at the bar during happy hour from 4-7pm or for a "Presto!" lunch from 11:30am-1:30pm, and remember you’re paying for products flown in from Italy (and for being treated like a rock star).
If Fiola is luxe, its underwater offspring is opulent. Fiola Mare earned the coveted Best New Restaurant award at the 2015 RAMMYS, and for good reason. The atmosphere caters to escapists by creating a seaside European village vibe made more realistic by actual views of the water. If you’re doing Fiola Mare right, your meal starts with oysters and caviar, and continues into a pasta course before climaxing with a whole fish carved table-side. Note that Fiola Mare takes wine so seriously that there are four, sometimes five, sommeliers on staff, so for the love of all things Italian, don't order a beer.
Find American comfort food with an Italian personality at Bloomingdale’s anchor restaurant, The Red Hen. While the rustic menu changes seasonally, Chef Mike Friedman knows there are dishes that have to stay on to prevent embarrassing protests: the burrata with its liquid center, Sicilian-style fried cauliflower, and a big bowl of mezze rigatoni that quickly catapulted to signature dish status. Dare to be a trendy person and order a bottle of orange wine to accompany your meal, instead of that basic red or white stuff; it’s the coolest part of Sebastian Zutant’s wine list.
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Lani Furbank is a freelance food writer who worships carbs and will never be brainwashed by the gluten-free overlords. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lanifurbank or read her blog at www.LanisCupOfTea.com.
1. Obelisk2029 P St NW, Washington
2. Casa Luca1099 New York Avenue NW , Washington
3. Centrolina974 Palmer Alley NW, Washington
4. Acqua Al 2 DC212 7th St SE, Washington
5. Filomena Ristorante1063 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington
6. Lupo Verde1401 T St NW, Washington
7. G by Mike Isabella2201 14th St NW, Washington
8. Masseria1340 4th St NE, Washington
9. Tail Up Goat1827 Adams Mill Rd NW, Washington
10. Alta Strada1055 5th St NW, Washington
11. Conosci465 K St NW, Washington
12. Casolare Ristorante & Bar2505 Wisconsin Ave, NW, Washington
13. Osteria Morini301 Water Street Southeast, Suite 109, Washington
14. Fiola601 Penn Ave NW, Washington
15. Fiola Mare3050 K St NW, Washington
16. The Red Hen1822 1st St NW , Washington
Obelisk is a row house restaurant that writes the menu moments before service each night. The four-course tasting menu ($75 Tues-Thurs, $85 Fri-Sat) leans towards Northern Italy (Piedmont in particular), but Chef Esther Lee says she draws inspiration from all of Italia. Diners will find a wine list that’s 100% Italian except for a rosé and a wine that the Obelisk owners make themselves.
From Fiola's James Beard Award-winning Chef Fabio Trabocchi, Casa Luca is an osteria filled with hand-blown glass lamps that honors the cuisine of his upbringing in the Marche region of Italy.
Pop in to this sleek Italian market and restaurant from Chef Amy Brandwein, some nights to pick up fresh pasta to boil at home, inevitably impressing the pants off someone. Other nights, dine-in, treating yourself to a menu with brag-worthy dishes like rare tuna served alongside bone marrow or a fritto misto that shows Amy isn’t afraid to fry lamb, chicken or sausage. The market is open Mon-Sat from 8am-9pm and Sun 9am-9pm, and the restaurant serves weekday lunch, nightly dinner and eventually, weekend brunch.
This cozy Florentine restaurant has delicious pastas (many of them vegetarian-friendly!). If you can wrangle a companion, opt for the tasting of five vegetarian pastas for $15 per person.
An Italian resto that's tough to rival in the Georgetown area, Filomena doles out a wide array of pastas, salads, meat, poultry, and seafood.
Lupo Verde ("green wolf" in Italian) is both an intimate Italian dining room as well as a carry-out charcuterie and cheese shop. The space is rustic, airy, and inviting whether you're planning on staying for a meal or just grabbing some fresh goodies from their shop.
Mike Isabella's grab 'n go sandwich shop "G" is doing up jaw-dropping meaty hoagies with most of the meat spit roasted next door at Kapnos.
Visit Masseria by traipsing past graffiti-tagged walls and wholesalers near Union Market to find an oasis that feels like it should require a password. While this hideaway from Nick Stefanelli is meant to evoke an Italian escape reminiscent of his grandmother’s home region of Puglia, it’s hard not to compare the relaxed space with a SoCal hotspot that would attract celebrities in need of discretion. This is new-school fine dining, where the chic luxury of the dining area is rivaled only by the impressive three-, four-, five-, or six-course tasting menus that lean toward fine dining but with attitude (hint: you can add a cigar to your bill).
The young, passionate team who run this space cut their teeth at Komi and Little Serow. Some of the dishes are kind of wacky, but work, like cavatelli with a savory octopus ragu, maltagliati with fermented honey sausage & pea shoots, and charred chocolate rye bread served with a whole sardine. Don’t neglect to order the lamb ribs, and use a meal at Tail Up Goat to expand your wine horizons -- this list is full of funky picks.
What chef/restaurateur Michael Schlow loves about Italian food is that it can be bettered by removing ingredients instead of piling them on. That’s why you’ll find simple and familiar dishes on the menu, like tagliatelle bolognese or Margherita pizza. The intimate trattoria is a go-to spot for Italian comfort food, including desserts like "mascarporeos," a DIY Oreo-esque concoction comprised of chocolate shortbread and mascarpone cream.
Chef Michael Schlow’s ode to crudo and raw fish has drawn rave reviews from critics. Located down a curtained corridor inside another of Schlow’s restaurants, Alta Strada, Conosci’s kitchen uses only induction burners, steamers, and toaster ovens. Go a la carte, or put yourself in the chef’s hands with one of two tasting menus. Either way, you’ll be getting some of the best seafood in DC. Even cooler? Instead of a dedicated bar, Conosci has a cocktail cart that wheels amongst tables, preparing cocktails a la minute.
Helmed by award-winning restaurateur Michael Schlow, this rustic-chic eatery serves a seafood-centric menu of time-honored Italian fare like antipasti, house-made pastas, flatbreads, and surf and turf. Expect vibrant, elegant plates like whole branzino with heirloom tomatoes, creamy burrata, seared tuna with white bean and olives, rotating daily catch seafood, and imported charcuterie. While the wine offerings are robust, Casolare shines the most on its cocktail list, which boasts creative drinks like the standout blood orange negroni.
This New York City transplant specializes in Italian cuisine from the northern Emilia-Romagna region. Expect house-made pasta dishes like braised wild mushroom rigatoni, simply grilled meats, and cured meat and cheese plates. Osteria Morini's dinner is perfect for date night, while its brunch, featuring ricotta pancakes and fritattas alongside signature pastas, has all the cheese and carbs essential to curing a hangover. The upscale Navy Yard spot is bright and airy with floor-to-ceiling windows and high factory ceilings.
This modern Italian Trattoria has perpetually-changing lunch and dinner menus, an upscale cocktail list, and an extensive collection of wines compiled from Italy, Spain, France and the US.
Waterfront view? Check. Fresh fish flown in daily from just about every ocean? Check. All the TLC that Fabio Trabocchi typically folds into his food? Also, check. Caviar, stacks on stacks of frutti de mare, simply grilled seafood (that you can select yourself off a line), and delicate pasta make for one hell of a meal. Try Fiola Mare for less during lunch when a $22 deal is available at the bar.
The open kitchen, bare brick walls, and simple, maple furnishing make you feel like you're in your own home when you eat at The Red Hen, as does the comfort of their classic Italian and American dishes. Just upscale of what you'd find in a chain, roasted chicken with black truffle polenta, house made cavatelli with spicy lamb, and grilled swordfish show impressive culinary chops but don't break the bank. They stick to simplicity here, even with its global wine list, and it works.