This Sausage Sliders Recipe Is the Key to a Perfect Italian Dinner on the Cheap
An ever-changing DC institution grounded in quality and simplicity
A row house restaurant that writes the menu moments before service each night, this spot has acquired some serious devotees after being in business for 30 years -- including one man who has apparently made it his regular spot every Friday for four years, according to staff. The four-course tasting menu ($78 Tuesday-Thursday; $88 Friday-Saturday) leans towards Northern Italy (Piedmont in particular), but chef Esther Lee says she draws inspiration from all of Italia. New dishes on the shifting lineup rarely get encores, but their fresh, seasonal ingredients make it tough to strike out. Diners will find a wine list that’s 100% Italian.
Spacious and reasonably priced, with three-course brunch and wine on tap
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 either the hot churros of Parmigiano or 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 plenty of the bottles cost $55 or less. Casa Luca also offers the "Presto!" lunch special: $20 for a drink and an entrée. And no matter what time of day you dine, it's a good idea to finish with a thimble of Casa Luca’s limoncello.
DC's one-stop-shop answer to Eataly
Chef Amy Brandwein’s market and restaurant concept is a modern approach to shopping and fine dining all under one roof. Think of it as a smaller take on Chicago and New York City’s Eataly locations. All of their wood-roasted menu items are safe bets, 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. And 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.
Classic Italian offerings in a homey, rustic setting
The history behind Capitol Hill’s Florentine charmer dates back far longer than 2010, when its doors first opened. The original Acqua Al 2 has called Florence home for close to 40 years, and the DC location's founder, Ari Gejdenson, took a turn cooking there. That makes him uniquely qualified to bring the 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 different pastas in the same night? 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.
Old-school spot for homemade pasta and extravagant decor
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. And if you're here for a holiday, expect colorfully themed decorations wall-to-wall.
Warm atmosphere for authentic Southern Italian dishes and tasty cocktails
Antipasti is where Lupo Verde shines. That’s where you’ll find polpo and burrata, fried artichokes with bagna càuda, and slow-braised pork cheeks with Brussels sprouts. The cheese and salumi selection are also impressive. 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.
Sandwiches by day, prix fixe by night
Don’t forget that when the clock strikes 6, 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.
A slice of the Italian heartland in a converted warehouse
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 four courses for $92, five courses for $108; or splurge on the customized six-course La Cucina Menu for $135. The dishes are modern and artistic takes on classics, like the linguine with XO sauce and the dry-aged duck with vanilla, dates, and cardamom. Don’t skip the cocktails, or you’ll miss the smoke show that is the Fumo di Uva.
Laid-back and colorful space, good for picky eaters
Alta Strada is 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 inventive spins on Italian flavor pairings like the “tiraffogato” with mascarpone, lady finger sponge, amaretto, vanilla gelato, and espresso.
Seafood-centric Italian joint with a Mediterranean vibe
Chef Michael Schlow’s newest DC restaurant serves up a taste of the Italian coastline. At Casolare, the shrimp are dressed with lemon, chilies, and breadcrumbs; mussels, clams, and calamari swim in a tomato broth that begs to be soaked up by grilled bread; and swordfish pair spicy cauliflower, shaved fennel, and a lemon caper sauce. Beyond seafood, Mama Zecca’s eggplant is an absolute must try (it’s named after an actual Mama Zecca). Its fried and pressed layers of eggplant are flanked with cheese, topped with tomato sauce, baked to perfection before they hit your plate. In minutes, they'll be gone.
Views of the river and a taste of Northern Italy
The cast of characters at Osteria Morini can only be bested by those in Saved by the Bell (and NOT The College Years). Beverage director Hristo Zisovski will ready your palate for an Emilia-Romagna feast with wines that pay tribute to Italian classics, before tossing you to acclaimed pasta maestro Ben Pflaumer. His knack for pairing the right shape with the right sauce and season creates the perfect moment in your mouth.
Modern, stylish location serving food flown in from Italy
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!" (which you'll recall from Casa Luca, too) lunch from 11:30am-1:30pm during weekdays, and remember you’re paying for products flown in from Italy -- and for being treated like a rock star.
An escape to the Italian coast (while staying in town)
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 -- skip the beer and treat yourself.
Wood-fired Italian trattoria with a unique and well-curated wine list
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 Joe Quinn’s wine list.
Rustic Italian eatery with top quality ingredients
Chef Cagla Onal-Urel of Dupont Circle’s Obelisk brings a no-fuss approach to Italian classics with innovative twists. Etto is known first and foremost for their pizza, specifically their stretchy and crusty dough, which is made by flour milled in house. A similar approach is taken for their wine selection, sourced from the owner’s winery. And definitely don't overlook the weirder, more creative options on the menu, such as prosciutto ice cream and chocolate “salami,” all of which taste much better than they might sound.
Mount Vernon Square
Luxe, celeb-owned spot with a wide variety of menu choices
In the mood for pasta? Fish? Steak? RPM has it all. High profile owners Guiliana and Bill Rancic took three years to open the elegant space in 2016, and since then it’s garnered critical acclaim for delicious, simple pasta options such the pomodoro and carbonara. It’s perfect for a meal out on the patio as the weather warms up, as well as private parties.
A leather-bound, chic spot for date night or power lunch
A visit to Bibiana is as much about the food and extensive wine list as it is about the space itself. Their open, modern dining area and swanky décor with dark wood, leather, and intricate lighting create an upscale experience that really makes you feel like you’re treating yourself. Try one of their pastas like the house-made rosemary tagliatelle or pork and beef ravioli with brown butter and sage.