D.C. has such a wealth of culinary options available to diners, but the city’s Italian food scene is particularly bountiful. Whether it’s Neapolitan-style pizza, traditional pasta dishes or unconventional spins on classics, the Italian restaurant scene across the DMV offers up a variety of ways to transport yourself Tuscany, Bologna and Sicily. From tried-and-true haunts to Michelin-starred standouts and even new openings that have managed to make an impact, these are the 10 best Italian restaurants in the D.C. area worth sinking your teeth into over and over again.
Chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s Masseria (a Michelin star winner) opened in 2015 and still remains one of the finest locations in the District for Italian food. Offering stunning indoor and outdoor spaces, the restaurant is just as much a visual feast as it is a culinary one. The six- or eight-course tasting menus are a transportive journey from D.C. to the stunning Southern regions of Italy, with rotating options to keep diners on their toes.
What looks like a relatively unassuming counter-service restaurant provides some of the best Italian food around. The self-described “Neo-Neapolitan” spot does a mean slice, sure, but also offers fun plays on fried seafood to nod towards Southern Italy’s penchant for street food. The playful interior is deceiving; Stellina is absolutely about its business and does wonderful executions of simple yet refined dishes.
Beloved by the Bidens, the Red Hen’s rustic take on Italian food comes with spins on classics like a rigatoni with fennel sausage ragu and their own cacio e pepe. Despite the many traditional dishes on the menu, the Hen feels vibrant and playful, making it a great place for a date night — whether or not you’re the President and the First Lady.
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A tribute to chef Massimo Fabbri’s family and hometown in Monsummano Terme, San Lorenzo is saintly affair, literally: the name references Saint Lorenzo, the patron saint of cooks. Which is to say, eating the wonderful dishes here is a near-religious experience with standouts like tomato, ricotta and burrata-stuffed ravioli and roasted veal chops. But the real showstopper is a crown-shaped tortelli.
Don’t let the name fool you, Little Coco’s in Petworth is no slouch, offering simple bites like bruschetta up to giant portions like the chicken parm with a half-order of spaghetti. Their pizzas are impressive, too, including an aptly-named pesto pizza (“Green Lantern”) and a pineapple pie with jalapeno, mozzarella and pancetta called the “Point Break.” Utah, get me two!
The intimate interior of Lupo Verde is just one of the many reasons this 14th Street stalwart persists after all these years. The rustic Italian fare includes no shortage of small plates ready for sharing, house-crafted breads, meats, seafood and (of course) more pasta than you could possibly consume. Did we mention the vibes? It really doesn’t get much better than having comfort food inside such a delightful, charming space, especially the brick-lined entry level or the glass nook that really makes it feel like you’ve been whisked away.
Lots of Italian restaurants draw inspiration from Tuscany, but most are done in places that feel decidedly upscale. At Ivy City’s Via Ghibellina, patrons will find Tuscan tastes in a more relaxed and casual environment. But just because you don’t need to dress up doesn’t mean the food is lacking in panache. Favorites like a pappardelle and risotto are still on the menu, with a powerful punch of flavor in every bite.
For whatever reason, people tend to think of Italian fare as the pinnacle of comfort food. It’s meant to be a communal experience, shared across a dinner table with family — or those that certainly feel like family. Floriana has cultivated that vibe with its interior; the restaurant sits in an old row home and feels like it in the best possible ways. The dishes — including such delights as lamb gnocchi and scallop and shrimp risotto — reflect that homey feel.
Those looking to take a break from shopping at CityCenter in favor of some good eats will find a lot to love at Centrolina. Chef and owner Amy Brandwein’s take on Italian fare is rooted in a local approach that sees her source components from around the DMV area. That results in seasonal dishes that fold together all manner of bold flavors. Currently, there’s pici with squid ink, kale and bluefin tuna — and that’s just one of the many mouthwatering creations.
You could certainly skip the food altogether at AdMo’s Morgana, as its extensive wine list makes it a great destination for a glass or two for happy hour. But with well-executed dishes like pappardelle bolognese and shrimp and zucchini macaroni, you’ll probably find yourself deciding to stick around for dinner. If pasta isn’t your speed, there are a handful of classic pizza options, too.
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