Today's best New York Italian restaurants have amazing brunches, killer wine programs and hip-hop soundtracks. Here are 19 of F&W's favorites to try this summer.
Imagine a Dr. Seuss book about seafood pasta set in Positano, the breezy tourist center of Italy's Amalfi Coast, and you'll get a sense of the vibe at this beachy, playful spot from restaurateur trio Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick. Architect Renzo Piano designed the glass-walled space beneath the city's elevated High Line Park, but the best tables might be outdoors, under orange-and-blue umbrellas that echo the hand-painted plates. Italian-American sister restaurant Carbone is one of the hottest spots in the city right now; President Obama recently dined there with his daughters.
2. Bar Primi
Andrew Carmellini's newest outpost features a spectacular lineup of pastas and a roast beef sandwich that's been rhapsodized in the New York food press. The wine list is full of excellent options, but you'll never go wrong with a glass of fizzy, refreshing Lambrusco.
3. Via Carota
Rita Sodi and Jody Williams have, for years, helped out at each other's restaurants—I Sodi and Buvette. But Via Carota is the chef couple's first official collaboration, and it's spectacularly successful. You'll find Sodi's famously traditional pastas, tender pan-fried rabbit and one of the city's most delicious and unusual burgers (called svizzerina and made from a hand-chopped New York strip steak).
4. Charlie Bird
If your ideal night out involves Run-DMC and Bartolo Mascarello, Charlie Bird is for you. Old-school hip hop meets cult wine is a key part of the concept, and chef Ryan Hardy offers a compact but diverse selection of crunchy, spicy, salty and creamy Ital-Cal dishes that pair eagerly with both. There may be no better brunch scenario in New York than grilled prawns and a bottle of Vermentino at one of the restaurant's streetside outdoor tables.
Prolific restaurateur Danny Meyer enlisted chef Nick Anderer for this Roman trattoria in Gramercy Park Hotel. Anderer got his start cooking pasta at Babbo, so it's no surprise that Maialino's signature dish is a spectacular malfatti with suckling pig ragù. But brunch is especially good, with dishes like cold-smoked swordfish on toasted ciabatta.
Sicilian street food meets the sleek, wood-and-marble aesthetic of Giò Ponti at restaurateur John McDonald's new restaurant in the Sixty SoHo hotel. Chef Jordan Frosolone, a Hearth alum who was most recently the culinary director for Momofuku, draws from his familial roots near Palermo for dishes like timballo di Zanghi, a Sicily-specific version of the baked party dish an with outer layer of eggplant and pork sausage ragù at its center.
Chef Michael White delivers a spare-no-expense Italian seafood experience, flying in dover sole from Europe, langoustines from New Zealand and sea urchin from Santa Barbara (which goes into an especially rich antipasta of uni on warm toast, with lardo melted on top).
8. I Sodi
In a city full of hyphenated Italian subcuisines, Rita Sodi's flagship stands out for its focus on the classical deliciousness of Tuscany. There is salt-baked branzino, there is artichoke lasagna, there are negronis and there is a lot of extremely good olive oil from Sodi's own property in Florence.
When Dell'anima opened in 2007, it was a tiny but ambitious effort from a pair of Babbo and Del Posto alums who'd never run their own restaurants. Gabriel Thompson and Joe Campanale went on to open three more of the city's best wine-centric Italian spots (L'Artusi, L'Apicio and Anfora), but their first spot is still turning out killer pastas and smoky, spicy grilled chicken al diavolo.
10. Frankies Spuntino 570
Chefs Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo offer a vision of Italian food informed by their childhood in Queens. The meatballs are tender, the mozzarella is fresh and the sausage comes from NYC institution Faicco's.
11. Il Buco Alimentari
A spin-off of the much-loved Il Buco, this NoHo market-cum-restaurant succeeds as a bakery, salumeria, gelateria—and of course, kitchen, with amazing crispy artichokes and a fantastic lineup of pastas.
Storied as it is for its exclusiveness, Rao's is worth the effort. Its southern Neopolitan food is just that good, and the old-school vibe has to be experienced.
13. Locanda Verde
With its sheeps-milk ricotta and incomparable pastas, Andrew Carmellini's Tribeca trattoria is a modern classic. Its hidden talent is breakfast, which features fluffy lemon-ricotta pancakes and cotechino hash.
Mario Batali's breakout restaurant is still the exciting, energetic place that wowed critics 15 years ago, with the same bold style (steamed cockles in chili broth, beef cheek ravioli) that changed New York's idea of what Italian fare could be.
15. Del Posto
If Babbo is a rock concert, Del Posto is a symphony, an elegant showstopper of a restaurant. Mario Batali's fine-dining venue showcases the talents of executive chef Mark Ladner, whose hand with pasta and knack for brilliant flavor pairings is unmatched. Desserts, from James Beard Award winner Brooks Headley, should not be skipped.
Those yearning for the red-sauce days of yore, forgo Little Italy and head to Williamsburg for Bamonte's, a century-old institution whose clams casino and veal parm haven't grown tired in the slightest.
17. Osteria Morini
Michael White rose to prominence in Italian fine dining, but his rustic downtown tavern, celebrating Emilia-Romagna, is just as easy to love.
18. Salumeria Rosi
Black-mirrored walls and a map of Italy built from plaster-cast fruits, vegetables and meats give chef Cesare Casella's spot its fun vibe. Butchers slice both grocery and in-house cured meats to order.
Iconic restaurateur Stephen Starr plus master pasta chef Justin Smillie equals one incredible restaurant. Warmly lit and constantly bustling, the restaurant serves both innovative dishes like crazy-creamy burrata topped with briny balls of trout roe and ultra traditional plates like one of the city's best examples of cacio e pepe.