Washington, DC’s best Italian restaurants

Got a thing for arancini? Partial to pappardelle? Dig in to the city's best dishes with our guide to Washington, DC Italian restaurants

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Fiola

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Price band: 4/4
  • Critics choice

When chef Fabio Trabocchi opened Fiola in 2011, he quickly established his new trattoria as the place to go in Washington for exquisite, sumptuous Italian. Pastas, naturally, are the stars of the menu, especially the tender pappardelle with bolognese ragu. But seafood plays a strong supporting role, and the bar offers a serious cocktail menu, including six different variations on the negroni. An order of bomboloni—Sardinian-style ricotta donuts—is a fitting end to a decadent evening.

  1. 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Between 6th & 7th streets, Penn Quarter
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Comet Ping Pong

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 1/4

A little off the beaten path for downtown visitors, Comet’s blistery thin-crust pizzas and warehouse chic vibe are worth the trip to upper Connecticut Avenue. A rousing game of table tennis is also a draw—the restaurant’s back room is home to several tables for ping pong. A kid-heavy crowd (watch out for flying ping pong balls) early in the evenings gives way to hipsters, artists and musicians (your server is probably at least one of those) as the night progresses. They all come for the wood-fired pizzas, with toppings like soft shell crab, smoked mozzarella and tangy sauce made from locally farmed tomatoes. Politics & Prose bookstore is nearby.

  1. 5037 Connecticut Avenue, NW, (Nebraska Avenue)
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Etto

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

If you have kids, stick to a table at 2Amy’s in upper Northwest. If you’re hip and young (or have a babysitter), head to the sun-filled, high-ceilinged Etto, Amy Morgan and Peter Pastan’s new darling on 14th Street. Last year Morgan and Pastan teamed up with David Rosner and Tad Curtz of the ever-so-successful Garden District to open what already feels like a long-time staple of the neighborhood. Small plates shared amongst friends is the name of the game at here, which is a good thing as you’ll be hard-pressed to choose just one of the displayed antipasti you’ll spot on the way to one of the restaurant’s 42 seats. Not to mention the entire space radiates warmth (from the oak-fueled fire in the corner) and aromas of freshly milled flour (from the large hand-crank grain mill at the back of the restaurant). A charcuterie plate of house-cured meats pairs well with specialty cocktails crafted with house-made vermouth. With fluffy-yet-flat crust, a slight char, and fresh toppings, the pizzas here are easily the best in the neighborhood. Roasted peppers with olives and mackerel manages to be both mild, yet flavor-packed; as does the ember-grilled eggplant, which unravels in complexity on your tongue. And if the tuna belly is on the menu, order it and thank us later.

  1. 1541 14th Street, NW, (at Q Street)
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Graffiato

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

Graffiato opened in Chinatown in 2011 as tattooed Top Chef Mike Isabella’s debut venture. Even though the spot has been up and running for four years now, and even though Isabella has gone on to open other hot spots in and around the District, the small plates at Graffiato still pack a punch and draw huge crowds. Order a local brew or a draft Prosecco, and then try the Jersey Shore pizza—wood-fired dough teeming with crispy calamari, tomato, provolone, and a chili-flake sauce—and you’ll understand why. The salty-crispy-sweet notes in the maple-charred Brussels sprouts will play with your taste buds, as will the tender gnocchi arranged with braised pork and drizzled with a creamy burrata sauce. The charred octopus is not to be missed, nor is the bone marrow—house-made breadcrumbs, bacon, and seasonings baked into a trough of split bone. Graffiato may be Isabella’s first child, but it could easily still be our favorite.

  1. 707 6th Street, NW
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Obelisk

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 3/4

The menu changes constantly at Peter Pastan’s prix-fixe-only, reservations-required townhouse, depending on what’s fresh and what catches the chef’s fancy. But you can always count on an array of antipasti; pasta, meat, cheese and dessert courses; and exemplary service. Squab makes regular appearances—it’s worth the awkwardness of dealing with the tiny bones—as do seasonal vegetables and fish. Nominally Italian, the cooking is both catholic and classical. The wine list is extensive, the breads baked in-house, the atmosphere unpretentious.

  1. 2029 P Street, NW, (between 20th & 21st Streets)
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Café Milano

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 3/4

The crowd here is as much of an attraction as the food; you might spot Michael Jordan or a visiting movie star in this multi-room complex. Even the non-famous clientele are for the most part young, rich and glamorous. The menu—and the atmosphere—ranges from casual to chic; you can choose from a selection of pizzas and pastas, or opt for duck breast in Marsala wine or spaghetti with fresh clams.

  1. 3251 Prospect Street, NW, (at Wisconsin Avenue)
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Matchbox

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 2/4

Aptly named, this narrow, three-story restaurant is always packed. Why? Three reasons: the thin-crust pizzas that come out of Matchbox’s brick oven; the platters of mini hamburgers, and the casual, fun atmosphere. In the mood for something a little fancier? Matchbox also serves traditional bistro dishes like pork tenderloin and rockfish.Other locations: 521 8th Street, SE, between E & G Streets, Capitol Hill (1-202 548 0369); 1901 14th Street, NW, at T Street, U Street Corridor (1-202 328-0369).

  1. 713 H Street, NW, (at 7th Street)
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Pizzeria Paradiso

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 2/4

Good quality, wood-oven pizza that keeps locals coming back for more. Expect to wait for a table, even at the larger Georgetown location. The salad of white beans and tuna, plus the antipasti plate of salami and Italian cheeses, are worth considering if pizza is not your thing. But do try the effervescent lemonade. All in all, a fun excursion.Other locations: 3282 M Street, NW, 33rd & Potomac Streets, Georgetown (1-202 337 1245).

  1. 2003 P Street, NW, (between 20th & 21st Streets)
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Taylor Gourmet

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

This mini chain of delis was started by two guys from Philadelphia, and it shows: the hoagies—high quality Italian-style ingredients piled high on thick, chewy rolls—are all named for streets in Philadelphia. There’s the Lombard Street, stacked with soppresata, salami, red peppers, pesto and mozzarella, for example, or the Lancaster Avenue—breaded eggplant topped with marinara sauce and sharp provolone. A side of fried risotto balls make a great—if heavy—accompaniment. If you’re less hungry, the arugula and pastina salads make a nice light lunch.Other locations throughout the city.

  1. 1116 H Street, NE, (between 11th & 12th Streets)
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