The best Italian restaurants in DC
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.
Cozy doesn’t begin to describe this rustic corner bistro in Bloomingdale. It’s essentially one huge hearth, thanks to the wide-open kitchen’s Argentine-style grill, which runs on 100 percent Virginia oak. Most of the Italian-leaning dishes make a pit stop in the fire before hitting your plate, including the chicken with kale, fingerling potatoes and currants. Best of all is chef Michael Friedman’s handmade rigatoni with sausage ragu, which will have you throwing all your carb cares to the wind.
This pearl of the Georgetown waterfront comes from Fabio Trabocchi, the same deft chef behind Fiola and Casa Luca. It’s hard to focus on your meal with welcome distractions like docking boats or glistening chandeliers in the opulent dining room (maritime kitsch need not apply). But dishes like olive oil-poached Maine halibut and a whole dole carved tableside hold your attention. For the full rigmarole, order a seafood tower that puts Pisa to shame. The stack is brimming with cooked and raw shellfish, bivalves and more served chilled atop crushed ice. This is definitely the place for a special occasion—with a price tag to match.
DC native, Ari Gejdenson, has brought Acqua al 2, known around the world for true Tuscan cuisine, to Capitol Hill. Famous for its Bisteca alla Fiorentina, balsamic and blueberry fillets, variety of vegetarian pastas, and daily fresh fish selections, this warm and rustic restaurant offers an authentic dining experience that will transport you back to Florence.
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 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.
Osteria Morini pays homage to the casual and rustic cuisine and ambiance of the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. Osteria Morini is a casual Italian restaurant from Chef Michael White. In Italian, “osteria” means a place where the owner “hosts” guests, and at Osteria Morini, Chef White continues this tradition of hospitality, transforming his first Washington, D.C. restaurant into an authentic, old-world osteria with soulful food from the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy.
Though you’re likely to eat your face off at 2 Amys, consider grabbing a snack beforehand: The secret is out on this Cleveland Park restaurant, and wait times can stretch over an hour. But the Neapolitan pies, which meet Italy’s precise Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) standards, are worth it. 2 Amys tends to draw a family crowd, so anticipate a seat next to a marinara-flinging toddler. Otherwise, enjoy pies like the puttanesca (tomato sauce, rapini, mozzarella, sliced garlic, anchovy and hot pepper) and stellar calzones distraction free.
Part market, part restaurant, Amy Brandwein’s newish Italian restaurant has treasures at every turn. We’re talking about the rotating list of pillowy pastas that may include handmade gemelli topped with basil pesto, green beans and potatoes or the gnocchi with roasted sweet peppers and fennel sausage. Tried something you loved? Chances are it’s available for purchase at the sleek marketplace adjoined to the dining room.
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).
Every pizza pie arrives with a side of scissors at this 14th Street hot spot. No, you’re not here to do arts and crafts: Executive chef Jonathan Copeland does this to ensure the crust is crispy and crunchy by the time it arrives at your table, and not surrounded by sauce. (If you can get a seat, that is—though luckily this joint takes reservations.) Pizza toppings are plucked straight from the Italian countryside, including grana padano, nostralina olives and pecorino romano. If you’re looking for the real deal, you’ve found it.
The first thing you’ll probably notice when you enter Lupo Verde—the Italian hotspot at the heart of all the 14th Street action—is the curing room where pancetta, sausage and other meats hang while they’re aged. It’s just one way this restaurant ensures flavors as close to the motherland as possible. The cuisine is rustic with seafood highlights (reflective of Southern Italy, where the owner is from) and includes dishes such as homemade cavatelli with smoked muscles, cherry tomatoes, potato and white wine sauce.
Your best chance of catching a celebrity sighting in DC? Getting dinner at Filomena. The Georgetown stalwart has been around for over 30 years, and in that time countless stars—and multiple U.S. presidents—have gorged on the gigantic servings of Italian classics. Signs that this is the real deal include the pasta mamas who prepare fresh spaghetti, linguini and other noodles in a mock kitchen on street-level. Don’t forget about dessert, in particular the cannoli which is served in sandwich form for easier, crumb-free enjoyment.
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.
Boston-based restaurateur Michael Schlow brought a taste of Italy to DC when he opened his third locale of Alta Strada. (The other two are in Connecticut and Massachusetts.) The District was all too happy to welcome classic dishes you’d swear were made in a cramped kitchen by a little old Italian grandmother. Think cavatelli with broccoli rabe, pancetta and rosemary as well as the restaurant’s best-selling dish: a rich bolognese sauce ladled over tagliatelle.
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.