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For our most-recent ranking, our panel of culinary experts chose Vetri over Osteria as Philly‘s best Italian eatery
Philadelphia’s Osteria took the #25 spot on our compilation, while Vetri came in at #8.
What makes a great Italian restaurant? For some it may be the antipasti, while for others it’s the quality of the wines and pastas that’s the sure-fire test. Octopus? Lasagna? Cacio e pepe? Which one dish should be the barometer of a great Italian restaurant?
The steps we took to compile our most-recent ranking were as thorough and comprehensive as possible: we looked at restaurants that made it to our 101 Best Restaurants in America; we also recruited an illustrious panel of judges that included some of the country’s top food writers, critics, and bloggers to submit their suggestions, which we supplemented with our own choices, including previous years’ rankings as well as lauded newcomers. This list of hundreds of restaurants was then built into a survey that was sent out to more than 100 panelists, who voted for their favorites. The final ranking included a significant number of Italian restaurants, and to create this list we supplemented the Italian restaurants that made it into our final list of 101 with those that came in as runners-up and those that were featured on this year's list of the country's 50 best casual restaurants. Turns out there are many Italian restaurants worthy of renown in America, and two reside in Philadelphia.
In the little jewel box of a restaurant that is Vetri, which celebrated 16 years this past fall, chef Marc Vetri offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian specialties off of a tasting menu (think pappardelle with cockles and tardive, almond tortellini with white truffle, roasted capretto with stone milled polenta, and pistachio flan for dessert), served with precision and grace, as well as a wine cellar of over 2,500 wine bottles to choose from. Mario Batali has hailed the place as "possibly the best Italian restaurant on the East Coast." In September of 2013, the Vetri family opened up Pizzeria Vetri nearby and Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan called their pizza “the morsel of the year.”
Vetri’s traditional specialties are so delicious, the restaurant snagged the very respectable #8 spot on our roundup, beating out Osteria, who came in at #25. This means that – according to our experts – Vetri is the best Italian restaurant in Philadelphia.
Philly&rsquos 13 Best Italian Restaurants&mdashFrom Red-Sauce Joints to Refined Cuisine
Whether you're looking for a low-key bowl of pasta or a multi-course tasting menu, this list has you covered.
Like its neighbor to the north, Philadelphia is a city steeped in Italian heritage. Tens of thousands of Italians immigrated to the city during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in search of better work and pay. They established robust and vibrant communities—in South Philly, mostly, but also in northwest neighborhoods like Manayunk and Germantown. In terms of the size of its Italian-American population, Philly ranks number two among U.S. citieshind only New York.
So it’s no surprise that the city is home to a glut of great Italian restaurants. There are satisfying old “red sauce” joints where the smell of fresh garlic hits you a block away, and there are nationally acclaimed chefs lifting Italian cuisine to new culinary heights. Whatever kind of Italian you’re in the mood for, Philly has you covered. And so does this list of the city’s go-to spots.
Wm. Mulherin’s Sons
If one restaurant (and boutique hotel) showcases all the best aspects of Philadelphia in 2018, it’s this Fishtown fave-rave. Opened in 2016 and named after the historic building it occupies—once the headquarters of a local whiskey magnate—Mulherin’s calls itself 𠇊 rustic Italian-influenced neighborhood joint.” That’s an undersell. The pastas here are exceptional𠅊t once fresh, surprising, and comforting. The cocktails, pizzas, desserts and service are all first-rate, and the brick-and-wood space is as tasteful as it is inviting.
Palizzi Social Club
Chef Joey Baldino was already a hit locally with Zeppoli, his great Collingswood, New Jersey BYOB restaurant. But after opening Palizzi Social Club last year, Baldino has earned national acclaim. And rightly so. The pasta dishes here—the raviolo, first and foremost𠅊re close-your-eyes-and-groan delicious. And the restaurant itself𠅊 members-only social club, founded in 1918 by one of Baldino’s relatives—is unforgettable.
While Mulherin’s and Palizzi are new spots with an eye toward the city’s history, Victor Cafe is a piece of that history. Opened in 1918 as a gramophone shop but converted to a restaurant in 1933, the Victor Cafe has always been as much about music as food. That food is reliably good, and the kind of classic Italian fare we all crave but seldom find done well𠅍ishes like Chicken Tosca, or linguine and clams. But the real draw here is the wait staff, many of whom are trained opera singers. Every 15 or 20 minutes, one of them takes a break from serving to delight diners with a live performance. Sometimes restaurant patrons take a turn. It sounds kitschy, and it is. But delightfully so.
A Mano occupies a quiet corner of the city’s Fairmount neighborhood𠅊 spot that’s unlikely to snare many wandering out-of-towners. That’s a shame, because this is one of Philly’s underappreciated jewels. The dining space is small and intimate, much like A Mano’s tightly focused menu of refined Italian delectables. The pasta dishes are layered with flavor, and the seafood courses—the skate wing, in particular𠅊re wonderful. A Mano is also a BYOB. Walk in with your own wine, and you’ll enjoy one of the most affordable fine meals in the city.
James Beard Award-winning chef Marc Vetri is a titan of fine dining in Philadelphia. He’s the city’s Thomas Keller, or Grant Achatz. And since it opened in 1998, his namesake cucina has consistently appeared on lists of the Mid-Atlantic’s (and the country’s) best restaurants. While Vetri’s elaborate, multi-course tasting menu always highlights Italian ingredients and dishes—the pasta here will probably be the best you ever taste—it draws on a broad range of culinary traditions and techniques. Vetri is outstanding.
You could walk by Saloon a hundred times, pausing each time to admire its sculpted bar and densely decorated wood walls, and not realize it’s serving some of the best old-school, high-end Italian in the city. Its name aside, the place just doesn’t look or feel like an Italian restaurant. But from its excellent steaks to its classics like clams casino or eggplant Parmigiano, Saloon is a knockout.
After the Liberty Bell, Philly’s famed Italian Market is the city’s most popular stop for tourists. Many end up dining at Ralph’s or Villa di Roma—two charming places that have been serving Italian staples for decades. But wander a couple blocks north on 9th Street and you’ll find Monsú, a petite cash-only BYOB serving some of the tastiest, most-affordable Italian in Philly. The dishes here𠅏rom the smoky eggplant meatballs to the ravioli stuffed with saffron risotto𠅊ren’t adventurous, but they’re fresh and well-executed. You’ll go home full and happy.
During the last decade, the two blocks of S. 13th Street between Chestnut and Locust evolved into one of the hippest dining and shopping strips in the city. Barbuzzo, which opened in 2010, helped kick off that transformation. And there’s a reason it’s still going strong eight years later. From the excellent pizza and pastas to the charcuterie and seafood, the dishes here are well-executed and surprisingly affordable.
Love & Honey Fried Chicken
What would you expect from a fried chicken place, but delicious, mouth-watering entrees and sides. The food here is made from scratch and seasoned with love. Order the OG fried chicken sandwich: buttermilk fried chicken breast with spicy slaw, sweet pickles & buttermilk ranch on a toasted brioche bun, or the Nashville hot fried chicken sandwich: buttermilk fried chicken breast dredged in hot chili oil with ranch slaw, sweet pickles and buttermilk ranch on a toasted brioche bun. They also serve wings, tenders, and house-made sauces so you can keep that flavor going at home.
Recommended for Homestyle because: Sometimes chicken done well is the right way to go, and this venue knows how to do just that with its specialty sauces and sandwiches.
Sharon's expert tip: Order the wings to-go for your next at-home gathering or for a great way to bring the homestyle vibe with you.
Philly’s Italian Pride
“My father was raised in South Philly when it was all Italian,” says Marc Vetri, chef and owner of three of the best Italian restaurants in the U.S. – Philadelphia’s Osteria, the more formal Vetri, and Amis, a casual trattoria. Growing up, Vetri would head over to his grandmother’s house behind the old South 9th Street Philadelphia Italian Market every Sunday, play stickball in the alleyways, and then help his father, Sal, with the family supper. Sal usually got meatball duty, mixing ground veal, beef, and pork with a little bread soaked in milk, a recipe handed down by his Sicilian grandmother. “Dad instilled three things in me,” Vetri recalls. “First, work for yourself: No matter what, be the boss. Second, have integrity: You are only as good as your word. Third, always use veal, pork, and beef in meatballs. Life really is that simple!”
Vetri dates his own love affair with food to those South Philly Sundays. He cooked in restaurants for extra cash in high school, at Drexel University, and after that at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, where he studied guitar, hoping to become a professional. He went on to a cooking job in Italy, bouncing around restaurants there for two years before moving back to Philadelphia. Home again, he started a family, opened his own restaurants, and established his uniquely elegant take on classic Italian fare with dishes like “stuffed baby lamb on a spit” and “pig’s head Bolognese.”
Mario Batali, who wrote the foreword for Vetri’s latest book, ‘Rustic Italian Food,’ says that his first time at Vetri was “perhaps the best meal of true Italian deliciousness with sublime mouthfeel and honest and clear flavor I had ever had outside of the boot.” It comes as little surprise, then, that the multigenerational recipe for “Sal’s Old-School Meatballs” remains a Vetri touchstone and is included in his cookbook. And while the typical Italian-American red-sauce joint serves meatballs as a sauce element for spaghetti, Vetri recommends a more classic approach: meatballs alone on a plate with a splash of sauce and an extra sprinkling of parmesan and parsley.
• 1/3 lb ground veal
• 1/3 lb ground pork
• 1/3 lb ground beef
• 1 slice white sandwich bread, torn
• 3/4 cup milk
• 1 egg
• 2/3 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for garnish
• 1/3 cup grated pecorino
• 2 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish
• 2 tsp kosher salt
• 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
• 1 small clove garlic, minced
• 1/2 cup tipo 00, a fine, additive-free Italian flour, or all-purpose flour
• 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
Combine the meat, bread, milk, egg, cheese, parsley, salt, pepper, and garlic in a mixer fitted with a flat blade. Mix on medium-low speed for 1 minute.
Scoop out 1/8-cup portions of meat and gently roll between your hands, forming golf ball-size servings. Put flour in a bowl and toss meatballs in the flour as you work.
Place the grapeseed oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add the balls cook until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. The internal temperature should be about 155°. Makes about 20 1-oz balls.
Vetri insists that good meatballs needn’t be served with anything but the simplest marinara: Italian canned tomatoes, chopped and then simmered for 30 minutes with a little salt – nothing more.
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Is something automatically more fun when it has a secret, exclusive vibe? Maybe, but it helps when one of the region’s best Italian chefs is at the helm. A hundred years ago a group of expats from a town in Italy started a club in a South Philly rowhome and named it after an Italian painter. In 2016, chef Joey Baldino — known for his Collingswood destination spot Zeppoli — inherited the club from his uncle and now runs it as a members-only restaurant and bar. Those lucky enough to hold a membership card feast on raviolo, spiedini, spaghetti with crabs, and tricolor spumoni. To accommodate socially distanced dining, the Social Club is offering three nightly seatings.
Since 1963, the throwback Villa di Roma has been an Italian Market favorite for hearty pasta dinners. The red sauce is so popular that the restaurant even sells it by the jar. But it’s not just spaghetti here. The menu includes enough veal, seafood, chicken, sausage, and steak entrees to make choosing just one a challenge. It’s cash only and reservations are recommended for indoor dining.
Vetri Voted the Best Italian Restaurant in Philadelphia - Recipes
Q. For people who have never been to your restaurants, can we get a brief description of each:
A. Vetri , opened in 1998, is the ristorante that started it all (I like to call it the “mother ship”). It’s just 30 seats and very intimate with a rustic, yet refined feel. It’s prix fixe only and we offer a variety of multi-course tasting menus. For example, you could have a dinner that is just pasta or one that’s just fish.
Osteria came next and really stays true to its name. The menu offers thin-crust pizza, pastas and wood-grilled meats, among other dishes. Chef Jeff Michaud is a partner here and oversees the kitchen. He’s an incredibly talented guy and earned a James Beard Award for his work here. It’s casual and set in an industrial space, but still very warm.
Amis is our trattoria, and we’ve got another really talented chef/partner here named Brad Spence. We’ve got a varied menu with house-made salumi, pastas, grilled meats, etc. It’s warm, casual and really lively.
Q. Please tell us about your new cookbook, Rustic Italian Food :
Q. What can we expect with your newest project, Alla Spina?
A. It’s our version of the gastropub and like everything we do, it’ll have a large Italian influence. We’re going to serve a variety of Italian pub food such as sausages, braised meats and oysters, while mixing in our version of American pub food as well.
For example, instead of hamburger sliders, we’re going to do mortadella sliders. And, of course, we’ll have a large variety of local and Italian beers. There’s going to be a soft serve machine too, so expect to see some beer floats. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Q. What’s the one pantry item that you won’t skimp on and where do you recommend buying it?
A. You’ve got to have the most amazing olive oil . What type really depends on how you’re going to use it. Nowadays, awesome olive oil is so much easier to get because there are specialty stores everywhere. You can also order them online from Buon Italia .
Vetri Voted the Best Italian Restaurant in Philadelphia - Recipes
I was extremely excited to try Vetri due to all the hype about it being "the best Italian restaurant on the east coast". I am a Philadelphia native who tries to seek out the best cuisine the city has to offer. I went with a friend for the Saturday night tasting menu. First, I was disappointed by the lack of warmth displayed by the staff upon our arrival. For such a quaint restaurant, I expected more. But I was willing to overlook it and focus on the food. We were greeted and given a sample menu, off of which the chef would choose 6 or 8 courses (depending on which tasting you select) and asked if we had any preferences or dislikes. My friend and I requested fish for our main course (and asked to be spared of the goat) and asked for as much variety as possible so we could sample each other's dishes. The food was definitely tasty, well prepared and beautifully presented. However, there was no variety. My friend and I received exactly the same dish at each course. Except for the main course in which we received goat and lamb. My friend was brave enough to speak up and remind them of our request. The waiter was not terribly apologetic and said that what we are served is at the whim of the chef. Why, then, do they ask for preferences? The sommolier offered a free cheese course to compensate. We then had dessert (exactly the same dish for each of us once again). There was nothing BAD about the meal. I just feel that, for the cost and the hype, I walked away feeling like it was a less than magical experience.
Inspired by Abruzzese culinary traditions and ingredients, Le Virtu serves the cuisine of Italy’s wildest region, the mountainous Abruzzo area. All meat here is cut according to centuries-old methods passed down over generations, and all pasta is shaped by hand using authentic Abruzzese flour. This is also a great spot to find sheep’s milk cheeses from a farm in Anversa deli Abruzzi, one of the greatest locations for cheese making in Italy.
The Best Italian Restaurants in America
Sure, pasta isn&rsquot the most challenging meal to make yourself at home -- but sometimes, you just want to leave it to the professionals. We get it!
Hey, even some of our favorite chefs and foodies turn to each other for their go-to Italian meal.
Check out their favorite Italian restaurants in America below!
Emeril Lagasse: Babbo, New York, NY
Marc Murphy: Barbuto, New York, NY
Kelsey Nixon: Carbone, New York, NY
Curtis Stone: Cosa Buona, Los Angeles, CA
Anne Burrell and Alex Guarnaschelli: Emilio's Ballato, New York, NY
Melissa Clark: Hearth, New York, NY
Sunny Anderson: Il Corallo, New York, NY
Daniel Holzman and Gail Simmons: Lilia, Brooklyn, NY
Mike Solomonov: Lupa, New York, NY
Jason Smith: Madeo, Los Angeles, CA
Floyd Cardoz and Chris Kimball: Maialino, New York, NY
Andrew Zimmern and Josh Capon: Marea, New York, NY
Stephanie Izard: Monteverde, Chicago, IL
Geno Vento: Patsy's Pizza, New York, NY
Michael Chernow: Peasant, New York, NY
Jet Tila: Rossoblu, Los Angeles, CA
Richard Blais: Scopa, Los Angeles, CA
Fabio Viviani: Siena Tavern, Chicago, IL
Graham Elliot: Spiaggia, Chicago, IL
The Pizza Cousins: Trattoria L'Incontro, New York, NY
Urban Outfitters Has Purchased Marc Vetri's Italian Restaurant Empire
Is fine Italian dining the next hipster obsession? If corporate mergers have anything to say about it, that may well be the case as Urban Outfitters, Inc. (URBN) has just announced plans to acquire the Vetri Family restaurant group. The Philadelphia-based Vetri family is known for its eponymous flagship Italian restaurant, regionally focused Osteria and Amis, gastropub Alla Spina, rotisserie grill Lo Spiedo, and Pizzeria Vetri, all of which will be included in the acquisition. Vetri was namedਏ&W&aposs Best New Chef in 1999 and is known for his creative pastas and perfectly chewy and crispy Neapolitan pizzas.
Urban Outfitters, Inc. purchased his entire group except for Vetri on Spruce Street. Day-to-day operations of the restaurants will remain under current partners chef Marc Vetri and Jeff Benjamin. Vetri says the URBN partnership is "a perfect match" to scale up their operations while still focusing on the food and customer experience. The Vetri Family will also oversee URBN&aposs other food brands, including their existing cafes and planned shopping/dining so-called lifestyle centers.
Though it seems like this sale is first of it&aposs kind in the restaurant world, the deal makes sense. The restaurant group will be opening a pizza restaurant in Austin, Texas and Vetri feels that the culture of the Urban is similar to his restaurant group. The purchased doesn&apost mean that restaurants will not be popping up in the actual stores however, Vetri will be in charge of Urban&aposs in-store cafes. With regard to any updates to the established Vetri eateries, chef Vetri was quoted as saying "Nothing is changing."
That&aposs a shame, as I was looking forward to what an Urban Outfitters-outfitted Italian ristorante would look like: pizzas served on a USB-compatible turntable, middle finger and mustache-shaped pasta, and fine bottles of Chianti stored on sets of pink deer antlers. Oh well, I just hope the restaurant dress code will now accommodate my pre-distressed faux-vintage Van Halen t-shirt. It&aposs the most expensive piece of clothing I own.
Marc Vetri: A Culinary Bodhisattva
In this world of bug-chomping, mean-spirited, limelight-loving chefs, comes a new breed of nice, clean-shaven, family guys with no tattoos — who actually feel good about themselves and their customers. Ben Pollinger, the Michelin-starred chef of Oceana in Manhattan is one such guy. His buddy Dan Kluger, of abckitchen, recently deemed New York’s best new restaurant, is another. This new crop of chefs cook for the pleasure of their guests (and thereby themselves) and whose goal is for others to experience culinary enlightenment rather than mirror their own hype. These chefs create a kind of dining “sangha” (community) where all participants feel interconnected, whether to some intrinsic food memory, to the earth, to nature, or to other sentient beings. And while I’m certain there are many who fit this description, cooking under the radar in kitchens all across America, by chance I met the kindest, gentlest chef of all.
Just last week, at a small press dinner in New York entitled “Sounds Good, Tastes Good,” I met Marc Vetri from the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. Vetri is the real deal: a philanthropic, guitar-playing, accomplished, brilliantly modest chef who owns three restaurants, has two cookbooks, runs a million dollar foundation, and by happenstance embodies the “six perfections” that a Bodhisattva must generate — hence the title of this piece. These are: generosity, ethics, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom. Never mind that Marc met his wife at a yoga class (he summoned the nerve to talk to her after one year) and has been known to meditate, but his divining attributes shown brightly through the food that night. We ate the intangibles that separate one guy’s food from another’s. More soul, than craft. More you, than me. Food Network TV producer and host, Marc Summers, a Philadelphia neighbor, who often has holiday meals at Marc’s home, says “Vetri is the sweetest, most generous soul I’ve ever met. I love the guy. And while you couldn’t pay me to eat a liver, I love his rigatoni with chicken livers. I wanted to dive in the bowl and swim around.”
Marc’s three Philadelphia ventures — Vetri Ristorante, Osteria and Amis — are considered among the best Italian restaurants in America. A new place, called Alla Spina, is on its way. Mario Batali has called Marc the “best Italian chef in the country.” (Big praise from the buddha himself.) Dana Cowin, editor of Food & Wine Magazine, has said when it comes to Marc’s hospitality and philosophy, “It’s all about the cooks and the cooking. No pretension, just genius food.” James Beard award-winning Vetri, whose grandmother is Sicilian, trained in Bergamo, Italy and himself has trained several chefs who went on to win their own Beard awards. He treats his restaurant family and home family with equal compassion.
Last week’s dinner was a fabulous throw-back to experiences of another generation. Hors d’oeuvres (homemade fennel salami and artichoke mostarda, gutsy caponata, and even gustier bread), were served “family style” as guests meandered with a glass of wine getting to know each other. The seated dinner was served around one long, farm table that sat 24 generously, in a West Village dining spot owned by The Little Owl group. The meal was one of the most authentically Italian imaginable — both rustic and perfect. Ethereal tuna-ricotta fritters, lusty meatballs, the aforementioned pasta with chicken livers, and the best “plin” — a stuffed pasta from Piedmont — I’ve had. The roasted lamb shoulder tasted like it came from a salt marsh, the fish braised in olive oil was an exercise in radical simplicity (my mantra), and dessert — an olive oil cake with amaretti semifreddo and chocolate sauce — was a crowd-pleaser. Thankfully, all of the recipes can be found in Marc’s new book, Rustic Italian Food from Ten Speed Press which is hot off the press this month. But the real dessert was the music that followed. Singer/song-writer Phil Roy sang his heart out while Vetri played “sous-guitarist” to his good sounds.
But perhaps it is Marc’s charitable efforts that affords him the Bodhisattva award. Just this past summer, Marc gathered some of the country’s best chefs to come to Philadelphia to raise $800,000 for Alex’s Lemonade Stand (for children’s cancer research.) In 2009, he founded the Vetri Foundation for Children, whose mission is to “support the development of healthy living habits for underserved youth.” The foundation recently launched the “Eatiquette” program whose destiny is to have every school in America serving a fresh, family-style lunch. A kind of eating “sangha” (community) for kids. You see, for Marc, it’s never just about the food. It’s about the people who eat it.