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Dining Out 5 minutes 07 January 2020

The Best Italian Restaurants in Washington, D.C.

Got a hankering for pasta and other Italian specialties? Here’s where to go.

Italian

Washington D.C.’s 131 neighborhoods are a treasure trove when it comes to Italian cuisine, with more and more chefs staking their claim and opening up new offerings to choose from.

From five-course tasting menus to classical trattoria eats, here’s where to find the best of the best in our Nation’s capital.

All Purpose

Designation: The Plate

What It Is: Mike Friedman's Shaw neighborhood gem.

What Our Inspectors Say: “Inside, discover a cozy space featuring mosaic-tile floors, distressed walls and an open kitchen. This menu offers a handful of perfectly light pizzas topped with a creative mix of fresh ingredients. Italian plates round out the offerings—imagine plump globes of burrata paired with chickpea pancakes; crispy garlic knots; and Jersey-style eggplant Parm. Don’t miss the gorgeous desserts, turned out by the artistic Tiffany MacIsaac, including the rainbow layer cake decked out with chocolate sauce and Chantilly cream.”

Lupo Verde

Designation: Plate

What It Is: A two-floor 100-seat restaurant boasting a menu of house-made charcuterie, cheeses, pastas and pizzas.

What Our Inspectors Say: “The kitchen too boasts some unique offerings—polpo e burrata starts things off on the right foot—but it’s really all about the homemade pasta and spot-on affetati here. Spaghettata is gloriously thick and chewy, while the cheese and charcuterie boards, crammed with delicious imported salumi, cheeses, olives and giardiniera, could very well be the best in D.C. Finish with a classic affogato, in which a shot of hot espresso is poured over a dollop of creamy vanilla ice cream.”

I'm Eddie Cano

Designation: The Plate

What It Is: Massimo and Carolyn Papetti and Jame's Gee's 60-seat restaurant whose name is the phonetic pronunciation of "Americano." 

What Our Inspectors Say: "Regardless of which side you pick, get a pasta and you won't go wrong. Spaghetti alle vongole is as unfussed with as it should be; and the fish of the day is a solid winner, with such classic pairings as carrots with hazelnuts and ricotta. Even dessert dazzles in a restrained way. Ananas, or juicy pineapple rings topped with shaved coconut sorbet, are a light, refreshing finish."

Meet the signature pork chop at Fiola. (Photo courtesy of Fiola.)
Meet the signature pork chop at Fiola. (Photo courtesy of Fiola.)

Fiola

Designation: One Star

What It Is: Fabio and Maria Trabocchi’s one-MICHELIN-starred restaurant centrally located between the White House and the Capitol Building.

What Our Inspectors Say: “Thanks to elegant cuisine, the somewhat stiff environs and scripted service are soon forgiven; and despite its traditional demeanor, the menu allows for flexibility with the ability to craft your own four- or five-course meal in addition to a grand tasting menu. The cooking style may be anchored in the Italian coastline, but it quickly settles on the shores of the Mid-Atlantic, with a highly conceptual bent to boot. Meals may begin with Peconic Bay scallops brimming with flavor thanks to a sea urchin-panna cotta, sunchokes and black truffles; then linger over the rigatoni alla carbonara tossed with slices of guanciale. But, such delightful palate cleansers as a quenelle of yuzu granité make for a nice segue to what is perhaps the most colorful course of the night..”

Obelisk

Designation: The Plate

What It Is: Open since 1987, this quaint Dupont Circle spot serves a five-course dinner five nights a week on a hand-written menu that changes daily.

What Our Inspectors Say: “The light and seasonal Italian cooking begins with a bang, as an assortment of fantastic antipasti is quickly ushered to the table: perhaps creamy burrata imported from Lazio or a hot croquette filled with melting cheese. Dishes are never fussy and are presented simply, with honest flavors and purposeful ingredients. Entrées might include a dorade with a cracker-crisp sear, served with nutty romesco sauce and green chickpeas. All breads and desserts are made in-house. Don't expect to dash in; the full experience is worth the two to three hours to enjoy.”

Masseria

Designation: One Star

What It Is: Housed in a former warehouse, chef Nicholas Stefanelli celebrates the Puglia region—heavily rooted in his heritage—at his one-Michelin-starred restaurant.

What Our Inspectors Say: “The kitchen hits all the right notes balancing trendy and serious. Begin with a cigar box filled with focaccia so sinfully delicious, you'll be tempted to scarf it all down—but don't. You'll want to save room for the spicy fish stew, a thing of beauty practically brimming with tripe and lobster, or house-made maccheroni with a thick and gamey goat ragù. Even dessert strays far from the pack, showcasing beet ice cream instead of the classic tiramisu.”

The marble-topped bar at Ghibellina. (Photo courtesy of David Bowden/Ghibellina.)
The marble-topped bar at Ghibellina. (Photo courtesy of David Bowden/Ghibellina.)

Ghibellina

Designation: Plate

What It Is: A self-proclaimed “Italian gastropub” whose focus is on both Neapolitan-inspired pizzas and craft cocktails. (The focal point of the restaurant is a marble-topped bar.)

What Our Inspectors Say: “The Italian-leaning menu showcases antipasti, pastas (bucatini alle vongole) and mains (like pollo al mattone, or chicken under a brick), but it's the knockout pizzas that are always a hit. Order the Napoli, topped with anchovies, capers and peperoncino, which two can handily put away, especially when a set of shears is delivered for slicing any way you want. It's a linger-a-little-longer kind of place, so order the gelato affogato al caffè with robust espresso.”

Sfoglina

Designation: Bib Gourmand

What It Is: A casual trattoria from the Trabocchi team complete with a working pasta station.

What Our Inspectors Say: “The name (Italian for ‘pasta master’) sets a very high bar but lives up to its moniker with a notable variety of hearty and elegant preparations listed as "classical" and "seasonal." Highlights have included soft, almost whipped polenta folded with showers of cacio e pepe and piled with fresh green peas and shaved Pecorino. Spinach tonnarelli melded with a vibrantly seasoned lamb ragù exudes a faint whiff of sweetness. Speaking of sweet, end with the wonderfully crumbly hazelnut cake with a delightful lemony edge."

Tosca

Designation: The Plate

What It Is: Chef Riccardo Rinaldi pays homage to Northern Italy at his restaurant located at the base of an office building.

What Our Inspectors Say: “ Lunch brings in an army of suits to match those starched white tablecloths and deals are done over platters of house-made pasta. Trevigiana, a salad tossing bright radicchio with crispy hen of the woods mushrooms, frico friulano and a piquant black truffle dressing, shows restraint and focus; while lobster risotto with its sweet tomato bisque and tender Maine lobster meat exudes a harmony of decadent flavors."

Officina

Designation: The Plate

What It Is: Nicholas Stefanelli's more casual multi-story ode to Italy.

What Our Inspectors Say: "A lengthy list of salumis and formaggi tempts patrons, and pastas like cavatelli, agnolotti, and paccheri are all made in-house. Heartier plates include veal saltimbocca and bombetta Pugliese, a succulent pork shoulder wrapped in prosciutto, but don't miss the smaller list of other meat cuts. You'll find everything from hay-smoked sweetbreads finished with lemon zest and fennel pollen to braised beef tripe with tomato."

At Centrolina, chef Amy Brandwein's menu is divvied into categories like antipasti, pasta and large plates. (Photo courtesy of Centrolina.)
At Centrolina, chef Amy Brandwein's menu is divvied into categories like antipasti, pasta and large plates. (Photo courtesy of Centrolina.)

Centrolina

Designation: The Plate

What It Is: An Italian mercato-meets-osteria located at CityCenterDC.

What Our Inspector's Say: "Chef Amy Brandwein's menu is divvied into categories like antipasti, pasta and large plates, many prepared in the famed oven. Think wildly delicious seafood starters like Hawaiian tuna crudo; or gently fried soft-shell crab with shishito aïoli. Dinner staples include tangles of fettuccine in a savory white Bolognese; or a young, perfectly roasted Amish chicken."

Napoli Pasta Bar

Designation: Bib Gourmand

What It Is: Chef/owner Antonio Ferraro's ode to his native Naples on Sherman Avenue NW.

What Our Inspectors Say: "Begin your meal with gatto di patate, featuring a béchamel sauce blended with potatoes and cubes of pancetta. Then move on to more gorgeous items, like the paccheri 'o rrau'—toothsome tube-shaped pasta laced with a sumptuous tomato ragù that is crowned by Parmesan and basil. For a heartier dinner, try your hand at the pollo del faito, a pair of tender chicken breasts topped with cherry tomatoes, pancetta and spicy chile pepper flakes."

The Red Hen

Designation: Bib Gourmand

What It Is: Michael Friedman and Michael O'Malley's wildly popular Italian-influenced American restaurant in D.C.'s historic Bloomingdale neighborhood.

What Our Inspectors Say: "Pastas are spot on and include cacio e pepe 'arancini,' crowd-favorite mezzi rigatoni or even the mafalde verde—a sweet-and-savory combo of braised duck ragù, Calabrian chile and Pecorino Romano. Entrées like grilled short rib or scallops with pickled chile aïoli are also exquisite. The short wine list features unusual selections (Slovenia, anyone?) and very affordable prices."

San Lorenzo

Designation: The Plate

What It Is: Chef Massimo Fabri's cozy neighborhood charmer named after his son. 

What Our Inspectors Say: "A dinner in this chef's capable hands might begin with tender squash blossoms, stuffed with truffled goat cheese and fried to delicate, airy perfection. Pasta is a must: try the crown-shaped tortelli with robiola and black truffle, pooled in an earthy porcini mushroom sauce; or splurge on the parmesan risotto, dusted with freshly shaved white truffles. Pear sorbet is a refreshing finale."

Hero image courtesy of San Lorenzo/Facebook.

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