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.
What It Is: An unassuming restaurant with classic Italian dishes.
What Our Inspectors Say: “Though the food is rustic at its core, presentation is nothing if not elegant; and chef Luigi Diotaiuti's dedication to ingredients has been recognized by DC Slow Food. Menu highlights include toothsome pappardelle tossed with sliced portobello mushrooms in a deliciously savory sauce, as well as grilled fish, lamb chops, and roast chicken. Whatever you choose, be sure to save room for the namesake—and just right—tiramisu.”
What It Is: A two-floor 100-seat restaurant boasting a menu of house-made charcuterie, cheeses, pastas and pizzas.
What Our Inspectors Say: “Upstairs, the dining room has a low-key but quintessential luxe Italian look. The kitchen too boasts some unique offerings—a roasted onion stuffed with four-cheese fondue is delicious, but it's really all about the homemade pasta and spot-on affetati here. The spaghetti is gloriously thick and chewy, while the charcuterie boards are crammed with delicious imported salumi, cheeses, olives and giardiniera. Finish with a classic affogato, in which a shot of hot espresso is poured over a dollop of creamy vanilla ice cream.”
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 truly sophisticated cuisine, the somewhat stiff environs and overly scripted service staff are soon forgiven. And despite its traditional demeanor, the menu actually allows for flexibility with the ability to craft your own four- and five-course meals in addition to a grand tasting menu. The chef’s cooking style is both ultra-luxurious and Italian-influenced, with a highly stylized bent to boot. Meals may begin with a single jumbo stalk of white asparagus, dressed with black truffle vinaigrette and caviar, before moving on to hay-smoked potato gnocchi, presented with flair under a glass cloche. Wild turbot with chunks of razor clams and fava beans is also shielded within a glass cloche, though this excellent dish impresses with its rich flavors alone. As for the wine list? As one would expect, it's showy, littered with big names and curated for those with sizeable expense accounts and companions to impress.”
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 are quickly ushered to the table: creamy burrata; a sardine served over a tasty Prosecco-braised onion salad; crunchy puntarelle salad with a creamy anchovy dressing; and a thin slice of porchetta with a crisp shell and rich, flavorful meaty center, to name a few. The second and third courses are overshadowed by the first, but the full experience is worth the two to three hours to enjoy.”
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.”
What It Is: New York City-based chef Michael White’s D.C. spinoff located in the Navy Yard.
What Our Inspectors Say: “Get the much-touted burger, which is celebrated at lunch and is also a nod to DC's less adventurous palates. Other items may also include wood-grilled meats, homemade pasta, and polpettine in brodo. Most impressive, however, is the generous bowl of conchiglie topped with Pecorino fonduta, a culinary delight that screams ‘dig in’ like nothing else.”
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: “Lunch is largely focused on salads and knockout pizzas. Ramp pizza reveals a delightful interplay between zingy, garlicky-onion ramps and creamy cheeses, including crumbled ricotta and fior di latte. Dinner expands to include antipasti, pastas (like bucatini alle vongole), and mains (like pollo al mattone, or chicken under a brick). It's a linger-a-little-longer kind of place, so order dessert. The affogato al caffe's gelato with robust espresso is a nice finish.”
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."
What It Is: Chef Massimo Fabbri 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."
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."
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."
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."
Hero image courtesy of Sfoglina.