Dozen And A Half Best Italian Restaurants
With each passing year, the grip that Italian food holds on our palates gets stronger and reaches farther. Anywhere you go in the world, Italian food is there. New Orleans has a love affair with Italian cooking going back well over a century. That’s long enough that Creole and Italian styles have hybridized. That blend is now so pervasive that many locals believe it to be “authentic,” and are puzzled by the Italian food they find in other cities, or even in Italy.
Here are the best Italian restaurants in the New Orleans area as we enter 2011. Not considered for this list are restaurants that seem to be Italian but are really more Creole (Pascal’s Manale and Mandina’s, for example) or pizza specialists. Fortunately, the city’s best pizza is to be found in restaurants that cook lots of other Italian dishes.
I suspect that this list will cause the greatest disagreement of all the ones I’ve posted so far. Detailed reviews of all the restaurants here can be read by clicking on the restaurants’ names.
1. Sal and Judy’s. Lacombe: 27491 Highway 190 . 985-882-9443. There is a reason why you have to plan weeks ahead to eat here. The food is lusty, abundant, fresh, and underpriced.
2. Ristorante Del Porto. Covington: 501 E Boston St. 985-875-1006. The only thing that gives me even a moment’s pause about this place is that it’s essentially an Italian style imported from Tuscany by way of California. The food is brilliantly turned out and fresh.
3. Cafe Giovanni. French Quarter: 117 Decatur. 504-529-2154. You never know what’s going to happen here, what with the constantly-changing menu, Chef Duke’s inventiveness, and the opera singers.
4. Impastato’s. Metairie: 3400 16th Street. 504-455-1545. Literally the brother restaurant to Sal & Judy’s, with much the same food in a clubby restaurant with a lot of regulars.
5. Eleven 79. Warehouse District: 1179 Annunciation. 504-569-0001. The culmination of Joe Segreto’s decades of study and practice in the food of Italy, with just the right touch of New Orleans added.
6. Mosca’s. Westwego: 4137 US 90. 504-436-9942. Sui generis. Mosca’s does what it does, and you’ll either love it with all your heart or wonder about it with all your mind. All the garlic and olive oil (and shrimp, oysters and chicken) your soul ever wanted. Still cash only.
7. Irene’s Cuisine. French Quarter: 539 St Philip. 504-529-8811. The spirit of the food at Irene’s reminds me of that at Mosca’,s although the style is different. Deep in the French Quarter, but full of local regulars. (And hip visitors.)
8. Maximo’s Italian Grill. French Quarter: 1117 Decatur. 504-586-8883. The best fusion of the Creole and Italian flavor palettes. Everything’s a little spicier and has a bit bigger flavor than you expect. Great wine list. Sit at the kitchen counter for the best eats.
9. Ristorante Carmelo. Mandeville: 1901 US Hwy 190 . 985-624-4844. Carmelo Chirico relocated his long-running French Quarter restaurant to Mandeville, began making the best pizza on the North Shore, and extended his menu deep into the real of Northern Italy. Great special wine dinners.
10. Domenica. CBD: 123 Baronne (Roosevelt Hotel). 504-648-6020. The best pizza in the city, along with a highly original menu of offbeat dishes from Italy. All the cured meats are made in house. Other restaurants do that, but not this well.
11. Ristorante Filippo. Metairie: 1917 Ridgelake. 504-835-4008. Phil Gagliano runs this little trattoria out of his chef jacket pocket. The aroma of the oysters areganata is enough to make you fall in love with the place. Good Sicilian eating.
12. Vincent’s. Metairie: 4411 Chastant St. 504-885-2984. Riverbend: 7839 St Charles Ave. 504-866-9313. Vincent Catalanotto’s two little New Orleans-Italian restaurants show a softer edge than they once did, but the cooking is solid and sometimes surprising. (That best-in-town crawfish bisque, for example.)
13. Andrea’s. Metairie: 3100 19th St. 504-834-8583. If Andrea’s were as good as Andrea thinks it is, it would be the best Italian restaurant in America. Sometimes it is. More likely is that the first-class ingredients–nobody uses better seafood–will not be cooked or served especially well. Still worth rolling the dice, though.
14. Fausto’s. Metairie: 530 Veterans Blvd. 504-833-7121. As good as New Orleans-style Sicilian food gets. Fausto and Roland DiPietro keep the prices down but serve memorably good platters of all your favorite homestyle Italian food.
15. Bosco’s. Mandeville: 2040 La Hwy 59. 985-624-5066. In his new, bigger restaurant, Tony Bosco has been expanding his menu wonderfully, especially in the seafood department. A great red sauce, and the best muffuletta in New Orleans.
16. Leonardo’s Trattoria. CBD: 709 St Charles. 504-558-8986. A truly great pizza leads off a menu of Sicilian dishes–some of them rarely seen here. A nice scene on the sidewalk in the more clement months.
17. Ristorante Da Piero. Kenner: 401 Williams Blvd. 504-469-8585. The food of Bologna and its environs, rendered truly. And some rather adventuresome new dishes, too. Don’t ask for anything outside the realm that the patriarch deems inauthentic. Some of this is puzzling.
18. Tony Angello’s. Lakeview: 6262 Fleur de Lis Dr. 504-488-0888. The beloved Mr. Tony and his restaurant have been hard to reach for the past year, as the storm-wrecked street around the restaurant are dug down to bedrock. But those who love it will get there somehow. The specialties are great; the non-specialties are not.