Over the past 30-odd years, chef Frank Stitt has been credited for significantly raising the bar in Alabama's culinary scene. As if the success of his restaurant Highlands Bar and Grill and the roster of culinary talents who have launched their own successful careers after spending time in his kitchen weren't impressive enough, he's now doing the same thing for the state's pizza scene. While devoted regulars may have trouble steering themselves away from Stitt's classic dishes at Café Bottega like the seared beef carpaccio, Niçoise salad, and chicken scaloppini, they'll find themselves particularly rewarded by any of the eight pizzas on the menu. There's a white pie with fennel sausage, a grilled chicken and pesto combination, and even a pizza with okra and corn. But the signature pie that the restaurant pointed to as the biggest crowd-pleaser is the "Farm Egg," topped with mushrooms, guanciale, Taleggio, and porcini oil.
Alaska: Sorrento's (Anchorage)
Going strong for more than 40 years, family-run Sorrento's is an Alaska landmark, dishing up solid and dependable Italian fare. The expansive menu doesn't veer too far outside of the red-sauce comfort zone - popular dishes include fried calamari, fresh cannelloni with meat sauce, homemade meatballs, chicken cacciatore, steaks, and surprisingly solid pizzas - but you'd be hard-pressed to find a clunker in the bunch. Legions of fans have been regular customers at Sorrento's for decades, and with good reason: It's consistently delicious, and nothing on the menu will leave you disappointed.
Arizona: Pizzeria Bianco (Phoenix)
Legions of pizza pilgrims flock to Phoenix, Arizona's Pizzeria Bianco, opened by chef Chris Bianco more than 20 years ago. The restaurant serves not only addictive thin-crust pizzas but also fantastic antipasto (involving wood-oven-roasted vegetables), perfect salads, and homemade country bread. The wait, once routinely noted as one of the worst for some of the best food in the country, has been improved by the opening of a second Phoenix location.
Arkansas: Wood Stone Craft Pizza & Bar (Fayetteville)
Wood Stone has been bringing top notch pizza to South Fayetteville's Mill District since summer 2014. Owners Clayton Suttle and Jerrmy Gawthorp are crafting some unique and high-quality pizzas made with impeccably sourced ingredients (Arkansas-sourced when possible) and firing them in a custom-built wood-burning oven. Standouts include the Bloomington (caramelized onion and rosemary marmalade, gorgonzola, house-made Italian sausage, and rosemary); Late Harvest (local butternut squash puree, uncured ham, bacon, house-made ricotta, sage, parmesan, roasted Brussels sprouts, and honey gastrique); and the Carolina (smoked local pork, mustard barbecue sauce, asiago cream sauce, roasted red onion, cabbage slaw). Dip the "bones" in your choice of five sauces, and wash it down with a local beer.
California: Quince (San Francisco)
Located in a historic brick and timber building dating back to 1907 in San Francisco's Jackson Square neighborhood, Quince is both charming and elegant. Chef and owner Michael Tusk, who won the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Pacific region, creates a dining experience rooted in his relationships with a tightly knit network of only the best Northern California food purveyors. Every night, the 10-course tasting menu ($295) features vegetable-driven dishes highlighting the season's produce, including some things grown on the restaurant's rooftop garden. Those hoping to sample the food without splashing out on a tasting menu should visit the salon, where a la carte dishes average $65. Now's as good a time to visit as any - in 2017, Quince was bumped from two Michelin stars to three.
Colorado: Frasca Food & Wine (Boulder)
In the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, a frasca is a roadside farm restaurant, serving simple regional food. Frasca Food & Wine captures the spirit of these venues, while also championing the vast diversity of Colorado's unique culinary resources. Owners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson have created a warm and inviting space that can accommodate an impromptu dinner or an evening of fine dining. They offer three unique menus that change daily - a four-course menu for $85 (with dishes also available a la carte); a "Friulano Tradizionale" truffle-centric menu of Friulian regional specialties for $180; and a $55 four-course Monday tasting menu.
Frasca Food and Wine/Yelp
Connecticut: Frank Pepe (New Haven)
If you want to discuss the loaded topic of America's best pizza with any authority, you have to make a pilgrimage to this legendary New Haven pizzeria, which we've consistently rated as America's best. Frank Pepe opened his doors in Wooster Square in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1925. After immigrating to the United States in 1909 at the age of 16 from Italy, Pepe took odd jobs before opening his restaurant. Since its conception, Pepe's has opened an additional nine locations. The pizza served here is classic New Haven style: It's fired in a coal oven, and it has a thin, crisp, and chewy crust, a slightly oblong shape, and some amount of charring along the outside.
What should you order at this checklist destination? Two words: clam pie ("No muzz!"). This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of them all - freshly shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon. Just expect to wait in line if you get there after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.
Delaware: Mrs. Robino's (Wilmington)
Mrs. Robino's has been serving classic Italian-American fare for nearly 80 years, and it remains a Delaware favorite to this day. It got its start in Tersilla Robino's home kitchen in 1939, when she started serving local Italian immigrants, and it moved into its current building the following year; today it's run by the fourth generation. Pastas are homemade (try the Tour of Italy, with spaghetti and ravioli topped with meatballs and sausage), and other longtime favorites include greens with garlic, lasagna, cannelloni Florentine, veal and chicken parm, and roast pork with mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe. Homemade soups and thin, crispy pizzas are also popular.
Florida: Macchialina (Miami Beach)
Queens-born, Italy-raised chef Michael Pirolo spent time at some of Italy's finest restaurants and enjoyed a stint as chef de cuisine at Scott Conant's Scarpetta before branching out on his own with Macchialina in 2012. The menu is primarily composed of antipasti and housemade pasta, and we strongly suggest you try as many of the pastas as possible (especially on Thursdays, when they're just $10). Other standouts include gnoccho fritto, veal cheek and pork meatballs, and a 21-day dry-aged New York strip. When it comes to Italian food in Florida, it doesn't get much better than this.
Georgia: Varasano's (Atlanta)
Bronx-born software engineer Jeff Varasano found a passion for pizza that led him down a saucy, bubbly road to pizza stardom. Atlanta, Georgia has been the lucky beneficiary. Varasano's serves two traditional pies: Margherita di Bufala and "Nana's," which is the house special: mozzarella and San Marzano tomato sauce with a "secret blend of herbs" (sweet roasted red peppers are suggested, too). There are 12 specialty pies with a variety of toppings (including interesting ones like Emmenthaler, a pinch of lemon zest, and spiced olives) that come standard, but menu notations suggest extras. Speaking of which, if you want to build your own or add to menu options, there are 17 toppings (including handmade meatballs). They also serve a wide variety of traditional Italian fare, like family-recipe meatballs and Sunday gravy, penne with sausage and arugula, and spectacular fresh-made doughnuts.
Hawaii: Arancino di Mare (Honolulu)
Located in the Waikiki Beach Marriott, Hawaii's best Italian restaurant, Arancino di Mare, is renowned for its impressive pasta dishes and super-fresh local seafood. Standouts include elegantly plated scallop carpaccio topped with sea asparagus, tobiko caviar, and red onions; insalata frutti di mare with shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels, and local greens and tomatoes; spaghetti with fresh uni in a garlic wine cream sauce; spaghetti tossed with a simple sauce of garlic, white wine, and olive oil and topped with a bounty of calamari, clams, mussels, and shrimp scampi; and a 32-ounce bistecca alla fiorentina.
Arancino di Mare/Yelp
Idaho: Guido's Original New York Style Pizza (Boise)
Thanks to Guido's, there's a legit New York-style pizzeria in Boise, Idaho, turning out some spectacular pies. Like all New York slice shops, this one is straight ahead and no-frills. You can get your pizza by the slice or in an 18- or 20-inch pie, and top it with a wide variety of meats and vegetables. Sausage rolls, Stromboli, and fresh baked garlic bread are also on the menu.
Illinois: Spiaggia (Chicago)
In business for an astonishing 35 years thanks in large part to the culinary skills and business acumen of chef Tony Mantuano, Illinois' Michelin-starred Spiaggia ("beach" in Italian) did more than just about any restaurant to show Chicagoans what refined Italian fare looks like. Reopening after a redesign in 2014 (its first since 1999), the restaurant added 50 percent more seats with views, a new lounge, and a floor-to-ceiling glass-enclosed, temperature-controlled wine room showcasing 1,700 of Spiaggia's nearly 5,000 bottles. The menu follows the traditional Italian courses of antipasto, pasta, secondi, and dessert, and one thing that hasn't changed is Spiaggia's ability to delight diners. Much of that can be credited to Mantuano and chef de cuisine (and "Top Chef" champion) Joe Flamm, who serves mouthwatering fare like duck tortellini with cherry, pistachio, and Parmigiano-Reggiano; dry-aged bistecca alla fiorentina with truffle hollandaise, turnip, and onion jam; and their famed gnocchi with black truffle, ricotta, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. A five- or eight-course tasting menu is also available, for $105 and $155, respectively.
Indiana: Diavola (Indianapolis)
pscale pizzeria and wine bar Diavola has been keeping the Indiana locals happy with some spectacular wood-fired pizzas since 2015. Just like in Naples, the pizzas cook in an 800-degree oven and come out bubbling and blistered after 90 seconds. The oven is also turning out some excellent pita bread, as one of the owners is Egyptian. There are 17 different pizza styles on offer, but the best one to sample is the Margherita, with simple tomato sauce, high-quality mozzarella (make it burrata for an extra $2.50), and basil; two different crust styles (original and thin crust) are also available. Other must-trys include house-made polpette, seafood ravioli, and whatever the calzone of the day is.
Iowa: Baroncini (Iowa City)
Chef Gianluca Baroncini spent time cooking at some of Verona, Italy's finest Italian restaurants (including the two-Michelin-starred Il Desco) before opening Iowa City favorite Baroncini. He's committed to turning out spot-on interpretations of Italian classics made with fresh, seasonal, local ingredients, and the star of his menu is his fresh house-made agnolotti filled with a mixture of local beef and Parmigiano-Reggiano, tossed with a traditional brown butter and sage sauce.
Kansas: Albero Café (Wichita)
College Hill standby Albero Cafe offers a wide selection of Italian classics and creative specialties with a Kansas twist, like Italian nachos and shrimp dip, and there's a wide variety of customizable pastas. Chef-owner Hassan Ballout spent 10 years in the kitchens of some of the city's best Italian restaurants, and when he decided to strike out on his own four years ago he struck gold. Standouts include fried calamari (sliced into strips instead of rings), Tuscan white bean soup, penne al pesto, grilled grouper with lemon herb garlic butter, and Italian lemon cream cake.
Kentucky: Vincenzo's (Louisville)
Vincenzo's Palermo-born chef Agostino Gabriele has been cooking professionally since 1963, and has been at the helm here since this Kentucky mainstay opened in 1986. To say he's learned a thing or two in the past 56 years is an understatement, and he's turned Vincenzo's into a venerable Louisville institution and certified standout. His skills are on full display in dishes like risotto with fresh seafood in a spicy red clam sauce; mascarpone ravioli filled with grilled chicken, spinach, and mushrooms; a thick veal chop stuffed with prosciutto and fontina; and made-to-order soufflés.
Louisiana: Domenica (New Orleans)
In the casual and elegant high-ceilinged Domenica, located in New Orleans' Roosevelt Hotel (home of the original Sazerac), they're serving eight pizzas, including the Calabrese (tomato, spicy salami, mozzarella, capers, olives), Smoked Pork (smoked pork shoulder, mozzarella, red onion, Anaheim peppers, salsa verde), and Tutto Carne (salami, bacon, fennel sausage, pork shoulder, yard egg). There's also a wide variety of house-cured meats, pastas including stracci with oxtail and fried chicken livers, and entrées that include a whole roasted Louisiana fish with tomatoes, olives, chile, and garlic. Make sure you save room for desserts like banana zuppa inglese with bananas, crema cotta mousse, and peanut brittle.
Maine: Paciarino (Portland)
At the pasta-centric Portland, Maine, favorite Paciarino, pastas and sauces are made fresh daily, meat is all natural and locally sourced when possible, and ingredients are of the highest quality available. All of this translates to some spectacular dishes, including a perfect and simple spaghetti pomodoro, ravioli bolognese, lasagna, and spaghetti aglio e olio. It's very difficult to make these classic pasta dishes in a way that stands out, and Paciarino hits the nail on the head.
Maryland: La Tavola (Baltimore)
Located in the heart of Baltimore's Little Italy, the elegant La Tavola brings the cooking of Venice-born chef Carlo Vignotto to Maryland. His lineup of traditional Italian classics is buttressed by creative uses of fresh local ingredients, and all of Vignotto's skills are on display with dishes like a light and crispy fritto misto; traditional veal saltimbocca; house-made ravioli topped with cream sauce and sautéed mushrooms; house-made gnocchi; and a legendary lasagna bolognese.
Massachusetts: Scampo (Boston)
James Beard Award-winning chef Lydia Shire is one of Boston, Massachusetts' legendary chefs, and her restaurant, Scampo, is one of the best Italianish restaurants you'll ever dine at. While Italian at heart, Shire isn't afraid to incorporate a tandoori oven or Ibèrico ham into the mix, and the menu is fun and playful. Handmade breads come in seven varieties. There's a full "mozzarella bar" with five different seasonal fresh mozzarella-based dishes (just opt for the mozzarella tasting - you know you want to). Spaghetti comes topped with cracklings and hot pepper and pizza is topped with white clam and bacon, among other things. Entrées include brick chicken with black garlic purée and Meyer lemon risotto, cotechino sausage ravioli with truffle foam and purple kale, and braised short rib with whipped celeriac. It's one of those menus where literally everything looks delicious... but we'll be waiting for Friday night, when the special is roast suckling pig.
Michigan: Bacco (Southfield)
Chef and restaurateur Luciano Del Signore's home base, Bacco, has been drawing crowds for its contemporary high-end Italian cuisine since 2002. High-quality ingredients, prepared simply, result in some truly outstanding dishes. Take the strozzapretti, for example: These long tubes of fresh house-made pasta are tossed with a sauce made with house-made sausage, tomato, cream, and a touch of truffle oil and plated like no other pasta dish you've ever seen.
Minnesota: Broders' Pasta Bar (Minneapolis)
Molly and Tom Broder opened their "pasta bar" in 1994, and the crowds have never stopped coming. Why? Ingredients are sourced from Minnesota farms whenever possible and some vegetables are grown in an on-site garden - "but really," as the website states, "it's all about the pasta." Fresh pastas are made in-house and dry pastas are imported from Italy, and nearly 30 pastas and risottos are on the menu. You can't go wrong with gnocchi with duck cacciatore ragù; quadrucci with roasted chicken, greens, prosciutto di Parma, almonds, asparagus, balsamic vinegar, and mascarpone; tagliarini with prosciutto and truffle cream; or the paccheri with braised short rib, pancetta, red wine, tomato, and gremolata. There's also a daily risotto that's usually pretty spectacular, as well as a wide variety of antipasti. The name might fool you into thinking that this is a low-rent buffet, but it's anything but.
Mississippi: Stalla (Biloxi)
Located inside Biloxi's Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Mississippi, Stalla is an unpretentious Italian spot specializing in traditional Italian fare prepared with quality ingredients, served in a beautiful dining room. Florence-born chef Paola Bugli has been with the restaurant since it opened three years ago, and is bringing some serious skill to the kitchen. Carpaccio with Grana Padano, horseradish, lemon aioli, and arugula; Tuscan shrimp and grits with pancetta and smoked Gouda; pizza topped with béchamel, mozzarella, pancetta, cippolinis, roasted peppers, and oysters; handmade seasonal ravioli; Gulf shrimp fra diavolo; and veal cheeks piccata with capers, parsley, and spaghetti are just a handful of the standouts on Bugli's menu.
Missouri: Trattoria Marcella (St. Louis)
St. Louis, Missouri, has no shortage of great Italian restaurants, but ask any local what their favorites are and Trattoria Marcella will invariably be on everyone's short list. In business since 1995, owners Steve and Jamie Komorek are serving stunning takes on traditional Italian fare like mortadella meatballs, toasted chestnut Roman-style gnocchi, toasted ravioli, chicken spiedini, pork osso buco, and braised veal tortelloni. The restaurant is homey and welcoming, the food is delicious, and nothing on the menu costs more than $24.
Montana: Lucca's (Helena)
Lucca's is a high-end Helena hotspot that's considered among the best restaurants in Montana. And with good reason: Chef-owner Frederick Stout has created a supremely elegant dining room serving expertly prepared dishes using the freshest ingredients possible. Don't miss the shrimp fra diavolo: angel hair pasta with big shrimp, fresh grape tomatoes, and spicy cream sauce.
Nebraska: Spezia (Omaha)
Omaha, Nebraska's charming Spezia is a total crowd pleaser. The menu is expansive and offers a wide variety of antipasti, flatbreads, salads, pastas, wood-grilled and oven-roasted specialties, and Angus steaks. Specialties include flatbread with Italian sausage and roasted peppers, a wood-grilled chicken salad with crispy prosciutto and gorgonzola, Scottish salmon and farfalle in a tomato and basil cream sauce, seafood risotto, rack of lamb, wood grilled scallops, and a grilled 14-ounce rib-eye with Burgundy jus and roasted onions.
Nevada: Costa di Mare (Las Vegas)
Forty varieties of fresh fish are flown in daily from Italian coastal waters and served whole at Costa di Mare, located inside Las Vegas' opulent The Wynn, and it's easily one of the best seafood restaurants in the country, if not the best. It's also the most romantic restaurant in Nevada. With its lush greenery and large lagoon, the outdoor seating makes it feel as if you're dining in the Tuscan countryside, and the modern and stylish interior is unique, very chic, and super-romantic. To dial the romance up a few notches, request a table in a lagoon-side cabana.
Costa di Mare/Yelp
New Hampshire: Tuscan Kitchen (Salem and Portsmouth)
With a menu inspired by owner Joe Faro's travels to Italy, Tuscan Kitchen is bringing some Tuscan sunshine to the Granite State. There are plenty of authentic Italian dishes on the menu, and the house-made pasta is made with imported "double zero" flour. Lobster is the name of the game in this neck of the woods, and here it's put to good use in ravioli, sauced with lemon butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
New Jersey: Scalini Fedeli (Chatham)
Located inside a New Jersey farmhouse dating from the mid-1700s, the elegant and inviting Scalini Fedeli is entering its 24th year, still under the helm of founding chef Michael Cetrulo. With white tablecloths, high vaulted ceilings, and antique pine floors, just setting foot inside the restaurant sets the stage for a celebratory (and/or romantic) meal. Cetrulo's menu fuses French and Italian; some standouts include diver sea scallop carpaccio with citrus dressing and tapenade; soft egg yolk raviolo filled with spinach and ricotta topped with Parmigiano and melted truffle butter; potato-crusted snapper over sautéed wild mushrooms with red wine reduction and roasted beets; and veal chop with porcini-Dijon sauce and braised vegetables. This restaurant was so successful that it spawned a New York City location in 2000, which is still going strong.
Robert S./ Yelp
New Mexico: Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza (Albuquerque)
Il Vicino has been going strong in Albuquerque, New Mexico, since 1992. Pizzas here are baked hot and fast in a wood fired oven, made with fresh, high-quality ingredients, and are inspired by chef Tom White's trips to Italy. You can build your own pizza using creative ingredients like balsamic onions, green chile, capicola, white anchovies, portobello mushrooms, and fiery shrimp, or choose from a gourmet selection including Motorino (Alfredo sauce, spinach, artichoke hearts, roasted tomatoes, balsamic onions, and pesto); Prosciutto e Rucola (prosciutto, San Marzano tomato sauce, olive oil, fresh mozzarella, arugula, cherry tomatoes); and Tartufo (truffle mushroom cream, mozzarella, portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, and chopped parsley). There's also a wide variety of soups, salads, panini, and oven-baked pasta dishes, including a stellar lasagna bolognese.
New York: Del Posto (New York City)
Del Posto is the result of a collaboration between Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich, and Mario Batali. With these three big names banding together (even though Batali has since stepped away from his restaurant group), the result received a coveted four-star review from The New York Times, the first Italian restaurant in New York to do so in nearly four decades. Executive chef Melissa Rodriguez is, amazingly, the first woman to helm a New York kitchen that's received four stars from the Times; her menu includes lobster caponata with fried artichokes; orecchiette with rabbit sausage, turnips, and Castelvetrano olive passato; Moorish spiced crispy lamb neck with labneh; and pork ribollita with bacon and onion marmellata and Parmigiano-Reggiano. A five-course or eight-course tasting menu is available ($164 and $194, respectively), as well as an eight-course vegan tasting menu. The $59 three-course prix fixe is still one of the city's great high-end lunch deals.
North Carolina: Mama Ricotta's (Charlotte)
Charlotte, North Carolina, institution Mama Ricotta's is a neighborhood favorite that's renowned locally for its high-quality ingredients, attention to detail, and house-made ingredients. Its New Haven-style pizza is a standout (the one topped with Italian beef, provolone, and giardiniera is a mashup for the ages), but make sure you sample the pasta (especially the penne alla vodka, rigatoni with meat sauce, and family-recipe cheese ravioli) and entrées (including Chianti-braised short rib and old-school chicken parm).
Nikki W./ Yelp
North Dakota: Toscana (Fargo)
Lucca-born chef Mirco Morganti is bringing a taste of Italy and France to Fargo, North Dakota. At Toscana, he's turning out show-stopping creations like osso bucco, tournedos Rossini, and noisette of lamb in a curry-chive cream sauce, and needless to say he also knows his way around pasta; standouts in that department include tagliolini granchio (shrimp and crab with tomatoes, garlic, and spinach in a light cream sauce); penne ortolana (penne with wild mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, peppers, and garlic in mushroom ragù); and gnocchi fattore (house-made gnocchi with chicken, garlic, and mushrooms in a tomato gorgonzola sauce.
Ohio: Lola & Giuseppe's Trattoria (Columbus)
A small, homey mom-and-pop operation run by the Fancelli family, Lola & Giuseppe's serves classic Italian-American fare from an unassuming Columbus, Ohio, storefront. The no-reservations restaurant features family recipes handed down from patriarch Giuseppe Fancelli, and specialties include pasta fritto (cheesy deep-fried spaghetti), wedding soup (made with housemade stock), creamy Sicilian onion soup, spaghetti and meatballs, housemade gnocchi with sausage and peppers, baked rigatoni bolognese, veal and chicken parm, and shrimp and lobster ravioli (sampler platters of three entrees are also a wise move). They're not blazing any new trails here, they're just doing the classics right.
Yelp/ Sam P.
Oklahoma: Stella (Oklahoma City)
The elegant Stella has been going strong in Oklahoma City since industry veteran Lori Burson first opened the doors in 2010. You'll feel at home here whether you're eating a pizza in shorts or osso bucco for two in your Sunday best, and nearly every table orders a pasta. The one to get is the first pasta on the menu, called simply "Sausage Pasta." The sausage is homemade, and it's served with campanelle pasta, mushrooms, red wine sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Oregon: Nostrana (Portland)
Nostrana is often cited as serving one of Portland, Oregon's most authentic Neapolitan pies, and for good reason. The blistered cornicione and thin crust provide scrumptious, beautiful canvases for the hand-made mozzarella the restaurant prepares daily. There are eight pies on the menu including standouts like the salumi (finocchiona, tomato, provolone, mozzarella, oregano, honey), alla fiamma (tomato, red onion, Mama Lil's peppers, wild oregano, spicy oil, and black olives), and a vongole bianco with Manila clams and gremolata that defies New Haven tradition by featuring smoked provolone and mozzarella. No matter which pie you order, it's going to be "served uncut, as is the traditional Italian style." But chef Cathy Whims' Buckman restaurant isn't just about pizza. The delicious antipasti includes mushroom and vermouth soup and steamboat oysters with limoncello vinaigrette. Pastas like blue prawn ravioli and wood oven-roasted cannelloni bolognese, and mains like the bistecca alla fiorentina and grappa-braised pork shoulder are going to make it very difficult to decide what to order.
Pennsylvania: Vetri Cucina (Philadelphia)
Chef Marc Vetri's 21-year-old Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, flagship Vetri Cucina offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian and Italianate specialties, served only in the form of six-course tasting menus. Chef de cuisine Matt Buehler will personalize the menu to your taste. You might end up with, for instance, roasted cauliflower with bagna cauda, lumache with duck ragù, guinea hen with seasonal mushrooms, and chocolate polenta soufflé for dessert. All is served with precision and grace, and there is a wine cellar of more than 2,500 bottles to choose from.
Rhode Island: Al Forno (Providence)
On South Main Street in the heart of Providence, Rhode Island, Al Forno offers quintessential Italian dining for those who can't afford the flight across the Atlantic. Husband-and-wife owner-chefs George Germon and Johanne Killeen received the Insegna del Ristorante Italiano from the Italian government, a rare honor for Americans, attributable to their informed passion for pasta along with their invention of the grilled pizza. They also, though, aim the culinary spotlight on Rhode Island's defining vegetables - corn, squash, beans, and tomatoes - prepared simply, with the authentic Italian panache one would expect of multiple James Beard Award honorees. Sadly, George passed away a few years ago, but his flagship invention, grilled pizza, is still influencing chefs around the world, and Al Forno still serves the definitive version. In fact, it's the best pizza in Rhode Island.
South Carolina: Trattoria Lucca (Charleston)
Trattoria Lucca, located in Charleston's Elliotborough neighborhood, is a winner all around. Chef-owner Ken Vedrinski was nominated for the James Beard Award in 2011, and he changes his menu daily based on what he finds at the farmers market and what local South Carolina fisherman bring to his kitchen door. Pastas are handmade and cheese and salumi are imported from Italy. It's tough to predict exactly what you'll find on the menu, but recent standouts include house-made porchetta with arugula, pecorino, and apple mostarda; tagliolini with blue crab, anchovy, lemon, and bread crumbs; local doormat flounder with rye crust, cider, bacon, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts; and veal scallopini Milanese with trumpet mushroom caponata, spicy provolone, and Barolo vinegar. Hungry yet?
South Dakota: Botticelli (Rapid City)
A warm and inviting family-owned destination in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the 22-year-old Botticelli was run by Michelle Peregrine for 16 years before she handed the keys to her daughter, 32-year-old chef Aleaha Ghere, a couple years ago. The menu has a nice selection of bruschetta (including one that changes seasonally); pastas (including house-made ravioli and pappardelle bolognese); chicken dishes; steaks (including one topped with roasted garlic, gorgonzola, mushrooms, and red wine demi-glace); and, in a nod to the region, bison osso bucco.
Tennessee: Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen (Memphis)
Lifelong friends Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman created Italian/Southern U.S. fusion heaven when they opened Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in a 1940s ranch-style house off Poplar Avenue east of midtown Memphis, Tennessee, with some 54 seats in late 2008. The two chefs credit their grandmothers, Catherine Chiozza and Mary Spinosa, for their inspiration but have plenty of culinary pedigree beyond these maternal instrumental familial food memories, old-style Italian recipes, and traditions (there's a vegetable and herb garden for the restaurant too). You'll want to try the veal breast with celery root, parsnips, turnips, carrots, spinach soubise, and truffle; maw maw's ravioli with meat gravy; and the veal agnolotti with tomato braise and lardo.
Texas: La Traviata (Austin)
A downtown mainstay that's been pulling in crowds in the Texas capital since 2000, La Traviata is turning out a different homemade ravioli every day, and its lineup of pastas is classic and comforting. All the basics are covered here - spaghetti alla carbonara, pasta norma - and they're all done very, very well; but make sure you try the rigatoni with spicy lamb meatballs, San Francisco-style cioppino, and veal piccata.
Utah: Valter's Osteria (Salt Lake City)
Valter Nassi is the natty ever-present proprietor of Valter's Osteria, and his lineup of Tuscan classics inspired by his mother have kept crowds coming back to his stylish, modern Salt Lake City, Utah, restaurant for years. The homemade fresh pastas are all standouts, but you'll find the best dish on the menu - and the one that Valter's most proud of - among the dried pastas. It's the Rigatoni al Sugo Della Mamma, perfectly-cooked al dente rigatoni with a tomato-based porcini and meat sauce based on his mother's recipe. Other standouts include fennel-crusted duck breast in cognac and grape sauce; salmon topped with clams, scallops, and baby calamari in tomato sauce; and butterflied pan-fried pork tenderloin with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil.
Vermont: Trattoria Delia (Burlington)
One of the most romantic restaurants in Burlington, Vermont, the 26-year-old Trattoria Delia occupies a charming basement space and warms the cold night with a fireplace and traditional regional Italian fare. It's been going strong since 1993, and all pastas are either hand-rolled and cut or made using an Arcobaleno extruder with traditional Italian brass dies. So we definitely suggest you sample some pasta dishes - the chitarra all'Amatriciana (with house-cured guanciale) and tagliatelle al terre e mare (with local scallops and porcini mushrooms) are standouts - but entrées like prosciutto-wrapped Vermont rabbit and slow-braised short rib are also spectacular. Make sure you sample the house-made gelato for dessert.
Virginia: Fratelli (Alexandria)
Located in one of Virginia's most charming and historic cities, Fratelli has gained a devoted local following for its super-fresh, expertly-prepared Northern Italian-inspired fare, large menu, and vegetables sourced from its onsite garden. It's a family-run business (the owner will probably be the one greeting you upon arrival), and the dining room is quaint and charming, with tile floors, white and red tablecloths, and paintings of the Old World on the walls. Don't miss the house-made minestrone, lobster ravioli, linguine with clam sauce, chicken piccata, gamberetto al gronchio (crabmeat-stuffed shrimp in lemon sauce), or vitello alla carciofo (veal topped with artichoke hearts and white wine-lemon sauce; and be sure to come back for the stellar Sunday brunch buffet.
Washington: Café Juanita (Kirkland)
Located in a mid-century house near the Juanita Beach Park in Kirkland, Washington, chef-owner and 2008 Best Chef: Northwest James Beard award-winner Holly Smith's neighborhood spot Cafe Juanita focuses on Northern Italian cuisine. The menu changes frequently "but always includes an eclectic mix of meats and seafood, illustrating the commitment to fresh, bold dishes that most often utilize organic products." Sweetbread ravioli with Madeira, rabbit with pancetta and porcini, risotto al Barolo, and Ligurian silk handkerchief with sun choke and egg yolk are just some of the delicious items you'll find on menu at this 30-seat restaurant that, from the outside at least, more resembles someone's home.
Washington, D.C.: Fiola
Chef Fabio Trabocchi and his upscale trattoria Fiola in Washington, D.C.'s Penn Quarter have both won too many awards to mention here (including a 2017 Michelin star), and the reason is obvious: Just look at the menu, which changes daily based on what's fresh and in season. Sample menu items include beef cheek tortellini with bone marrow agrodolce, black garlic, and brodo; spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino with Santa Barbara abalone, razor clams, and 'nduja; and Canary Island branzino with prosecco zabaglione, leeks, and oscetra caviar. Can't decide on what to order? Opt for the tasting menu, which comes with two, three, or four courses and dessert.
West Virginia: Fazio's (Charleston)
Fazio's was founded in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1950 by Nell Fazio, and her son, chef Danny Fazio, has been at the helm for more than 35 years. Nell recently passed, and today Danny runs the restaurant with his wife, Marsha. A true family operation, Fazio's specializes in the red-sauce basics, and they also happen to turn out some mean fried chicken (not exactly Italian, but we're not complaining). But if you want to get a real sense of what's kept the place in operation for so long, just order the spaghetti and meatballs; al dente spaghetti is topped with luscious tomato sauce and hearty meatballs, both from old family recipes. You also can't go wrong with house-made Italian sausage, fried ravioli, stuffed eggplant, baked lasagna, or the 12-ounce New York strip.
Wisconsin: Ristorante Bartolotta (Wauwatosa)
Renowned chef Paul Bartolotta's flagship Italian restaurant, Ristorante Bartolotta, is located on the outskirts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and it's been drawing guests from downtown for more than 20 years. The dining room is rustic and elegant, with white tablecloths, old photos on the walls, and an air of relaxed sophistication. A must-order is the Uovo in Ravioli (a single large raviolo encasing ricotta, spinach, and a whole runny egg yolk). Other standouts include hand-cut pappardelle with slow-braised duck ragù, a half chicken roasted under a brick, and whatever is on the chef's three-course seasonal menu.
Wyoming: Bella Fuoco Wood Fired Pizza (Cheyenne)
Bella Fuoco started as a food truck back in 2012, and a few years ago owners John and Maria Kopper turned it into their dream restaurant in a historic downtown house in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Today, they're making fresh dough daily and turning out some astounding pizzas and breads in their old-school wood-fired oven. Try the weekly rotating chef's special, design your own from 26 topping options, or try one of theirs, like the Veggie Galore, a red or white pie topped with onions, peppers, zucchini, olives, spinach, and mozzarella. There's also a pleasing selection of appetizers, soups, salads, and a must-order weekly pasta special. But don't forget about the pizza, though; it's easily among the 101 best pizzas in America.