Like most things in Southern California, the best Italian restaurants in L.A. are spread all over the place. To try them all, you’d have to go from Pasadena to Santa Monica. But it would be worth the drive. Because for an area with no well-defined Italian presence, Southern California has some fabulous Italian restaurants.
Choosing a winner is a challenge because it’s mostly subjective. Traditionalists vote for Valentino. Those more open to innovation might pick Mozza or Angelini. But wherever you go, you can count on fantastic local ingredients, cool California ambience, and a memorable night out.
Here’s our list of the Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Los Angeles and Southern California:
The most acclaimed Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, Valentino has been pleasing its fans for more than 35 years. Owner Piero Selvaggio has since opened a Valentino at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas too and a third restaurant in Houston. The Santa Monica original has four romantic dining rooms, a 140,000-bottle wine cellar, and a Michelin star. Three- and four-course menus are a great way to try the chef’s special dishes like lamb prosciutto with ricotta-honey spread or branzino fillet in parchment. For more casual dining, try the Vin Wine Bar.
2) Trattoria Tre Venezia
Hidden on a side street in Old Town Pasadena, Trattoria Tre Venezia showcases Northeastern Italian cooking. Dishes like smoked pork chops with sauerkraut and gorgonzola and marinated venison reveal the influence of neighboring Austria. While halibut with squid-ink ravioli, cuttlefish, and lobster with chestnut tagliatelle are specialties of the Veneto region. Tre Venezia is a cozy spot for a romantic dinner. It boasts one Michelin star.
3) Angelini Osteria
If you love authentic Italian food, Angelini Osteria is one of the best bets in town. Everything prepared by Chef Gino Angelini — who at 23 was the youngest chef at a five-star hotel — is spot on. He’s cooked for many notables, including Luciano Pavarotti, Mikhail Gorbachov, and Pope John Paul II. And his Osteria is an unassuming spot where the food is the star. Try warm tripe with tomatoes and cuttlefish, lasagna verde — made in the style of his grandmother — or whole sea bass.
4) Osteria Mozza
One of the toughest reservations to get in Los Angeles, Osteria Mozza capitalizes on the combined talents of Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery fame, Mario Batali, and Joseph Bastianich, the daughter of Lidia Bastianich and a respected winemaker in his own right. These three have created a restaurant that’s on everyone’s list of favorites. There are dozens of authentic Italian dishes that are rarely available on American menus. You can begin your meal with tripe, crispy pigs trotters, or selections from the extensive mozzarella bar. There are nearly 50 dishes available. If you love pasta, the tasting menu will let you try seven for $69.
5) Drago Centro
The Drago family has several Italian restaurants in Southern California, and they’re all noteworthy. But the stylish Drago Centro is hard to beat. Located downtown in the City National Plaza, it’s a sophisticated place with a glass wine cellar — more than 100 kinds are available by the glass. Most of the dishes are updated classics like risotto with veal cheeks and alba mushrooms or Dungeness crab tagiolini. The $75, six-course tasting menu is the way to go. Wine pairings are an additional $40.
6) Pizzeria Mozza
Less expensive but just as popular as Osteria Mozza, Pizzeria Mozza lets you enjoy dishes from the same world-class team in a fun, casual atmosphere. Adorned with house-made salumi, artisanal cheese, and organic produce, the wood-fired pizzas are fantastic. But you can make a meal off the fabulous antipasti. Fried squash blossom with ricotta, lentils with goat cheese, and baked bone marrow are unforgettable. Daily specials like crispy duck leg and baked wild sea bass round out the menu. Save room for the butterscotch budino with sea salt and rosemary, pine nut cookies.
7) Il Pastaio
This Beverly Hills trattoria is another outpost of the Drago family empire. Celestino is the master chef and his brother Giacomo is the executive chef here. The exquisite pastas are all made by hand. And six risottos — try shrimp and ginger or beets and goat cheese — more than a dozen salads, and traditional secondi like osso buco, costata di manzo, and veal scallopine make it tough to choose. Bet you can’t eat just one of their fantastic arancini (fried rice balls).
Located in Brentwood, Vincenti features an exhibition kitchen where you can watch chef Nicola Mastronardi create dishes like gnocchi with a ragu of lobster, shrimp, and asparagus or bucatini all’amatriciana with house-made guanciale. The wood-burning oven and rotisserie produces wonderful sea bass, fillet of pork, and quail. The six-course tasting menu is a good value at $70. On Mondays, there’s a nice selection of pizzas too.
9) Il Grano
Chef Salvatore Marino is still at the helm of this West L.A. restaurant which showcases his meticulous attention to detail. He grows more than 40 varieties of tomatoes for the restaurant and selects only perfect seafood at the market for his nightly crudo specials. The five-course business lunches are a steal at $16 and $19. Oven-roasted vegetables are a savory alternative to fish, chicken, or beef. All veggies are locally grown and organically raised. There’s even a five-course vegetarian tasting menu.
Although not strictly Italian, Campanile’s rustic Mediterranean cuisine owes a debt to France, Italy, and Spain. The space, which was built in the 1920s for Charlie Chaplin, is Southern California chic. Bread from La Brea Bakery sets the tone for the whole meal. Beer-battered squash blossoms, crisp duck breast, and spaghetti with English peas and truffles are Italian enough. The Monday night family dinner is a good buy, and Thursday grilled cheese night offers a delicious Croque Monsieur with ham, Gruyere, wild mushrooms, and Mornay sauce or grilled skirt steak, Gruyere, tomato, arugula, caramelized onion, and spicy mustard.
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