If you spent most of The Godfather wishing you were eating with Michael Corleone at Louis Restaurant, our region has options that are nearly of that vintage. For a taste of local Italian-food history, these are the places.
Pistone’s Italian Inn
6320 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church
Enact all your Mario Puzo–birthed fantasies in this cavernous classic. Frank Sinatra is on the stereo, competing with live music coming from the bar. Between the restrooms, there are the remains of a phone booth. Slide into a round leather booth and hold court over a bowl of pappardelle with spiced duck ragù, a rich delight that would be at home abroad or in the Bronx.
1148 Walker Rd., Great Falls
At the Leigh House, the Victorian mansion that serves as this restaurant’s location, chef Giuseppe Di Benigno uses his own freshly grown herbs and vegetables in dishes like lasagna made with ultra-fine crêpes rather than noodles, layered with meat and béchamel sauces.
Giuseppe’s Ristorante Italiano
15120 Washington St., Haymarket
The first Olive Garden opened in 1982, the same year as this staple. And just like the famous chain, this family-owned restaurant offers warm breadsticks and heaping combo platters. Order Giuseppe’s Southern Italian plate in order to sample both crispy veal and creamy eggplant parmigianas and a tall tangle of tomato-sauce-dressed fettuccine.
428 Maple Ave. E., Vienna
Ligurian owner Sergio Domestici is known as the host with the most for a reason—he’s been greeting guests for decades. In fact, he opened his first Northern Virginia restaurant in 1979, Michelangelo in Arlington. Now, his charming dining room is famous for dishing out Spaghetti Chris Cooley, a plate of pasta that pairs Bolognese with tender veal meatballs, named for its biggest fan, the former Washington tight end.
Zeffirelli Ristorante Italiano
728 Pine St., Herndon
With its leafy green carpet and air of formality, this restaurant feels decades older than it is, which is a good thing for nostalgic diners. Take advantage of the option to split a plate between two pastas and get the lobster agnolotti and gnocchi al pomodoro. Or, if you’re willing to splurge both calorically and monetarily, order the famous $65 16-ounce veal chop.
13015 Fair Lakes Shopping Ctr., Fairfax; 150 Elden St., Ste. 185, Herndon
Yes, both locations of this stalwart feel every bit like you’re in a 20th-century strip mall, but that’s decidedly part of the charm. Service stands out here, but so do unusual dishes like Chicken Portofino. The bowl of penne pasta is buried under a layer of plump chicken chunks and thinly sliced apples in a fruity cream sauce.