When you think of Italian cuisine, the first thing that comes to mind is probably pasta (with pizza coming in as a close second). But at these Best Restaurants, the dinner options extend way beyond our favorite carb-filled dishes. From calamari to tiramisu, enjoy classic dishes at one of these local Italian restaurants.
Restaurants were reviewed by Olga Boikess, Ashley Davidson, Dawn Klavon, Alice Levitt, and Renee Sklarew.
Manassas / Italian & Portuguese / $$$$
In quaint Old Town Manassas, Carmello’s has been a special occasion go-to for 35 years. The Italian restaurant from Portuguese owner Alice Pires delights diners with its Mediterranean menu, elegant ambiance, and old-world charm.
Servers are formal and particularly polished, springboarding dining experiences to an elevated level. The award-winning wine list is a star in its own right, with Wine Spectator accolades lining lobby walls. Start with the Portuguese picada de bife, filet mignon tips flavored with garlic and olive oil, marvelously infused with a port wine reduction.
Pasta fans may enjoy the comfort of Italian gamberi griglia Genovese, massive marinated shrimp atop beautifully seasoned angel hair pasta. Color and flavor collide as the julienned vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and pesto wine sauce create culinary poetry. Remarkably, the inevitable leftovers taste even better for lunch the next day.
Meat lovers take note: The memorable vitello con pancetta will leave you trying to decipher the savory, earthy ingredients that make this bacon-wrapped veal with bucatini pasta so special.
And for dessert? Strawberry shortcake served in a chic martini glass will wow and satisfy for a lighter post-meal treat.
Carmello’s continues to thrive for good reason: Its cuisine, service, and overall experience rise to any occasion for which faithful diners visit.
See this: The enormous glass wine cellar
Eat this: Grilhados mistos, vitello con pancetta, torta de amoras
When to go: This is a special occasion place — any birthday, anniversary, or graduation will do.
Vienna / Italian / $$$ – $$$$
Personal touches can make a world of difference. Chef Roberto Donna and his wife, Nancy Sabbagh, understand this truth at their new restaurant in Vienna. Right down to the pane sfogliato rolls delightfully blessed with Parmigiano-Reggiano, this inventive Italian destination proves great food brings people together.
Donna has been on the DMV restaurant scene for decades, bringing his magic to more than a dozen dining establishments. At Roberto’s, opened earlier this year, the décor is as inviting as the cuisine. Captivating Chihuly chandeliers explode from the ceiling, and porcelain Venetian masks adorn walls.
Sophisticated food is the star here, with unforgettable dishes like veal scallopini and fettuccine alla Parmigiana, tossed tableside. It’s an impressive performance, with a massive Parmigiana wheel presented, scraped, and blow-torched, and Donna himself might roll fresh, warm pasta in the wheel’s hollow belly. No less memorable, Alaskan halibut is surrounded by a tantalizing moat of basil-mint sauce, an unexpected accoutrement bringing flavor and visual appeal.
Dessert includes showstoppers like raspberry tiramisu, dazzling with minty mascarpone, almond nougatine, and crowned with berry coulis.
Early diners sit barside for excellent value on superior noshes during Aperitivo Hour. Think mind-blowing meatballs and Insta-worthy pizza.
At Roberto’s, guests are sure to savor even the tiniest details in every bite, from antipasti to dolce.
See this: Joan Miró–style art fills the restaurant that boasts special touches everywhere.
Eat this: Aperitivo Hour fare, Alaskan halibut, raspberry tiramisu
When to dine here: Even a weekday dinner will be crowded — and delightful.
Manassas / Italian / $$$
Chef Franklin Hernandez earned his stripes mastering his craft in renowned DC restaurants and now propels Semifreddo Italian Cuisine to bucket-list status. The jazzed-up strip-mall location may be its weakest link, but what Semifreddo lacks in ambiance it makes up for in extraordinary service and cuisine.
Ever-popular calamari fritti takes on new meaning thanks to jalapeños mixed in with the crunchy squid. The accompanying marinara dares to pucker lips with more than a dash of crushed red pepper.
Caesar connoisseurs embrace the grilled Romana salad, intriguing with charred romaine, dappled Parmesan shavings, and drizzled dressing. Veal fans delight in vitello Marsala, tender scaloppini bathed in Marsala wine and christened with freshly chopped herbs. Pasta lovers: Look no further than ravioli polpa di granchio — crab ravioli with luscious lobster bisque cascading over every indulgent bite. The exquisite house-crafted pastas are fine-tuned to perfection, leaving diners satisfied but not overstuffed.
Save room for dessert. Tiramisu is a solid choice, artistically embellished with calligraphy-like berry and peach coulis. But the dolce menu’s star is unequivocally the namesake semifreddo, a splendid frozen mousse displaying caramelized walnuts and amaretto cookies.
Hernandez finishes strong with his outstanding signature dish, rounding out an Insta-worthy, food-focused experience for lucky diners.
See this: The open kitchen offers top-chef action for interested diners.
Eat this: Calamari fritti, excellent daily specials, fettuccine Bolognese, semifreddo
When to dine here: Date nights or family dinners beckon at this surprisingly dressy strip-mall location.
Arlington / Italian / $$$
There’s more than pasta to draw diners to this Rosslyn destination. Top-flight mozzarella, salads, and choice fish and meat entrées tempt, too. But widely acclaimed chef-owner Fabio Trabocchi sure does have a way with thinly rolled dough.
The pasta tasting option, an indulgent invitation to order three of the dozen or so choices to share family-style, is enticing. The housemade pasta choices pair a dizzying variety of shapes with mouthwatering sauces. Classics like the pappardelle with ragù Bolognese mate broad noodles with a rich, meaty sauce. Seafood — razor and surf clams in a lush, briny essence — enhances pillow-like bites of casarecce. Filled pastas, most notably the lush goat cheese–filled ravioli San Leo sparked with lemon and herbs, are further evidence of the kitchen’s artistry. Come early and watch the pasta maker at work in the windowed display kitchen.
Consider beginning a meal with the mozzarella bar, a mix-and-match adventure of rich, creamy cheese paired with prosciutto or vegetable relishes and an irresistible grilled flatbread called piadina. Other appealing non-pasta choices include succulent meatballs with polenta or moist, flaky fish accented with a seasonal vegetable ragù. Just make sure to pair them with some noodles.
See this: Set in the atrium of an office building, the deceptively spacious white and crimson setting oozes the casual chic of Milan, with oversize custom fixtures hanging from rustic beams and stylized poster art.
Eat this: Mozzarella bar, pasta tasting, and vanilla gelato, backed by an espresso
When to dine here: Date-night duos find it worth the cost and calories; it’s also a premier choice for an indulgent lunch.
Falls Church / Italian / $$$
Chef-owners Gabe and Katherine Thompson bring top-flight talents polished at New York City’s starriest restaurants to a cheery roost in Falls Church. In their hands, deceptively simple-sounding modern Italian dishes like spaghetti alla chitarra — pasta with chile-spiked marinara — and Arctic char bedded on savory seasonal vegetables belie their unpretentious excellence. The chefs are wizards at developing flavors that get the most from carefully sourced ingredients.
Tender bites of octopus and crispy potatoes are tied together by a velvety, nutty, and tangy spring onion tahini sauce, with olives and pickled peppers giving the dish another layer of zest. This is an appetizer worthy of center-of-the-plate status. Likewise, salad bowls — like one filled with farro, seasonal vegetables, and Parmesan cheese, all pulled together by a roasted garlic vinaigrette — could make a meal.
Katherine Thompson’s desserts are a central reason to book here. Her Madeira-laced olive oil cake is widely considered the genre’s benchmark. A delectable crème fraîche mousse and honey-raisin compote enhance the cake’s melt-in-the-mouth crumb. Indeed, there are no misses. Warm fruit desserts, like seasonal cakes and cobblers, are comforting, spicy, and utterly winning.
See this: Presided over by a tomato-red neon sign that reads “Pasta Power,” the subway-tiled bar has a chill vibe, while the artful deep-blue and white dining room, with its family-sized booths and intimate two-top tables, feels a bit more laid-back.
Eat this: Octopus, Arctic char, olive oil cake
When to dine: Seriously delicious food is a priority. This destination is a utility player that encompasses any occasion.
Clifton / Italian / $$
Abbondanza, the bountiful celebration of food in good company, is the sentiment that energizes this charming Clifton retreat. Its rustic dining rooms, with their heavy wooden beams and vintage accents, and the delightful garden patio are well suited to the celebrations that fill the tables.
Alluring dishes, designated as appetizers, are so full-flavored and generously portioned that several of them make a satisfying shared meal. Shrimp Badda-Bing, the restaurant’s signature starter, is a brimming bowl of crispy sautéed crustaceans smothered in a creamy white, sweetly spicy sauce. A touch of Old Bay is responsible for its elusive flavor, our server confides.
Beefy meatballs, savory with mushroom and onions, are bathed in a bright, well-balanced marinara sauce, with lots of gooey melted cheese. Accompanying crostini, made with house-baked ciabatta bread, sop up the sauce.
Even if the appetizers fill diners up, the cheese course is too enticing to miss. The noteworthy selection includes hard-to-find samplings like Ubriacone and pecorino al pepe. It’s no wonder the bar is filled with couples pairing wine and cheese, as well as exploring the raw bar selection. It’s all in the spirit of abbondanza.
See this: A charmingly rustic setting that works as well for an intimate tête-à-tête as for a group celebration, with an exceptionally lovely garden patio.
Eat this: Shrimp Badda-Bing, meatballs marinara, an artisanal cheese plate
When to dine here: To celebrate anything — or just because you deserve a treat