Washington DC definitely isn’t lacking when it comes to excellent Italian restaurants. Anyone you ask is sure to have their neighborhood favorites, but finding the best of the best can be a little daunting. Luckily, that’s where Female Foodie steps in.
Your Guide to the Best Italian Restaurants in DC
Whether you’re looking for a casual pizza joint, a place to get a comforting bowl of pasta slathered in classic red sauce, or a fancy white-tablecloth spot to celebrate a big event, we have compiled a great variety of options in our guide to the best Italian restaurants in DC.
14. Side Door Pizza
One of the smallest spots on our guide to the best Italian restaurants in DC, Side Door, is one you might miss if you drive by too fast. Situated between the 909 apartments on New Jersey Avenue SE and Scarlet Oak Restaurant, this literal side door serves up the best Detroit-style pizza outside of Detroit. Side Door began as a pop-up, but the take-out-only spot was such a hit, it is now a permanent fixture. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to have Detroit-style pizza, you will already know that it’s a thick, square crust that is soft and airy, with a crunchy exterior and Wisconsin brick cheese that’s caramelized on the edges. Side Door’s menu was simple in the beginning—cheese or pepperoni were the only choices—but they have now added a fantastic and unique Vegetarian offering called Here Comes the Sun. Not at all simple, this one comes with house-smoked BBQ jackfruit, grilled corn, aji Amarillo peppers, marinated yellow tomatoes, green onions, tangy coleslaw, smoked gouda, Wisconsin brick cheese, and mozzarella. No matter which slice you select, you’ll be convinced that Side Door is one of the best Italian restaurants in DC.
13. il Canale
il Canale is named after the nearby Georgetown canal and is one of the best Italian restaurants in DC. This Sicilian family restaurant is a place where everyone is welcome and immediately feels right at home. Authenticity is the focus here, and it shows. Their wood-fired oven was imported from Naples, and they only use Italian 00 flour, which is a must when making Neapolitan pizzas. We are fully obsessed with their Margherita pizza featuring imported Buffalo mozzarella. Their pasta is also incredible and made fresh daily. We highly recommend the Scialatielli Allo Scoglio, made up of fresh artisan pasta tossed with mussels, shrimp, and clams in a cherry tomato sauce with white wine, garlic, and crushed red peppers. Great location, reasonable prices, and outstanding food make il Canale one of the best Italian restaurants in DC.
12. Caruso’s Grocery
The latest addition to The Roost Food Hall, local-favorite Caruso’s Grocery, is quickly becoming one of the best Italian restaurants in DC. Once seated, you would never believe that this is a new restaurant—the photos and decor make you feel as if you’ve stepped into an old Italian-American spot in Brooklyn. Caruso’s excellent reputation is spreading quickly thanks to their classic red-sauce dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, rigatoni alla vodka, five cheese ravioli, and our absolute favorite—the chicken parmigiana. They also have some mouthwatering salads, antipasti, and desserts that shouldn’t be missed.
All-Purpose is one of the best Italian restaurants in DC with two amazing locations. The location in Navy Yard has a beautiful view of the Anacostia River from its roomy patio, and the original is located in Shaw, a great central DC neighborhood. We are obsessed with their ever-changing menu and always order their seasonal salad. Their appetizer game is also strong, with choices like garlic knots, asparagus alla romana (with gorgonzola fonduta, cured egg yolk, and parmesan), and crispy calamari fritto, which simply melts in your mouth. But the pizza is what keeps us coming back for more. Inspired by both Rome and New Jersey, their pizza has a sturdy, crispy, yet chewy crust that is just slightly sweet. The dough is fermented for three full days, then baked in a 650-degree oven, and the attention to detail is absolutely worth it. You must order the Buona pizza, which is topped with pepperoni, Calabrian chili honey, and fresh basil. Or be bold and get the Casanova with parmesan fonduta, mozzarella, marinated artichokes, garlicky spinach, Calabrian chilies, and lemons.
Officina (pronounced oh-fee-she-nah) is an Italian-inspired culinary collective from Michelin-star Chef Nicholas Stefanelli. Many of their dishes change with the season, but we always love their unique and delicious seasonal salads. Their hand-made pastas are incredible, but our favorite thing on the menu is their whole branzino, which is always cooked to perfection and beautifully plated. If the pork chop is on the menu, we highly recommend it. And don’t forget to end your meal with one of their cannolis. Not only is Officiana one of the best Italian restaurants in DC, it’s also our very favorite place to dine at the Wharf—sitting in the 1st-floor cafe or the 2nd-floor balcony to enjoy the sunset and watch the hustle and bustle of the Wharf.
9. RPM Italian
This swanky, upscale Italian restaurant in the Mount Vernon neighborhood is the place to go for a romantic night out. The dining room is exquisite and modern, and the service is just what you would expect from a high-end restaurant. And the food? Wow. The first thing to order here is the bread—their rosemary focaccia and truffled garlic bread are both to die for. Their meatball appetizer is great to share—the meatballs are soft, tender, and so flavorful. We love their elevated spaghetti carbonara with pancetta that is tossed with an egg yolk right at your table—it is rich and wonderful. The lobster ravioli tastes as good as it looks. And their pappardelle Bolognese is made with a short rib ragu that tastes like it’s been simmering for days. If you are celebrating, their Torta Meringata is a must-order for dessert—a small cake made with salted caramel and vanilla gelato, covered in meringue, and torched tableside. It’s an absolute showstopper. RPM can be on the expensive side, depending on what you order, but we think the ambiance and food cannot be beat for a special night out. It’s truly one of the best Italian restaurants in DC.
8. 2 Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria
Our guide to the best Italian restaurants in DC wouldn’t be complete without 2 Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria, located in Cleveland Park near the National Zoo and the National Cathedral. This extremely well-known pizza joint has been a city favorite for years, but they don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait a while for a table. 2 Amys has a great atmosphere, black and white tiled floors, and an open window into the kitchen so you can see the pizza coming out fresh. It is a bit more upscale than your typical pizza spot—great for date night or a nice lunch with friends. This pizza has a deliciously soft and salty crust that gets perfectly thin in the center. Our favorite offering here is the traditional Margherita with buffalo mozzarella. We also love their meatballs and stuffed pizza calzones. Be sure to check out their homemade pastries for dessert (hello, almond pound cake and cannolis).
7. Thompson Italian
Husband and wife chefs Gabe and Katherine Thomas have teamed up to open a fabulous spot in Falls Church, and it has all the DC foodies making the trek out to Northern Virginia. With a young family themselves, they wanted to create a neighborhood restaurant with a casual vibe—a place you could take your kids to. Their resumes are quite impressive, which is obvious when you taste their food. The garlic bread alone is worth crossing the Potomac for. When they are on the menu, their fried baby artichokes with lemon aioli are finger-licking good. The pastas are all freshly made and always covered in delicious, flavorful sauces. The gnocchi is usually served with a lamb ragu, or sometimes mushrooms—either way, it’s something you should order. For the main course, you’ll have a hard time deciding between the hanger steak with roasted potatoes or the roasted chicken with tomato Panzanella—both are very memorable and you really can’t go wrong. The desserts are where Katherine’s pastry chef skills shine. You simply cannot leave without trying her famous olive oil cake, topped with crème fraiche mousse, raisin marmellata, finished with a sprinkling of maldon salt on top.
Ask anyone where the best Neapolitan pizza is and they’ll surely point you towards Pupatellas, which is next up on our guide to the best Italian restaurants in DC. Their pizzas have that perfect, pillowy-soft, blistered crust and are topped with San Marzano tomatoes from Italy before going in a scorching hot wood-burning oven from Naples. Their classic Margherita is outstanding and should be your first choice here. If you want something a little different, we love their eggplant parm pie, the Calabrese with anchovies, olives, basil, and mozzarella, or their burrata pizza with cherry tomatoes. If you really want a treat, order the Pizza Fritta, a fried calzone and Neapolitan specialty (takes 30 minutes to prepare, but it’s well worth the wait). Their huge selection of house-made gelato would be a perfect ending to your meal. We love going to their original Ballston location located in a nondescript strip mall, but there is limited seating and long lines on weekend nights. You can also try their newer locations in South Arlington, Reston and Dupont, which don’t get quite as busy.
5. Mailailino Mare
Maialino Mare, one of the newest and best Italian restaurants in DC, is a Roman-style trattoria that focuses on pasta, fish, and pork. Sourced from local farmers and fishers, they create their menu from seasonal ingredients. Danny Meyer (think NYC Union Square and Shake Shack) brought some of his favorite dishes from his New York restaurant Maialino to share with DC. Their house-made pastas are all exquisite, but we especially love the Fettuccine con Gamberi with ruby red shrimp, butter, and lemon. Maialino in English means “little pig” and you really need to order something that shows off their suckling pig. Their Malfatti al Maialino is made with large scrappy pasta squares, juicy pieces of suckling pig, Grana Padano cheese, and arugula. This simple pasta dish gives you a little taste of what they’re known for, but we would highly recommend ordering the show-stopping Mailalino al Forno dish. The roasted suckling pig consists of ribs with especially crispy skin and is meant to share. For dessert, their tiramisu is one of the best in DC. Mailalino Mare is a beautiful restaurant with great service, but it’s on the expensive side—save this for a celebratory night out.
A Sfoglina (pronounced sfoal-yee-nah) is the master of pasta making in Italy, using the tradition of rolling sheets of pasta by hand with a rolling pin. Of course, as you would expect from the name, the handmade pastas are why you come here, and there are plenty of them to choose from. Our favorite is the Squid Ink Paccheri with Maine lobster and chilies, made Amalfi-style. Seasonal favorites like Fabio’s Ravioli San Leo has goat cheese, lemon zest, and fresh herbs. The pappardelle is their most popular dish—a classic pasta with ragu Bolognese and Grana Padano. Appropriately called the Sugar Rush course, they serve some very delicious and unique desserts including Piemontese Chocolate Gianduja Cake—a slice of chocolate hazelnut heaven. Their three locations make it that much more convenient to try Sfoglina, one of the best Italian restaurants in DC.
3. Osteria Morini
One of the very best Italian restaurants in DC is Osteria Morini, which serves up savory food inspired by the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. Their beautiful and bright dining room has floor-to-ceiling windows which overlook the Anacostia riverfront in Navy Yard. We suggest you start by choosing a few of their cured meats and imported Italian cheeses, served on a board with warm grilled bread. Or order their burrata covered in snap peas, pistachio pesto, and scallions. Their pastas are all made from scratch, so there really isn’t a wrong decision (even their spaghetti pomodoro is memorable). Meat and fish are cooked over a wood-fired grill with precision, and one bite of the branzino will take you all the way to the Mediterranean coast. Order the tiramisu to make it a perfect meal.
2. The Red Hen
The Red Hen in the Bloomingdale neighborhood is hands-down one of the very best Italian restaurants in DC. The dining room is rustic and cozy and makes you feel like you’ve entered a friend’s quaint cabin. The open kitchen means you will likely get to watch Chef Mike Friedman work his magic at the wood-burning grill. Start with one of their four unique toasts—we especially love the whipped ricotta crostini with black truffle sauce, wildflower honey, and sea salt. Their antipastas are so good that it’s hard to just choose one! We suggest the wood-fired Spanish octopus with fried new potatoes, pine nut salsa verde, and a Calabrian chili vinaigrette that you’ll want to drink before they take the plate away. Their mezzi rigatoni with fennel sausage ragu is their most popular dish, but insiders know to order the off-menu cacio e pepe (literally translates to cheese and pepper), the epitome of comfort food that will transport you to the streets of Rome. No matter how full you are at the end of your meal, you absolutely must order the olive oil cake. The service at The Red Hen is the most attentive we have experienced anywhere in DC. Make your reservations early if you want to dine here—at least a month ahead of time. Alternative ways to get a table would be to get on the waitlist or walk in early and snag one of the seats at the bar.
1. Filomena Ristorante
Filomena is located in the heart of Georgetown and has been serving true old-school Italian food for nearly 40 years. From the moment you walk past the little Italian lady in the front window shaping hand-made pastas, to the cozy dining room downstairs that is decorated like your grandma’s house, you know you are going to have an unforgettable meal. Everything on the menu is noteworthy but you should start out with their arancini rice balls filled with Bolognese sauce, peas, and mozzarella—just like the ones you can find in Italy. For the main course, go with the gnocchi (either the broccoli con gnocchi or gnocchi della mama with red sauce), their authentic lasagna, or the Tortellini Di Michele (ravioli filled with tender beef brisket that is simmered in wine and vegetables, then slathered in a delectable creamy sauce). Anything on their menu that’s covered in their creamy vodka Sunday sauce, or their creamy Cardinale lobster sauce is also worth trying. Tips to know before you go—make reservations very early (especially during holidays and weekends), and definitely share entrees or plan on taking home leftovers, because their portions are huge, and you must save room for their incredible desserts. Filomena is the place to gather when you want to celebrate with loved ones and indulge in one of the best meals you can find in DC.