Philly loves its Italians: Rocky Balboa, Jon Bon Jovi, Mario Lanza, Osso Bucco–the list goes on and on. Neither visitors nor locals looking for a delicious Italian meal will go hungry in the City of Brotherly Love. Pile on the mozzarella and check out any of these must-try Italian joints the next time a marinara sauce craving strikes. Buon appetito!
Hours: Lunch Tues to Thurs – 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues to Thurs – 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri and Sat – 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sun – 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Co-owner and chef of Paradiso Lynn Rinaldi is credited with the resurgence of East Passyunk as the South Philly restaurant row. She took a mediocre space just two blocks from her childhood home and made it uptown and fresh. With a rooftop garden, Rinaldi and her husband and co-owner, Corey Baver, serve homegrown heirloom tomatoes, herbs and berries (in season).
Regulars crave Paradiso’s chestnut fettuccine with wild boar ragu ($17) and the pork osso bucco ($24). Be sure to leave room for dessert: There is mascarpone gelato and panatone bread pudding with creme anglaise, among other dolce. You won’t find mamma’s spaghetti and meatballs here, but you will find excellent service, a delectable menu and a killer wine list.
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Hours: lunch Thurs and Fri –11:30 to 2 p.m.; dinner Sun to Wed – 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Thurs to Sat – 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Osteria’s 700-degree pizza oven (the Lombarda pizza is a favorite: thin, crispy crust, cotechino sausage with an egg baked on top, $18), and house-cured meats (Cotechino sausage, salumi) are just a tiny sampling of the goodness that awaits. The house-made pastas (try the gemelli with calabrese-style octopus for $16) are also indicative of the classics that are done right.
Only four years old, Osteria feels like it’s been a Philadelphia staple for much longer. Owner Marc Vetri and Chef Jeffrey Michaud have created a welcoming space with outrageously authentic and delicious rustic Italian fare.
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Hours: Mon to Thurs – 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri to Sat – 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sun – 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
For 22 years, the award-winning Bistro Romano has been Society Hill’s place to go for romance and great Italian food. You will be amazed by the décor; built in the early 1700s, the building was home to a wealthy sea merchant and then became many venues, including a granary. Be careful while you’re ogling the rustic bricks on the walls and gorgeous and curvy, hand-carved bar (which was once on an ocean steamer)—the steps can be tricky if you’re not careful!
Try the Caesar salad, prepared and served tableside ($8.95) and one of Romano’s delicious veal dishes, like the Veal Rosini ($22.95), which is topped with mozzarella cheese, jumbo shrimp and a blush sauce. On Friday and Saturday nights, Bistro Romano hosts a dramatic-comedy Mystery Dinner, with wait staff as actors.
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Ristorante Panorama, on the lobby level of Penn’s View Hotel, is a beautifully decorated, trattoria-style Italian restaurant. Dramatic Tuscan-style murals adorn the walls and ceilings, and the subjects in the paintings seem to listen in on diners’ conversations. Ristorante Panorama makes its own pasta. Don’t miss the Pappardelle al Sugo d’antra ($12.95 appetizer, $21.95 entrée), which is wide pasta sheets in a slow-cooked ragout of tender duck. Believe it or not, the chef has this recipe published on the website, so try your hand at duplicating this delicious meal in your own home.
Ristorante Primavera’s main draw comes from its appropriately named Il Bar. The Guinness Book of World Records recently announced Il Bar has the “largest wine preservation and dispensing system in the world.” Or in other words, order any of more than 150 varieties of wine by the glass, or in flights, which allow you to sample wines from a region or by type. Stop in after work for Friday Night Flights from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to be treated to delicious cheeses, hors d’oeuvres, and an informative talk by sommelier William Eccleston ($25 in advance; $35 at the door).
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Hours: Mon to Thurs, Sun – 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri to Sat – 12 p.m. to 11 p.m.
For more than 100 years, Ralph’s Restaurant has been run by the same family, beginning with Francesco and Catherine Dispigno, who came over from Naples in 1893 with their toddler son, Ralph. Located in the Italian Market next to Sarcone’s (which explains why its bread is wonderful), Ralph’s wows the masses with its traditional Italian fare.
Fans love the bruschetta ($6.25): toasted bread topped simply with plum tomatoes, basil and olive oil. If you’re looking to fill ‘er up, nothing is better than one of Ralph’s classic entrees: veal parmigiana ($20.50), handmade gnocchi ($11.50) or linguine pescatore ($23). The dining room can get crowded and loud, but the waiters and owners always make it feel like a family affair. Oh, and family only takes cash, so be prepared.
Trish Deitemyer is a freelance writer living in Philly. She covers Food & Drink and has been writing since 1986. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.