1. Villa Di Roma

VILLA DI ROMA, 936 South 9th Street

Six days a week, 64-year-old Basil DeLuca and his daughter, Carmella, roll meatballs by hand – 140 a day, 800-plus a week.  None of Basil’s five siblings who help him run this classic red sauce joint in the Italian Market get to touch the meatballs. That’s his job and he’s done it for 20 years, just like his uncle Vincent did for decades before him.

Hey, good plan. The meatballs at Villa Di Roma are spectacular. No one should change a thing.

It’s a simple recipe. Start with beef that he buys down the street at Esposito’s Meat Market – 20 percent fat content so it stays juicy and tender. Add breadcrumbs ground on site, fresh spices, pecorino Romano cheese and eggs. DeLuca also puts grated parmesan and chopped mozzarella right inside the meatballs.

“I haven’t changed the recipe much at all since I learned it from my uncle,” he says. “I have too much respect.”

The meatballs are fried in two 25-year-old well-seasoned cast-iron pans, which makes them crispy on the outside. Then they’re bathed overnight in huge pots of sauce. “They absorb all that gravy and that makes them blow up and get nice and soft inside,” he says.

We had meatballs and ravioli for $17.95. A house salad, a glass of red wine and this was a simple but wonderful meal. A worthy contender for the title.

You can see the before and after pictures here. It was that good.

Score: 95/100

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