There are certain Italian (and Italian-American) dishes we always look for when we’re dining out. Here are some of our favorite iterations of those classics. From traditional to original, we’ve got a taste of the old country in many forms.
4244 Loudoun Ave., The Plains
It’s no small task to find this air-dried meat (think of it as a beef prosciutto) outside of Italy, let alone to locate a version that’s made in-house. But that’s exactly what chef Lou Patierno offers up at this country-chic restaurant. Enjoy a plate of the salty flesh on the flower-filled patio. It’s served with microgreens, Piedmontese ricotta, and local honey.
8687 Sudley Rd., Manassas
There’s fried calamari, and then there’s chef Franklyn Hernandez’s fried calamari. He takes a dish that has become an American red-sauce standard and heats it up with his unique take. Tossed along with the optimally tender, crisp squid rings are slices of jalapeño. The fire builds with the aid of a chile-spiked tomato sauce on the side.
Carciofo alla Romana
2800 S. Randolph St., Ste. 130, Arlington
Fried things: You want them. Marinated and fried yums? You need them. This crispy version of the Roman marinated artichoke is precisely what diners require to start a meal before one of Stellina’s light-as-air neo-Neapolitan pies. It’s so tender you can eat the stem and so crisp that you’ll want to dip it in the herbed mayonnaise on the side for an unusual treat.
11942 Democracy Dr., Reston
We all have times that we miss (or wish for future) stops at a gelateria on the streets of Florence or Palermo. But back home, there is Pitango, with a farm-to-cup ethos that makes it as close to the real thing as you can get. Each flavor is churned in-house, with options ranging from classic fior di latte and hazelnut to quirky delights like sesame or star anise.
Gnocchi alla Bava
10403 Main St., Fairfax
In Italy’s Val d’Aosta, this creamy dish is centered around gnocchi made with buckwheat flour. The version here uses firm potato dumplings, but the sauce, velvety with fontina cheese, is as indulgent as it should be. We dare you to finish a whole bowl of the rib-sticking Northern Italian pasta.
A Modo Mio
5555 Lee Hwy., Arlington
Most lasagna in the United States features ricotta. Not all of us like that cheesy take. For those of us who want Bolognese, with its twin meat and béchamel sauces, there is the former Joe’s Place. From the moment the dish arrives, with its browned, crunchy crown and visually appealing fresh basil garnish, it is clear that this isn’t your mom’s Sunday special (unless your mom is from Italy, in which case, carry on). One bite of the housemade pasta, layered with buffalo mozzarella, confirms it.
Osteria da Nino
2900 S. Quincy St., Arlington
Are you hungry enough for a chunky cross-section of veal shank? Then you might also be craving a pile of risotto. Not sold? The veal melts in its mirepoix-dotted sauce, topped with tangy gremolata. As for the risotto, it’s yellow with saffron, making it a beautifully aromatic foil to the fine flesh.
Giovanni’s NY Pizza
520 E. Market St., Leesburg
The chicken is pounded thin and then fried crisp. The sauce is tangy and redolent of garlic, with just a hint of sweetness, and coats both meat and al dente spaghetti. The cheese? It is liberally applied, blanketing the breast, and broiled to a seductively crisp top. In short, if Plato had chicken parmigiana in his cave, this would be his ideal.
19825 Belmont Chase Dr., Ashburn; 118 Branch Rd. SE, Vienna
The clay pot that gives this dish, tegamino di polpette, its name is scalding hot—all the better to keep the round of cheesy polenta within soft and tempting. It might not look like a big portion, but with its heavy dose of Parmesan and pairing with tender meatballs in tomato sauce, there’s plenty of the creamy cornmeal to go around.
124 N. Washington St., Falls Church
If a trip to Italy will teach you anything, it’s that there’s more to tiramisu than coffee and Frangelico. Or you can just sample the seasonal delectables of pastry chef Katherine Thompson. In summertime, you might find a lavender-hued, airy take on the dessert made with local berries. In the winter, order up a pan of a chocolaty pumpkin version to take home.