May 26, 2024


The Food community

The best Italian restaurants on Long Island

10 min read

Long Island has no shortage of Italian restaurants. Whether you’re craving classic lasagna or more nuanced regional specialties, here are the standout eateries to consider.

18 Bay (23 N. Ferry Rd., Shelter Island): How seriously do Adam Kopels and Elizabeth Ronzetti take farm-to-table cooking? Seriously enough that in 2011, they moved their six-year-old Nassau County restaurant to Shelter Island so their tables would be closer to the farms. The couple’s daily commute starts by gathering a haul of fish from Southold Fish Market, poultry at Feisty Acres, also in Southold, produce from a wide variety of North Fork farms—and, once they disembark the ferry, from Sylvester Manor, just down the road from the restaurant. With virtually no other help in the kitchen, they create a four-course meal ($125) that changes every week but always includes four antipasti, a handmade pasta, choice of main and dessert. This restaurant’s menu doesn’t necessarily “read” Italian, but in its respect for seasonal ingredients and refusal to veer into fussiness, it captures the soul of Italian cuisine. More info: 631-749-0053,

Cafe Testarossa (499 Jericho Tpke., Syosset): Still going strong at 33 years old, Billy Sansone’s modern Italian is the very model of a chef-driven restaurant. Where other trattorias of its era are gone, Sansone’s has evolved: Gone is the pizza topped with salmon, roasted peppers and mozzarella; the tagliatelle with Gorgonzola and grilled chicken. Sansone still cooks every day, and his dishes evince an appreciation for the forthrightness and seasonality that are the mark of Italian cuisine. Milky burrata is offset by arugula and crostini smeared with Sicilian-pistachio pesto; paccheri (big, Neapolitan rigatoni) are veiled with braised pork shank, cannellini beans and tomato ragu. No surprise that after three decades, Sansone has assembled a crack team of servers and bartenders, the latter are affable companions for a solo meal at the bar. More info: 516-364-8877,

Franina (58 Jericho Tpke., Syosset): Franina has been a mainstay of Long Island’s Italian fine dining scene since 1980, an elegant spot where you might glimpse other Italian restaurateurs dining on a Sunday afternoon. Chef-owner Franco Zitoli and his family maintain a magnetic, timeless oasis where tradition blends with imaginative preparations of fish and produce at the height of the season — think sautéed fennel and apple gratin over a Berkshire pork chop, orecchiette in a fresh eggplant-and-tomato sauce and showered with ricotta salata, or frutti de mare threaded with lobster. Seafood dishes are consistent showstoppers, from delicate Dover sole meunière to a curl of grilled octopus over white beans. On cooler nights, gossip at the bar with a martini or settle into one of the Tuscan dining rooms for wild-boar sausage with cherry peppers and polenta or classic pappardelle Bolognese. Franina is most definitely a place to consider splurging on wine — there’s a small army of Barolos in the wine cellar — and dessert, whether cloudlike zabaglione with berries or panna cotta with raspberry sauce. You will never feel hurried here. More info: 516-496-9770,

Grotta di Fuoco (960 W. Beech St., Long Beach): In the six years since Andrew Allotti opened this subterranean “cave of fire,” it has evolved from ambitious and promising to one of Long Island’s most assured and dependable Italian restaurants. Once you get past a trio of Parms served with a side of rigatoni, the menu veers sharply away from the cuisine of Southern Italians in America and back to their roots in Naples, Sicily and other regions of the “Mezzogiorno” whose cooking relies not on tomato sauce and mozzarella but vibrates with lemon, chilies, capers, bottarga (dried mullet roe) and lots of fresh, seasonal vegetables. Much of the pasta, from spaghetti alla chittara to twirls of bellflower-shaped campanelle, is homemade; beans show up underneath grilled calamari or supporting a dish of monkfish and fat shrimp. Pizzas, baked in a wood-burning oven, are stellar. More info: 516-544-2400,

King Umberto (1343 Hempstead Tpke., Elmont): Elmont’s bastion of Italian American cuisine has been serving pizza, pasta and Parms of the highest caliber since 1976, first at a modest pizzeria and now in a sprawling establishment that also encompasses a fine-dining restaurant furnished in old-fashioned white-tableclothed splendor. There is little more to say about the Italian-American classics here than that they are prepared as they ought to be — the calamari delicate and crisp, the baked clams plump and savory, the eggplant tender under its mantle of bright marinara and pillow-soft mozzarella. Ditto the veal Francese and penne alla vodka. Further off the beaten path are mellow braised tripe and “fire in the hole” sausages and peppers. The house specialty, fried capellini balls, is one Long Island’s best starters. Excellent service is equaled by the wine deep wine cellar. More info: 516-352-3232,

Luigi Q (400 B S. Oyster Bay Rd., Hicksville): Three years after a fire closed the place down, Luigi Quarta’s singular Italian ristorante returned this year in fine form, with many of the same precepts in place: No kids, no shorts or sweatpants (don’t even ask) and no takeout. Once you pass the initial vibe check, you’ll be seated in a modern dining room of white tablecloths, red leather accents and a backlit bar. An unhurried phalanx of regal gentlemen will attend to your table in languid circuits. Chef Jorge Gonzalez still exemplifies a cool control over the nightly specials, and first-timers can trust him implicitly, whether with vodka-doused oysters set alight tableside, seared diver scallops with a fan of Parmesan, a sublime, creamy rigatoni Bolognese or a tomahawk veal chop served Milanese-style. A gossamer Napoleon signals the evening has drawn to a close—that is, if Luigi himself doesn’t offer you a digestif. More info: 516-932-7450,

Mangia Bene (14 S. Park Ave., Rockville Centre): Maurizio Vendittelli has spent a lifetime in Italian restaurants, working his way up from busser at Cafe Donatello in Plainview to general manager at Il Bacco in Little Neck. Here he’s finally in a position to Do It His Way. Executive chef John Di Lemme, a pasta savant who cooked at Lupa and Del Posto in Manhattan, turns out toothsome homemade varieties such as garganelli with Sicilian eggplant and ricotta, bucatini bound by an eggy, creamless carbonara and strozzapreti bathed in a verdant pesto along with cubes of potato and lengths of green beans—a Genovese preparation rarely seen on these shores. There are neo-Neapolitan pizzas (don’t miss the Calabrese with crumbled sausage and hot chilies) and a raft of crowd-pleasers that split the difference between the Italian food you find in Italy and the Italian food you find on Long Island: rice balls and baked clams, Caesar salad and fried calamari, a pork chop stuffed with Fontina and speck, and shrimp scampi on a bed of spinach. The restaurant has a large back patio for most-of-the-year dining. More info:

Nick & Toni’s (136 N. Main St., East Hampton): This restaurant’s name is evocative of celebrity perhaps more than any other place in the Hamptons. During the summer, the hundred or so seats (as well as another 60 outside) in this jewel box of a place are hot properties, reserved long in advance, though your chances for a table radically improve during the off season. It’s in the cooler weather, when Nick & Toni’s toasty vibes really soar, especially if you land a seat near the glow of the wood-fired oven. The hickory fire flickering inside lends a signature smokiness to executive chef Joe Realmuto’s the famous pizza, or maybe littleneck clams charred along their edges and fattened with pancetta and garlic butter. The telltale pop of a bottle of Champagne at the bar punctuate Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” blasting from the speakers as you consider some oysters, or corn risotto, or house-made potato buns stuffed with lobster, or a grilled veal chop with eggplant caponata… This is unfussy, seasonal but always elegant food, a true class act, and you’d be remiss not to see it straight through to dessert. Strawberry upside down cake, maybe? More info:631-324-3550,

Orto (90 North Country Rd., Miller Place): From both inside and out, Orto appears to be a rustic Italian farmhouse caught outside of its usual space and time, and that would also be an apt description of chef Eric Lomando’s food. His devotion to seasonality and local ingredients is deeply Italian at its root, and finds expression here in superlative pastas that feel rendered with love. Lomando rode out the darkest days of coronavirus doing exemplary takeout such as asparagus-ramp ravioli or paccheri (a large, tubular pasta) with wild-board ragu. It’s little surprise that year after year, Lomando retains a passionate, island-wide following for his food, even when the dining room was closed and he was still comforting the masses with dishes such as smoked pork shoulder and an egg over polenta, or smoked-ricotta tortelloni with pureed herbs and bottarga, or swordfish a la plancha with a white-bean puree. And if there’s pistachio cake or brown butter cake on offer, you’re having dessert. It’s just that simple. More info: 631-862-0151,

Osteria Morini (630 Old Country Rd., Garden City): Long Islanders who used to trek into Manhattan for their Michael White fix at Marea or Ai Fiori now only need travel as far as Roosevelt Field. There, at Osteria Morini, the Michelin-starred chef focuses on the cuisine of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, birthplace of prosciutto di Parma, Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar as well as tortellini, tagliatelle and lasagna. Morini’s kitchen breathes new life into simple dishes such as spaghetti pomodoro, while stuffed cappelletti evince an artist’s skill. The Bolognese ragu here is the meaty, virtually tomato-less sauce that they make in Bologna. Pasta avoiders will enjoy the mortadella-enriched meatballs, or any of the chops. At the comfortable bar, you can chat about the negronis on tap, the terrific, all-Italian wine list and the finer points of Emilia-Romagna’s singular sparkler, Lambrusco. In these travel-challenged times, Osteria Morini may be as close to Italy as you are going to get. More info: 516-604-0870,

Osteria Umbra (197 Terry Rd., Smithtown): Umbrian-born chef Marco Pellegrini turns out Italian food of astounding purity and vigor at this Smithtown restaurant, a partnership between Pellegrini and builder-brothers Daniel and Stephen Bragoli. The interior rocks with modern Italianate bling, but an ancient provenance informs the dominant design feature—a massive wood-fired grill-rotisserie, where slowly revolving birds and beasts lend their drippings to waiting pans of vegetables directly below. Pellegrini’s greatest hits include skewers of breadcrumb-crusted calamari, a Caprese salad topped with basil sorbetto, a bruiser of a wood-grilled veal chop and deep-dish tiramisu. You’ll also find whole roasted suckling pig and rotisserie duck leg with pork belly. Pellegrini serves his homemade bread and focaccia in Umbrian olivewood bowls, offers tastes of award-winning olive oil from Trevi and stocks a cellar of Umbrian wines that is probably unequaled on Long Island; there are also plenty of Super Tuscans and selections from the Piedmont. More info: 631-780-6633,

Scarpetta Beach (290 Old Montauk Hwy, Montauk): You could literally drink in the ocean views from the deck or seductive dining room of Scarpetta Beach, the restaurant inside Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa, and feel a little bit tipsy. It’s when the seasonal, Italian-inflected dishes from executive chef Dane Sayles begin to arrive that things get really magical. A gin gimlet and plate of crudo — whether flaps of yellowtail with pickled red onion or Montauk fluke vibrating with horseradish — pave the way toward luxe pastas such as squid-ink tagliolini threaded with lobster and basil breadcrumbs. Intuitive servers will keep the pacing crisp as the table segues to larger plates, say wild striped sea bass over a ragout of summer squash or crispy-skinned duck breast under a lavender glaze. There may be a proposal at one table, a birthday song at another, but really you shouldn’t need a special occasion to get to Scarpetta Beach, where the enchantment level matches the flawless food. More info: 631-668-1771,

The Trattoria (532 N. Country Rd., St. James): It’s easy to whiz past The Trattoria — squirreled away as it is from North Country Road in St. James — but this deceptively humble nook is the staging ground for confident, imaginative Italian cooking from chef-owner Steven Gallagher. Bright house ricotta is a year-round given, as is sun-dried tomato tapenade, braised meatballs over polenta or an unmatched lasagna Bolognese. Each successive season holds something new, too, whether gazpacho and or chicken-liver mousse with cherry agrodolce. Gallagher’s vivid pastas make decision-making hard, whether bucatini carbonara or rigatoni in a kale sauce with stracciatella and toasted breadcrumbs. For the carnivores, there’s a pork porterhouse chop with broccoli rabe and a potato cake; for pescatarians, seared ahi tuna with eggplant caponata. For those with a sweet tooth, Nutella pound cake. Hungry yet? Our work here is done. More info: 631-584-3518, | Newsphere by AF themes.