Italy has set up a home inside the United States. 88 percent of Americans say they like Italian food. This makes Italian food the most popular foreign cuisine in the country.
Yet it can be hard to find the best Italian restaurant. Thousands of places claim to offer great food, but their dishes are soggy and greasy.
What are some good resources to find restaurant reviews? What are the different styles of Italian cuisine? What makes for authentic Italian dishes, including in pizza?
Answer these questions and you can find the best Italian establishments for yourself. Here is your quick guide.
Read Some Reviews
The best way to determine whether a local restaurant is good is to ask your friends about it. They probably have a similar taste in Italian cuisine to you. They may recommend you to veer clear of certain dishes, but they may say you can visit.
If you don’t have friends who like Italian food, go online and read reviews. Start by reading ones from critics at major newspapers. Even publications like The New York Times like to send their critics into smaller areas to try restaurants.
You can visit Yelp and other customer review sites. Look at the overall star rating, but go and read the written comments themselves. Lack of cleanliness and bad service are two signs that you should avoid the restaurant.
Research the Style of the Restaurant
Many restaurants say that they specialize in a particular part of Italian cuisine. For example, Civico by the Park specializes in Calabrian cuisine. Calabria is a region of southern Italy that has a lot of seafood and vegetables.
Some restaurants are genuine about their commitment to a region of Italy. But others are asserting a connection for marketing purposes.
Read about the region of Italy that the restaurant claims to serve. Understand what the most important dishes and styles of cooking are.
Then compare this information to the details that the restaurant supplies. If they seem consistent with each other, then the restaurant is likely being genuine.
Many restaurants that provide fine dining have a page with the executive chef’s experience. Read over what their experience is.
Don’t just assume that they are being authentic because they come from the same area of Italy. Growing up in the region is important, but they should have formal training in that region as well.
Look at the Menu
Authentic Italian food encompasses a wide range of dishes. Break the menu down into individual components before deciding what the top Italian restaurant is.
Nearly all Italian restaurants in the United States serve pizza. This includes high-end establishments.
But see how the restaurant incorporates pizza into its menu. In general, the more they prioritize pizza, the less authentic they are.
Pizza is an important dish in Italy, but it is one of many dishes. The restaurant should reflect that by serving meat, seafood, and vegetarian meals.
Take a look at what ingredients they use. Buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and wheat crust are classic ones. Shredded cheese and canned sauce are rarely high-quality.
Sausage, onions, and arugula are traditional toppings on pizzas. Pepperoni is popular inside the United States, but it is rarely found in high-end restaurants.
Some regions of Italy have special kinds of pizza. Calabrese pizza uses whole wheat flour instead of white.
Make sure the style of pizza a restaurant is serving is consistent with where it claims to come from. If they are serving generic pizzas, they are appealing to tourists and not too experienced diners.
Pasta is also common at nearly all Italian restaurants. Some establishments specialize in pasta, but this does not mean that they are low-quality. Look through the individual pasta selections closely.
Americanized dishes include baked ziti, macaroni and cheese, and spaghetti and meatballs. A restaurant may create good-quality versions of these dishes, but this is rare. Find more authentic options like spaghetti alla carbonara.
Many restaurants like to say that they make their own pasta. This does not guarantee good flavors. Barilla and other pasta producers are based in Italy, and many top restaurants use their products.
Italian cuisine changes based on the season. In the summertime, restaurants offer dishes with potatoes, cucumbers, and onions. In the winter, they offer apple, broccoli, and orange dishes.
A premium restaurant should reflect the changing seasons. It may be difficult to acquire the actual brands of produce that people use in Italy. But they should match their dishes to the ones available to Italians.
Feel the Ambiance
Each restaurant should have a style that makes it distinct. Some restaurants hang up photographs of famous Italians or paintings from important artists. Others use wooden tables or paneling from Italy to seem more authentic.
Whatever they do in terms of aesthetics, you should feel comfortable within the restaurant itself. The noise level should be quiet enough so you can speak to your friends. Chairs and tables should not wobble, and you should have room to place your bags down.
How You Can Find the Best Italian Restaurant
You don’t have to go to Naples to eat at the best Italian restaurant. Ask around for suggestions, then read some reviews online.
Do some research on what Italians actually eat. Then see if a restaurant’s claims match with the facts.
Their pizzas should have high-quality ingredients like sliced buffalo mozzarella. They should offer pasta dishes that are not Americanized. All of their dishes should have seasonal ingredients like broccoli.
You should feel at home when you go to a restaurant. But don’t just eat Italian food. Learn about other cuisines by following our coverage.
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