December 5, 2021

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Simply The Best Food

The best Italian restaurants on Long Island

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.

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, cafetestarossa.com

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, franina.com

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, grottalbny.com

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, kingumberto.com

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, nickandtonis.com

One10 (569 Broadhollow Rd., Melville): No question about it: lurking behind this much-anticipated new arrival is one of Long Island’s most dramatic and impressive dining rooms. And thanks to the leadership of executive chef Ron Gelish and a kitchen cast, the Italo-centric menu is dotted with stellar starters, including pancetta-collared shrimp with white beans, tangy braised octopus with artichoke puree, and a deliciously obligatory chicken parm pizza. The steak salad is a meaty, complex creation that’s perfect for lighter dining. Gelish’s sourcing, meanwhile, as befits a Scotto Bros. property, is impeccable. The M Bar platter presents definitive charcuterie from prosciutto to Parmesan, the steak salad and Gelish’s fish dishes—such as the Chilean sea bass with lobster vinaigrette—can be revelatory. Also of note: the dozens of wines available by the glass and the cocktail program, with amusing inventions like a margarita aged 90 days in a whiskey barrel. More info: 631-694-3333, one10restaurant.com

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, restaurantorto.com

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, osteriamorini.com

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, gurneysresorts.com

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, thetrattoriarestaurant.com