Bella Vista Trattoria & Pizzeria
Known for: Taking the neighborhood pizzeria up a notch.
Insider tip: Owner Candace Roseo uses a meat slicer to make quarter-inch slices of eggplant that she cooks individually. It’s only when you order eggplant Parmesan that the kitchen adds the marinara sauce and cheese and pops it in the oven. Sfogliatella, filled shell-shaped pastries, are baked to order, and the fragrant extract is imported right from Italy.
5337B Limestone Road, Wilmington, 239-4858; 3 S. Orange St., Wilmington Riverfront, 652-1010, bellavistatrattoria.com
Known for: The best slice in Concord Mall or in all of Brandywine Hundred for that matter. (It’s the mall’s oldest tenant, says owner Michael J. Tumolo.)
Insider tip: Linguini Sinatra, made with chopped shrimp and clams in fra diavolo sauce, is served on “Fridays with Frank,” but you can order this tribute to Old Blue Eyes any day. Surprise, counter customers: There’s a full bar in the back.
Concord Mall, Wilmington, 478-8288, caferivierade.com
Known for: A rebirth. Founder Don Scalessa ran the restaurant from 2002 to 2011, sold it and reopened a year later.
Insider tip: Ask Scalessa to explain the story behind orecchiette with escarole, a simple but tasty dish once popular among peasants. His butter cake, meatballs and “Sunday gravy sauce” are legendary.
504 Greenhill Ave., Wilmington, 656-0955, cafescalessa.com
Known for: A 1,500-bottle wine cellar, 24 daily flavors of gelato, artisan pasta and northern Italian specialties.
Insider tip: Ravioli is made in-house, and creative takes include roasted butternut squash with sautéed mushrooms in a sage-brown butter sauce. Seafood lovers can tuck into mussels sautéed with garlic, pancetta and green onions and finished with a creamy white wine sauce.
90 E. Main St., Newark, 738-5811, caffegelato.net
Capers & Lemons
Known for: Bringing a restaurant and market to a culinary dead zone along Del. 41 between Wilmington and Hockessin.
Insider tip: Go pasta-less with eggplant “lasagna,” layered eggplant with seasoning, ricotta, tomato sauce and fresh basil. The kitchen wraps tender beef around spicy capicola, bathes it with tomato sauce and serves it with creamy polenta to produce the C&L braciole. In season, try roasted corn agnolotti, made with Pete’s Farm corn, rock shrimp and a white wine-butter sauce. “Customers call ahead and reserve up to 10 orders of it,” says owner Carl Georigi of the summery dish.
301 Little Falls Drive, Wilmington, 256-0524, platinumdininggroup.com/capers_and_lemons
DiFebo’s Modern Italian Grill
Known for: More than 20 years of serving Italian favorites in Bethany Beach.
Insider tip: Pasta dishes—ravioli, spaghetti, penne, rigatoni—are sumptuous on their own. But add the house red sauce, created by owner Lisa DiFebo’s father, and you have a signature DiFebo’s dish. DiFebo also features her grandmother’s slightly sweet, seasoned ravioli. Vacationers know about the family-style to-go menu, trays of sandwiches, salads, cheeses and other noshes for beachside parties and picnics.
789 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 539-4550, difebos.com
Frankie’s Italian Restaurant
Known for: A showman’s attitude. Picture the Rat Pack setting up camp in a neighborhood red gravy house, which happens to be in a casino, and you get the drift.
Insider tip: On Mondays, get half-priced pizza at the bar and on Tuesdays, dig into “endless pasta” night. Customers also come to Frankie’s just for the osso buco, which isn’t on the regular menu. Lasagna is made with both pork and beef.
Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, 1131 N. Dupont Hwy., 857-3775, doverdowns.com/dining/restaurants/Frankies
La Casa Pasta
Known for: Anchoring the Italian food scene in Newark since 1978, when Giuseppe Martuscelli, who grew up near Salerno, opened the restaurant.
Insider tip: Start with tempura-fried calamari, shrimp and sea bass—marinated in olive oil, lemon and garlic—then move on to veal saltimbocca, lobster ravioli or fusilli Santa Maria—shrimp, scallops, garlic and crabmeat in a light tomato sauce. The catch of the day is served Sicilian style with garlic, lemon, olive oil, capers and peppers.
120 Four Seasons Pkwy., Newark, 738-9935, lacasapasta.com
Known for: A 16-year-old landmark, the restaurant was purchased by an enterprising UD student, Ian MacFayden, just last year. (He’s majoring in marketing.)
Insider tip: Chicken Parmesan is the leading dish, but chicken or veal Abruzzi is a close second and third. Everything is fresh and made in-house, including MomMom Winnie’s wedding soup, MacFayden says. The crab cakes also win raves. Don’t miss the tiramisu when it’s available.
1300 Centerville Road, Wilmington, 995-6955, lambertiscucina.com
Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities
Known for: Serving as Little Italy’s primary cheerleader since the restaurant opened in 1988.
Insider tip: The restaurant for 13 months celebrated its milestone anniversary with an original menu and original prices. This year, Brooklyn-born Luigi Vitrone is debuting a new menu that will showcase milk-fed veal and seafood dishes.
415 N. Lincoln St., Wilmington, 656-9822
Known for: Some of the best cuisine in the state, it’s the place for those celebrating a special occasion. Friends meet at the bar for a well-executed nosh and craft cocktail in a refined yet relaxed environment.
Insider tip: Share a “board” of vegetables, Italian cheeses, cured meats or an antipasti (a mix of all of the above). Go for a medley of small plates (carbonara mac & cheese or sheep’s ricotta ravioli) or head right to the large plate section (grilled pork chops with a blue cheese-potato gratin, spicy broccoli rabe and onion demi-glace.) Don’t get too attached to any one dish. Chef-owner Michael DiBianca likes to experiment.
1307 N. Scott St., Wilmington, 777-1800, mororestaurant.net
Madeline’s Italian Restaurant
Known for: Food that Nonna used to make.
Insider tip: Fifty years after the restaurant opened, veal spezzata still tops the charts. “We buy the best quality veal,” says owner Steve Sparco. When the lobster bisque hits the specials list, it quickly sells out. Waffling between ravioli and spaghetti? Get half of each. Roast pork isn’t on the menu, but it’s available most days.
531 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, 652-9373, madelinesitalianrestaurant.com
Mrs. Robino’s Italian Restaurant
Known for: Dishing up red gravy-style comfort food since 1940, when Mrs. Tresilla Robino served the Italian immigrants who lined up at her door for her food. She served one group then ushered in the next. The Little Italy restaurant has been family-owned ever since.
Known for: Spaghetti and ravioli. (On Wednesday nights, kids 10 and under get spaghetti for 99 cents.) Sample the best of the best with the “Tour of Italy”: meatballs, sausage, spaghetti, and meat and cheese ravioli. Lasagna is hand-rolled and layered with cheese and meat.
520 N. Union St., Wilmington, 652-9223, mrsrobinos.com
Known for: Reinventing itself and remaining relevant in an increasingly competitive market. Oh, and the breadsticks are to die for.
Insider tip: Tortellini with mortadella ham and ricotta in a sundried tomato-cream sauce has survived all the incarnations. Owner Dan Butler invites you to try the risotto—currently made with porcini broth and slow-cooked veal breast—which is the “true test” of an Italian restaurant, he says. The Sunday brunch buffet is a deal at $20 for adults and $5 for kids under 10. Got a group? Reserve the new farmer’s table, which lets everyone share a family-style meal for a fixed price per person. Here’s some sweet news: Toscana now makes its own gelato.
1412 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, 654-8001, piccolinatoscana.com
Known for: The personal touch. Owner Attilio Cafini keeps a journal detailing customers’ favorite specials. When it’s being offered, he gives the customers a heads up. (Considering the Little Italy landmark is nearly 30 years old, there are a lot of customers to call.)
Insider tip: String beans with potatoes, garlic and olive oil is a signature appetizer. Lasagna is inspired by the Marche region of Italy, where the Cafini family is from. Cannoli is filled to order. Warning: Crisp peppers—dried and fried—are addictive.
1900 Lancaster Ave., Wilmington, 428-0909, ristoranteattilio.com
Known for: Bringing authentic Italian ingredients and dishes to Delaware, from sea urchin to fava beans to roasted chestnuts and prickly pear. Owner Marco Rizzo, who came to America from Italy 25 years ago, is a stickler for details.
Insider tip: Ask waiters to show you a photo of the daily special on a tablet. Share the “Marco,” your choice of any three pastas, served on a divided plate. “It’s a must!” Rizzo says. Veal shank osso buco comes on a bed of saffron-mushroom rice. Or, try the spare ribs, which are cooked in tomato sauce and served with homemade fusilli, a specialty of the Cilento region.
1847 Pulaski Hwy., Bear, 392-2244, ristorantemarco.com
Roma Italian Ristorante
Known for: Providing pizza and Italian fare to government bigwigs, Air Force personnel and Dover residents since 1973.
Insider tip: The restaurant, started by Guiseppe Garramone, who hailed from southern Italy, originally was a tiny pizza place with outdoor restrooms. Despite its expansion, pizza remains a staple, but veal also reigns. (Veal Marsala, veal Parmesan, veal Francaise, veal scaloppini, veal saltimbocca and veal piccata.) Give in and swirl the fresh bread in the garlicky olive oil—you know you want to.
3 Presidents Drive, Dover, 678-1041, romadover.com
Soffrito Italian Grill
Known for: Being the most popular Italian restaurant, outside Italy, that has the Ospitalità Italiana seal.
Insider tip: Fresh whole fish is filleted tableside. (Depending on the season, it could be branzino, orata, red snapper or striped bass.) Choose linguini or risotto for the pescatore Mediterraneo, a medley of mussels, scallops, shrimp and grape tomatoes in a Pinot Grigio sauce. In the seemingly requisite salute to Sinatra, the vitello Sinatra features sliced veal in a brandy demi-glace-cream sauce.
1130 Capitol Trail, Newark, 455-1101, soffritto.com
Known for: Bringing the “rustic” approach to Italian cuisine on Main Street. Think seasonal ingredients, and grilled and roasted meats and seafood.
Insider tip: Cuddle up with such comforting dishes as roasted porchetta with broccoli rabe, braised red onions and butternut squash. Or soothe your appetite with slow-cooked chicken in a tomato-cream sauce. Bing cherry panna cotta is only made about once a month, so time your visit well. People call ahead to ask if Taverna is serving whole branzino with pasta and a puttanesca sauce—it’s that popular.
121 E Main St.,Newark, 444-4334, platinumdininggroup.com/taverna
Touch of Italy
Known for: Quickly expanding in Rehoboth and Lewes. The newest location near Nage on Del. 1 can sit more than 125 people. If ingredients—breads, cookies, sauces—aren’t made in-house they’re brought down from the Bronx.
Insider tip: The demand for bread, including semolina, was so high that Touch of Italy opened a bakery in the Villages of Five Points to keep up. For a sandwich, sink your teeth into the Da Vinci, a stack of salami, sopressata, handmade mozzarella, sundried tomatoes and roasted tomatoes—all drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Ask the server about a “family-style dinner,” which includes such favorites as cavatelli with sweet sausage, short ribs and braciole. Cookies include ricotta cheese cookies, pignoli, macaroons and almond biscotti. (You can buy them by the pound at the bakery.)
Multiple locations in Lewes and Rehoboth, touchofitaly.com.
Tutto Fresco Italian Eatery
Known for: Keeping it all in the family. Vince Sotto, who owns the restaurant with wife Barbara, has relatives throughout the Mid-Atlantic in the hospitality business. He started working in a cousin’s pizzeria at age 17.
Insider tip: For an app, try clams casino or mussels fra diavolo. Signature entrées include tender pork osso buco and braciole made with rolled chuck roast, pine nuts, raisins, garlic and fresh parsley. Whole fish is de-boned at the table. Try orata, an imported fish from the Mediterranean, when it’s available.
514 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington, 762-9094, tuttofrescode.com
Valle Cucina Italiana
Known for: Crab cakes and steak—truly!—as well as red sauce with clams, which is so good, people want to “drink the sauce,” says manager Dean Horwitz.
Insider tip: Hand-rolled ricotta gnocchi, made by owner Frank Reno, are little pillows of yum. Carnivores can tuck into the dry-aged steaks. It pays to be an early bird on Tuesdays for discounted cheese pizza. Come in at 5:05 p.m. and pay $5.05. The later you come, the more you pay.
4752 Limestone Road, Pike Creek, 998-9999, vallecucina.com