There are so many good ethnic restaurants in Delaware that a comprehensive guide would fill an issue, so we’re offering it online. Here are some old and new favorites to consider the next time you get a yen for global flavor. Installment 5 of dining writer Pam George’s epic roundup from the February issue of DT is Italian, Part II. You can’t shake a noodle without hitting an Italian restaurant—or two or three.
â€¨Known for: Reinventing itself and remaining relevant in an increasingly competitive market. Oh, and the breadsticks are to die for.â€¨
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.â€¨1412 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, 654-8001, piccolinatoscana.com
â€¨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.)â€¨
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.â€¨1900 Lancaster Ave., Wilmington, 428-0909, ristoranteattilio.com
â€¨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.
â€¨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.â€¨1847 Pulaski Hwy., Bear, 392-2244, ristorantemarco.com
Roma Italian Ristoranteâ€¨
Known for: Providing pizza and Italian fare to government bigwigs, Air Force personnel and Dover residents since 1973.â€¨
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.â€¨3 Presidents Drive, Dover, 678-1041, romadover.com
Soffrito Italian Grillâ€¨
Known for: Being the most popular Italian restaurant, outside Italy, that has the Ospitalità Italiana seal.â€¨
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. â€¨1130 Capitol Trail, Newark, 455-1101, soffritto.com
â€¨Known for: Bringing the “rustic” approach to Italian cuisine on Main Street. Think seasonal ingredients, and grilled and roasted meats and seafood.â€¨
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.â€¨121 E Main St., Newark, 444-4334, platinumdininggroup.com/taverna
Touch of Italy
â€¨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.â€¨
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.)â€¨Multiple locations in Lewes and Rehoboth, touchofitaly.com.
Tutto Fresco Italian Eateryâ€¨
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.â€¨
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.â€¨514 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington, 762-9094, tuttofrescode.com
Valle Cucina Italianaâ€¨
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.
â€¨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.â€¨ 4752 Limestone Road, Pike Creek, 998-9999, vallecucina.com