1. Italian immigrants settled in a section of Wilmington that became known as Little Italy, which celebrates St. Anthony’s Italian Festival, a food extravaganza, each year.
2–3. Though Little Italy is now a melting pot, a few Italian stalwarts remain, including Mrs. Robino’s (Wilmington, 652-9223), which Tresilla Robino opened in 1940 to feed her Italian neighbors, and Ristorante Attilio (Wilmington, 428-0909), where smelts and hot peppers are on the appetizer menu.
4. Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities (Wilmington, 656-9822) debuted in Little Italy in 1988. His mouthwatering veal dishes remain on the menu, which now includes such casual fare as roast pork sandwiches. The pasta is house-made.
5. In the Penny Hill area, Tutto Fresco (Wilmington, 762-9094) originally opened as Pastablitz in 1994. The name may have changed, but the cuisine still focuses on pasta, pizza, panini and other Italian favorites.
6. As more imported ingredients became available in the United States, chef Dan Butler spotted a niche. In 1991, he opened the upscale Griglia Toscana in Trolley Square. Over the years, he’s tweaked the atmosphere and attitude. Piccolina Toscana (Wilmington, 754-8001) is the latest incarnation. (Head to the lounge for one of the best $5-a-dish happy hours in town.)
7–8. Roma Italian Ristorante (Dover, 678-1041) started as a pizza place in 1973. Today it’s a full-service restaurant with an adjacent lounge, Sul Tempo. Chef Joe Garramone’s recipes have kept the regulars happy for years. Similarly, La Casa Pasta (Newark, 738-9935) has been serving Italian favorites since 1978.
9. Downstate, DiFebo’s (Bethany Beach, 539-4550; Rehoboth Beach, 226-4550) started in 1989 as a 40-seat deli/café. For Wilmington native Lisa DiFebo-Osias, it was a way to stay at the beach. Now a full-service restaurant with two locations, DiFebo’s is still family owned, family friendly and on the cutting edge of Italian fare.
10. Recent additions to the scene that seem destined for icon status include Vincenza & Margherita Italian-American Bistro (North Wilmington, 479-7999). Known as V&M for short, this Brandywine Hundred restaurant has sophisticated decor and an onsite bakery for breads and handmade pasta.
11. To the south, Lupo Italian Kitchen (Rehoboth Beach, 226-2240) has blossomed under the hand of chef Christopher Parks, who makes pasta by hand. Sommelier Mike Zygmonski’s wine list is exclusively Italian.