When living in the city, it’s imperative to know the best options for all genres of cuisines. We trust food critic, Patric Kuh’s ranking of the top 10 Italian restaurants in Los Angeles.
Chef Nicola Mastronardi deals in fine gradations of flavor, so a ribbon of fat on the prosciutto underscores the musk of late-season melons, and tossing together just-cooked cuttlefish rings with bright green favas highlights the freshness of each. With its open kitchen and polished wood floors, this is a dining room in which to ponder life as a Dover sole grills over embers
Sotto has relaxed a tad since opening in 2011, when not a wine, dish, or single wedge of cheese from anywhere north of Rome was served. Today you can order a bright rosso from Alp-hugging Friuli while the 35-ounce porterhouse bistecca channels the grandeur of Florence. The Pico Boulevard basement is always crowded; a coil of spaghetti with a thick sauce of pistachio, bottarga, and bread crumbs is one of the many reasons why.
Though his four-decade-old cluster of dining rooms may not be the buzziest anymore, Piero Selvaggio’s flagship remains a centerpiece of the Italian scene here. Chef Tommaso Tarantino’s orbs of spinach and ricotta gnudi, chicken diavola with asparagus gratinati and his shrimp-stuffed calamari in oregano broth are all favorites amongst the Italian-food-loving crowd.
Celestino Drago displays his mastery of pasta with a tender-yet-firm skein of egg yolk pappardelle bathed in roasted pheasant and honeycomb morels. Chef Ian Gresik employs a sous-vide machine to get the chicken cacciatore moist and fabulously crisp. No one stands on ceremony in this airy office tower space, where Aperol spritzes are a happy hour favorite and long tables embody the laid-back formality of the new downtown. The wine list is just as impressive.
The combo of open flames, a plank-clad dining room, and a wall of stacked kelly green pizza boxes makes you feel like you’ve landed at a ship’s galley decorated with St. Paddy’s Day bunting. At the duo’s second Fairfax storefront, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo capture the drop-in clamor of a neighborhood hang. Start the day over platters of olive oil-fried eggs and strong coffee. Enjoy wood-grilled bruschetta with ricotta and honey or a ladleful of Anson Mills polenta supporting marsala-glazed mushrooms for lunch or dinner.
The corrugated siding and loading bay doors make clear that this depot-size venture is dinner as theater. Do we like the city’s edgiest version of Italian? Judging by the nightly frenzy—hell, yes. Meat is the restaurant’s signature: Chopped beef heart is heaped on crostini; the salumi platter is a marvel. But Ori Menashe’s earnest cooking reveals itself to be about flavor concentration in every form. That goes for searing chicken livers before tossing them over endive and letting the starch in pasta water reduce around spaghetti twirled with uni and squid ink bottarga.
Crisp, classic, but always generous, Mozza has become far more than the dressy option of Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali, and Joe Bastianich’s Highland Avenue multiplex. Not that the formal touches are overlooked. Sea salt and green olive oil peel open the flavors of a Puglian burrata purse; chickpeas pop in the soffritto-laced tripe parmigiana. On Red Sauce Dinner nights the sounds of Sinatra fill the air, and you’re encouraged to explore. If you want a few strands of linguine with clams between the grilled octopus and the braised veal breast stracotto, the kitchen is happy to split an order into perfect small bites.
The cooking that Gino Angelini has been executing on Beverly Boulevard since 2001 has taught a generation of chefs to work from the heart, not cater to trends. Though he’s from outside the city of Rimini, he doesn’t bow to regionality, preferring to show his deftness with broiled tiny scallops dusted with golden bread crumbs. And there’s no need to harp about artisan principles when you’re folding pork cheek guanciale and red pepper flakes in with tubes of bombolotti pasta for a definitive all’Amatriciana. Mashed potatoes served with sautéed kidneys soak up every drop of pan gravy.
Jersey-born Bruce Kalman’s cooking has a little attitude. The kick of Calabrian chiles in his tomato-sauced pork meatballs won’t go unnoticed, either. But such robustness is just one element in a masterfully controlled palette. Kalman highlights Munak Ranch heirloom tomatoes in his caprese, which turns it into a seasonal dish; the crown of grapefruit salad with a scoop of sorbet made from fennel tops makes you respect a chef who strives to use every part of an ingredient. Ribbed ears of squid ink garganelli glistening in lobster stock finished with truffle butter can induce moans.
Zach Pollack establishes a benchmark of quality. The 31-year-old has been smitten with Italian food since he discovered great pasta at Santa Monica’s Caffé Delfini as a teen. Following a string of kitchen jobs in Italy, he launched Sotto in 2011 in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood with Steve Samson before trekking across town. Alimento’s concrete exterior sports a spray of ivy; the interior is all clean lines; the menu’s a short, single page. By abridging the offerings, Pollack accentuates the power of each dish, so a thick white bean and farro soup evokes some foggy Apennine valley, while plump tortellini with the brodo inside recall the last time you hauled to San Gabriel for xiaolongbao. Observing tradition even as he gooses it, elevating through restraint, always keeping things loose (Grüner on tap helps), Pollack honors a heritage and, with a very Italian naturalness, renders it for a harried modern age.
Curated from Los Angeles Magazine.