A full table at Tavolàta. Photograph courtesy Geoffrey Smith.
Italian food has deep roots in Seattle, from the immigrants who built a community in Rainier Valley a century ago to its influence on our modern Northwest culinary ethos—simple, seasonal, and grown close by. From red sauce to rustic pasta, Tuscan to tasting menus, here are our favorite Italian spots in the city. (If you’re looking for pizza, we made it a whole other, glorious thing.)
Old-School Italian / Northwest Italian / Special Occasion Italian / Great Neighborhood Italian / Regional Specialists / Straight-Up Pasta
New owners apply their MBA backgrounds to growing the cured meat phenom, which began as a tiny family-run Italian deli in the late ’90s. The roomy shop in Pioneer Square is now backed by a production facility in Kent; the mole and finocchiona salami sold in grocery stores go by a new brand name, Coro. But owners Clara Veniard and Martinique Grigg spent a year studying under the previous owners, Gina Batali and Brian D’Amato. Deli lunch staples—the porchetta sandwich, the muffo, the meatballs—remain solid versions of the originals.
The lack of reservations—and the ensuing waits at the small bar that overflows with charm and liquor bottles—has been a distinguishing feature since 1988. So have the lasagna, the veal (or chicken) Milanese, and the sense that this little dining room on Pine is much greater than the sum of its parts. Here, gentle cream sauce and bright marinara flow as freely as the $6 glasses of house red. And while change never stops on the blocks all around its weathered front door, Machiavelli’s interior remains comforting and constant.
In the 1950s, power brokers conducted city business here over martinis and cannelloni. By the dawn of the twenty-first century, it was a place to party—hard. In 2010, a pair of Seattle nightlife veterans bought the restaurant, restoring the best elements of its heyday, like installing a legit cocktail program that feels at home amid the red leather booths, the live music illuminated by disco ball, and the taxidermied cougar that famously presides over the back room. The cocktails are worth a trip; the red-sauced food menu a tasty form of retro stage-setting. The sort of stage-setting that involves great garlic bread.
Belltown, Capitol Hill, Fremont, Redmond
The restaurant that’s now Ethan Stowell’s eldest is also his most prolific. Tavolàta’s named for the dining room’s signature communal table (each location’s got one) but it’s really defined by the seamless balance between Italian and Northwest—between the bowls of rigatoni with spicy sausage and the entree of halibut with grilled asparagus. These two culinary traditions dovetail endlessly on the pasta menu.
Brian Clevenger’s restaurants form their own Northwest-Italian constellation across the city, but his bilevel hangout in West Seattle feels like a good representative sample. His signature formula—pasta, seafood, and seasonal vegetables—sounds straightforward, but manifests as lamb bolognese perked with mint, a whole roasted branzino, or a memorable steak tartare in a town filled with good ones. It’s food that satisfies our human need for both beauty and butter, with prices that don’t feel punishing, especially given the caliber of ingredients.
Brian Clevenger’s seasonal pasta anchors the menu at Raccolto.
Image: Courtesy Raccolto
Special Occasion Italian
Nathan Lockwood’s tasting menu presents Northwest ingredients—spot prawns, madrone bark, oysters—as elegant, Italian compositions. Meals begin with a flurry of precision bites known as stuzzichini, then move on to pasta and luxe proteins, each creation harmonized with beautiful produce. While the tasting menu format and long chef’s counter (plus a few tables) place this firmly in fine-dining territory, service is conversational, not stuffy. Easily one of the city’s best meals for a special occasion. Carrello, across the street, delivers a more casual take on these same sensibilities.
Inside a converted home just off Juanita Bay, Holly Smith pays tribute to northern Italy with a restaurant that stands among the best in the country. Tasting menus come in vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and omnivore iterations. Some dishes come off simple—say, a perfect pair of ravioli—others are unabashedly composed. Each one offers a tiny ode to Italian traditions and Northwest seasons. The service, the wine pairings, and the comfortable room form the coziest of halos around some pretty exceptional food.
Downtown Bellevue, Pioneer Square
Jacketed servers brandish platters of veal scaloppine and apportion shared plates, then lavish it all with showers of parmesan before unobtrusively filling your wineglass. The late Carmine Smeraldo founded the original power dining powerhouse on First Avenue; his sons burnished his luxurious legacy with the second location in downtown Bellevue, which feels more wholly itself than even the original. The menu—rich rigatoni bolognese, hefty steaks and chops—rings familiar, but there’s plenty of nuance in these time-tested dishes, like a delicate pesto coating fat prawns atop fettuccine or a peppery snap to the cioppino.
Few restaurants can boast this kind of longevity—Spinasse opened in 2008 and still consistently stirs the soul with menus that filter the rustic traditions of Piedmont through our Northwest lens. Chef Stuart Lane ensures the buttery-delicate strands of hand-cut tajarin remains in Seattle’s pantheon of unforgettable dishes, while secondi like milk-braised pork satisfy on a more primal level. Next door, sibling aperitivo bar Artusi delivers its own casual lineup of pasta and snacks, to a score of fantastic cocktails.
Delicate strands at Spinasse.
Image: Lindsay Borden
The setting—the historic Alki Homestead log cabin, restored to a handsome, rough-hewn beauty—is notable on its own. Same goes for the Tuscany-inspired restaurant within. Founder Mike Easton transplanted some of the seasonal pasta brilliance that marked his original spot, Il Corvo. Here it might share the table with the ludicrously perfect double-cut rib eye, impeccable vegetable creations, and endless glasses of wine. Easton will soon depart Seattle to open a new spot in Waitsburg, but he left this most memorable of restaurants in the seasoned hands of its longtime chef and manager. Reservations go fast, but the 10-seat bar and the back patio both take walk-ins.
Labor intensive pasta meets log cabin charm at Il Nido.
Image: Kyle Johnson
Jason Stratton’s time at Spinasse established him as a cerebral Italian chef who often comes at the culinary canon from his own direction. Now, after various other projects, he’s tapped back into that creative happy place with a detail-oriented parade of pastas and small plates. His tajarin with sage butter is forever a thing of beauty, but that also goes for the squid ink corzetti in wild nettle puree, the brussels sprouts in bagna cauda, and anything else on the focused menu. It’s special food in a laid-back brick space in Georgetown, with a warm-weather alter ego thanks to its massive partytime patio.
Great Neighborhood Italian
It’s the neighborhood restaurant so good, fans come from across town to celebrate a birthday. Dinner usually centers on Jerry Corso’s pizza—crusts blistered from the wood-fired oven, toppings simple and seasonal. But after pizza comes a mosaic of Roman street food like fried risotto balls, grilled octopus, Italian regional antipasti, and luminous seasonal salads. Because this understated dining room on Beacon Avenue (with a hidden-away back patio) is far more than a pizza joint: The menu is short, the waits can be long, and the aperitivi-based cocktails feel imperative.
Negronis and more on Bar del Corso’s patio.
Image: Amber Fouts
Finding beauty in the ingredients around us has been the Italian MO for centuries now, but Carla Leonardi’s kitchen reminds us how thrilling this can be. Her Montlake institution opened in 1990, a destination restaurant posing as a neighborhood cafe. The nine-layer lasagna deserves its legendary status, but saffron linguini with clams, wood-fired pizza, and endless seasonal creations all stand, unassumingly, in Seattle’s pantheon of great Italian food.
Carillon Point is a long way from Lake Como, but this restaurant from the Cantinetta folks offers a surprisingly decent substitute: whitewashed walls, waves of Italian wine, and a glittering stretch of Lake Washington view that lends the sense of dining in a minimalist lighthouse. Chef Gabriel Chavez finds art in the classics, like flawless fried baby artichokes or pappardelle with wild boar ragu. The kitchen’s not afraid to go big with truffles, especially on pizza. On summer Saturdays, you can book a pre-dinner boat ride in Como’s 1951 wooden Shepherd, complete with mountain views and a glass of rose.
The lakeside life at Como.
Image: Courtesy Como
Two conjoined old houses—the city’s oldest intact residences—give off homey vibes of a different sort these days. They form a stylish warren of dining rooms, where food packs the hearty pomp of an old-school Italian American restaurant, updated through the prism of Northwest seasons. Saffron upgrades the spaghetti bolognese; roasted poblanos spark the risotto. A perfectly dressed caesar needs no updates at all. Seldom do food and surroundings reflect one another this gracefully.
An understated storefront hides a coveted skyline view—just one of the many ways you could underestimate this longtime cafe on Mount Baker’s main drag. The menu, the sign—even the name—are a bit of a throwback, but current owners Guy Devillier and David Hoefer took over in 2018 and keep things attuned to today. Carbonara packs more nuance than you might expect, the slightly crackly pizza’s better than it has to be, and the bar pours lambrusco and negroni spritzes. No wonder tables are loaded with a diversity of diners.
Bellevue, Madison Valley, Wallingford
Seattle and its dining scene might change at warp speed, but this has endured elegantly, thanks to Tuscan fare at its rustic best: fresh, constantly rotating antipasti, contorni, pastas (made over at sibling restaurant Como), and mains. The circa-2009 original in Wallingford has a plank-tabled, iron-chandeliered charm; the Old Bellevue outpost is the roomiest, and Bar Cantinetta in Madison Valley distills this formula into more of a narrow bar setting, with a top-notch covered patio.
Risotto and rustic patio charm at Cantinetta.
Image: Courtesy Cantinetta
It’s less a restaurant, more a leafy Eastlake compound, where this neighborhood stalwart shares a courtyard with its cocktail- and snack-focused sibling, Cicchetti. The latter remains closed, but Serafina continues its 30-year tradition of hearty pasta, lush bolognese, and a really great happy hour. Dinner happens in the dramatic, dimly lit dining room, or surrounded by brick walls and greenery on the aforementioned courtyard.
Ostensibly this place is Ethan Stowell’s ode to Rome, with its rectangular street-style pizzas and carbonara and cacio e pepe on the pasta menu. But Rione sprinkles in plenty of broader Italian favorites. Old brick Capitol Hill architecture and an expansive happy hour menu add to the charm.
Roman-style pizza, Capitol Hill–style room at Rione XIII.
Image: Courtesy Geoffrey Smith
The bold, briny flavors and Moorish influences of Sicilian food were unrepresented in this town till La Medusa took a chance on Columbia City back in 1997. Current owner Meredith Molli splits her time between the kitchen and her Goose and Gander farm (not to mention Persephone, her new wine bar and market next door). Each day the large chalkboard menu packs an astonishing range of seasonal, Sicily-inspired flavors, from beautiful greens to campanelle pasta with duck confit, or a cauliflower gratin with pine nuts and raisins.
Emilia-Romagna is the land of prosciutto and parmigiano-reggiano and hearty meat sauce. Sabrina Tinsley’s capacious osteria channels these comforts with elegance. It’s absolutely okay to order the tagliatelle with alba white truffle butter time and again, but pushing farther into the menu will reward you with thoughtful pisarei e faso (pasta and black-eyed peas) or decadent roast eggplant. La Spiga sources especially good prosciutto. With its soaring timber ceiling, intimate bar, and big, industrial windows, La Spiga is Capitol Hill at its energetic best.
Unlike the timeworn cliffside villages of Liguria, this rambling space on Westlake is sleek and modern, its menu a tribute to the five historic fishing villages along Italy’s Riviera: zuppa di pesce, legs of charred octopus atop silky mashed potatoes, housemade pasta with prawns. But you don’t pack in an Amazon clientele without a menu that reaches in non-seafood directions, like bistecca or osso buco or stone-oven pizza. This chic spot (from the folks behind Barolo) also serves lunch and plenty of cocktails.
Capitol Hill, Kirkland, Ravenna
Take the Chipotle-style modular approach to fast-casual dining and apply it to pasta. Throw in a pair of Tuscany natives—the founders—to make sure this notion doesn’t go off the rails. The result is a surprisingly satisfying pasta counter that lets you mix and match shapes, sauces, and proteins. The results—duck ragu, salmon and spinach, simple aglio e olio, pesto, cacio e pepe—go big on value and flavor. Even the gluten-free pasta is solid.
Pike Place Market
Turin native Michela Tartaglia first taught pasta-making classes in the Atrium test kitchen directly below her hidden-away pasta counter; now she oversees four daily bowls (plus lasagna!) that always include meat, seafood, and “from the garden” renditions. The weekly menu may be concise, but creations like squid ink caserecce or gemelli with fiddlehead ferns, harissa, and pecorino make for a satisfying, often brilliant lunch.
Denny Regrade/South Lake Union
Brian Clevenger channels all the “fresh pastas, great value” lessons gleaned at his full-service restaurants to deliver the best spaghetti bolognese you’ll ever eat from a compostable takeout container. The hustling kitchen cranks out a half-dozen daily pastas for lunchtime takeaway, from staples like rigatoni with tomato sauce and burrata to fusilli with pesto or tagliatelle with ahi and fresno chiles. The handful of sides—fried oysters, tiny potatoes—are equally great.
A neighborhood favorite that deserves attention beyond its old-brick Belltown block, Limoncello looks more like a bakery than a pasta haven. But the kitchen’s talents with dough surely extends to pasta, particularly grandma-style plates of baked ziti, cannelloni, and tidy ravioli. It feels like home cooking and exudes tomato, cheese, and cream—and, occasionally, lobster.