Classic Italian Foods: 12 Dishes You Need to Try
Italy is a country with a rich and diverse culinary heritage. From north to south, each region has its own specialties and traditions that reflect its history, culture, and geography. Whether you’re looking for a hearty pasta dish, a savory stew, a crispy pizza, or a sweet treat, you’ll find something to satisfy your taste buds in this list of classic Italian foods. These are 12 dishes that everyone should try at least once in their life, and that will make you fall in love with Italian cuisine.
A true Italian pizza with a thick base, soft and elastic when chewed. The cake is traditionally garnished with fresh tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, basil leaves, and melted mozzarella or fior di latte.
Pizza Napoletana originated in Naples in the 18th century when poor peasants started to top their flatbread with tomatoes. Later, in 1889, a baker named Raffaele Esposito created a pizza named after Queen Margherita of Savoy that had the colors of the Italian flag: red (tomatoes), white (mozzarella), and green (basil). This is what is now known as the classic Neapolitan pizza.
The Best Places to Eat Pizza Napoletana in Italy
I’m trying to answer your query about “pizza napoletana near me” but the best ones aren’t everywhere. So here is a short list of the best restaurants that you can come for Pizza Napoletana in Italy’s cities:
- Pepe In Grani – Vico San Giovanni Battista 3, 81013 Caiazzo CE
- Francesco e Salvatore Salvo – Via Giuseppe Martucci 35/37, 80046 San Giorgio a Cremano NA
- La Notizia – Via Michelangelo da Caravaggio 94/98, 80126 Naples NA
- 50 Kalò – Piazza Sannazaro 201/B, 80122 Naples NA
- Pizzarium – Via della Meloria 43, 00136 Rome RM
Tagliatelle al Ragù
Around the world, people also call this dish Ragù alla Bolognese or simply Bolognese sauce. However, in Italy, the perfect blend of delicate ragù sauce and bright yellow tagliatelle pasta is characteristic of the northern Emilia Romagna region, especially the city of Bologna. Ragù is made from minced or pureed pieces of pork and beef mixed with celery, carrots, onions, ketchup, and red wine. Then, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is grated on top, like a snow-capped mountain top.
The Best Places for Tagliatelle al Ragù
You can easily find the best Tagliatelle al Ragù in Bologna, the dish’s birthplace. Here are some of the top restaurants:
- Osteria dell’Orsa – Via Mentana 1, 40126 Bologna BO
- Trattoria della Gigina – Via Henri Beyle Stendhal 1, 40125 Bologna BO
- All’Osteria Bottega – Via Santa Caterina 51, 40123 Bologna BO
- Trattoria Anna Maria – Via delle Belle Arti 17/A, 40126 Bologna BO
- Da Nello – Via Monte Grappa 2/B, 40121 Bologna BO
In addition, you can find variations of this dish in other regions of Italy.
Rigatoni alla Carbonara
It takes very few ingredients to make this dish, but the secret lies in the Italian way of cooking. Pecorino cheese, pork cheeks, and eggs are all necessary ingredients for this specialty of Rome. As a high-protein dish, people often eat this dish at dinner. Homemade rigatoni should be “al dente” – cooked precisely to the point that it’s neither soft nor hard – so that the thick, egg-rich sauce sticks to it without melting onto the plate.
The Best Places to Eat Rigatoni alla Carbonara
The capital of Italy, Rome, is where you can find the best dishes of Rigatoni alla Carbonara:
- Trattoria Perilli – Via Marmorata 39, 00153 Rome RM
- Roscioli Salumeria Restaurant – Via dei Giubbonari 21/22, 00186 Rome RM
- Cantina & Cucina – Via del Governo Vecchio 87, 00186 Rome RM
- Osteria da Fortunata – Via del Pellegrino 11/12, 00186 Rome RM
- La Nuova Piazzetta – Piazza del Teatro di Pompeo 18/19, 00186 Rome RM
You can call this dish Carbonara alla Romana or simply Carbonara. Variations of Rigatoni alla Carbonara are in other regions of Italy.
Trofie al Pesto
The word pesto literally means “crushed” in Genoese. Ingredients of the dish include basil, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, pine nuts, garlic cloves, coarse salt, and extra virgin olive oil, ground into a powder in a Genoese marble mortar. They come together to create a thick, creamy sauce that smells of a Mediterranean garden paired with hand-twisted trofie pasta. This dish is best in Genoa, northwest Liguria, the land of seafarers and adventurers. The area was a center for the spice trade in the Middle Ages when the use of herbs and flowers to flavor food became widespread. An older garlic-based recipe called “agliata” was the precursor of pesto, which became popular in the 19th century.
The Best Places to Eat Trofie al Pesto in Italy
I’m not sure if the query “Trofie al Pesto near me” can help you to find the best restaurants for this dish. In fact, most of the restaurants are in Liguria, a region in northwestern Italy and the birthplace of Trofie al Pesto:
- Trattoria della Raibetta – Vico Caprettari 12R, 16123 Genoa GE
- Trattoria Cavour 21 – Piazza Cavour 21R, 16124 Genoa GE
- Sa’ Pesta – Via dei Giustiniani 16R, 16123 Genoa GE
- Manuelina – Via Roma 296, 16036 Recco GE
- Il Porticciolo – Via Birolli 92, 19017 Manarola SP
Perhaps the dish’s other names Pesto alla Genovese or simply Pesto can also help you to find a restaurant when exploring Italy.
Tortellini is small ring-shaped pasta stuffed with various fillings such as meat, cheese, spinach, or mushrooms. They are typically served in a broth or with a sauce. Tortellini originated in the Emilia Romagna region, especially in the cities of Bologna and Modena. According to legend, they were inspired by the navel of Venus, the goddess of love.
The Best Places for Tortellini in Italy
You can find the restaurants and addresses for the best dishes of Tortellini below:
- Trattoria di Via Serra – Via Luigi Serra 9/B, 40129 Bologna BO
- Osteria Francescana – Via Stella 22, 41121 Modena MO
- Colline Emiliane – Via degli Avignonesi 22, 00187 Rome RM
- Club Culinario Toscano da Osvaldo – Piazza dei Peruzzi 3R, 50122 Florence FI
- Osteria Cacio Vino Trallalla – Via dell’Agnolo 93R, 50122 Florence FI.
Lasagna is one of the most famous Italian dishes in the world. It consists of layers of flat pasta sheets alternated with different fillings such as meat sauce, béchamel sauce, cheese, vegetables, or seafood. The dish is baked in the oven until golden and bubbly. Lasagna originated in Naples. Yet, it has many regional variations depending on the ingredients and seasonings used. For example, some of the most popular versions are lasagna alla bolognese (with meat sauce and béchamel), lasagna al forno (with ricotta cheese and spinach), and lasagna di pesce (with fish and seafood).
The Best Lasagna Near You
Lasagna is one of the classic Italian foods that you can find in many places with variations. Particularly, you can easily find the top restaurants for this dish in Rome:
- Tonnarello – Via della Paglia 1, 00153 Rome RM
- Cantina & Cucina – Via del Governo Vecchio 87, 00186 Rome RM
- Mimi e Coco – Via del Governo Vecchio 72, 00186 Rome RM
- Osteria Barberini – Via della Purificazione 20, 00187 Rome RM
- Colline Emiliane – Via degli Avignonesi 22, 00187 Rome RM.
This is a giant-sized fish soup, a single main course can serve 2 people. Therefore, if you travel alone, you should avoid ordering this dish. The dish’s ingredients include stingray, mullet, sole, red tilapia, and shrimp cooked with just-cooked tomatoes, parsley, and garlic. After that, the chef drops slices of toast in before eating to absorb the fish soup. When the dish is finished, you begin to enjoy the bread soaked in water. Finally, you can put thin spaghetti, called capelli d’angelo, in the pot and mix them with the remaining broth.
The Best Places to Eat Brodetto in Italy
Brodetto is a traditional dish in the regions of Molise and Marche. Thus, you can find the best dish of Brodetto and its variations here:
- Ristorante da Nicolino – Via Roma 13, 86039 Termoli CB
- Trattoria da Maria – Via IV Novembre 86, 61032 Fano PU
- Osteria Dentro Le Mura – Via Federico II di Svevia 3, 86039 Termoli CB
- Ristorante La Pergola – Via Giacomo Matteotti 144, 61032 Fano PU
- Ristorante Albergo Miramare – Via Luigi Albertini 26/28, 60131 Ancona AN
By the way, people also call brodetto as boreto or brodeto depending on the dialect.
Sfogliatella is a sweet pastry that resembles a seashell. There are two types of sfogliatella: riccia and frolla. The riccia has a crispy and flaky crust made from thin layers of dough. Whereas, the frolla has a smooth and shortcrust pastry. Both types are filled with a mixture of fresh ricotta cheese, candied oranges, vanilla, and cinnamon, and sprinkled with powdered sugar on top. Sfogliatella originated in Naples, in the Campania region, where it is a popular breakfast or snack item.
The Best Places for Sfogliatella in Italy
The birthplace of Sfogliatella, Naples, is definitely the best place for this dish:
- Pasticceria Pintauro – Via Toledo 275, 80132 Naples NA
- Sfogliatelab – Piazza Garibaldi 82, 80142 Naples NA
- Attanasio – Vico Ferrovia 1/2/3/4, 80142 Naples NA
- Sfogliatella Mary – Galleria Umberto I 66, 80132 Naples NA
- Leopoldo – Via Scarlatti 168/170, 80127 Naples NA.
Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream. Nevertheless, it’s not exactly the same thing. The Italian makes gelato with milk, cream, sugar, and eggs, and churns at a slower speed than ice cream, resulting in a denser and creamier texture. Additionally, gelato has less air and fat than ice cream, which makes it more intense and flavorful. Gelato is said to have originated in Sicily, where people used to mix fruit juices with snow from Mount Etna. Today, gelato comes in many flavors, such as pistachio, hazelnut, lemon, chocolate, and more.
The Best Places to Enjoy Gelato in Italy
The appearance of Gelato is everywhere in Italy. Indeed, you can find a variety of flavors and styles of gelato in different regions of this boot-shaped peninsula:
- La Carraia – Piazza Nazario Sauro 25/r, 50124 Florence FI
- Grom – various locations. See Grom’s website for details.
- Paganelli – Via Alessandro Manzoni 12, 20121 Milan MI
- Gelateria della Passera – Via Toscanella 15/r, 50125 Florence FI
- De’ Coltelli – Lungarno Pacinotti 23, 56126 Pisa PI
Please make sure you don’t miss enjoying gelato in Italy!
Baccalà alla Vicentina
Baccalà alla Vicentina is a dish made with dried cod that dates back to the 15th century. There was a Venetian merchant who brought back some dried cod from Norway and gave it to a local cook who prepared it with local ingredients. The cod is soaked in water for two days to rehydrate it and then cooked slowly with extra virgin olive oil, milk, Parmigiano cheese, onions, and anchovies. The dish is tender and creamy and has a delicate flavor. Baccalà alla Vicentina originated in the city of Vicenza, in the Veneto region, where it is usually served with polenta.
The Best Places for Baccalà alla Vicentina in Italy
Baccalà alla Vicentina is a traditional dish with a long history related to the province of Vicenza. Hence, you will mainly find the best dishes here:
- Trattoria di Palmerino – Via Roma 13, 36066 Sandrigo VI
- Locanda Veneta – Via Legione Antonini 21, 36100 Vicenza VI
- Alla Botte – Via Roma 1, 31010 Cimadolmo TV
- La Rosina – Contrà Marchetti 13, 36063 Marostica VI
- Osteria Il Cursore – Strada Pozzetto 10, 36100 Vicenza VI.
Culurgiones are handmade ravioli stuffed with mashed potatoes, chopped mint, garlic, and grated pecorino sardinia cheese. They are shaped like little pouches and sealed with a decorative pattern. Moreover, some people say the shape of the pasta resembles a wheat ear or a pomegranate seed, symbolizing fertility and abundance. Culurgiones are typically served with tomato sauce and fresh basil. Culurgiones originated in Sardinia, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, where they are a traditional dish for special occasions.
The Best Places to Eat Culurgiones in Italy
The main places to enjoy the dish are in Sardinia, an island region in the Mediterranean Sea. Indeed, Culurgiones is a traditional dish here with a long history:
- Ristorante da Zio Martino – Via Nuoro 126, 08025 Oliena NU
- Ristorante Su Carduleu – Via Nazionale 131, 09071 Abbasanta OR
- The Ristorante Il Rifugio – Via Monte Ortobene 3, 08100 Nuoro NU
- Ristorante Pizzeria Il Pozzo – Via Lungomare 18, 08040 Santa Maria Navarrese OG
- Ristorante Pizzeria La Lanterna – Via Baylle 102, 09124 Cagliari CA.
Caponata is a sweet and sour vegetable dish you can eat as an appetizer, a side dish, or a main course. It is made with eggplant, tomatoes, celery, capers, olives, and other ingredients that vary by region. The vegetables are cooked with sugar, vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil, creating a rich and tangy sauce.
Caponata originated in Sicily, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, where it is a staple of the local cuisine. Actually, the dish originated in the Jewish community of Sicily before the expulsion of 1492. The name is believed to come from “capone”, a local fish served with a sweet and sour sauce.
The Best Places to Enjoy Caponata in Italy
Caponata is a traditional dish with a long history in Sicily or Rome. So, you will find the best Caponata here:
- Al Vino Al Vino – Via dei Serpenti 19, 00184 Rome RM
- Roscioli – Via dei Giubbonari 21/22, 00186 Rome RM
- Trattoria U Fucularu – Via Euplio Reina 7, 95124 Catania CT
- Osteria Ballarò – Piazza Casa Professa 8, 90134 Palermo PA
- The Purple Pig – 444 N Michigan Ave, Chicago IL 60611.
It’s a Taste of Italy
Italian food is more than just pizza and pasta. It’s a celebration of flavors, textures, and aromas that showcase the diversity and creativity of its people. From the Alps to the Mediterranean, from the countryside to the city, each dish tells a story of its origin and evolution. Whether you’re planning a trip to Italy or just want to explore its cuisine at home, these 12 classic Italian foods will give you a taste of its rich and varied gastronomy. Buon appetite!
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Italian cuisine is truly a work of art. It’s incredible how they can incorporate many different flavours and textures into one dish. And you’re right; it’s not just about pizza and pasta. Italian food is so diverse, and each region has its specialities. I would love to visit Italy someday and try all these classic foods. Until then, I’ll have to settle for exploring Italian cuisine at home. Buon appetite!
There’s nothing like eating pizza in Italy! Nothing compares to home made, authentic Italian pizza. It’s the only thing I really eat when i’m over there.
Rose Ann Sales
I wo really love to try the piz in ita! My sis told me it the best! Can wait to try it
Nnniiiccceeeee…on this list, i am most familiar with lasagna and pizza! I am yet to eat lasagna, though. thank you for sharing this list.
These are yummy recipes and some of them are new to me. would love to try them, Thank you for sharing!
Well, now I’m starving! I love Italian food, so I am definitely going to be eating all of these!