One in four Long Islanders traces his or her roots to Italy. And both Nassau and Suffolk have un’abbondanza of Italian and Italian-American restaurants, from modest pizza-and-pasta eateries to regional specialists and Alps-to-Sicily kitchens.
Selecting 10 of them is a difficult but intensely flavorful and satisfying search, whether you’re devoted to ravioli or revere risotto, favor sauces carbonara or clam, enjoy a jolt of chilies and garlic or long for shavings of truffles and Parmesan cheese.
Here are Newsday’s choices for the 10 best Italian restaurants of 2019.
Note: Most dishes mentioned are samples of the restaurants’ menus and may not be available at all times. Seasonal changes and dish substitutions are common.
Autentico (124 South St., Oyster Bay): On an island where Italian cuisine can hew popularly to red sauce, Autentico is eclectic -- an intimate dining room that feels like a tea house, with ever-changing dishes from a Sicilian chef, Francesco Pecoraro, that can evoke regional preparations. Two years in, Pecoraro's pastas are especially polished. They include an excellent spaghetti alla chitarra with clams, peperoncinos and cherry tomatoes; and rich pappardelle alla Bolognese. But Pecoraro also is mindful of special diets, turning out meatless and wheat-less dishes with panache. Both gluten-free and vegetarian diners can find harbor with a starter of crisp panelle, chickpea fritters served with tart, whipped avocado; grain-loving companions can go for charred piadina, an Italian-style flatbread, wrapped around arugula, prosciutto di Parma and melted stracchino cheese. The handwritten menu always lists a few meat entrees, such as a red-wine-braised beef brasato atop polenta. Desserts are mandatory, whether sfingi, the fried Sicilian pastry served with ricotta cream, oranges and pistachios; or pistachio cake topped with fresh berries. More info: 516-922-2212, autenticooysterbay.com
The bumbolone with pastry cream and fresh fruit at Autentico in Oyster Bay.
Cafe Testarossa (499 Jericho Tpke., Syosset): Chef-owner Billy Sansone fuels this high-style, aptly named cafe. It's a comfortable, modern restaurant, good for socializing, business and the points where they meet. Sansone stars with seasonal dishes such as linguine with fava beans, English peas, asparagus, and Corbari tomatoes; and fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta, mascarpone, and mozzarella. Savor stuffed artichoke crusted with Pecorino Romano cheese and delicious veal meatball sliders. Enjoy his Atlantic halibut with a lemon zest-and-breadcrumb crust, too, as well as marinated and grilled octopus with escarole, ceci and tomatoes. Sansone's pastas feature paccheri with pork osso buco meat and white beans, mezze rigatoni in a veal-and-sausage Bolognese with peas and warm ricotta, and housemade ricotta-and-spinach ravioli with marinara sauce. The grilled Black Angus sirloin arrives with caramelized onions and new potatoes; herb-crusted rack of lamb with grilled asparagus. Delectable sweets: caramelized banana custard napoleon with ice cream; pear, strawberry, and raisin almond cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream; coconut creme brulee; flourless chocolate-hazelnut cake with hazelnut gelato and an egg cream shooter. More info: 516-364-8877, cafetestarossa.com
Fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta, mascarpone and mozzarella, served at Cafe Testarossa in Syosset.
Cassariano Italian Eatery
Cassariano Italian Eatery (348 E. Jericho Tpke., Mineola): Chef Giancarlo DiMaggio and owner David Baez team to create an easygoing, friendly and flavor-packed restaurant that features savory fare seasoned with authenticity. Take a northern tour with beef carpaccio, accented with arugula and Parmesan cheese; or veer to the coast with carpaccio of swordfish dotted with capers, both in a lemon dressing. Try the polenta cake finished with creamy Fontina cheese and the tasty arancini, which improve considerably on standard rice balls. Leading pastas: pappardelle or cavatelli Bolognese, spaghetti carbonara, linguine with seafood, veal-and-ricotta cannelloni, braised-beef ravioli in Marsala sauce and spinach-and-ricotta ravioli in a zesty Gorgonzola sauce, in a diverting dish balanced with poached pear. Fig risotto is the unexpected partner for a roasted duck breast in a Port wine reduction. A panko-and-sundried tomato crust brings added texture and taste to pan-seared halibut while asparagus and lemon sauce complement pan-seared tuna. More info: 516-280-8990, cassariano.com
Grilled Chilean sea bass with caper berries, lemon sauce and mixed vegetables at Cassariano Italian Eatery in Mineola.
Franina (58 Jericho Tpke., Syosset): Elegant and traditional, Franina has grown into a remarkable restaurant since it arrived in 1980. Chef-owner Franco Zitoli, his parents, and family have defined Franina. The two dining rooms are handsomely appointed and loaded with regulars. Come for the splashy seafood salad and grilled octopus with white beans. On cooler nights, try the cotechino sausage with lentils or wild boar sausage with cherry peppers and Parmesan polenta. Take the hearty route with a special of tripe with tomatoes and potatoes. Twirl classic pappardelle Bolognese and spoon up orecchiette Norma, in eggplant-and-tomato sauce with a shower of ricotta salata. Turn briefly French with Dover sole meuniere and return to Italy with snapper in herbal tomato broth with baby clams and farro. A spicy cherry-pepper sauce complements the Berkshire pork chop; in another preparation, sauteed apples and fennel gratin do. The mandatory desserts are the cloudlike zabaglione with berries and panna cotta with raspberry sauce. More info: 516-496-9770, franina.com
Lamb chops with lentils and polenta at Franina in Syosset.
Jonathan's Ristorante (15 Wall St., Huntington): Polished, dependable and welcoming, Jonathan's Ristorante immediately makes you feel as though you've been eating there for years. The downtown mainstay is a handsome, cozy spot. And chef Tito Onofre's cooking ensures return visits. Soft polenta with wild mushrooms is a soothing starter, as well as his lentil soup and rice balls with mushrooms. Or you can take another route with refreshing tuna tartare; and a goat-cheese flatbread gone seasonal with asparagus, leeks, mushrooms and crisp pancetta. Stellar pastas include tagliatelle with bay scallops, morels, asparagus and leeks in a bechamel sauce; bucatini Bolognese; linguine with swordfish, capers, olives, and tomato sauce; and linguine with clams. Notable main courses: double-cut pork chops with a maple-balsamic glaze, sirloin steak with green peppercorn sauce, rib-eye steak with salsa verde, chicken with lemon-and-rosemary sauce, branzino with lemon-caper sauce; and, at lunch, crabcake with arugula and fennel salad, and chicken parmigiana. A pine nut and chestnut tart, panna cotta with berries, and gelati and sorbets are apropos finales. More info: 631-549-0055, jonathansristorante.com
A double-cut pork chop is served with artichokes and cipollini onions at Jonathan's Ristorante in Huntington.
Nick & Toni's
Nick & Toni's (136 N. Main St., East Hampton): Nick & Toni's is a star turn, whether you're eyeballing the celebrities who join the festivities, or enjoying the stellar cuisine of chef Joseph Realmuto. On Saturdays in summer, this is the white-hot table of the Hamptons, as it has been for 30 years. For many of them, the essential pasta has been and still is penne alla vecchia bettola, in a zesty, oven-roasted tomato sauce. More recent winners: chestnut-ricotta mezzaluna with braised short rib and horseradish, and bucatini tossed with Dungeness crab meat, Calabrian chilies and toasted breadcrumbs. Realmuto's striped bass crudo with salsa verde shines in every way, as does his whole black sea bass from the wood-burning oven. Likewise, swordfish with fairy tale eggplant and fennel puree. Veal chop Milanese with a salad of Sun Gold tomato, corn and arugula is accented with preserved-lemon vinaigrette; the Painted Hills rib-eye steak, with polenta fries and shrimp butter. If you are there when pizzas are served, know that they're fine. Superb desserts: bombolini, cheesecake profiteroles, ruby peach sorbet. More info: 31-324-3550, nickandtonis.com
Whole, oven-roasted black sea bass with caponata, as served at Nick & Toni's in East Hampton.
Orto (90 N. Country Rd., Miller Place): Eric Lomando's seasonal, country-style restaurant immediately wins you over with rich, hearty Italian fare at this cash-or-check-only destination. He serves a fine, fritto misto of seafood and a bracing potato-leek soup on the ever-changing menu, plus a lush duck liver mousse with orange mostarda. Complement them with farro salad with roasted beets and feta cheese. Top pastas: pappardelle Bolognese, lasagna Bolognese, rigatoni all'Amatriciana, cavatelli with pancetta, duck ragu, and kale. Follow these with the braised pork braciola packed with prosciutto and Parmesan cheese or the juicy hanger steak with greens and a potato puree. Go seaside with the diverting roasted hake piccata paired with braised leeks or have a creative surf-and-turf of roasted monkfish with duck confit and mushroom broth. Typically satisfying sweets include warm doughnuts with chocolate sauce, a New York-style cheesecake, pistachio cake with citrus cream and rhubarb and brown butter cake with poached pear and mascarpone, gelati, and sorbets. More info: 631-473-0014, restaurantorto.com
The beet gnocchi pasta with goat cheese crema and poppy seed brown butter served at Orto in Miller Place.
Piccolo Mondo (1870 E. Jericho Tpke., Huntington): Piccolo Mondo debuted in 2005. In 2018, chef Steven Del Lima elevated it from a reliable, comfortable eatery to a destination restaurant. It's a very satisfying union of Italian and New American, with excellent service. Del Lima's delights include sauteed baby artichokes with whipped goat cheese and mandarin orange jam; braised short-rib meatballs atop Gorgonzola and polenta cakes with a hint of horseradish aioli; and the baked clams you've been looking for. His 16-ounce tomahawk veal chop parmigiana is grand; his thick, brined Berkshire pork chops its rival, with cherry-pepper jus. Crisp soft-shell crabs turn tropical with mango -- jicama-pea shoot slaw, grilled pineapple, toasted coconut and a coconut-lime vinaigrette. Pan-seared Alaskan halibut is backed by couscous with grilled corn, sweet potato and asparagus. Cinnamon-sugar bombolini ready for a dip in strawberry preserves: an ideal finale. More info: 631-462-0718, piccolomondoli.com
Pan seared Alaskan halibut with grilled local corn, sweet potato and asparagus pearl couscous with sauteed baby spinach at Piccolo Mondo in Huntington.
Scarpetta Beach (290 Old Montauk Hwy., Montauk): No restaurant has a better ocean view than Scarpetta Beach, situated in Gurney's Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa. The spectacular setting is apropos for the exceptional Italian fare that has contributed to the transformation of the former Gurney's Inn. In season, snag an alfresco table, take in the waves and the sunset. And order the glistening fluke crudo with blood orange and pomegranate. Finish all the creamy polenta with a truffle-mushroom fricassee. Nibble on beef short ribs with vegetable and farro risotto. Refresh yourself with a chicory salad, with blood orange and crisp Taggiasca olives. The spaghetti with tomato and basil makes the dish seem new; short rib and bone marrow agnolotti with notes of garlic and horseradish, very of the moment. Lardo-wrapped halibut arrives with smoked potato, braised leeks, artichoke, and silky Blue Foot mushrooms; red snapper with caramelized shallots, cauliflower and grated gray mullet roe. The juicy, roasted organic chicken is enriched with herbed spaetzle and apricot mostarda. Limoncello semifreddo, creme fraiche cheesecake with mango compote and pineapple-tarragon granita, and coconut panna cotta typify the sweets. More info: 631-668-1771, gurneysresorts.com
Yellowtail crudo as served at Scarpetta in Montauk.
The Trattoria (532 N. Country Rd., St. James): Tucked away, The Trattoria stands out. Chef-owner Steve Gallagher delivers an extraordinary taste of Italian and Italian-American cuisine via seasonal menus and confident style. It's cash or check only. Housemade ricotta, sun-dried tomato tapenade and pickled vegetables are fine company for your bread. Carrot-ginger soup with whipped mascarpone and amaretti, pasta e fagioli, tripe parmigiana and baked littlenecks are savory antipasti; cacio e pepe with tagliatelle, bucatini carbonara, spaghetti all'Amatriciana, pappardelle Bolognese and saffron malloreddus with shrimp, tomato and leeks, vivid pastas. The knockout lasagna Bolognese is considered a secondo here. Consider the red-wine brasato with polenta, chicken al mattone with roasted potatoes, veal chop parmigiana, and branzino with chicory-bitter puntarelle and Romanesco broccoli. Gallagher's black-and-white creme brulee is sensational. Allow, too, for the maple mascarpone cheesecake and warm chocolate cake with vanilla gelato and balsamic-cherry sauce. More info: 631-584-3518, thetrattoriarestaurant.com
Beet salad made with farro roasted beets and carrots with citrus vinaigrette, feta and sunflower seeds at The Trattoria in St. James.