Italian cuisine is unquestionably Long Island’s most popular. Whether offering Italian-American favorites or regional Italian specialties, the restaurants continue to grow. And almost every community hosts at least one. So the competition to rank in the top tier is intense. Here are the 10 best for 2017.
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.
Aria Melanie (240 W. Main St., Bay Shore): Though it's only a year old, Aria Melanie is an old-fashioned charmer, a polished version of a mom-and-pop. Overlooking little Lawrence Lake, the restaurant was formerly home to The LakeHouse (now decamped to the shores of the Great South Bay) and is even more romantic in its new incarnation. The name comes from owner Frank Mandato's granddaughters, the menu from chef Fabrizio Perinelli, who grew up (and cooked) south of Rome. Begin with stuffed figs with cantaloupe and prosciutto or eggplant caponata, move on to the excellent pasta dishes or entrees such as the snapper or grouper en papillote. Don't miss the patio with a fire pit, a perfect spot for an aperitif before, or digestif after dinner. More info: 631-500-9045, ariamelanie.com
Crostini topped with sweet-sour eggplant caponata and goat cheese is served at Aria Melanie in Bay Shore.
Autentico (124 South St., Oyster Bay): A restaurant with a ton of heart, Autentico is the first American venture for the Italian chef Francesco Pecoraro. Before landing in Oyster Bay, Pecoraro had cooked in Emilia-Romagna and his native Sicily. The setting still feels like the bakery it had been in its former life, complete with homemade Italian pastries near the cash register. In the charming 40-seat dining room, each table has been named after a region of Italy, identified with a framed place card, from Veneto and Calabria to Tuscany, Piedmont and Sicily. The menu changes frequently and might include cheeses and cured meats with mostarda di Cremona; panelle, or chickpea fritters, with scrambled egg and Grana Padano cheese; anellini pasta baked with eggplant, sausage and Gorgonzola; spaghetti with tuna sauce and capers; stracchino cheese mousse with honey and caramelized nuts; brioche with gelato. More info: 516-922-2212, autenticooysterbay.com
Anellini Siciliani, baked with eggplant, Gorgonzola and sausage, is served at Autentico in Oyster Bay.
Caci North Fork
Caci North Fork (56125 Main Rd., Southold): When chef Marco Pellegrini opened Caci in Southold in September 2014, the North Fork got the fine Italian restaurant it deserved. The simple, rustic décor -- crisp white walls, warm wooden floors, exposed beams and bare table tops -- provide a neutral backdrop to the chef's artistry. A native of Umbria (and formerly the chef at one of Italy's most luxurious resorts), Pellegrini combines the purity of Umbrian cooking with a New American innovation that never veers off into culinary self-indulgence. He makes his own pasta, bread and gelato, grills his meats over a wood fire. The seasonal menu blends local produce with gutsy yet refined Italian cooking. Try the seafood guazzetto, a light, simmered, soupy production with monkfish, calamari, clams and mussels, and don't miss the supernal veal chop. More info: 631-765-4383, cacinorthfork.com
Potato gnocchi with Gorgonzola, radicchio and walnuts is served in a balsamic sauce at Caci North Fork in Southold.
Casa Rustica (175 W. Main St., Smithtown): Mimmo and Benedetto Gambino's full-flavored restaurant has starred for more than 30 years. The décor may change and some dishes come and go. But it's as consistent as it gets. Recommended: stuffed zucchini blossoms; grilled calamari; grilled octopus salad; orange-and-fennel salad; lasagna Bolognese, pasta con le sarde; lobster risotto; lobster fra diavolo; whole branzino baked in a salt crust; veal chop Milanese; herb-rubbed grilled rib-eye with lemon zest; chicken scarpariello; all desserts. More info: 631-265-9265, casarustica.net
Lobster risotto with roasted tomatoes is served at Casa Rustica in Smithtown.
Franina (58 Jericho Tpke., Syosset): Since 1980, Franina has matured gracefully while trendlets have perished around it. Originally, this was a pretty modest spot started by Franco and Nina Zitoli. But over the decades, it expanded the repertoire and refined the style. The gifts of maturity include a finely tuned kitchen (now overseen by the Zitolis' son, Victor), impeccable service and one of Nassau County's best Italian wine lists. Pay close attention to the specials which, recently, included the Ligurian pasta trofie with fresh porcini mushrooms. Recommended from the menu: cotechino sausage with lentils; tripe with potatoes and tomatoes; seafood salad with lobster, shrimp, and calamari; pappardelle Bolognese; fusilli with meatballs and tomato sauce; lobster-and-shrimp fra diavolo with fettuccine; striped bass oreganata; tiramisu; zabaglione with berries for two. More info: 516-496-9770, franina.com
Lobster with shellfish fra diavolo is served at Franina in Syosset.
Nick & Toni’s
Nick & Toni's (136 N. Main St., East Hampton): On a Saturday night in high summer, Hollywood stars and Wall Street titans converge on Nick & Toni's in East Hampton. In truth, the restaurant could get by on star power alone, but it has nonetheless established itself as one of the best on Long Island. Chef-partner Joe Realmuto makes prodigious use of the local produce, wine and seafood. He also maintains a good-size organic garden (and, in season, hosts a weekly farmers market in the parking lot). Realmuto's ever-changing menu is equal parts rustic Italian and New American. Pastas and risottos are always recommended, as is anything issuing from the wood-burning oven, especially the wood-roasted whole fish. Vegetables are a big deal here, and vegetarians will not feel deprived in the least. More info: 631-324-3550, nickandtonis.com
Cavatelli with oxtail ragu is served at Nick & Toni's in East Hampton.
Orto (90 North Country Rd., Miller Place): "Orto" is Italian for vegetable garden, and few Long Island chefs care as much for vegetables as chef-owner Eric Lomando. His menu -- composed of Italian, Italian-American and basically Lomandian dishes -- changes with the market and the seasons, but might include peaches with stracciatella and balsamic vinegar, tomato gazpacho with marinated shrimp, beet gnocchi with poppy seed butter, sweet corn ravioli with tomato confit, duck with green farro and sweet-sour turnip, branzino with roasted eggplant puree. Housed in a gracious house that dates from the 1820s, Orto is a haven for oenophiles: There's no corkage fee and the short wine list is full of well-priced rarities. Cash only. More info: 631-473-0014, restaurantorto.com
Duck confit and duck sausage with farro verde and a turnip agrodolce is served at Orto in Miller Place.
Osteria Leana (76 South St., Oyster Bay): At his year-old restaurant, chef-owner Peter Van Der Mije blends regional Italian dishes with a farm-to-table approach -- which is exactly what Italian cooking should be. With its open kitchen and sleek, vaguely nautical design, it's the hippest thing to hit Oyster Bay in years. The menu changes frequently, but it's always based on local fish, poultry and vegetables (when they are in season). Selections might include burrata with grilled crostini, roasted carrots with honey ricotta and sage, hand-rolled pici pasta with little neck clams, Crescent Farms duck with smoked cabbage and Port reduction, grilled hanger steak with mushroom-wine demi glacé and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. More info: 516-584-6995, osterialeana.com
Spaghetti alla chitarra with lobster is served at Osteria Leana.
Scarpetta Beach (90 Old Montauk Hwy., Montauk): Long Island's easternmost Italian restaurant, Scarpetta Beach made a big splash of 2015, turning oceanfront Gurney's Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa into a major dining destination. Seafood, unsurprisingly, takes center stage, with raw crudos made with yellowtail, ginger oil and pickled onion, or diver scallops with black truffle, peas and Aleppo pepper. Pastas include black farfalle with seafood ragout, gnochetti with lobster and guanciale. Octopus is braised with artichoke and celery, calamari and shrimp are deep fried, halibut is done with artichokes, blue foot mushrooms and asparagus. For landlubbers: duck foie gras ravioli in a Marsala reduction, filet mignon with trumpet mushrooms, cipollini onion and truffled spinach. More info: 631-668-1771, gurneysmontauk.com
Halibut en croute with salsa verde is served at Scarpetta Beach in Montauk.
Trattoria Diane (21 Bryant Ave., Roslyn): This Roslyn stalwart opened in 1993, and though the menu has changed in the ensuing decades -- evolving from French to Tuscan to Roman to its current Roman-pan-Italian-New-American fusion -- the restaurant's style has not. The dining room has a low-key elegance that is almost as rare in Nassau County as is its hushed decibel level. The flatware and stemware are lovely, the fruity olive oil hasn't been "enhanced" with balsamic vinegar or herbs, the wine list is excellent. Recommended: vegetable starters of grilled zucchini with orange and mint, or fried squash blossoms; pastas such as spaghetti carbonara or ricotta-filled ravioli anointed simply with browned butter and strewn with fresh peas, fava beans and asparagus. The Tuscan pot roast with Parmesan mashed potatoes has graced every menu. Desserts, from Diane's Bakery next door, are all excellent. More info: 516-621-2591, trattoriadiane.com
Three berry tart is served at Trattoria Diane in Roslyn.