Phoenix is known for its blazing hot weather, flat roads, Hatch chile predilection and undying love of cheese crisps. Italian food — well, this Southwest capitol hasn’t exactly been well-known for its Italian cuisine, and it’s safe to say that Chicago and NYC have had the honor of that distinction.
But with Italian-centric restaurants popping up around town, the tides have begun to turn. Phoenix is a food-savvy city, and they’ve got some top-notch Italian fare hidden among the health-food-centric cafes and the excellent Mexican food.
Yours truly — also known as your favorite Chicago deep-dish place — has joined the Italian food renaissance. And in honor of our AZ arrival, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite Italian eats in the area. Keep reading to see which Italian spots are among the best restaurants in Phoenix.
Tomaso’s When in Rome
Okay, this entry isn’t necessarily in Phoenix proper, but it’s still one of our favorite restaurants in the Phoenix area. The original Tomaso’s has been voted the Valley’s top Italian restaurant 30+ years running, a local institution if you will. Now, Phoenix icon Tomaso Maggiore has branched out with his latest Scottsdale concept, Tomaso’s When in Rome. Roman fare has been blowing up as of late, and Phoenix has received the memo.
Inside, the walls pay tribute to Rome’s famed monuments — an open space that looks oh-so authentically Mediterranean — and the restaurant is home to a wine cellar 1000+ bottles deep. Tomaso himself says this restaurant was designed to give diners a more modern experience than his first restaurant on Camelback Road. And if classic is what you’re going for, the Camelback location is still in play.
This Valley-gem boasts a strong lineup of house pasta, charcuterie boards and dinnertime staples like prime rib roast and plenty of seafood. And, as if that weren’t enough, Tomaso’s offers an all-day happy hour with $7 Italian wines and plenty of small bites from gnocchi to bruschetta and calamari. These are a great way to take the menu for a spin while on a budget.
Bright, industrial-chic wine bar, Postino in Arcadia is one of our favorite restaurants near Phoenix. The perfect after-work spot to enjoy a variety of Postino’s signature bruschetta options and plenty of wine — there’s no better place to unwind after a long day.
But back to the bruschetta selection. Diners pay $15 for a choice of four of the featured toasts, which range from the traditional, with mozzarella, tomato and basil, to the more creative, with almond hummus with chopped tomato or ricotta, dates and pistachios.
While it’s not exactly a place to dive into a deep bowl of pasta or personal pizza, this laidback hip spot boasts a decent-size collection of wines from California and Europe and is open for brunch. Weekend brunch is a decidedly less Italian experience, but a tasty one nonetheless. Settle in for the Farm Scramble or the breakfast panini, the BELT (a BLT with egg) and the kicker, a $5 mimosa.
Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Pizza Kitchen
Picazzo’s is the place for a pizza lover with food allergies. The restaurant’s ethos is centered around being inclusive — providing options for the vegans, vegetarians, and gluten-allergic folk who usually get left out of the Italian dining experience.
While the mentions of vegan and gluten-free may have some readers ready to skip this section, we insist — Picazzo’s is the real deal. A cleaner approach to pizza, these guys use antibiotic-free meat, non-GMO cheeses and a variety of organic ingredients.
Oh yeah, New Times of Phoenix has voted Picazzo’s the best gluten-free restaurant in Phoenix twice, likely due to rarities like GF-friendly focaccia, pasta and pizzas. And just because they’re healthy and diet conscious, it doesn’t mean that this little spot is holding out on the drinks. Half-off wine on Tuesdays and Saturdays make this place budget friendly, and hand-crafted cocktails round out the menu.
Crudo doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of the traditional Italian restaurant, and that’s fine with us. As you’ll notice, our list has plenty of the old standbys — pizza, pasta and cozy ambiance. A unique twist, we say, is enough to make this one of our favorite Italian (or Italian-ish) restaurants in the Phoenix area.
Crudo, on the other hand, is a celebration of raw seafood and Italian detailing. Local Chef Cullen Campbell has put together a strong showing of sashimi-inspired seafood dishes, alongside risotto and gnocchi with unique, sea-centric twists.
And if seafood isn’t your thing, there are plenty of meat options — pig ears, pork belly, bone marrow and lamb belly, which is a little more unique than its ubiquitous pork counterpart.
Delightfully minimalist and modern, this restaurant features phenomenal cocktails that combine exciting ingredients (hello, beets and pistachio gin). There’s also the option of exploring the tasting menu — a good choice, as you’ll find it full of exciting offers. You’ll get to dive into a whole new culinary experience right on the spot. The coursing options are relatively affordable too, ranging from $40-60 a person depending on how many courses you order.
Cibo Urban Wine Café and Pizzeria
Cibo Urban Wine Café and Pizzeria is the creation of Italian-trained pizza master, Guido Saccone. A cute, cozy pizzeria and wine bar known for its wood-fired pizza as much as its crepes, salads, and house-made pasta, Cibo’s is a cool, easygoing place to get a bite to eat with your better half or a small group of friends.
Beyond the great bites, Cibo has a great atmosphere — it’s housed in a 1913 bungalow with ample outdoor seating. Beyond the well-documented tastiness and of their pies, Cibo was voted “most romantic” restaurant in the area. A great place to start a new romance or celebrate an old one, if you ask us.
Avanti is an old-school Italian joint, where you can plan on having a romantic night out or celebrate something special with family and friends. In business for over 40 years, Avanti has a unique bar and lounge with a daily happy hour. They also have a long list of Italian specialties like linguini carbonara and homemade lasagna.
Local diners say Avanti is a unique restaurant that’s consistently good. It might not be the most glamorous option on the list, but this tried and true menu simply can’t be missed.
One of the community’s favorite restaurants in Phoenix, Alexi’s has long been feeding busy city dwellers. The space provides a beautiful ambiance for the city’s lunching business folk, as well as those looking to grab a quick bite before a night out on the town. With a robust, unpretentious menu, a spacious patio dining area and a nice happy hour, Alexi’s is the perfect place to grab a bite of pasta, grilled halibut or one of the restaurant specialties — rack of lamb.
The menu is a combination of Italian fare like linguini and tortellini, as well as lunch options like gyros and pita sandwiches. While not the most adventurous restaurant Phoenix has to offer, residents have long come for the consistently good food and better service.
Although we may be a bit biased, the greater Phoenix area has long gone without a decent deep-dish spot. Sure, one can order frozen Giordano’s pizzas straight to their door, whether they’re located in Arizona, California, or Montana — but nothing beats the real deal.
We’ve got it all: famous Chicago deep dish, covered in rich tomato sauce and stuffed with all your favorite toppings — or on the flip side, thin and ultra-thin crust pizzas for when you’re feeling like keeping things light (well, relative to pizza).
Stop by Giordano’s for a bite to eat in our low-key, family-friendly restaurant, or pick up a pie to enjoy with a movie at home. Your choice.
Tratto boasts upscale Italian cuisine in this whitewashed, unassuming space in the Town and Country Center. Diners are treated to many exciting appetizers in this bright, yet slightly rustic restaurant.
Tratto was created by the James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Bianco — who happens to own the popular pizzeria next door, Pizzeria Bianco. Tratto is Bianco’s take on a cozy trattoria, perfectly designed for the desert locale. An intimate Italian-American restaurant, Tratto features a rotating, limited menu dependent on seasonal produce. They have an open kitchen at the center of it all. While you can’t seem to view the menu ahead of time, previous diners cite the thin-cut pork chops as a favorite, along with the cocktail “A-game.”
Tratto provides a solid experience for those who want a great example of seasonal fare or an excellent spot to take that date.
Mora Italian is the place to go when you want classic Italian food, but want to eat it in a bright, bustling atmosphere. Located on the popular 7th Street Stretch, celebrity chef Scott Conant has created a clean, modern version of the neighborhood eateries you’ll find in Italy-proper. Conant, of Chopped and Top Chef fame, has teamed up with the people behind Pomo Pizzeria to create this breezy, beautiful restaurant.
Mora boasts a high-energy dining room and a menu full of classic Italian standbys with a dash of modern panache. Diners can enjoy a long wine list filled to the brim with excellent Italian wines, as well as a selection of bruschetta, salads, and antipasti to share with the table.
While there’s nothing on the menu that’ll challenge your defined food comfort zone, this modern osteria is filled with old favorites of the Italian oeuvre. Plus, with Conant behind the establishment, you’re avoiding that stuffy, old-school Italian restaurant of your youth.
Nook, a staple in both Arcadia and Downtown Phoenix, is known in the community as a laid-back place to grab a drink and some tasty happy-hour munchies, as well as a full-service restaurant with top-notch desserts, courtesy of Tracy Dempsey. Dempsey has whipped up some sold creations like the olive oil ricotta cake — a not-too-sweet post-dinner delight. Or there’s the always-tasty Chocolate Espresso Mousse Cake or the Ooey Gooey Butter Cake. Long story short, you won’t want to skip dessert this time.
Nook’s menu boasts an exciting collection of bruschetta. There is an eggplant parm and a caprese, as well as a less traditional option — a short rib accompanied by a delicious mushroom duxelle. The American half of the hyphen comes into play in the entrée portion of the menu. Diners can choose from options like the lamb shank, which comes with a roasted carrot puree, braised short ribs, and an espresso-rubbed prime filet.
Adela’s is the family-owned, comforting picture of what an Italian restaurant should be. Housed in an unassuming storefront, Adela’s is home to some amazing lasagna, baked ziti and a handful of starters like fried calamari and escargot.
Adela’s Italian boasts near-perfect Yelp reviews, echoing the praise for the home-cooked charm Adela’s brings to the table. While this isn’t the sleek, modern Italian restaurant places like Nook and Mora have brought to the Phoenix landscape, the unpretentious, easygoing strip mall location is simply a great place to get authentic, hearty bowls of pasta and cheesy, meaty lasagna. Additionally, the chicken piccata, served with lemon wine sauce and capers, can’t be beaten. And just when it seems like things couldn’t get any better, almost anything you order comes with a warm side of Adela’s homemade bread.
With its Italian, farmhouse-style atmosphere, North Italia is a big, bustling, family-style eatery. The dining room, outfitted with community dining tables and plenty of open space, is perfect for family get-togethers and special occasions.
The menu is composed of a decent-sized selection of pizzas and pastas — made from scratch, with tried and true flavor combinations. Think Bolognese with traditional meat sauce, chicken parmesan, and margarita pizza. While you won’t find much experimentation at North Italia, you’ll get consistent, authentic dishes that hit the spot when you’re craving Italian.
Parting Thoughts on the Phoenix Italian Scene
When it comes to Italian food, Phoenix may not be the first American city that springs to mind, but it’s plain as day — where good eats are concerned, we’re in good company. From Nook’s modern Italian vibe to the rustic Roman charm of Tomaso’s When in Rome, this Southwest city boasts some great pizza, pasta and parmigiana.
If you’ve got pizza on the brain, stop by Giordano’s location in Peoria, AZ. With deep-dish pizzas and a whole lot more, we’re excited to bring Chicago’s best pizza to the area, and we look forward to meeting our new neighbors.