Rao's is just as well known for its jukebox, its quirky decor, its down-home hospitality, its delectable Neapolitan cuisine and, perhaps more than all the aforementioned, its extreme exclusivity. Indeed, it is probably the most difficult restaurant in New York in which to get a reservation. It is not untypical for diners to endure year-long waits for one its ten tables. Following a rave review by New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton in 1977, this Spanish Harlem neighborhood favorite exploded as the most desirable pasta spot in the city and has truly remained affixed to its top spot.
2. Harry Cipriani
Situated in the Sherry-Netherland hotel, this Cipriani outpost lives up to the famously Italian hospitality family's standard of outstanding taste, experience and presentation. Menu items like asparagus vinaigrette and fried calamari to start, and entrees like fritto misto and Italian comfort staples like sirloin, lasagna and minestrone are the stars of this menu. As with any Cipriani locale, this is a place to see and be seen as much as it is to enjoy some mouth-watering Italian nosh.
781 5th Ave # B
3. Del Posto/Babbo/Esca
What would a "top Italian" list be without the incredible brain children of Chef Mario Batali. As such, we chose not to choose just one and present three stellar choices.
Del Posto is one to wow and more than realizes its four-star reputation. With an extensive and top-notch wine list and dishes to rival your glass, this is the place to go when you want to truly out-do yourself.
Esca is the seafood piece of Batali's puzzle. With menu items like crudo and spaghetti with lobster, topped with mint and chile this is must-try for all New Yorkers.
Babbo is Batali's quintessential classic Italian locale. In true Iron Chef fashion,l Babbo features a seasonally-conscious "Ingredient of the Month". The eight course tasting menu will blow you away AND like cause for you to have to be rolled home.
But it's worth it. It's all worth it.
Del Posto: 212 497-8090; 85 Tenth Ave.
Esca: 212-564-7272; 402 W. 43rd St.
Babbo: 212- 777-0303; 110 Waverly Pl.
Chef Scott Conant has rightfully earned the reputation for some of the best Italian dishes in NYC. Scarpetta, his downtown outpost, delivers the dishes that he is so famous for in a much more downtown and, dare we say, enjoyable atmosphere. Scarpetta will have you coming back for the vibe just as soon as it will for the food. The scallop and yellowtail carpaccios are first-rate. Of course, these are simply preludes to the star of any Italian spot: the pasta. The agnolotti dal plin that Conant introduced at Alto (little pasta pouches stuffed with ground pork and melted fontina cheese) adorns this menu as well, as does the house-made tagliatelle, sprinkled with a rich, creamy ragù made with ground braised lamb shank and spring peas.
355 W.14th St.
An Upper East Side staple, Nello is yet another place to see, be seen, and enjoy a delicious plate of pasta while doing so. Appetizers like toasted beets with goat cheese entice, while the entreés including the risotto special, chicken liver with balsamic reduccion and Tagliatelle with White Truffle are amongst menu favorites. Small but mighty, this one does not seat many yet boasts vibe-y music and an even vibe-ier crowd.
696 Madison Ave.; nr. 62nd St.