Mangia Italiana! The Best Italian Restaurants in Detroit
Story by Bill Bowen, Tom DeMay, Nicole Rupersburg, Michelle Fusco, Michele Jasukatis, Kim Silarski | Photos by Cybelle Codish
The bounty of Italian cuisine in The D is as diverse as Italy itself.
Whether you’re looking for culinary traditions hailing from Italy’s Anglo-Saxon-inspired northern regions, the bright flavors of Tuscany, the rich tastes of Rome, the Mediterranean fusion of Sicily or Americanized versions of Italian staples, outstanding examples of them all abound throughout the area.
To find some of the best, Visit Detroit polled several of its regular contributors and staff members. All were asked to dine at their favorites and then share their insider's view as to why their pick is a standout among many. So, welcome to their tour of Italy in metro Detroit. You're sure to find that one, two or more of these eateries will make you polish off your plate, rub your belly and say, "Grazie!"
Best Italian Restaurants in Detroit
Bucci Ristorante, Grosse Pointe Woods
"An open kitchen is a treat at any restaurant, but Bucci's (boo-cheese) resembles a stage and the cooks impossibly graceful dancers effortlessly whipping up signature dishes. It's well worth the wait to secure one of the few stools along the broad granite bar just to see them in action. But no matter where you're seated, your palate will thrill to the passionate skill of chef/owner Bujar Mamuslari. The well-edited menu and wine list reflect his years of European training and his ability to offer dishes that bear little similarity to the typical heavily sauced offerings often found at other Italian restaurants. In fact, seafood is more prominent here than at many Italian spots. But if you are a traditionalist, please consider the fine eggplant parmigiana. For me, though, the chicken and shrimp fiorentina always brings me back. The chicken and jumbo shrimp are dressed in lemon wine sauce presented over sautéed spinach and tomato concasse. An arugula salad, a side of toothsome pasta, and an elegant tiramisu or steamy espresso help complete my favorite culinary ballet."
- Kim Salarski,copy editor, Visit Detroit magazine
Cafe Cortina, Farmington Hills
"One thing I always notice when I step into an Italian restaurant is the music. Café Cortina gets that right, right off the bat. I'm not talking about opera, classical or that big moon in your eye sort of stuff, either. They kick modern popular Italian music at an easy-on-the-ears-so-you-can-still-talk level and it's quite refreshing. The wait staff greets you with a pleasant "buon giorno," too. That all adds to the warm and friendly atmosphere, which sends you straight to a small cafe in Italy.
"Looking for the basics like pasta al dente? Got it. Homemade ravioli with fresh ricotta? Deeelish. Great vino? Sure. Fresh bread? Of course. How about stepping out of your comfort zone and sampling a signature dish? That's what I do when I'm there. They have this homemade pasta with lamb and sun-dried tomatoes that's amazing. And, I can't get enough of the seasonal zuppa di zucca (buttnernut squash soup) with its peppery bite and bits of fresh fruit and walnuts right in the soup. I could go on and on with this dribble, but you'd be better off zipping on over to Café Cortina to eat for yourself. Mangia!"
– Bill Bowen, creative director, Visit Detroit magazine
Giovanni's Ristorante, Detroit
"Off the beaten path on Oakwood Boulevard in southwest Detroit, Giovanni's Ristorante has long been one of the best Italian restaurants in Detroit, and my favorite destination for an authentic and delicious Italian experience. The menu features a wide range of classic Italian stalwarts. Starters include minestrone soup and a wonderful Caesar salad with fresh ribbons of Parmesan on top. Entrees encompass a large variety of veal, chicken and seafood dishes, but the pasta is truly the standout here. All the pasta is fresh made in the kitchen, and that's obvious when you take your first, perfectly al dente bite. Traditional offerings such as manicotti and lasagna never disappoint, but I highly recommend the fresh-made Parmesan-potato gnocchi in a rich porcini, white wine and cream sauce. Incredibly dense, rich and earthy tasting, this dish is simply outstanding. The wine list is also superb, featuring a collection of both traditional Italian varietals, including a fine selection of Barolos and a full page devoted to Super Tuscan blends. Half bottles and wine-by-the-glass are available as well. And as a perfect way to finish off the night, make sure to save room for a homemade cannoli."
– Tom DeMay, partner at Octane Design, production house for Visit Detroit magazine
Luciano's Restaurant, Clinton Township
"Luciano's is where the Italians go when they decide to dine out for Italian. I know this because I married into an Italian family – the kind that cans its own tomatoes and stuffs its own sausage – and Luciano's has earned our high praise. A local favorite for 20-plus years, Luciano's is owned and operated by the Gianino family. The charming, Old World décor coupled with warm and friendly service make you feel right at home. Photos of grandchildren adorn the lobby walls. One of the dining rooms is a beautifully lit trompe l'oeil village design with 3-D accents inspired by Luciano Gianino's hometown of Augusta, Sicily. The true test of any Italian restaurant is the quality of its sugo (sauce), and Luciano's scores an A+. The meat sauce is just right and the Alfredo is light and perfectly seasoned. Pasta Marinara is a house specialty, with fresh and tender sautéed shrimp, scallops, clams and calamari served in a red sauce over a bed of fettuccini. The beauty of the expansive menu is that recipes rely on simple ingredients and a simple presentation. It's the taste that takes center stage."
– Michelle Fusco, contributing writer, Visit Detroit magazine
Ristorante di Fratelli, Shelby Township
"Find out where the locals like to eat, and you've struck gold. Such is the case at Ristorante Di Fratelli, where neighbors greet each other as they make their way to their tables. The "Restaurant of Brothers" has been serving up traditional Italian fare since 2001, when brothers-in-law Joe Costanza and Skip Special teamed up. Costanza uses his Sicilian heritage to create a menu based on beloved family recipes. A customer favorite is the homemade gnocchi. Costanza mixes the perfect blend of potatoes and ricotta cheese to create the dough, then he hand rolls each piece on a specially designed board. The result is tiny grooved dumplings about the size of an adult pinky finger that are just out of this world. Customers can top their gnocchi, and any pasta, with one of three sauces: marinara, meat or palomino, a cream and red sauce combination. Di Fratelli's chicken dishes keep customers coming back for more. Costanza's chicken parmigiana is one of his signature creations – and one of my favorites."
– Michele Jasukaitis, contributing writer, Visit Detroit magazine
Roma Cafe, Detroit
"The Roma Cafe in downtown Detroit's historic Eastern Marketis the oldest and one of the best Italian restaurants in Detroit, dating back to 1890. Walking through the heavy doors feels as if you are taking a step back through time. Owner Jan Sossi Belcoure even says the place looks almost as it did 80 years ago.
The food is classic Italian-American: big flavors in even bigger portions with no holding back on the butter. I find the gnocchi a la palomino alone makes Roma worth a visit. The house-made creamy tomato basil sauce – redolent with the luscious smell of garlic – covers tender yet firm potato dumplings. This dish, a solid representation of a menu full of hearty pastas and heaping helpings of sautéed seafood and USDA prime steaks, is a standout of rib-sticking simplicity. It also happens to be vegetarian, though that won't be the first thought that occurs to you after taking that first rich, mouthwatering bite. You might also want to try the fresh lake perch with Roma's signature savory meat sauce or the restaurant's custom chopped salad, made fresh – and at the individual request – for each guest."
– Nicole Rupersburg, freelance metro Detroit-based food writer
NOTE: Roma Cafe closed in July 2017.
Buca di Beppo, Various Locations in Metro Detroit
Buca di Beppo is a fun, casual, raucous family restaurant. The food is simple southern Italian served family-style. That means HUGE portions at low prices, enough to feed a family of four or more. If your group is extra-large, reserve the kooky Pope Table, a private room that seats up to 20 people decorated entirely in kitschy pope memorabilia, complete with the piece de resistance: a bust of the current pope encased on a giant lazy Susan in the middle of the table.
Michele is a Metro Detroit mom with a passion for sharing Michigan travel experiences. You might find Michele at the newest coffee shop or on a Lake Michigan beach. Her passions include traveling and exploring Michigan with her family and three dogs.
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