It's hard to deny the appeal of an old-world Italian American restaurant, with its comforting bowls of pasta and nonna's charm in spades. In Philadelphia we're lucky to have many terrific red sauce joints to choose from, including two of the oldest Italian restaurants in the country (Ralph's and Dante & Luigi's). These classic spots are beloved by both generations of locals and celebrity visitors like Joe Biden and Taylor Swift. Here are five to check out.
By Wendy Ramunno with contributions from Caroline Russock
What's more old-school than the oldest Italian restaurant in the country? Even more impressive, Ralph’s is still run by the same family that founded it in 1900. The Dispigno/Rubinos haven’t changed much about the menu either, opting to stick with recipes passed down over the years. Today the fourth- and fifth-generation owners continue to welcome nostalgic longtime regulars and tourists alike to feast on classics like clams casino, spaghetti and meatballs, and veal Parmesan.
760 S. 9th St.; 215-627-6011
Lasagna at Dante & Luigi's. Courtesy of Dante & Luigi's
Red-and-white-checked tablecloths and straw-covered bottles of Chianti might be the de rigueur interior design choices for most red-sauce joints, but Dante & Luigi’s isn’t any old red-sauce joint. This place is nothing but retro class from the valet service and vest-wearing veteran waiters to the well-appointed dining rooms. You can’t really go wrong with anything on the menu here (like the lasagna, pictured above), but pros know to order the Perciatelli Genovese, a veal Bolognese finished with white wine and a splash of cream.
762 S. 10th St.; 215-922-9501
Inside the Saloon. Courtesy of The Saloon/Facebook
Sopranos enthusiasts probably know that this South Philly staple is long rumored to be a favorite with the mob, but that point aside, the menu boasts a wide selection of seafood-centric dishes like fettuccine lobster amatriciana, seafood pescatore, and angel hair pasta with crab and artichokes. If you’re looking for a little mafia cachet, go with the bosses’ chicken, a paillard with hot and sweet peppers. There's also a big wine list to enjoy too.
750 S. Seventh St.; 215-627-1811
Spaghetti and meatballs at Villa Di Roma. Courtesy of Villa di Roma
Unsurprisingly one of Philly’s most beloved spaghetti and meatball spots is located right in the heart of the Italian Market. Old-school classics are the way to go here: Start with roasted peppers and anchovies and then go with an order of chicken livers Romano and a side of garlicky escarole.
936 S. Ninth St.; 215-592-1295
Inside Francoluigi's dining room. Courtesy of Francoluigi's
Southern Italian South Philly fare is best enjoyed in the company of an opera-singing staff which is exactly why this East Passyunk go-to is the place to be on weekend nights. The staff are rising stars but so is the handmade pizza and old-school pastas made with housemade garlic sticks.
1549 S.13th St.; 215-775-8900