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Italian Eateries Around the Port City

Posted On September 8, 2015

The comfort of traditional Italian food is tough to beat with heaping bowls of pasta, and comforting, hearty sauces. Certain places make the rest shake in their Italy-shaped boots, and we're here to acknowledge them. Here are some of the best Italian restaurants in greater Wilmington ― pizzerias, trattorias, wine bars, and the like. Capisce?

italian restaurants

By TOM PARKS

A Taste of Italy

Founded in 1994 by brothers Tommy and Chris Guarino, A Taste of Italy was established to bring the taste of traditional New York Italian delicatessens to Wilmington. One look at the place and you’ll know that love of food and family are inseparable to this multi-generation operation. The walls tell a story of a family in the kitchen together, the faces aglow with love and laughter. The shop is set up like a typical Italian deli, with groceries as well as fresh-prepared food. It would be possible to eat all day, every day from A Taste of Italy without ever needing to go to the supermarket. They offer classic imported Italian items from Sclafani foods and De Cecco pasta, Sabrett hot dogs, their own housemade fresh mozzarella, John’s frozen ravioli from New York, baccalà (salted cod), domestic and imported prosciutto and a number of other Italian specialties that were all impossible to find in Wilmington when they started out in the 1990s. In addition, they have a full kitchen that prepares classic, original recipes either to take home or enjoy at the shop. Satisfying favorites like Stuffed Shells, Meatballs, Chicken Parmigiana and Lasagna are made every day from Mama’s recipes, handed down to her through many generations. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, short orders like Pepperoni & Eggs and Pasta Primavera or Carbonara can be enjoyed as well, cooked right when you order. Encore Magazine named them “Best Deli” in 2015. ncatasteofitaly.com, 910-392-7529

Antonio’s Pizza and Pasta

Although it’s a little tough to find in the meandering Lowes and Walmart shopping center at Monkey Junction, this is one of the most popular places in town. Antonio’s is a little, no-frills, family restaurant that is bright and cheerful, with seating for about forty shoe-horned inside, and space for another twenty diners (or folks waiting for their orders) outside. It doesn’t look like anything that was working well for them has been lost in the transition since new owners Willie Beasley and Stuart Watson took over at the beginning of the year. Best known for their authentic brick oven New York style pizza (by the slice or pie), the menu includes a broad array of traditional pasta, chicken, veal and seafood dishes as well, all available for delivery or take-out and as eat-in. The place can get busy – like a beehive – so patience is important, but service is still friendly and surprisingly fast. Last fall, Chef Blake Archer was a finalist in the Star News Shore Picks “Best Chef” category, and Antonio’s won “Best Takeout/Delivery”. This shop is not affiliated with a place by the same name in Porter’s Neck. antoniospizzaandpasta.com, 910-792-0000

Carrabba’s Italian Grill

Two guys of Sicilian heritage, Johnny Carrabba and Danny Mandola, were able to take the flavors and memories of food from their youth and develop those ideas into a great modern Italian Grill concept. That good idea is now duplicated in over 200 units, under the umbrella of Bloomin’ Brands, Inc., which includes other great concepts like Outback steakhouse and Bonefish Grill. Great service and consistently delicious food make it a “go to” for date night or family night out. Signature items like the Johnny Rocco Salad with oak-grilled shrimp and scallops, the grilled Chicken Bryan, and their Pasta Weesie with shrimp and mushrooms have garnered a loyal following. As the name indicates, the wood fired grill and oven in the open kitchen are a focal point, which you can enjoy close-up by sitting at the “Kitchen Counter”, where you can see and smell everything (and maybe enjoy an extra nibble or two). carrabbas.com, 910-794-9094

Eddie Romanelli’s Restaurant

Since opening in 1992, Eddie Romanelli’s has always been a neighborhood staple; the difference now is that they’re in a different neighborhood. In the last few years, Romanelli’s moved from the 5400 Oleander Drive spot in Wilmington – which now houses sister restaurant Hops Supply Co. Gastropub – to the location in Leland, where it now serves the booming population of Waterford and Brunswick Forest. Traditional Italian dishes like Chicken Parmesan and Baked Ziti still anchor the menu, with signature dishes like the grilled chicken Waterford Salad and Italian sausage Coney Island Grinder to keep things interesting. They have a good-sized dining room, and a spacious bar area that serves the full menu, so dropping in during peak hours shouldn’t be a problem. Open for lunch and dinner every day, with curbside pickup available for to go meals. Easily seen from highway 17. romanellisrestaurant.com, 910-383-1885

Falcone’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria

Miss the old neighborhood place in New York or New Jersey? Falcone’s will bring back memories of Italian “comfort” cuisine back home. Reminiscent of local places up North (mostly because they used to run one), the shop is small, but delivers some big flavors. There’s a great selection of pizzas and hot sandwiches, as well as traditional Italian chicken and seafood dishes. Takeout is a big part of their business, including the “Original Overworked Mom Special”, created by Mrs. Falcone, which includes an entrée, salad, and garlic bread for $33-$43 to feed the whole family. It would be wise to call early in the afternoon to place your order; there are a lot of moms (and dads) in there picking stuff up between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. As mentioned, the place is somewhat piccolo, so there are only about a dozen seats for diners along the right hand wall, but banquette seating makes it easy to gang tables together for various-sized groups. falconesmenu.com, 910-371-3442

Fat Tony’s Italian Pub

The old building downtown has some typical well-worn character, with pine floors and red brick walls, as well as some added character in the form of some faux stone accents. Over the years, the menu focus has shifted to be more beer-centric, which seems particularly appropriate for the location. With a full bar that runs most of the length of the building, the beverage offering ranges from fancy cocktails, through a fairly well-rounded wine list, to between twenty to thirty craft beers on tap, plus bottles, plus Guinness (which requires special equipment) and some pale domestics for those that are afraid of the dark. The menu is filled with traditional Italian dishes like Chicken and Eggplant Parmigiana, a couple of lasagnas and good ol’ spaghetti, but it also includes some of the harder to find specialties like Cioppino, and all sorts of interesting alternatives like a Haunted Pub Burger and a Fig & Gorgonzola pizza. fatpub.com, 910-343-8881

Giorgio’s Italian Restaurant

As second owner of Giorgio’s, Nena Lazaridis gets to be maitre d'hotel, watching over her staff and making sure guests feel welcome and appreciated. Her staff reflects her enthusiastically hospitable spirit, making the occasion more than just a meal. Although there are always a few new things on the specials list, the recipes at Giorgio’s have been refined over decades, and nearly everything had been field-tested by what Nena jovially described as some of “the most difficult customers of Connecticut” before arriving here in our fair city. Talented young Chef Nathan Coryell heads up the kitchen to deliver a broad range of fresh Italian flavors. The favorites include a holy trinity of Parmigiana dishes, a zesty Seafood Fra Diavolo and a Porterhouse Pork Chop Gorgonzola. Besides the Fra Diavolo, seafood specialties include a delicious Mussels Chorizo appetizer in a peppery red wine tomato sauce, a grilled Ahi tuna, and a cedar-planked salmon. You should plan ahead and get a box for the rest of your ample entrée, lest you miss out on a delightfully light Tiramisu. giorgios-restaurant.com, 910-790-9954

Martino’s Fine Italian Foods

Martino Pica is a man on a mission. His mission is to share the phenomenal food he grew up with in Italy with all people. Martino’s is a little place towards the drawbridge end of Wrightsville Avenue, and pretty easy to miss if you blink. When he opened, it was a typical market/delicatessen with nothing but takeout, but he eventually noticed that despite our auto-centric society, we really liked to stop for a minute and eat at a table, so he cleared out some of the retail display and added seating for about twenty. He and his family run the place and make the salads and antipasti daily, and the sandwiches to order. He offers a broad selection of specialty meats and cheeses, including his own house-made mozzarella and house-cured prosciutto and cappicolla. After sampling his incredibly tender, buttery smooth and briny cappicolla, you’ll have to take some home. 910-509-2727

Nicola’s Italian Restaurant

There’s not much to notice from the outside, but the interior of Nicola’s is warm, colorful and modern, in the fluid, sensuous way that an Italian restaurant should be. The eponymous restaurant gets its culinary and creative direction from Chef Nicola “Nick” Pittari, whose Sicilian roots have made him passionate about family and food. While the menu is full of traditional favorites like Chicken and Veal Marsala and Saltimbocca, the “Italian with a twist” approach includes a Cabernet Sauvignon braised beef short rib over risotto and a number of gluten free options. Fresh – not dried – pasta is the base for all of the pasta dishes. The wood-fired oven allows Chef Nick to finish some dishes with some extra flavor, and to produce beautifully crisp pizzas, calzones and stromboli. Having been in the pizza business in Wilmington for about the last twenty years, they know their way around a pie at Nicola’s, but there’s much more flavor to the story. Save room for one of the house-made desserts. nicolasitalian.com, 910-798-2205

Osteria Cicchetti 

The interior of Osteria Cicchetti (or “the OC”, to locals) feels like an open piazza after sundown, so diners are transported to a special feeling even before sitting down. The menu is certainly traditional, but the approach is fresher and lighter-handed than what we expect from old neighborhood places. Familiar touches like wine by the carafe and chilled water on the table remind me of some great old places in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, but the service and recipes are decidedly more modern. We never would have had grilled peach antipasto or marinated butter bean & arugula salad back in the day, as delicious as they might be. There are plenty of “old school” choices on the menu, but expect them to be updated in a fresh way. The OC has two locations, one near Wrightsville Beach and one near Carolina Beach, and both have nearly the same menu and décor, although the Monkey Junction location is a bit smaller and only open for dinner. osteria-cicchetti.com, 910-256-7476 or 910-392-3490

Pizzetta’s Pizzeria

Don’t let the outside fool you. This little inline storefront boasts an extensive menu of Italian favorites. The interior is decorated to be very warm and welcoming, with a copper-colored pseudo-tin ceiling and homey décor on the walls. The most unique thing about the menu is the offering of thirteen specialty pizzas by the slice (for a quick bite), as well as in whole pies.  The menu mentions the availability of gluten-free crust and gourmet gluten-free crust, as well as a gluten-free Chicken Parmigiana. The old family (and in some cases, secret) recipes are prepared from scratch every day for you to enjoy in their dining room, for takeout or delivery. If you want some of their great flavor to enjoy any time, you may purchase a jar of their special tomato sauce to take home with you. Named “Best Pizza” in last fall’s Star News Shore Picks. 910-799-4300

Positalia Italian Eatery

There’s something very familiar, and yet completely different happening at the recently opened Positalia. The build-your-own concept isn’t new―sandwich shops have been doing it for decades. But taking the flavor vocabulary of Italian cuisine and combining it with a build-your-own format, well...that’s pretty new. Instinctively, it’s such a great idea it seems like it must have been done before somewhere, but this particular amalgamation is something special. Executive Chef Nina Psarros, who was quite literally born in a kitchen in Palermo, Sicily, has had her own Italian restaurant in New York and in Raleigh, and was lured down to Wilmington with the promise of complete creative control of the kitchen at Positalia. Cliff Bullard brings three decades of restaurant ownership and management to the table, with experience in running high-volume franchises. Coming at the idea from somewhat opposite sides, they admit to having a few clashes, but the partnership has both of them very excited about bringing something new to the market. Chef Nina demands that her signature sauces and dressings are made fresh every day, which is unheard of in fast food circles, but the freshly prepared high-quality ingredients pay off where it counts: when you taste the food. The place is modern, with an organic vibe, and the presentation is low key, but the food shines. Good for families, groups, anyone in a hurry, and anyone that would like something a little different than usual. There are close to 50,000 possible combinations here, broken down into four easy steps. bepositalia.com, 910-300-9522

Roko Italian Cuisine

Helmed by Chef Jadran Peros and his wife Vojka, Roko is a small, elegant dining room that stays very full. The menu seems a bit more like a fine dining restaurant, if simply because it does not offer pizza on the menu like the majority of other places on our list. The menu is a refined, carefully curated and prepared offering of classic Italian flavors. Chef Peros brings thirty plus years of restaurant experience to the table, melding traditional family recipes with the best local seafood and other ingredients that are available. Since it is a smaller, more intimate dining room and a locals favorite, reservations are not only suggested, they are probably essential. Scoutology included Roko on their list of the “Top 12 Italian Restaurants in North Carolina”. See our review from November, 2014: wilmingtonncmagazine.com/roko-italian-cuisine. rokoitalian.com, 910-679-4783

Siena Trattoria and Pizzeria 

After managing a bar on Wrightsville Beach for the past 12 years, Katherine & Curt Pryor purchased Siena in December to finally fulfill their dream of owning their own restaurant. With the help of Executive Chef Anthony Weiss, of Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta, GA, and Executive Sous Chef and Pastry Chef, Monica Weiss, of CIA in New York, Siena offers a fun, casual, family dining experience with reasonably priced, high-quality food.  The entirely from-scratch kitchen makes everything from sauces and dressings to bread and desserts in house. Ingredients are carefully sourced, including fresh fish and shellfish from local fishermen and seasonal fruits and vegetables from local farms. The expanded bar offerings include a selection of craft beers and special wines imported from Italy. The brick oven produces superior pizzas and calzones, made with the same care reflected in the other house specialties. In addition to the broad menu offering at dinner, a special lunch menu includes refreshing salads, hot sandwiches and pizza by the slice. Slightly off the beaten path, Siena Trattoria is the embodiment of the neighborhood restaurant concept: Nice enough for date night, but comfortable enough for every night. sienawilmington.com, 910-794-3002

Terrazzo Trattoria

You are welcomed into Terrazzo Trattoria through a lounge of black leather sofas and a beautiful curved bar topped with black granite. The interior is elegant and beautiful, but the hospitality is warm and genuine. Husband and wife Mike and Maria Accattato have been in the restaurant business in Wilmington for nearly twenty years, starting with the Pizza Bistro in the Cotton Exchange in 1996. Mike admits his restaurant experience goes way back before that, to learning from the testa dura, or, “hard-headed old guys” up North. Despite that, he brings an easy charm and humor to the “new” place, and a passion for great food and fresh ingredients that shows up in everything they cook. The fish and shellfish are very fresh, the pizza is remarkable, the sauces are amazing.  Though the trattoria designation connotes a simple, family restaurant, Terrazzo’s menu eases more towards fine dining. terrazzotrattoria.com, 910-509-2727

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