Much like New York City’s Little Italy, Los Angeles was also once home to a thriving Italian neighborhood. L.A.’s Little Italy, located in present-day downtown, had a vibrant run for more than a century.
Luckily, vestiges of that bygone era have made lasting impressions: plenty of traditional Italian delis (Santa Monica’s Bay Cities, Vince’s Market in Silver Lake and Eastside Market in Elysian Park), the Italian American Museum and a handful of Italian restaurants do it exactly the way nonna did.
Here are the city’s oldest Italian restaurants — the ones that you could imagine spotting Vito Corleone happily enjoying a meal — serving traditional dishes, like spaghetti and meatballs and veal scaloppini, amidst moody lighting and dark leather booths.
Year opened: 1949
Description: Opened by the four siblings of the Miceli family, Miceli’s was the first official pizza place in Hollywood. The restaurant, which eventually spawned into two locations, offers a menu with dishes made from family recipes from both Sicily and Chicago. During its heyday, it was as famous for its food as its celebrity diners (JFK to Julia Roberts). But don’t just go for the superb Italian eats; the friendly service, kitchsy atmosphere and live entertainment are also worth the trip.
Must eats: Fettuccini Miceli and Aunt Angie’s Lasagna.
Name: Colombo’s Italian Steakhouse & Jazz Club
Year opened: 1954
Description: If you want a stiff drink, hearty Italian food and music, this is the place to be. Plus, the place exudes a real Cheers-like atmosphere as locals, who all know each other, regularly frequent the place.
Must eats: Sam’s meatball steak and linguini and clams.
Name: Little Toni’s
Year opened: 1956
Description: For generous portions of Italian-American favorites like lasagna and pizza, this sparsely lit joint, with red leather booths, stained glass windows and vintage Italian posters, hits the spot. Skip dessert and head over to the adjoining bar (near the bathrooms) that opened in 2015 for a Grasshopper — a boozy mint milkshake — or a bevy of other excellent craft cocktails made with top-shelf spirits.
Must eats: meatballs.
Year opened: 1963
Description: This upscale establishment serving Southern Italian cuisine is a favorite among the city’s well-known residents. Almost any night of the week, celebrities (from Kim Kardashian to Steven Spielberg) can be spotted noshing on duck lasagna and other entrees.
Must eats: veal parmigiana and bolognese.
Name: Andre’s Italian Restaurant
Year opened: 1963
Description: Here, it’s old-school Italian-American food served cafeteria style with daily specials. Named for “Andre of Beverly Hills”, the original owner Chef Andreone, whose first full-service Italian restaurant opened in 1959 in Beverly Hills.
Must eats: minestrone soup, pizza and tiramisu.
Name: Dan Tana’s
Year opened: 1964
Description: If you’re in search of a casual Italian eatery where climbing atop the bar and singing Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” could actually happen, Dan Tana’s is the place. Grab a seat at the bar to chat up longtime bartender Michael Gotovac or snag one of the tiny tables for classics named after famous guests (did someone say Penne Arrabiata a la Michael Kane?). Beyond the nostalgic charm and boisterous ambience, Dan Tana’s is also unique as it serves dinner until 1 a.m. every night except Sundays.
Must eats: Shrimp Scampi a la Jerry Buss, Chicken Parmigiana a la Ted Demme, and cappuccino ice cream.
Name: La Dolce Vita
Year opened: 1966
Description: With its dark red leather booths, crisp white tablecloths, wood panel accents and low lighting, it’s easy to imagine the days when Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack frequented this place to sip on ice cold martinis and dine on a heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
The vintage supper-club air also extends to the menu as well; highlights include expertly prepared pasta, steak, veal, seafood and chicken dishes. The cocktail menu showcases a bevy of creative twists on classics and the wine list is fine-dining caliber, thanks to a relatively new arrival — certified sommelier Melissa Strickland.
Must eats: In honor of La Dolce Vita’s 50th anniversary, try the three-course prix-fixe selection of Caesar salad, spaghetti Bolognese and tiramisu.
Year opened: 1972
Description: Valentino is one of the city’s most acclaimed fine-dining Italian restaurants. You’ll spot plenty of modern dishes alongside Sicilian favorites here. And just as wonderful as the food is owner Piero Selvaggio’s unwavering welcome — the same service and hospitality remains today as it did more than four decades ago.
Must eats: Duck Crespelle with Cremona Mostarda, Tortino di Porcini e Fonduta, and Risotto all’ Amarone Gorgonzola and Radicchio.
Name: Guido’s Restaurant
Year opened: 1979
Description: Serving up vintage Northern Italian plates, Santa Monica’s Guido’s doesn’t proclaim to be “fancy.” You come here to get full. Follow the giant neon sign inside for a hearty meal served seamlessly in one of the red leather booths.
Must eats: cannelloni, cioppino and veal marsala.