The Best Italian Food in Nashville
Your guide to finding Italian cuisine in Nashville, whether you want to cook at home or spend a night out.
Written By: Nashville Lifestyles
Photographers: The Tennessean & Various
Antonios' of Nashville
This long standing city tradition is a go-to for authentic Northern Italian cuisine. Enter Antonios’ and experience the atmosphere: A faintly lit restaurant with elegant white tablecloths, bustling waiters in tuxes and a European-style open kitchen, all reminiscent of the Old World. I love their signature dishes, especially the luscious Scampi Antonios’—shrimp baked with tomatoes and feta—and the traditional salad Caprese with ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Delightful.
7097 Old Harding Pike, (615) 646-9166
By Katie Jacobs • Photo by Dipti Vaidya
Readers know how much our staff adores this Edgehill Village gem, great prices, charming atmosphere, and terrific food and wine all make it a true destination. It recreates the sense of an authentic Naples pizzaria, with Chef Paolo of Valentino’s fame importing all the best and most Neopolitan elements to make it look, feel and taste real. A menu of delicious pizzas, salads and pastas paired with fabulous wines from the region—there’s nothing you won’t love. In this summer weather, hidden away in the back of Edgehill, opt to sit outside in the shade of a Cinzano-advertising patio umbrella in the brick courtyard, and while away the hours with a perfect pizza.
1200 Villa Place, (615) 891-1387
By Stephanie Stewart-Howard • Photo by Katie Jacobs
If you’re after true Italian ambiance, look no further than Caffe Nonna. Completely charming, this Sylvan Park cafe has been satisfying Nashville patrons for 12 years this month. The lunch and dinner menus feature a create-your-own dish option, from which I select penne with a sundried tomato cream sauce topped with a skewer of succulent scallops—simply delicious. Though I enjoyed a glass of Pellegrino, I noted their reasonably priced wine list. With entrees including Lamb Shank Toscana and Steak Pizzaiola, you’ll see why it’s perennially named “Best Italian” in Nashville. The covered patio with wrap-around cushioned benches and hanging white lights is über inviting. Their signature marinara and arrabiata sauces are available for take-home—just grab a jar or two on your way out the door. Caffe Nonna is a dining experience you don't want to miss.
4427 Murphy Rd., (615) 463-0133
By Heather Helton • Photo by Ron Manville
City House fits a term I use only advisedly—unique—in the city of Nashville. Its cozy Germantown environs often hosts well-known faces, but that’s the last reason you go. You go for the food, which is out of this world. Chef Tandy Wilson is a true expert when it comes to Italian cured meats, so ordering the house-cured salami appetizer is a no-brainer. But he’s also inventive with any part of the animal. It’s just fun to sit at the bar, order wine and something on the menu—octopus-laden pastas, cornmeal crusted pigs ears—you might not normally gravitate toward. Pizza, pasta, fish or meat, you can’t go wrong. A stellar wine and cocktail list deserves exploring. The ever-changing summer Sunday Supper menu is one of the best arguments ever for leaving home on Sunday afternoon.
1222 4th Ave N., (615) 736-5838.
By Stephanie Stewart-Howard • Photo by Ron Manville
Giovanni Ristorante Bar
The authentic tastes on every plate at Giovanni Ristorante Bar are not an accident, but a result of using the freshest imported ingredients paired with chef Marco Sedda’s strong knowledge of cooking from his native Italy. Sedda brings a wealth of enjoyment to the city’s fine dining scene and has created quite a following with some of the city’s most discriminating palates. His entire kitchen team works tirelessly on handmade pastas and perfect Bolognese, as well as intense preparation of their sought-after sauce blends to pair with daily fish specials.
Items like Dover sole are frequently on the menu with occasional special dinners utilizing rare truffles and squid ink. While specials are unique, it’s their staple menu items—comfort dishes (and desserts)—that keep us coming back. The very best cheeses, spices and meats are used on everything from the salads to their signature entrees.
909 20th Ave. S., (615) 760-5932
By Stacie Standifer • Photo by Ron Manville
Finezza Italian Bistro
Since it’s opening in 1991, Finezza Italian Bistro has been a family-friendly, local favorite that boasts authentic Italian favorites with genuine customer service to boot. Current owner Karen Yerbich considers her customers a second family—so much so that she frames photos of her regulars around the restaurant. My personal favorites include the Salmon Affogatti, Ziti Rustica and of course the Tiramisu. Each dish shines with fresh quality ingredients complimented by Finezza’s extensive wine list and relaxed ambiance.
5404 Harding Pike, (615) 356-9398.
By Katie Jacobs • Photo by Dipti Vaidya
Located in the vintage confines of Germantown, Lazzaroli Pasta is the life’s work of Tom Lazzaro, a third generation Sicilian-American whose U.S. roots are in South Philadelphia. In 2002, Lazzaro and his family began making small batch pasta and hand-filled ravioli in his Hendersonville garage. The business took off, moving first to the Farmers’ Market and then to Germantown. Meanwhile, Lazzaro added a wide variety of Italian breads, condiments, coffees, baked and dry goods to his impressive selection of homemade sauces and pastas. Alongside take-home favorites like lemon peppercorn fettuccine and hot Italian sausage-asiago ravioli are authentic victuals: Coppa salami and Louisiana boudin, plus mascarpone, caciocavallo and Rembrandt Gouda cheeses. Though they also carry a dizzying array of olive oils, balsamic vinegars, salts, pine nuts and beans, its priorities are clear: “Pasta is the center of the universe,” reads the store’s motto.
1514 5th Ave. N., (615) 291-9922.
By Paul V. Griffith
Maggiano’s hurls the notion that chain restaurants are subpar right out their front windows. Variety and value make for a can’t-miss combination. The $12.95 Classic Pasta menu option, available at lunch and dinner, is perfect for everyone—not only do you enjoy an entree in-house, they give you a free entree to take home. Yes, I said gratis! The Crispy Zucchini Fritte appetizer garnished with a lemon aioli cream sauce is a hit with all ages. On a recent visit, my toddler and I shared our personal fave, the spaghetti with meat sauce, and ate leftovers the following day and night as the portions are plentiful. Desserts abound, including the perfectly sweet quarter-moon-shaped Vera’s Lemon Cookies and Nonna’s Toasted Pound Cake. Their dessert sampler gives patrons the option to indulge in more than one tasty treat. With the family-style dining option, banquet rooms and catering services, Maggiano’s has true appeal.
3106 West End Ave., (615) 514-0270
By Heather Helton
The enduring success of this Italian eatery flies in the face of conventional wisdom. It’s a neighborhood restaurant minus a walking neighborhood, sandwiched between two gas stations in a gritty strip center. Neighbors also include a small market and Radnor Wine & Spirits, both of which come in handy, since Sole Mio sells no beer and has no wine list. It doesn’t have a website, much less a Facebook page or a Twitter account. What Mama Mia’s does have is generations of loyal customers who love the old-school Italian menu that favors fried appetizers, red sauce and baked pasta. Corkage fees ($5 per bottle of wine/ $3 for a six or 12 pack of beer) are the cheapest in town, and the dress code includes everything from shorts, sneakers and T-shirts on one end, the garish bling of Jersey Shore on the other, and khakis and golf shirts in the middle. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
4671 Trousdale Dr., (615) 331-7207
By Kay West
Music industry veteran Nick Pellegrino and Tim Ness, owner of Franklin’s The Cool Cafe, team to create the truest of Italian restaurants. In the style of New York’s “pop up” restaurants. Meat and three The Cool Cafe utterly transforms on Friday and Saturday nights into a prix fixe, authentic Italian extravaganza where everyone is one big family and the food is exquisite. White tablecloths, singalongs to Frankie Valli hits, and an abundance of pasta, soup, salad, seafood and veal piled in front of you. Sit with friends or strangers, you’ll know everyone when the night’s out. Reservations absolutely required, plan well in advance, single seatings only Friday and Saturday, bring your own wine (and for heaven’s sake, bring more than one bottle).
1110 Hillsboro Rd., Franklin, (615) 538-7456
By Stephanie Stewart-Howard • Photo by Samuel M. Simpkins
After more than 80 years, The Palm is going back to it’s roots, launching a “refresh” menu (this month) that’s a throwback to their original New York City launch as a premium Italian steak house. While the new menu they’re citing as “the original cool” does still contain many of our favorites and mainstays, there are some well deserved additions. All pay tribute to great flavors and the restaurant’s Italian heritage. Some of those to look for on the menu: The Antipasti Platter, The Delmonico Steak, an Apple and Arugula Salad and the Braised Veal and Sage Ravioli. Thank goodness the Beefsteak Tomato Capri and Chicken Piccatta remain on the “new,” yet very retro menu of this downtown institution.
140 5th Ave. S., (615) 742-7256
By Stacie Standifer • Photo by Renee Comet
Giovanni Giosa acts as executive chef for both locations (Belle Meade and Cool Springs), producing the fantastic specials focused on the culinary traditions of Northern Italy. Two, ovens—one gas, one wood—are housed in the 3,700 square foot restaurant, allowing for menu enhancements like the paninis made with pizza bread. Worth the visit will be 12-16 seats at the pizza bar, where chefs put on a show, expanded salad options and 18 flavors of gelato.
3301 Aspen Grove Dr. #100 and 21 White Bridge Rd., (615) 356-0001.
By Stephanie Stewart-Howard
The Family doesn’t mean anything even slightly shady at Savarino’s Cucina. At the passionate heart of this bakery | café | pizzeria is the Savarino Family—father Corrado, mama Maria and kids Francesa, Carmelo and Corrado, Jr., all of whom can be found in the kitchen, behind the counter or working the room. There’s the extended family of Italian-Americans (and Italian-American wannabe’s) who compose the daily lunch time social club, replete with non-stop talking, communal, voracious eating and loud—though harmless—squabbles. And there’s the family of sandwiches: 14 delicious combos of Italian meats, cheeses, veggies, herbs and sauces, each named for a loyal customer. Until recently, all were male. But Rose Palermo apparently made Corrado an offer he couldn’t refuse, and now the grilled chicken, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, roasted red pepper and marinara sandwich bears the powerful attorney’s name. Supplementing the infamous sandwich board are Italian appetizers, pastas, parmigianas, stuffed peppers, meatballs, salads, pizzas, gelato, ices and pastries. Bottled beer sidles up to San Pellegrino in the cooler, and a wine license is in the works.
2121 Belcourt Ave., (615) 460-9878
By Kay West • Photo by Nick Bumgardner
In 1994, Debra and Carlo Agnoletti—who met and married in Italy, where he was born—were taking a two-month road trip across America, looking for a city to open a restaurant much like the one he had back home. When they stopped in Nashville to visit a childhood friend of Debra’s, it became immediately clear what we needed. In January 1995, the Agnoletti’s answered the oft-repeated question—“Where can you get authentic Italian food in this town?” when they opened Sole Mio atop Peabody Street, betting a spectacular view and Carlo’s eggplant rollatini, lasagna al forno on fresh egg pasta, manicotti, scallopinne di vitello and gnocchi would trump the odd location. Debra runs the front of the house, which as a Type-A native New Yorker, means she does it all: Takes reservations, greets customers, selects wines and clears tables. When Sole Mio moved down the hill into the shadow of the Shelby Street pedestrian bridge, they brought their beloved view with them—in the form of a painting that hangs on the wall of one of the two cozy dining rooms.
311 Third Ave. S. (615) 256-4013
By Kay West • Photo by Eric Parsons
For two decades, Valentino’s Ristorante has been serving up authentic rustic-Italian cuisine to Nashville palates. Prominently and conveniently located in a nineteenth-century town home on West End Avenue, this upscale, white-tablecloth eatery features the culinary creations of Naples-born chef Paulo Tramontano. From the Antipasto Toscana Appetizer to Vitello (veal) Parmiaggiana, lunch and dinner menus cover the classic Italian dining experience. Valentino’s Caesar salads are prepared table-side, a rare experience in Nashville. With their Wine Spectator-awarded wine list, cigar lounge and wine cellar, there is truly something for everyone. Valentino’s also offers banquet rooms for private parties with exquisite menus. After a recent delightful lunch, I took a jaunt to the upstairs lounge and settled into a club chair with a Cosmopolitan while my guest enjoyed his cigar (on the main floors, rest assured, the environment is non-smoking). And I must say, stepping right out of your car under the covered awning for the free valet parking is quite the bonus.
1907 West End Ave.,(615) 327-0148
By Heather Helton • Photo provided by Valentino's