Flavor: When Sarah Wagner took over for long-time owners Sal and Odessa Barresi a few years ago, she freshened the decor but she didn’t want to run the risk of upsetting her loyal guests by changing the traditional menu. She does mix things up a bit with wine tastings and cooking classes, events that include items not on the regular menu and monthly carry out specials. But you can still find classic Italian dishes such as osso bucco Milanese and Pesce Florentine.
Flair: A local landmark since 1963, Barresi’s can meet your culinary needs over a lifetime. You can woo your spouse over a linen-draped table and candlelight, then come back after the kids are born to pick up one of the monthly takeout specials like lobster ravioli and sides for four people for about $9 a person.
4111 Webster Ave., Deer Park, 513-793-2540. Open Tuesday-Saturday. $21-$40.
Flavor: One of the most romantic Italian restaurants in the city is also ideal for a lively night out with friends. Features authentic recipes from Italy’s Sicily and Calabria regions — must-haves include the Mushroom Ravioli stuffed with portabella and topped with sweet pepper sauce and gorgonzola, and the Eggplant Parmesan, which might be the best in town. Half-price wines on Wednesdays and live music on Fridays and Saturdays transform fun into festive.
Flair: The staff — including sincere and charming owner Harry Stephens — goes out of its way to make sure you have a good experience, without being stuffy. Outdoor seating and occasional wine tastings on the patio.
4632 Eastern Ave., East End, 513-871-5862. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $13-$25.
Betta’s Italian Oven
Flavor: Plenty o’ choices here to give any local Italian chain a serious run for its money. Familiar favorites include antipasto, soups, salads and Italian and NYC-style sandwiches, but pizza is the real the word. The wood-fired oven produces tasty, thin-crust pies like the Quattro Stagioni with kalamata olives, proscuitto, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and breadsticks, including the spicy pepperoni sticks. If pizza’s not your thing, go for the Eggplant Parmesan: It’s meaty, creamy, smoky and all-around delicious.
Flair: Serious food for people that work hard and laugh loud. There are plenty of regulars filling the tables every night — always a sign of a consistently good meal.
3764 Montgomery Road, Norwood, 513-631-OVEN. Open Monday-Saturday. $10-$20.
Flavor: Owner/chef Biagio Lamassa is best known for his homemade pasta dishes like Penne Boscaiola and Seafood Alfredo, but he sautés a damn fine chicken breast and makes a damn fine spicy Italian sub as well. Don’t forget the Italian Tomato Basil soup — it’s “mmm” good.
Flair: If you haven’t been in a while, check out the new expanded dining room and bar. With an Italian soundtrack, scooters in the front and back of the house and Biagio’s booming voice, you can take a mini Roman Holiday (minus Audrey Hepburn, of course).
308 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, 513-861-4777. Open Monday-Saturday. $7-$15.
Bravo Cucina Italiana
Flavor: Excellent flatbread, wood-fired pizzas, pastas and grilled offerings, Bravo has something for everyone. We love the Cheese Ravioli al Forno. A rich, comforting dish baked and topped with pesto and breadcrumbs. Don’t miss the Tiramisu and Creme Brulee for dessert.
Flair: A chain that doesn’t feel like a chain. Bustling, yet relaxed, with all cooking done in an enormous open kitchen. Bravo offers lunch, dinner and a weekend brunch. Be nice and maybe you’ll get crayons to draw on the butcher paper.
12110 Montgomery Road, Symmes Twp., 513-583-0583; 9436 Water Front Drive, West Chester, 513-759-9398. Open 7 days. $10-$27.
Brio Tuscan Grille
Flavor: A chain with locations throughout the U.S., Brio offers upscale Tuscan-inspired dining with menu items like Lasagna Bolognese Al Forno and a variety of Italian-prepared steak offerings. Give them a try for Saturday and Sunday’s Brio Brunch (until 3 p.m.), featuring Bistecca Alla Romano (beef tenderloin, Hollandaise, poached eggs and crusted Romano tomatoes) and the Bacon, Egg & Fontina Panini.
Flair: Great date place, as it’s not terribly loud and there are lots of things to split. There’s an al fresco area for nice weather.
Newport on the Levee, Newport, 859-431-0900. Open 7 days. $10-$30.
Flavor: This family-owned and -operated restaurant serves up classic Italian fare for lunch and dinner. Favorites include Napolentana Lasagna, Veal Marsala and Mostaccioli with Meatballs.
Flair: Campanello’s small downtown space is as unique as its food, bringing to mind the old-world Italian joints of yore.
414 Central Ave., Downtown, 513-721-9833. $5.95-$19.95
Flavor: Mainly Italian, but the menu changes bi-weekly based on seasonal ingredients and the chef’s whims. Lunchtime features tea and baked goods, while recent dinner selections included roasted cipollini Onion Soup, Pollo Giacomo and a vegetarian Pasta Primavera with asparagus and garden vegetables in a Parma sauce.
Flair: For those disappointed to find Findlay Market deli Angelina’s shuttered, the owners now have this full-fledged restaurant in MainStrasse Village.
Just make your way past the deli counter and a freezer case display of tempting homemade gelati to the rear dining room. Don’t worry — you can get a gelato on the way out.
616 Main St., Covington, 859-916-5511. Open Tuesday-Sunday. $8-$19.
Ferrari’s Little Italy and Bakery
Flavor: Little Italy indeed, Ferrari’s menu includes an array of authentic Northern and Southern Italian dishes such as Seafood Canneloni, Linguini Aglio Olio and, of course, gourmet pizzas. From antipasti to ziti, it’s all here. Don’t miss Ferrari’s bakery, which serves award winning bread and pastries.
Flair: The bustling dining room is casual and a little romantic, and the patio features a waterfall and an Italian mural. It’s a welcoming environment where you’ll really feel like you’re in Italy.
7677 Goff Terrace, Madeira, 513-272-2220. Restaurant open 7 days, bakery closed Sundays. $12-$29.
Flavor: Chef Domenico Germano spent his childhood in Rome, where he says he “indulged in some of the finest and freshest produce, meats and cheeses that Italy and the rest of the Mediterranean world had to offer.” You can tell — Germano’s is completely authentic. And when we say authentic, we mean you might never have experienced this particular combination of flavors before. Take, for instance, the simple Capellini Aglio e Olio with romas, sautéed mushrooms, artichoke hearts, onions and garlic. In the master’s hands, it becomes a sensory feast of compelling and surprising flavors.
Flair: The setting here is informal but not casual, intimate but not cramped. In fact, eating at Germano’s is like stumbling on an Italian family’s Sunday dinner — and being invited to join the party. Features an elegant dining room and family-style carryout for lunch and dinner.
9415 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, 513-794-1155. Open Tuesday-Saturday. $17-$40.
Flavor: Good homestyle Italian cooking with American flair. The most popular dishes at Mama’s are her ziti bake and her homemade lasagna. Tony likes them better than Carmella’s.
Flair: Postmodern Olive Garden, down to the sleek tables and chairs: small, cozy and family-friendly. Pizzas can be taken home to bake. Mama’s wine shop next door has over 400 selections, with an outdoor terrace, live music and wine tastings.
6405 Branch-Hill Guinea Road, Loveland, 513-697-9705. Open Monday-Saturday. $4-$20.
Flavor: Widely regarded as one of the city’s finest restaurants, you’ll see why when you taste such perfectly conceived dishes as Truffle Marscarpone Risotto with pork belly and grilled spring onions, or Sea Bass with asparagus, caponata, peperonata and tomato-pepper puree. You can also indulge in special Tasting menus (not available weekends), with each dish paired to a specific wine.
Flair: Chef Cristian Pietoso understands what makes Italian food great: fresh (often humble) seasonal ingredients that are simply prepared to showcase an interplay of interesting, contrasting flavors and textures. Quite simply, art on a plate — though great art doesn’t come cheap.
1420 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-721-6200. Open Monday-Saturday. $26-$42.
Flavor: If you like freshly prepared, hearty Italian food, you’ll find something to love at this downtown Milford newcomer. There’s something for everyone here — Caesar and antipasti salads; delicious hand-tossed pizzas; classic lasagna and chicken parmesan; hot sausage and pepper hoagies; and cold Italian subs.
Flair: Brought to you by the owners of 20 Brix, the brightly painted walls at this moderately priced, contemporary Italian pizza and pasta parlor feature impressionist soccer-related art. And you can eat for free — if you dare to conquer their spaghetti and meatball challenge by polishing off 5 pounds of food in 45 minutes; plus, you’ll take home a commemorative T-shirt!
111 Main St., Milford, 513-965-0100. Open 7 days. $8-$15.
Pitrelli’s Italian Café
Flavor: This independently owned, family-friendly eatery serves simple, delicious Italian food. Old favorites like spaghetti and homemade meatballs are light and flavorful, and specials are tasty and filling. Hearty dinner entrées include the likes of Jumbo Ravioli, Chicken or Eggplant Parm and Linguine with Clam Sauce. Pitrelli’s also serves a good pizza with a light crust and toppings that include pancetta and spicy olives.
Flair: Neither slick nor chic, Pitrelli’s offers instead a bona fide Mom and Pop experience. A reason is the family that runs it: Jim and Linda Pitrelli are wonderful people, retired grade school teachers who make you feel like you’re a guest in their home.
312 Reading Road, Mason, 513-770-0122. Open Tuesday-Saturday. $14-$18.
Flavor: Since 1933, Pompilio’s has been serving classic Italian cuisine, including their award-winning Eggplant Parmigiana. Get lunch for $5 every Monday and Tuesday. Every Monday evening have a half-price appetizer with the purchase of one of the half-price wines; enjoy a $5 burger in the bar. Who says you can’t eat and drink well on the cheap?
Flair: Traditional Italian in the heart of Newport. This neighborhood spot draws big crowds. Winner of “Best Italian.”
600 Washington Ave., Newport, 859-581-3065. Open 7 days. $9-$17.
Flavor: Genuine flavors and tastes of Italy, from the roasted garlic cloves that come with your breadbasket to the blissfully rich Osso Buco Milanese, served with orzo pasta and a tiny fork to scoop out the rich bone marrow. The gnocchi sautéed in butter with prosciutto and basil melts in your mouth, and the bread pudding is the best we’ve ever had.
Flair: Offers one of the best views of the city of any restaurant in the area, Primavista sits high atop Price Hill. The décor is subdued and rich drapes soften the rooms. A stone accent wall, fresh crisp linens and (most of all) the view make it distinctive. Winner of “Best Restauant with a View” and “Best Romantic Restaurant.”
810 Matson Place, Price Hill, 513-251-6467. Open 7 days. $16-$36.
Flavor: Family owned for almost 100 years, Scotti’s must be doing something right. Their large menu features just about every pasta imaginable and nearly 20 different varieties of veal dishes. Finish off your meal with a bottle of wine and you’ll be full for days. The menu is no frills with no apologies.
Flair: You have to see it for yourself. Multi-colored tiles plaster the walls and candles drip layer upon layer of wax on Chianti bottles at every table, providing a little light to the otherwise dimly lit dining room. The music is the real deal, too.
919 Vine St., Downtown, 513-721-9484. Open Tuesday-Saturday. $21-$30.
Flavor: Bread is baked from scratch every day at this casual spot, and it makes for some great sandwiches — like the Panini Sausalito Bandito. Ingredients are a notch above the ordinary, with all the favorite deli meats like mortadella, hard salami and ham capicola, in addition to vegan-friendly choices like roasted portabella mushrooms, toasted hazelnuts, grilled onions and lots more.
Flair: This Clifton Heights eatery has eager, knowledgeable young staffers and really does serve spicy pickles.
2504 W. Clifton Ave., Clifton Heights, 513-569-0000. Open 7 days. $3-$8.
Flavor: Cooked-to-order entrées include seafood, veal, fresh pasta, chicken and aged Angus beef. Try the mouth-watering lasagna made with a blend of five cheeses. All their pastas, breads, sauces and desserts are made from scratch.
Flair: A cozy, romantic venue tucked away in the theater district, this unassuming spot has a small front room decorated in Mediterranean tones and a larger room in back. Both are filled with tables topped with red-and-white checked tablecloths and candle-filled, straw-covered Chianti bottles (called fiascos). Service can be personality-dependent, but it’s all part of the charm.
609 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-723-0220. Open Monday-Saturday (usually closed on Sundays, but they open for dinner when the Aronoff Center has a big show running). $16-$27.
Flavor: Northern Italian cuisine is the focus at this downtown hot spot. Focusing on casual Italian fare, owner Nicola Pietoso and his son Christian again pair up to bestow another dining treasure on Cincinnati. The menu includes appetizers, wood-fired pizzas (check out the one with pesto, artichokes and goat cheese), salads, pastas and entrées like the grilled swordfish that features Grandma’s peperonata or an oven-braised lamb shank with dreamy creamy polenta.
Flair: Sexy steel looks and a primo location on Fountain Square make this restaurant a must-try spot. A contemporary bistro with distinct menus for lunch, happy hour, dinner and late night, Via Vite is both versatile and ideal for private parties.
520 Vine St., Downtown, 513-721-8483. Open 7 days. $18-$29.
Flavor: Featuring classic Northern Italian fare, Vincenzo’s does it right and for a reasonable price. You’ll find all of your favorites: fettuccine alfredo, tortellini and ravioli, chicken, veal, eggplant parmigiana and even gnocchi. Enjoy a great glass of wine with dinner. Salute!
Flair: The larger location allows for guests to have all of the amenities of a fine dining without breaking the bank. We loved the quirkiness of the previous location, but change is good; especially since the food is just as delicious.
11525 Chester Road, Sharonville, 513-771-0022. Open Monday-Saturday. $14-$24.
Flavor: Vito’s menu is filled with original dishes yet retains a trattoria’s essence. The sauces and flavors of each dish are rich, complex and satisfying, and the food is truly well prepared — from Veal Chop Milanese with caramelized brussel sprouts to Shrimp Puccini with risotto alla parmigiana and much more.
Flair: What makes an evening at Vito’s truly unique, of course, is the music. Vito and his talented waitstaff, accompanied by Piano Pete, sing their way through classic melodies, show tunes and even opera arias. Don’t think it’s corny — it’s very professional and engaging. These are superb servers who are also skilled songsters.
654 Highland Ave., Fort Thomas, 859-442-9444. Open Wednesday-Sunday. $8-$30.