Traditional Italian comforts such as homemade eggplant Parmesan are found on checkered tablecloths at Giuseppe’s and at family-owned Mama Louisa’s, while delicate plates are served in elegant settings at Vivace and Michelangelo’s.
Innovative Italian pizzas are topped at Pizzeria Bianco, wood-fired Napoli pies are prepared at neighborhood Falora and certified Napoletana pizzas are heated in a 900-degree oven at Vero Amore.
Whether it’s a handmade classic or an oven-fired pizza that you fancy, these local bistros blend just the right ingredients to lead fulfilled patrons to exclaim “Mi amore!" before finishing off last bites.
The pizza pies here are prepared with precise ingredients, including “00” wheat flour, and cooked in a 900-degree, stone-domed and wood-fired oven. The result? Certified Napoletana pizzas. Other items, such as made-from-scratch lasagna and tender chicken piccata, are also served to guests seated in the posh and open, industrial setting. An unassuming wall inside the Plaza Palomino location holds the secret door to a speakeasy called The Still. Guests travel back to the 1920s upon entering, and there are courteous rules to follow. A talented mixologist serves up drinks from a rotating cocktail menu, and reservations only can be made by text. Plaza Palomino, 2920 N. Swan Road, Tucson, 520.325.4122; 12130 N. Dove Mountain Blvd., Tucson, 520.579.2292
North of Skyline Drive on Campbell Avenue, the upscale dining room sits on a hill leading toward the Catalina Mountains, providing a setting worthy of a celebration. Begin with escargots and artichokes baked with Gorgonzola cheese and move on to entrées including veal shanks in a red-wine sauce and beef tenderloin with Marsala sauce, asparagus and a garlic-potato purée. 6440 N. Campbell Ave., Tucson, 520.795.7221
This casual pizzeria and Italian eatery is a second concept from the owner of Vivace. The artisan pizzas are slightly blackened in the high-temp oven, creating a crispy, caramelized crust and a slightly doughy interior. The lunch menu offers an Italian twist on the bento box, with a choice of salad, appetizer, entrée and dessert. 4280 N. Campbell Ave., Tucson, 520.529.2700
Relax on the patio centered in the peaceful Plaza Colonial shopping center, or take a seat at the long, curvy bar or in one of the oversized black booths running from one side of the dining room to the other. The simple yet elegant décor matches the approachable fine-dining fare with panini and pizzas, homemade pastas, veal chops, lamb shanks and grilled salmon. 2890 E. Skyline Drive, Tucson, 520.531.1913
Classic dishes in a classic mom-and-pop setting—blue-and-white-checkered tablecloths line tables inside a small dining room that’s tucked in the corner of a shopping development. Inexpensive and large-portioned dishes are served with toasted garlic bread, and the eggplant Parmesan and penne and sausage dishes are among favorites. 6060 N. Oracle Road, Tucson, 520.505.4187
Owner Glen “Gus” Gerson is a Navy veteran and experienced restaurateur who has had his hands in several dining concepts, including Giuseppe’s. A similar inexpensive Italian homestyle menu is served at Gusto Osteria inside an expansive dining room decorated with a variety of art by local artists, and on the 1,000-square-foot patio. 7153 E. Tanque Verde Road, Tucson, 520.722.9487
Communal tables surrounded by brick walls and wooden accents are illuminated by plenty of natural light inside this neighborhood pizzeria. Wood-fired artisanal Napoli pizzas are traditionally topped or creatively dressed with ingredients such as feta, eggplant, dates and potatoes. 3000 E. Broadway Blvd., Tucson, 520.325.9988
Chris Bianco’s artisanal pizzeria began inside a neighborhood grocery store in 1988. Since then, the chef has earned a James Beard Award (best chef in the Southwest, 2003) and established three independent locations—two in Phoenix and one in Tucson. The menu is short and sweet and the pies boast innovation. Try the Rosa, topped with red onion, Parmesan, rosemary and locally sourced pistachios. 272 E. Congress St., Tucson, 520.838.0818
Michelangelo Ristorante Italiano
Multiple dining rooms connected by archways and walls lined with reproductions of the works by Michelangelo transport guests to Italy for an evening of fine dining. Traditional dishes such as chicken Parmesan, veal Marsala, lamb chops, lasagna and ravioli are delicately plated, and the wine list has a varied selection of Italian and Californian bottles. 420 W. Magee Road, Tucson, 520.297.5775
This family restaurant has been serving homemade Italian fare since 1956. Pastas are served with a choice of seven sauces, and the signature dish is prepared with handmade linguini, hot pepper seeds, garlic oil, house sauce and cheese. The original street-side sign still stands, making the lunch and dinner house easy to spot. 2041 S. Craycroft Road, Tucson, 520.790.4702
A mother-daughter team opened the first location in Oro Valley, and the coffee-and-lunch cafe quickly transformed into a full Italian restaurant serving three meals Tuesdays through Sundays. The Foothills location opened in 2013 and offers lunch and dinner with brunch on weekends. 10325 N. La Cañada Dr., 520.297.3777; 5605 E. River Road, Tucson, 520.300.6860
In the morning, a cappuccino or macchiato sides nicely with an omelet filled with mushrooms and basil at this all-day Italian eatery. And homemade gnocchi in a fontina cheese sauce or baked salmon with garlic, lemon juice, white wine and parsley may serve as the perfect meal before a short stroll over to Fox Tucson Theatre for an evening show. 46 W. Congress St., Tucson, 520.628.1601
A child of Phoenix-based Fox Restaurant Concepts, North Italia has grown to nine locations in five states since the concept first opened in 2002. Tucson’s locale sits in La Encantada shopping center and serves innovative takes on traditional pastas, a daily chef-inspired pizza, and a chef’s board piled high with meats, cheeses, vegetables and spreads. The modern dining atmosphere infuses reds and grays into the décor, and features a glass wall to the kitchen. 2995 E. Skyline Road, Tucson, 520.299.1600
Old-fashioned Italian dishes include chicken cacciatora and veal Milanese. For lunch, try the latter mentioned between bread, served with a side of pasta salad and cheese. The cozy, unpretentious dining space is fit for dates nights and casual outings. 5415 N. Kolb Road, Tucson, 520.577.1099
The 22-year-old eatery sits at the base of the Catalina Foothills and serves traditional pastas, salads and pizzas, with panini during lunch hours and happy hour specials including a three-pour wine flight for $10 on Tuesdays. 5541 N. Swan Road, Tucson, 520.577.6992