Celebrated for its skilful simplicity and emphasis on quality ingredients, Italian cooking is adopted (and adored) by cultures from all over the world. Not every restaurant on this list is 100% authentic Italian, but all are inspired by the rich, unfussy flavours of Italian-style cooking. From wood-fired pizzas and handmade pastas to authentic antipasti and mountains of mozzarella, here are the best spots for Italian food in South Africa.
This list comprises all the Italian restaurants in the Eat Out 500, the best restaurants in South Africa (as rated and reviewed by our editorial panel) that made it into the 2015 Eat Out magazine.
’86 Public (Braamfontein)
The crisp, thin-base pizzas are a highlight and include exciting toppings like prosciutto, gorgonzola, pear and caramelised onion, or chicken, spinach, roasted peppers, onions, sour cream and rosemary.
Amarcord Osteria Italiana (Illovo)
Fresh, seasonal ingredients are handled with love, resulting in delicious Northern Italian fare. Highlights include the raviolini (small ravioli) with burnt sage butter, and starters of artichokes stuffed with breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, parmesan and provolone.
Well-crafted Italian cuisine arrives in generous portions at this relaxed, intimate eatery. Pastas are made in-house and the selection of decadent Italian desserts is bound to please.
Café Del Sol (Randburg)
There’s something for everyone at Café Del Sol, which won our award for Best Italian Restaurant in 2012. Standouts include fresh handmade ravioli and gnocchi; porcini risotto with fresh peas and truffle oil; and rolled pork fillet, stuffed with parma ham, fontina and smoked mozzarella.
Cornuti Stella e Luna (Parkhurst)
Best known for offering small plates of snack food, this Parkhurst eatery impresses with dishes like salmon tartare, beef carpaccio, and calamari with harissa and chermoula. Pizzas are also a highlight, with toppings like fresh porcini and truffles, fior di latte and roast tomato.
Dino’s Trattoria (Sandton)
Italian-inspired dishes are served to a loyal local following at this longstanding neighbourhood eatery. The daily specials board features dishes like salmon rösti, lamb shank and fresh oysters, but a menu of wood-fired pizzas, pastas and traditional starters is also available.
Gema Trattoria and Pizzeria (Kensington)
Impressive specials like trout carpaccio with rocket may tempt one to ignore the regular menu. Mains can include anything from fresh crab in tomato sauce to pappardelle with traditional ragu.
Il Giardino Degli Ulivi (Milpark)
The menu impresses with tasty sharing platters and unusual flavours. Order the grilled Karoo lamb cutlets with pumpkin bredie and vanilla pineapple salsa or have fun pairing wine, olive oils and craft beers with special tasting menus.
Il Tartufo (Hyde Park)
The menu, which changes every six months, explores different regions of Italy with authentic fare like osso buco di manzo alla Milanese. The Italian chef, who comes out to greet every table, adds to the warm, friendly ambience.
La Campagnola (Bryanston)
A daily specials menu dazzles with an array of fresh, seasonal dishes. Look out for the roasted quail on butternut confit with red wine sauce or order one of their exceptional pasta dishes like the linguine with garlic and prawns.
La Cucina di Ciro (Parktown North)
This spot is renowned for fresh pastas and blend of Italian and Mediterranean fare. A small menu highlights seasonal ingredients with dishes like the brinjal and parma hake bake starter drenched in fresh tomato sauce and topped with buffalo mozzarella.
La Luna (Melville)
The concise menu draws inspiration from Chef Klaus Beckmann’s upbringing in a multicultural Italian/Turkish neighbourhood. Order the sirloin with olive tapenade, grilled vegetables and ‘big chips’, and finish with their famous bay leaf panna cotta with lemon jelly and strawberries.
Luca’s Ristorante Italiano (Sunninghill)
Tuscan influences are clear throughout the menu. Expect plenty of pizzas, a robust risotto section and two pages dedicated to fresh pasta dishes.
Italian café food this is not. Tasteful décor and menu items like beef carpaccio, prosciutto and melon, and line fish carpaccio with avo, red onion and vinaigrette make for a sophisticated dining experience.
Nonna Mia (Norwood)
Attention to detail is evident in the extensive menu, which offers square pizzas, pastas, grills, salads, antipasti, seafood and soup. Everything here is homemade.
Admire the fresh antipasti buffet or order off the à la carte menu. Highlights include the smoked salmon ravioli, and pan-fried Scottish salmon with crab salsa and tarragon hollandaise. The menu, which is presented in a small magazine called Food and Dreams, adds a theatrical touch to the evening.
Remo’s Maximilliano (Sunninghill)
A wide variety of Italian classics and great flavour combinations awaits. The pizzas and pastas are a high point, as are mains like lamb shank or grilled Norwegian salmon.
Age-old recipes culminate in authentic Italian fare like risotto prepared in Piedmontese fashion; octopus carpaccio; panna cotta with goat’s cheese, salmon and chives; and Chantilly cream-filled puff pastries. (You won’t find pizzas here.)
That’s Amore (Parktown North)
Hands-on Chef-patron Lorenzo Corleo offers an ever-changing menu with items like fried dough balls filled with mozzarella and anchovies; and homemade penne alla Genovese with a rich, slow-cooked onion-base sauce.
Tortellino D’Oro (Oaklands)
Expect homemade pasta and classic Italian meals prepared with craftsmanship. Standouts include tortellini in brodo, spinach malfatti (dumpings), and a classic veal stew.
Tra Amici (Rosebank)
The R55 takeaway box from the buffet is a huge draw card, but sit-down customers can enjoy Italian-style soul food like creamy mushroom lasagne, and roast chicken with a touch of rosemary.
Trabella Pizzeria (Illovo)
They’re famous for their pasta and thin-crusted wood-fired pizzas. Try toppings like spinach, pancetta, artichokes and garlic or order the chicken livers served with couscous and a Napoletana sauce.
Al Dente (Waterkloof)
Locals flock to this neighbourhood favourite for a quick mid-week meal or evening takeout. In addition to pizzas and pastas, more unusual dishes include the salsiccia Africa with boerewors, garlic and chilli.
Their authentic Italian bistro fare has garnered this small eatery cult status. The homemade pastas are legendary – order the gnocchi with blue cheese and walnut sauce or linguine with prawns, chilli and rocket pesto.
Caraffa (Alphen Park)
Cosy tables and chairs encircle a rustic pizza oven from which emerge familiar Italian classics and steakhouse fare. Meat lovers will appreciate the matured sirloin and T-bones, but the starters, salads and pizzas are equally good.
A wide variety of antipasti includes highlights like melanzane parmigiana, and fritto misto – a selection of seafood and zucchini, lightly battered and fried. Standout meat dishes include the veal flambéed with Marsala and cream.
Blueblood Italian chef Claudio Uccello impresses with his adventurous, fine dining Italian cooking. Opt for the calamari squid or pan-fried duck breakfast with spinach, Marsala sauce and sesame seeds.
Piccolo Italia (Monument Park)
Tuck into fresh Italian-style comfort food with a focus on quality produce. Meat dishes are a highlight, but classic pasta dishes with lashings of top-shelf olive oil, garlic and chilli are bound to please.
Ritrovo Ristorante (Waterkloof Heights)
While this family-run restaurant offers an extensive menu, we’d recommend the authentic Italian dishes like thin-based pizza with rocket and slivers of Italian cheese or fresh oven-baked fish cooked in tomato and olives.
Villa San Giovanni (Wonderboom Airport)
In addition to the exceptional calamari starter, diners can enjoy classic homemade pastas and meaty mains like slow-cooked oxtail, lamb shank and 500g T-bone, all baked in the wood-fired oven.
Avanti Italian Restaurant (Westdene)
Try to decide between the fillet medallions served in creamy gorgonzola sauce or the grilled chicken breast with gnocchi in a basil-cream sauce, or opt for the authentic pizza de parma or mia sofia with wild mushrooms, parmesan, rocket and truffle oil.
Although known for its fantastic wood-fired pizzas – the quattro stagioni with artichokes, mushrooms, olives and ham is an old faithful – Bella Casa also serves beautiful steaks, a great antipasto platter and dishes like pork chops in a creamy sauce with crispy crackling.
They serve some of the best wood-fired pizzas in Bloem, with creative topping combos like Bertie (fillet steak, bacon, feta, mushrooms, peppadew and garlic) and the popular salami, olive, onion and mushrooms. Other standouts include spaghetti bolognaise and fettuccine marinara.
Lupa Osteria (Hillcrest)
This charming eatery delights with traditional flavours. A highlight is the Sarah pizza with mozzarella, prosciutto, cream cheese and rocket, or the fillet escalope with mushroom sauce and creamy parmesan linguini.
Remo’s Fratelli Villagio (Umhlanga)
The menu is a real crowd pleaser, featuring everything from burgers and sandwiches to pasta, seafood and salad. The pizzas have developed a well-deserved cult status.
Spiga D’Oro (Morningside)
Try their trademark foccaccio topped with parma ham, cream cheese and rocket, or go the traditional route with a good old-fashioned bolognaise or cannelloni with gorgonzola sauce.
Stretta Café (Hillcrest)
This warm eatery takes pride in serving up a good breakfast. Indulge in a breakfast pan piled high with chorizo, cherry tomatoes, bacon and eggs, or a panini topped with tomato salsa, crispy bacon, egg and wild rocket. The rest of the menu is essentially Italian, with highlights like the spaghetti with roasted butternut, caramelised onion, feta, bread crumbs, parmesan and balsamic glaze.
The big menu of this family-run restaurant includes a strong antipasti offering, several risottos, pizza and pasta, and seafood specialities, like stuffed calamari and shellfish soup.
Casa Toscana (Trafalgar)
This old farmhouse has views of the sea in the distance. Order the mussels (if on special), salted calamari with homemade pesto, and the seafood tagliatelle. The signature dish of tortellini with lamb and butter sauce is a highlight.
Trattoria Casa Mia (Port Shepstone)
Their thin-based pizzas are extraordinary in flavour and the starter antipasti for two deserves special mention. If you can, grab a spot on the deck overlooking the Umtentweni River.
Mangiamo @ Wickerwoods (Port Elizabeth)
There’s a focus on organically grown herbs, local olives and olive oil, and stoneground flour for super-thin pizza bases and linguine. The tomato and gorgonzola soup starter boasts deep flavours and pastas arrive in hefty and unfussy portions, just like mama made.
95 Keerom (Gardens)
Authentic, well-made Italian food has garnered this restaurant a loyal following. A fan favourite is the butternut ravioli with sage butter, and perfectly cooked gnocchi with gorgonzola.
A Tavola (Claremont)
Pasta is a speciality, but substantial mains like braised rabbit with salsiccia, peas and tomatoes or veal escalopes in mushroom and wine sauce are bound to satisfy. Make sure to order a side portion of their lightly battered deep-fried zucchini.
Expect large servings of classic Italian comfort food. Their pizza and pasta selection is extensive and the popular thin-crust pizzas are known to arrive with a generous portion of toppings.
This cosy eatery has become somewhat of a local institution. Fans show up for their famous pizzas and pastas; and the cannelloni and ravioli are noted highlights.
At the winner of our Best Italian Restaurant in 2013, guests can expect a combination of classic and contemporary Italian food. In addition to authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas, there are exquisite mains like risotto with pork belly and apple, and handmade ravioli with beetroot, butternut and goat’s cheese.
Carlyle’s on Derry (Vredehoek)
There are some unexpected nods to Portuguese and Mexican cuisine, but the beef carpaccio and an irresistible ricotta pasta bomb in a mushroom, sage, butter and parmesan sauce add Italian flare. The bar at the entrance gets a tad rowdy, so move to the restaurant section for a more intimate dining experience.
Col’Cacchio (City Bowl)
A fresh summer menu features a selection of delicious antipasti, salads, and pastas, but it’s Col’ Cacchio’s famous pizzas that draw the crowds. The new menu also features a small selection of banting pizzas.
Da Vinci’s on Kloof (Gardens)
This neighbourhood eatery has a loyal following after 20 years in the business. Enjoy thin-based pizzas named after iconic painters, like Donatello (anchovies, capers, olives), Dali (ham and mushroom), and Raphael (bacon, roquefort and fig).
Il Cappero (Camps Bay)
Chef Cetti Bezzicheri draws inspiration from her Sicilian roots, producing authentic Southern Italian dishes like tagliatelle tossed in basil and almonds, or veal rolled in pine nuts, raisins and pecorino.
Il Leone Mastrantonio (Green Point)
Warm summer evenings are best spent on the terrace where you can enjoy finely sliced carpaccio, fabulous risottos, and some of the best gnocchi in town. Another highlight is the classic grilled Florentine steak topped with herbs and garlic.
Isola (City Bowl)
Tasty, unfussy flavours delight the palate at this easy-going trattoria. Try the handmade reginette, fettucine and gnocchi, or opt for something a little different by ordering the ‘dry’ style ragu, which shines with fragrant oils and punchy titbits of carrots, celery and meat.
La Perla (Sea Point)
Lovers of Italian cooking will delight in this authentic menu. In addition to their delicious lasagne and ravioli, diners can choose from four carpaccios and 28 fish dishes.
Magica Roma (Pinelands)
Expect robust flavours from signature dishes like tuna carpaccio, mussel and clam chowder, bagna cauda and a wide variety of pastas. Save room for the traditional Italian desserts.
Massimo’s (Hout Bay)
All pizzas are made using stone-ground Eureka flour and fior di latte mozzarella, and feature toppings like parma ham, figs and gorgonzola. The daily chalkboard offers tempting seasonal fare, but make sure to order some authentic Italian antipasti to start.
Nonna Lina (Gardens)
Traditional wood-fired pizzas and a wide range of pastas and classic Italian fare make this family-style eatery a firm favourite among locals. Cheese lovers will delight in the quattro (four cheeses) pizza.
Posticino (Sea Point)
Here real Italians enjoy food made by real Italians. The pizza options feature exotic variations like smoked salmon with caviar and cottage cheese, while the fresh daily specials could include traditional favourites like meatballs in rich tomato sauce with your choice of pasta.
Fabio’s Ristorante (Hermanus)
Try the beef or smoked springbok carpaccio; a pasta with creamy prawn and clam sauce or smoked salmon in a rich garlic and tomato sauce; or one of the 23 pizzas. Visit the deli to take home some real Italian goodies.
La Sosta (Swellendam) Winner of 2014 Best Italian Restaurant
Innovative chef Cristiana Ariotto has carved out a niche at this eatery, with dishes like egg yolk coated in crumbs, popped into hot oil, and served with a cube of mortadella and chicken liver pâté. Pastas include buckwheat ravioli with tallegio cream, and gnocchi with mushrooms and lemon oil.
Mama Cucina Pizza and Pasta (Riebeek-Kasteel)
It’s loud, fun and full of friendly faces. Head straight for the carne al mama pizza with pulled lamb and minted yogurt, the proper lasagne, or the spicy chicken ravioli with red pepper sauce.
Pane e Vino (Stellenbosch)
The simple blackboard menu features pastas, foccacias and platters made with family recipes. Their signature gnocchi di ricotta e spinaci is light and fluffy with just the right amount of creamy sauce.
La Locanda (George)
Chef Dario Soresi gives a taste of authentic Italian flavours in dishes like pork neck in a creamy mushroom sauce and superb spaghetti alla carbonara. House-made charcuterie and mozzarella authentic and excellent.
Enrico’s own boats bring in the catch of the day. There’s also a list of Italian-style veal, and crispy-crusted pizza is big enough to share. The swish of the surf and tang of saltwater is so close you can almost taste it.
Trattoria da Vinci (Sedgefield)
For over 20 years, Steve and Leah Baletta have been pleasing customers with tasty Italian food, with specials such as fish fresh off the boat; pork roast with crackling; lamb slow-roasted in the pizza oven; and paella.
The restaurants in this list were the highest-rated eateries serving Italian food that made the cut for the 2015 Eat Out 500 in the latest Eat Out magazine. Meet the editorial panel members who rated and reviewed them here.