Italian cuisine is arguably the ultimate comfort food. Creamy cheeses, fresh tomatoes bursting with brightness; hearty dishes garnished with basil—all of which happen to represent the colors of the Italian flag. Then there’s the crisp, flavorful bread; mouthwatering pasta and oh, the garlic, can’t forget the garlic. For those who want to experience real, authentic flavors that transport you straight to the Pearl of the Mediterranean, we have gathered some of the best places in Tampa Bay that are essential Italian.
Specializing in Boston-style Italian cuisine, the dishes at Palazzo Pizza’s forthcoming restaurant, opening this fall, are built on fresh ingredients, traditional recipes and friendship forged by the combined efforts of celebrity restauranteur Nick Varano; business partner Mike Winer; managing partner Ryan Wall, and founder Jason Fox.
“There’s an old Italian saying,” Fox says, “‘Gli amici sono il sale della vita.’ That translates to ‘Friends are the salt of life.’ This is perfect for our dynamic because our friends are the salt that adds flavor and enjoyment to our life and business success.”
214 E. Cass Street | (813) 251-1100
Esposito’s Italian Restaurant And Bar
Paul “Paulie” Varsalona learned the restaurant business from his father, Rocky, at a very young age. “Marinara on the bottom, tomato on top! That’s an old NY secret to a really good chicken parm,” Paulie remembers his father telling him at around 10 years old.
Sounds simple, right? Well, Rocky has a number of these “secrets” that have made his Italian food stand out for over 50 years. Rocky learned Italian cuisine in Manhattan’s Little Italy section in the early ’70s. Rocky has since built and opened 25 restaurants. Pictured behind Paulie is a montage consisting of articles, photos, and reviews from Rocky’s restaurants dating back to 1972.
In 2008, after a kitchen internship at his father’s restaurant, Paulie was ready to go into the family business. He has since opened three restaurants and expanded on his culinary knowledge after taking extended trips to visit with his family who still live in Formia – a town outside of Napoli. For example, the risotto dish pictured to the left (a delicious blend of creamy Arborio rice, cannellini beans, sausage, and potatoes) pays homage to his Aunt Mimanella “Mima,” whom he learned the recipe from.
Esposito’s opened just three years ago, but has made quite the name for itself quickly becoming one of Tampa’s busiest restaurants. Esposito’s was even named in Creative Loafing’s “25 hard-to-get restaurant tables in Tampa Bay that are always worth the wait.” Esposito’s also earned runner-up out of 40 other restaurants, voted by the public, for best Italian in Tampa Magazine’s “Best Restaurants” issue in 2022.
Rocky, now 75, can be found sitting at the end of the bar still keeping an eye on the food. Paulie’s mother, Elaine, also helps and is beloved by many customers.“I grew up so proud of my father’s restaurants,” Paulie says. “So, going to work for me, in a way, is me showcasing my pride, my childhood, like a kid getting to play show and tell every day of his life.”
14306 N. Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa | (813) 769-9098
Noble Crust marks the culinary intersection of Italian cooking paired with southern ingredients for a Deep South Italian fusion. Using locally grown, in-season ingredients makes for a diverse menu that changes throughout the year while paying tribute to fresh flavors and creative dishes. Selections such as the Sweet Corn Arancini and Spaghetti and Meatballs turn traditional Italian into a whole new experience.
Offering an extensive list of craft cocktails, beers and wines on tap, Noble Crust is the place to meet and dine.
Locations in Tampa, St. Pete and Wesley Chapel
Bella’s Italian Cafe
For over 35 years, Bella’s Italian Café has provided authentic Italian food to residents and visitors alike who’ve helped make the restaurant one of the most popular establishments in the area.
Renowned for their dinner menu, Bella’s also has notable lunch options. Served Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., the lunch lineup includes their full regular menu plus several lunch-only items like the Meatball or Chicken Parmesan panini. Every Friday and Saturday from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. and Sunday through Thursday from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., Bella’s offers late-night drink specials and reduced-price pizzas plus a limited menu of appetizers, salads and desserts.
From the indulgent Raspberry Crème Brûlée to the savory Margherita pizza, every dish at Bella’s follows their motto: “Saluto alla Vita” or “Salute to Life.”
1413 S. Howard Ave., Ste 100, Tampa | (813) 254-3355
Bonu’ Taverna Italiana
From hand-pressed pizza dough used in their assorted pinsa and crispy arancini to seafood-inspired linguine and lobster-filled ravioli, Bonu’ ensures every dish featured focuses on clean flavors, seasonal ingredients and specialties from Italy and the Mediterranean.
“Bonu’ Taverna sets itself apart by offering an array of Italian flavors and delicacies while ensuring a diverse and enticing menu,” says partner Mia Maccarrone. “Guests can expect the finest ingredients, extraordinary wine list and hand-crafted cocktails all made with love and care.”
601 Central Ave., St. Petersburg | (727) 623-4505
Beccofino Italian Bistro
Beccofino Italian Bistro boasts a 100-percent made-from-scratch menu that uses both in-house and locally sourced ingredients. From Sicilian-style cod to wild truffle risotto; cast-iron-sauteed mussels to sweet panna cotta; honoring classic, tried and true Italian dishes is at the forefront of Beccofino’s ethos.
“We stay true to the traditions,” says Antonio Casamento, owner of Beccofino Italian Bistro. “To the origins, to the ingredients and obviously to the recipe.”
5712 S. Macdill Ave., Tampa | (813) 898-0804
Casa Santo Stefano
Immerse yourself in Sicilian culture without the plane ticket at Casa Santo Stefano. Serving up dishes that represent the legacy of the Sicilians who made Ybor City home, it’s an experience like no other.
The restaurant uses local ingredients and ones sourced direct from Sicily; serving made-from-scratch gelato and carrying a collection of roughly 250 Sicilian wines.
“Eating at Casa Santo Stefano is like dining inside of Tampa’s Italian family album,” notes vice president of marketing for 1905 Family of Restaurants, Jeff Houck. “If you’re looking for a fingerprint of Tampa’s Italian food I can’t think of a better example.”
1607 N. 22nd St., Tampa | (813) 248-1925
Original Flavor 1889
It’s a 72-hour process to achieve the enhanced aroma and airy crumb structure of the dough used to create contemporary Neapolitan pizza at Original Flavor 1889. While the crust is a pizza’s foundation, the ingredients used atop it and paired with other dishes from pasta to paninis are of equal importance.
“We do import most of our products,” says Davide Scotti d’Antuono, co-owner. “Deli, pasta, sauce and specifically, we import fior di latte (cheese), the only cheese that’s supposed to be on the original pizza napoletana.”
409 Central Ave., St. Petersburg | (727) 873-7139
Discover the perfect harmony of old-world flavors and new-world flair at BellaBrava. From tantalizing seafood to classic pastas made in-house, artisanal pizzas, and more, our menu offers a symphony of flavors to satisfy every palate. Experience the magic as our Woodstone® ovens transform fresh, locally sourced ingredients into mouthwatering pizzas, and our Guest favorite, the Crostata, evoking the essence of Tuscany and beyond.
With our friendly staff, BellaBrava aims to become your go-to casual dining spot. Bring your kids to savor our flavorful meals, gather your coworkers for refreshing cocktails, or ignite romance on a memorable date night with exquisite entrées paired with a selection from our extensive wine list.
At BellaBrava, there’s something delicious for everyone. Benvenuti!
Visit us in Saint Petersburg, Tampa, or Land o’ Lakes, Florida.
St. Petersburg – 204 Beach Drive NE, Saint Petersburg | 727.895.5515
Tampa – 1015 Gramercy Lane, Tampa | 813.524.5226
Bexley – 16722 Focus Loop, Land O Lakes | 813.489.4890