Buon Appetito. It’s always the right time for tasting the best Italian cuisine. From housemade pastas and bolognese, antipasto dishes like carpaccio and calamari fritti to branzino and braciola, local Irvine chefs and restaurants welcome guests to savor the distinct ingredients and flavors from Sicily, Toscano and Sardegna. The best Italian restaurants also curate an impressive vino list, offering pours imported from Italy.
Il Fornaio Irvine
18051 Von Karman Ave.
Irvine, CA 92612
Il Fornaio was masterfully designed to provide patrons with an authentic Italian dining experience outside of Italy. Under the direction of Executive Chef Maurizio Mazzon this menu offers a nice selection of traditional cuisine exploring the flavors and tastes from different regions of Italy. Classic antipasti such as the calamari fritti baby squid, carpaccio (certified Piedmontese beef) and the Antipasto della Casa are excellent for sharing at pranzo (lunch) or cena (dinner). Il Fornaio’s thin crust pizza is Sicilian in style and created with housemade dough and mozzarella. It’s pasta is also made in the Il Fornaio kitchen. A favorite is the housemade spinach ravioli alla Lucana filled with Italian sausage, Grana Padano and fennel and is offered primi or secondi portions. To complete the dining experience, try one of the made-in-house traditional desserts like tiramisu and soffiato al cioccolato, a warm almond-hazelnut chocolate cake topped with caramel-sea salt gelato.
2957 Michelson Drive
Irvine, CA 92612
North Italia is an excellent choice for a taste of Italy next time you are in Irvine. The cuisine is fresh and made-to-order. Patrons appreciate the healthy portions and flavorful dishes. Wake up your taste buds with North Italia’s specialty Chef’s Board, ideally for sharing, offers prosciutto di parma, artisan cheese, marinated eggplant, roasted peppers, castelvetrano olives, and a handful of marcona almonds, and an order of the truffle garlic bread. Both are well-accompanied by one of the several Italian wines offered. The “mains” menu is thumbs up comprised of grilled branzino, diver scallops served on a sweet corn risotto with pancetta gremolata, and a not-to-be-missed chicken parm. Pastas to rave about include the short rib radiatori, spaghetti and meatballs and the chicken roasted mushroom strozzapreti.
BRIO Tuscan Grille
774 Spectrum Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618
BRIO Tuscan Grille is known for a modern menu celebrating the traditional tastes of Tuscany. The restaurant located in the Irvine Spectrum recently introduced new entrees, enticing small plates for two and a refreshed drink menu, all showcasing a new take on spirited Tuscan dining. Continuing to serve many of its time-honored favorites, BRIO’s newest additions include balsamic braised short rib, prosciutto wrapped pork tenderloin, brûléed parmesan crème, burrata and ciabatta, Sicilian cauliflower, shrimp risotto and broiled Maine lobster tail, jumbo Lump crab cakes, and a roasted tomato basil fettuccine as well as grilled-to-order steaks and chops, made-to-order pastas and flatbreads and entree salads. Low-calorie and gluten-free diets can be accommodated at BRIO.
Related: Gluten Free OC
6507 Quail Hill Parkway
Irvine, CA 92603
Chef Cathy Pavlos is the driving force behind Irvine’s cozy European-type eatery, LUCCA. LUCCA offers an ever-changing seasonal menu with sandwiches, salads and pastas on its lunch menu, but come dinner time, the cafe changes to changes a bistro setting that serves small plates and entrees, specialty cheese and charcuterie boards. Favorite small plates include the bruschetta trio, LUCCA meatballs served with grilled ciabatta. Special pastas to try are the carbonara created with the house bacon, the polenta board and the very large raviolis — all perfect for sharing. The pan seared Greek branzino is a must order. Encouraging guests to be adventurous, LUCCA features quite the vino list with more than 30 wines by the glass, and with a choice of 2.5-ounce or six-ounce pour.
532 Spectrum Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618
CUCINA enoteca is a casual California-inspired Italian kitchen and wine shop at Irvine Spectrum Center. The restaurant embodies a neighborhood feel by offering community seating as well as two outdoor patios for alfresco dining. On the menu guests will discover Italian classics created with fresh local and seasonal ingredients, including agnolotti, a seasonal pasta filled with sweet corn and sorrel, California yellowtail crudo complemented by radish, avocado and chili, polenta and ragu, giant meatballs and mixed grill for two with lamb chops, pork sausage and mascarpone potatoes. CUCINA enoteca’s wine list serves small-batch varietals from Italy, Europe and the Americas.
Related: Best Wine Bars In Orange County