5 Italian Dishes Every American Should Try

Italy is famous for its incredible cuisine, from hearty pastas to flavorsome wines. Ask anyone their favorite comfort foods, and pasta or pizza often top the list, thanks to the abundance of quality Italian restaurants like across America. But to truly experience authentic Italian food, you simply must try some iconic dishes in their homeland. From North to South, Italian chefs have perfected the art of cooking over generations using fresh, simple ingredients that shine in these 5 must-try Italian dishes for the American traveler.


Could we make an Italian food list without the mighty pizza? This classic Italian staple dates back over 1000 years when it was just a simple flatbread. Today, we recognize pizza for its crispy thin crust topped with tomato sauce, gooey mozzarella cheese, and various toppings.

Naples stakes its claim as the birthplace of modern pizza. Legend has it that Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889. At the time, pizza was a peasant street food topped only with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes – the colors of the Italian flag. The Queen loved it so much, they named the pie Pizza Margherita in her honor.

Today, you’ll find pizza restaurants on every corner across Italy baking piping hot pies in stone ovens. When you travel to Italy, try a few regional pizza specialties:

  • Naples – thin crust, simple toppings
  • Rome – thin and crispy crust
  • Sicily – thick, dense crust

The possibilities are endless when perfecting the foundations of a sensational pizza!


With over 300 different shapes and varieties, how do you choose your perfect pasta in Italy? From penne to spaghetti, tortellini to ravioli, the options seem endless. Luckily, you don’t have to pick just one!

Some pasta varieties you should add to your Italian bucket list include:

  • Spaghetti Carbonara – In this quintessential Roman dish, a sauce of egg, pecorino cheese, and pork coats long strands of spaghetti.
  • Lasagna – Bologna stakes its claim as the birthplace of the beloved lasagna with layers of pasta, béchamel sauce, meat ragu, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
  • Pesto Pasta – This Genovese specialty blends fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan to coat your favorite pasta shape.
  • Tortellini – These bellybutton-shaped pasta pockets hail from the Emilia-Romagna region. They enclose tantalizing fillings like cheese, mushrooms, or meat.
  • Ravioli – From meat to seafood fillings, these little pasta pillows popped up across Italian regions over the centuries. Try them in broth for a warming dinner.

With so many pasta forms and regional specialties, you could eat pasta in Italy every day for a year and never have the same dish twice!


Creamy risotto makes for the ultimate Italian comfort food. This universally loved rice dish originates from the regions of Lombardy and Piedmont in the North.

The secret behind incredible risotto lies in the tedious cooking technique. Rice varieties like arborio, carnaroli, and vialone nano have an outer starch coating that creates that desirable creamy texture. As the rice slowly simmers in broth, the starch leaches out while the grains remain al dente. After 18-25 minutes of constant stirring, you’ll have a smooth, luxurious risotto.

Top variations include:

  • Risotto Milanese – Saffron gives this classic risotto its signature golden hue.
  • Risotto ai Funghi – A variety of mushrooms like porcini or portobello lend an earthy flavor.
  • Risotto ai Frutti di Mare – Seafood like shrimp, calamari, or scallops star in this coastal version.

Risotto makes a nice first course, but it can be a meal all on its own too.


What better way to cool off after a plate of steaming pasta on a hot Italian afternoon? Gelato is Italy’s answer to ice cream, with a denser texture and intensely flavored taste.

The difference lies in the ingredients. Gelato has more milk than cream, creating that dense and somewhat sticky consistency. And since it has less fat, the flavors of the ingredients shine brighter.

Each Italian region boasts its own gelato legacy:

  • Sicily – Greeks brought the earliest “frozen milks” to Sicily between 730-480 BC!
  • Naples – Naples eventually perfected the “stirred” technique to make gelato in the 17th century.
  • Florence – Here, gelato evolved into an artform thanks to the Medici family’s elaborate Renaissance feasts.
  • Genoa – Genovese traders discovered creamy “philadelphia-style” gelato made without eggs.
  • Rome – After WWII, gelato exploded as we now know it today – cool, sweet, flavorful.

When it comes to flavors, the sky’s the limit. Classic fruit flavors abound along with indulgent chocolate varieties. More modern gelaterias even flaunt adventurous flavors like rice, fig, or chestnut. Want to sample both chocolate and hazelnut? Get it together in a gianduia flavor.

With thousands of gelaterias peppering Italian towns, an afternoon stroll always ends in an ice cream.


Coffee lovers can rejoice in this cosmopolitan Italian dessert. Tiramisu translates to “pick-me-up,” referring to a sugar and caffeine lift from layers of coffee-soaked ladyfingers and sweet mascarpone cream. While many regions contend its origins, tiramisu appeared across Italy in the 1960s-70s and spread like wildfire.

The secrets to incredible tiramisu include:

  • Ladyfingers – The base for soaking up sweetened espresso
  • Mascarpone – High-fat soft cheese creates the signature creamy layer
  • Coffee – Espresso brings out the sweet flavors
  • Cocoa powder – Lightly dusted on top

Some purists insist on no eggs or chocolate in the recipe. Other say vanilla and liquor like Marsala wine or rum lend distinctive flavor. Whichever camp you fall into, enjoy the sweet, comforting layers of tiramisu after your next Italian meal.

Something For Every Palate

From hearty pastas to frozen desserts, Italy offers iconic eats for every type of palate. When you dig into each region’s specialties, you taste the love and legacy behind the recipes perfected generation after generation. Although Italy takes its food very seriously, enjoying Italian cuisine with friends and family remains laidback, fun, and inviting.

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