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Diver Scallops at North Italia (Photo credit: Jackie Tran)

The Best Modern Italian Restaurants in Tucson

Updated March 6, 2024

Modern Italian food means lighter sauces, freshly made pastas and creative takes on seafood, steaks, and poultry. The wine lists may be from smaller, craft wineries – Tavolino’s is curated from Massimo’s brother’s winery – but, your server will be well-trained to help you find the perfect pairing. Some, like Vivace, offer the best views in Tucson. Don’t let the white tablecloths fool you, comfort and casual still rule. Take your time, order another bottle of wine, and indulge in the good life.

These are the best modern Italian restaurants in Tucson.

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a bowl of pasta
Nonna Antoinettas at Bottega Michelangelo (Photo credit: Jackie Tran)

Bottega Michaelangelo

Long an Oro Valley go-to for everything Italian, Bottega Michelangelo underwent an update several years ago. Owned by the Damiano Ali family and formerly known as Michelangelo’s, today the food has a decidedly modern spin. All the old faves (including Mama’s meatballs) are still on the big menu. But look further and you’ll see branzino and braciola; arancini and agnolotti; polpo and porchetta. The wine list has been elevated as well, with many choices for any budget. This is a family-run restaurant ideal for families, big parties, or a romantic evening with you honey.

Cacio e Pepe at Ceres (Photo courtesy of Ceres Pasta)

Ceres Pasta

Ceres, the goddess of grain, is honored at this tiny, downtown eatery. Fresh ingredients and creativity are what make Ceres so special. Choose a pasta and then a sauce from the small but clever menu, or take home a bundle of pasta to enjoy at home. A weekly special is available until sold out. The bread and sweets are meant to be paired with the house espresso. And please don’t forget the gelato, which changes on a biweekly basis.

(Photo courtesy of Locale Neighborhood Italian on Facebook)

Locale Neighborhood Italian Restaurant

Decades of experience and a passion for great hospitality ring true at this midtown neighborhood restaurant. While you’ll find many traditional plates like Lasagna and Eggplant Parmesan, other more modern options will make you see Italian in a whole new way. Take the Penne all’ arribbiata, for example, with a spicy cream sauce. The Tortelli de Zucca is stuffed with pumpkin and tossed in a sage butter sauce. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Locale also has a yummy bakery. The starters and a bottle of wine from their carefully curated wine list should be enjoyed on the lovely patio, one of the finest in town.

Grilled Branzino at North Italia (Photo credit: Jackie Tran)

North Italia

People say North Italia is loud and it is, but the food and wine here are worth the enduring the noise level or dine on the lovely patio. Order a bottle of Prosecco from the extensive wine list, while you munch on paper-thin Zucca Chips or Calamari Fritti. The Bolognese is the perfect pasta course. Then, if there’s room enjoy the slow-roasted Porchetta or the Grilled Branzino. Cap off the meal with an affogato and the Bombolini (Italian doughnuts.) The weekend brunch is lots of fun.

a room filled with furniture and a fire place
(Photo courtesy of Perche' No Italian Bistro)

Perche’ No Italian Bistro

Located next door the Fox Theater, it might be easy to miss this Italian bistro. Perche’ No means “why not,” and that seems to be the philosophy behind many of the dishes here. Why not start your dinner with their Polenta Gorgonzola or the fried oysters? Why not follow that with the Pasta Puttanesca, with capers, olives, garlic, and anchovies in a “zesty” tomato sauce? Why not try the Pork Marsala? Or the Gnocchi allo Zefferano? Chef Bruno Girardi also offers a host of other weekly specials that are not your every day Italian fare. Open for lunch or dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays.
a pciture of seafood pasta
Cioppino alla Ligure at Tavolino Ristorante (Photo credit: Jackie Tran)

Tavolino Ristorante Italiano

The vibe sexy; the food sublime. An outstanding starter is the Polipo alla Griglia, grilled octopus, chilled fingerling potatoes, kalamatas, celery all tossed with a bright, lemon dressing. The ravioli di zucca (butternut squash stuffed ravioli in a brown butter and sage sauce) sings. Any of the veal will please. Wines are mostly Italian, some from the owner’s brother’s winery in Italy. Save room for the Bonet, a chocolate lover’s dream.

a plate of food on a table
(Photo courtesy of Trattoria Pina)

Trattoria Pina

Casually elegant is the best way to describe Tratorria Pina. The views of the Catalinas are thrilling and the vibe is top notch. Chefs Pina and Fidele bring together old family recipes in a most creative style. Start with the Calamari Fra Diavolo, shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce. Then order one of many outstanding dishes such as Pollo de Nonna or the Trota Bellagio. Definitely save room for one of the luscious desserts, which come from Cosmo Ali (aka Pina’s father) of the well-loved DaVinci’s. Daily Happy Hour specials are also a treat!

a picture of pasta
Fettucine Alfredo at Vero Amore (Photo credit: Jackie Tran)

Vero Amore – Swan

Fortunately for Tucsonans, there are Vero Amore’s in town. One, on Swan Road in Palomino Plaza, and the original in Dove Mountain. The panini are as simple or fancy. Their Pasta Puttanesca is loaded with roasted red peppers and Kalamata olives. The Shrimp Fra Diavolo draws raves. Vero Amore’s pizzas are also winners whether it’s a simple cheese pie or one of the many creative offerings. Save room for the cannoli.

a picture of pasta
Linguini with Grilled Salmon (Photo courtesy of Vivace)

Vivace Restaurant

Ah, lovely Vivace, with its stunning views, polished service and elegant fare is the epitome of fine dining in Tucson. The Scordato family elevated what Italian food in Tucson. Owner Daniel carries on the tradition by using quality ingredients and kitchen magic. One spoonful of the Seafood Soup will transport you to the Amalfi Coast. The Seafood Lasagnette is made with fresh pasta. The wine list is award-winning and offers choices for all tastes and budgets.

a picture of italian food in tucson
Three course Valentine's Day meal at Zio Peppe (Photo credit: Jackie Tran)

Zio Peppe

What happens when two of this city’s finest chefs bring together their creative minds and a little bit of WOW! Zio Peppe, of course. Chefs Devon Sanner and Mat Cable opened their Eastside eatery with the intent of blending the flavors of the Southwest with the foods of Italy. A great starter is the Elote Arancini, a mix of street corn and risotto. Tradition is spun on its pizza wheel, with the El Rustico that features Chef Juan Almanza’s birria on a pie. The Ravioli Sonorense are top notch. Dessert has be the Taconnoli.

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