America's Oldest Italian Restaurants

I cibi Italiani sono diventati parte dell'America da quando hanno cominciato ad emigrare Italiani qui in America fin dal lontano mille e settecento. Specialmente a metà del 1800 quando venivano nella nuova terra, tanti Italiani iniziarono a guadagnarsi soldi cucinando per altri emigranti e lavoratori, o lavorando nelle cucine, o cucinando e poi portandolo ad altre famiglie. E poi essendo popolari le locande del caffe e le colonial taverns fu presa l'iniziativa di servire cibo cucinato all'Italiana. Cosi' nacquero col tempo ristoranti che sono aperti da piu di cento anni ed ancora famosissimi. Come ad esempio Ristorante Fior D'Italia a San Francisco nel 1886, Dante e Luigi Corona di Ferro in Philadelphia nel 1899, Ralph Italian Restaurant in Philadelphia nel 1993 e Barbetta a New York nel 1906.

Italian food became part of America with the arrival of immigrants from Italy in the early seventeenth century. During the mass migration that began in the mid-1800s, as they settled in the new country, some Italian families earned money by taking in borders and providing meals, or "mama" was paid to cook -- either working in someone's kitchen or preparing meals at home and delivering them to other families.

With the popularity of European coffee houses and English and Colonial American taverns, it wasn't long before the doors opened to establishments that served meals for a fee. For Italians, it was an easy transition, and the restaurants below are proof of the endurance of cucina Italiana.

Ristorante Fior d'Italia, San Francisco, California
In 1886, Angelo Del Monte opened a restaurant to serve the local clientele of a burgeoning business. In the following years, he took in several partners -- among them his cooks -- and in 1903, a full partner, Armido Marianetti. The original building burned down in 1893, and the business survived the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire that destroyed much of San Francisco. The restaurant opened in a temporary wooden shack within a week after the earthquake, serving soup out of kettles to the homeless while the city was rebuilt. A year later, Fior d'Italia opened in a new building, relocating twice more before moving to its current location in the San Remo Hotel.

By the late 1920s, Marianetti had become the sole owner of Fior d'Italia. His sons, Frank and George, operated the restaurant until 1977, when it was sold to a group of local investors. In 1990, ownership of the restaurant was sold to another group of investors. The current principle owners do not have an Italian heritage, but they understand the importance of preserving the history of the restaurant. For the 110th anniversary in 1996 -- in a repeat of a successful 100th anniversary in 1986 -- the original menu from 1886 was served, and patrons were charged the original prices. Meals ranged from $.05 to $.30. Last April, Fior d'Italia celebrated its 125th anniversary, and the 1886 menu was offered during lunch. To learn more about the restaurant, read The Fabulous Fior -- Over 100 Years in an Italian Kitchen at

Dante & Luigi's, Corona di Ferro, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Established in 1899, Dante & Luigi's is Philadelphia's oldest Italian restaurant. Immigrants arriving from Italy would have the name of the restaurant written on a piece of paper and pinned to their lapel. They worked in the restaurant and lived in the upstairs rooms.

Ralph's Italian Restaurant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In 1893, Francesco and Catherine Dispigno, and their three-year-old son Ralph, arrived in America from Naples. They settled in Philadelphia and in 1900, Francesco rented a building and opened a restaurant to provide meals for his hardworking neighbors. Five years later, Francesco bought the building and Ralph left school to help run the family business. The restaurant flourished and in 1915, Francesco bought a larger building -- its current location -- and converted the first two floors of the boarding house into a restaurant. Rooms on the third floor would become home to Italian immigrants that he sponsored.

Ralph already had control of the restaurant when his father passed in the 1930s, and through the years, Ralph's children worked at the restaurant, with Ralph Jr. and his sister Elaine, running the restaurant after Ralph Sr. died in 1971. Elaine's children, Eddie and Jimmy, both wanted to work in the restaurant, with Jimmy insisting that they dress like the other waiters. They worked as busboys and then waiters, and leaned how to cook from their Uncle Ralph. Today, Jimmy and Eddie co-own the restaurant, with Jimmy as Executive Chef; and the fifth generation is now learning the family trade to keep Ralph's the oldest Italian restaurant in America owned by the same family.

Barbetta, New York City
In the Theater District of New York City, in townhouses that once belonged to the Astors, the oldest Italian restaurant in the City celebrates its 105th anniversary this year. Barbetta was founded by Sebastiano Maioglio, an immigrant from the Province of Alessandria (Piedmont), in 1906. The restaurant is still owned by a family member, Sebastiano's daughter, Laura Maioglio.

Barbetta specializes in regional food from Piedmont, and was the first restaurant in America to offer white truffles and Bagna Cauda -- a dipping sauce of olive oil, garlic and anchovies served hot with vegetables. The menu provides a history of the restaurant's offerings, with most dishes listing the date they were first served at Barbetta. The landmark buildings and history of the restaurant have earned it a designation from Locali Storici d'Italia, a cultural association in Italy that recognizes "the oldest and most prestigious hotels, restaurants, cafés" -- establishments that are important to Italian history.

Throughout the United States in the early 1900s, numerous restaurants were started by immigrants from Italy. In East Boston, MA, Pasquale Ievoli opened Jeveli's in 1924. (As with many Italian immigrants, his name was changed when he passed through Ellis Island.) Jeveli's is the oldest Italian restaurant in East Boston and continues to be operated by the same family. Sunny Italy Café, the oldest Italian restaurant in South Bend, IN, opened in 1926. The Italian Village, "the oldest Italian restaurant in Chicago," opened in 1927 by Alfredo Capitanini and is still family owned.

Vincenzo Camuglia was 16 years old when he traveled from Catania, Sicily to America. With his named changed to an Americanized James Kemoll, he settled in St. Louis, MO and in 1927 opened Kemoll's as a small confectionary. The establishment expanded to serve lunch and then dinner; and is now operated by his children and other family members. In DuQuoin, IL, Guy Alongi, an immigrant from Cinisi, Sicily, opened Alongi's in 1933. Noted as the "oldest Italian restaurant in Southern Illinois," Alongi's is now operated by the grandsons of the founder.

The longevity of the Italian restaurants mentioned above is a testament to the popularity of Italian food in America.

Janice Therese Mancuso is the author of Con Amore, a culinary novel; and founder of Thirty-One Days of Italians, an educational program to promote Italian and Italian American history, culture, and heritage. For more information, visit,, or email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..