Italian cuisine is pretty common in the United States, but not all restaurants are of equal quality. Some offer more authentic Italian fare, whereas others serve what is better known as Italian-American food. So how do you tell the difference? Here are some indications that an Italian restaurant is truly top-notch and authentic.
1. The menu has Italian translations
If the menu is printed in both Italian and English, you know you've stumbled upon a good place. Instead of just "spaghetti," you will see the dish listed as "spaghetti bolognese." Instead of "rice and peas," you'll see "risi e bisi," and so on. Restaurants of this caliber often attract native Italian speakers, so they design the menu to cater to their language needs — and the food to appeal to their palates.
2. Bread is served with olive oil for dipping
Authentic Italian restaurants do not serve bread with butter. Rather, they will bring you a loaf of bread with a little plate of olive oil for dipping. The olive oil will be a deep, rich green — not a yellowy color like some olive oil you see in the U.S. Sometimes, the restaurant will add some balsamic vinegar or spices to the oil as a nice little touch.
3. Salads are served last
In Italy, it is traditional to enjoy salad at the end of the meal, not at the beginning. Eaten at the end of the meal, salad is said to help with digestion — something that Italians are very focused on. If a restaurant lists salad as a later course or includes it as a follow-up to the entree, this is a great sign of authenticity.
4. The menu is divided into "primeri" and "segunda"
In the most authentic Italian restaurants, there will be two sections of entrees on the menu. The primeri are pasta-based courses, meant to be eaten first. The segunda are meat-based dishes made with beef. You do not have to order both courses; although most people do. If a restaurant mixes pasta and meat dishes into one list, that is a less authentic approach and the food may also be less authentic in nature.
Italian-American cuisine is delicious in its own right, but sometimes you just want the real thing. Look for these signs that an Italian restaurant is at the top of its game, and prepare to enjoy one of the most delightful meals ever.
To learn more about Italian cuisine, visit Italian restaurants in your area.