If Italian is what you’re in the mood for, you’ll be treated to some of Sacramento’s consistently highest-rated and critically acclaimed establishments. Here are some of them.

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2801 Capitol Ave. (28th St.)
Sacramento CA 95816
(916) 455-0542

Often described as a restaurant of classy, unpretentious elegance, it’s the recipes of owner Biba Caggiano that make the place. Biba’s recipes are based on her Northern Italian heritage. Big hits include gnocchi, lasagna and the often praised dessert, tiramisu.

Located in the heart of midtown in a restored iconic building, Biba is often listed among Sacramento’s top 10 restaurants, sometimes given the top position. Its service, ambiance and creative presentation reflect the owner’s zest for life and food.

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Cafe Vinoteca

3535 Fair Oaks Blvd., Suite C
Sacramento CA 95864
(916) 487-1331

The casual atmosphere and house made pasta, breads and desserts set the tone for the conveniently located bistro. Beyond the daily specials, several regular items warrant attention, with minestrone and eggplant parmesan at the top of the list.

The desserts are equally praised, with favorites including crème brule and an award-winning banana cream piece. For more than 15 years, the restaurant on the last Thursday of the month has offered “Tampano Thursday.” It honors the famous layered dish featured in the 1996 movie “Big Night.”

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Espanol Italian Restaurant

5723 Folsom Blvd.
Sacramento CA 95819
(916) 457-1936

Among the oldest businesses in Sacramento, Espanol is a throwback joint featuring family recipes, no frills and perhaps the hardest-working owner family in the restaurant business. The Perry siblings, Perry, Paula and Karen, are carrying on the family business in its third location and open since 1923.

Some regulars from the nearby Italian neighborhood are daily diners and the once-a-week specials like corned beef and cabbage don’t last long. The minestrone is classic and every meal is served is huge portions.

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Hot Italian Pizza & Panini Bar

1627 16th Street
Sacramento CA
(916) 444-3000

It’s safe to say co-owners Andrea Lepore and Fabrizio Cercatore are passionate about most things Italian, which makes this midtown mainstay all the more appealing. The pizzas and salads are unique, the atmosphere wonderfully raucous and the combination of casual dining and the adjacent Italian mercantile filled with clothing and scooters
are a one-of-a-kind Sacramento experience.

The pizza menu is vast, but among the favorites is Ligubue (basil, tomato, mozzarella, pine nuts, and Pecorino Romano cheese. A seasonal pizza favorite includes figs. The sozanni salad — baby spinach, pears, dried cranberries, Gorgonzola cheese and roasted pine nuts — is a crowd-pleaser.

(credit: ilfornaio.com)

Il Fornaio

Wells Fargo Building
400 Capitol Mall
Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 446-4100

Approaching its 20th anniversary, Il Fornaio is known for its fresh pastas, wood-fired pizzas, grilled fish, roasted meats, traditional desserts and fresh-from-the-oven baked breads. The cuisine is complemented by an attentive staff and among most pleasantly decorated restaurants in Sacramento. There are three separate dining areas and the high ceilings add a nice comfort factor.

Opened in 1993 on the Capitol Mall in the Wells Fargo Center, Il  Fornaio is popular among the government crowd, but has also gained a Happy Hour following among baseball fans heading toward River Cats’ games.

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La Trattoria Bohemia

3649 J Street
Sacramento CA 95816
(916) 455-7803
Neighborhood: East Sacramento

Its combination of Czech and Italian cuisine make it one of Sacramento’s most unique restaurants. You can order pasta or goulash, pizza or chick paprikash, all served in a small, casual atmosphere in the middle of J Street.

Opened in 2000, La Trattoria Bohemia is cozy favorite for area residents. In addition to its combined-culture cuisine, there are a variety of homemade pizzas and a small bar. Happy hour is 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. with 25 percent off on pizzas. One special beer on tap is the Czechoslovakian Budvar Lager. It’s the original Budweiser.

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Mamma Susanna’s Ristorante Italiano

5487 Carlson Drive
Sacramento, CA 95819
(916) 452-7465

Nestled in small mall between a liquor store and a Chinese restaurant, Mamma Susanna’s prides itself on being a neighborhood restaurant. It’s quaint, simple and offers fresh pasta, pizza and a variety of entrees. It’s ideal for River Park residents, who don’t have many choices within walking distance.

The restaurant feels “warm” thanks to the friendly staff a casual decor. Chicken Marsala and spaghetti bolognese always get high marks and the dessert menu features tiramisu, a regulars’ favorite.

Michelangelo’s At Barton Gallery

1725 I Street
Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 446-5012

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Officially it’s Michelangelo’s Italian Art Restaurant and it offers traditional Italian food served while patrons are surrounded by local artworks’ work. The floor looks like an artist’s workshop.

Chicken Piccata, based on the owner’s grandmother’s recipe, is a house favorite. And beware of another specialty, the 10-once meatball. It addicting for meat lovers. A vegetarian favorite is Tuscan white bean soup. The wine selection is vast and on “special nights” handmade pasta is offered in several styles. The owners like to call eating at
Michelangelo’s “dinner and an art show.” It’s hard to argue.

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Old Spaghetti Factory

1910 J Street
Sacramento, CA
(916) 443-2862

Consistency and value is the key to the longevity of the chain with nearly 40 locations. It all began in 1969 and regulars to the midtown location know exactly what to expect. There are a few pasta and a few sauce choices, which can be mixed and matched in the manager’s special. Unlimited hot bread and free coffee or tea is included as well as vanilla ice cream or spumoni. Servings are generous and the price is right.

Old Spaghetti Factory is ideal for casual family dining. The decor includes high ceiling and regulars like to site inside the cable in the middle of the vast dining area. The long bar (it’s one of the waiting areas) has classic old decor. There’s a full-service bar, and  Bloody Mary’s are a house favorite.

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Roma II Pizzeria

8491 Folsom Blvd
Sacramento, CA 95826
(916) 383-9264
Neighborhood: College Glen

What began with the original location on Franklin Blvd. in 1978 is now an expanding family operation of four restaurants, three using the Roma name.

Maria Guerrera, born in Puglia, Italy, runs the Folsom Blvd., location, opened in 1981. In addition to pasta dishes and salads, the pizza is arguably the best in Sacramento. The crust is thick and light, the ingredients fresh and the prices remarkable. Roma describes itself a “Sacramento Tradition on Folsom Blvd.” Indeed it is, from the kitchen aroma upon entering to the just-right pizza.

– James Raia is a freelance journalist living in Sacramento. His work can be found at byjamesraia.com.