Los Angeles has never been rich in the sort of red-sauce Italian restaurants so common on the other coast, but it has always been notable for the other kind: restaurants in which Italian cooking and the idea of fine dining were not incompatible. It could be argued that the culture of New York’s expense-account Italian kitchens began with Romeo Salta’s Chianti here in the 1930s, that Perino’s led the way for luxury Italian style in the 1960s and that Rex and Valentino established U.S. alta cucina in the 1970s. And the cultural tradition has never faltered: These days, in some parts of town, you’re never more than a few blocks from a temperature-controlled pasta lab or a plate of wood-roasted pigeon Here are 10 of the greats.
Alimento -- This new Italian restaurant from Zach Pollack in just a few months has established itself as one of the better small Italian restaurants in Los Angeles, a place so fantastically popular that the valet station occasionally backs up Silver Lake Boulevard and even TV stars content themselves with sitting at the bar. His menu here is modest but clever. You’re tempted to come back often just to see what he may be up to next — giant platters of braised lamb neck, perhaps, or lightly pickled mackerel seared and plunked onto spicy beans, or fusilli pasta tossed with a dense, intensely flavored sauce made with clams, fava leaves and smoked butter. 1710 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 928-2888, alimentola.com.
Angelini Osteria - Gino Angelini is among the most skillful of the old-school Italian chefs in town, renowned for his delicate fish dishes and his vegetable-thickened sauces since the last days of Rex, and for his updates of the classic dishes of his native Rimini. But while Angelini Osteria does not feature Angelini’s most refined cooking, it is everyone’s favorite, an informal room with well-designed trattoria cooking and a place to settle into for a plate of bombolotti or oxtail on Wednesday, Grandma’s green lasagna or peppery pollo alla diavola. 7313 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 297-0070, angeliniosteria.com.
Bestia - How good is Bestia? It is a restaurant that makes beef-heart tartare seem not only possible but desirable; that makes a craveable specialty of pork boiled with cabbage; that grills Mediterranean sea bass, serves it with a heap of boiled rapini and otherwise leaves it alone. A roaring wood oven is at the center of the arts district restaurant, and a big curing room is filled with charcuterie, but what Ori Menashe’s cooking represents is a new, anti-California cuisine, a style of Italian food whose flavors are neither amplified nor perfected but are simply presented as themselves. 2121 E. 7th Place, Los Angeles, (213) 514-5724, BestiaLA.com.
Bucato - Evan Funke’s Italian training came in Emilia-Romagna, home to egg-enriched pasta, but the noodles he prefers are made with only flour, water and salt: hand-rolled pici, like thick, Tuscan spaghetti, with a long-cooked rabbit sauce; corzetti, flexible pasta coins from Liguria, with a mortar-ground walnut sauce; or a delicious but anti-Roman cacio e pepe that breaks every known rule. And on Bucato’s patio on a warm night, it is easy to imagine that you are on the terrace of an Italian country restaurant instead of outside a former industrial laundry in downtown Culver City. 3280 Helms Ave., Culver City, (310) 876-0286, bucato.la.
Drago Centro - Celestino Drago’s Drago Centro, opened at the depths of the financial crisis, is among the most majestic restaurants downtown, a double-height dining room looking out onto the cityscape, a view that is about command. The cooking here includes both handcrafted pasta — the pappardelle with pheasant and the handmade spaghetti with Sicilian almond pesto are wonderful — and the meatier pleasures of steak, fish and duck. 525 S. Flower St., Los Angeles, (213) 228-8998, dragocentro.com.
The Factory Kitchen - Angelo Auriana’s restaurant is a compelling hybrid, an informal trattoria with rather formal northern Italian cooking. The dishes are composed and careful: sea robin roasted with olives and cherry tomatoes, pancotto with fried duck eggs, and complex casonzei pasta with browned butter and sage. Focaccina di Recco is a marvelous thing, a kind of crisp, translucent Genoese version of a Lebanese borek stuffed with herbs and milky Crescenza cheese. 1300 Factory Place, Los Angeles, (213) 996-6000, thefactorykitchen.com.
Maccheroni Republic - Maccheroni Republic is the project of Antonio Tommasi and Jean-Louis de Mori, who ran Locanda Veneta, Ca’ Brea and other fancy, well-regarded Italian restaurants and they were a fairly fancy crew. Evan Kleiman remembers Tommasi as the first chef in town to drive a Ferrari. Their restaurant is a delivery system for fried calamari and for Tommasi’s supple, handmade pastas, for potato gnocchi in meat sauce or for a Venetian-style chicken soup so thick with shredded chicken that you could probably cut it with a knife. 332 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 346-9725.
Mozzaplex - There’s a magic in what some people call the Mozzaplex, the complex of three restaurants and a takeout counter overseen by Nancy Silverton with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. The cooking, whether the puffy pies at Pizzeria Mozza, the perfected northern Italian dishes at Osteria Mozza, the charcuterie and grilled meats at Chi’Spacca or the focaccia at Mozza2Go, comes from an Italy of the mind, as if the corner of Highland and Melrose were its own denominazione di origine controllata. (Full disclosure: Silverton is a family friend. Feel free to ignore any of this.) 641 N. Highland Ave., L.A., (323) 297-0101, pizzeriamozza.com
Sotto - Sotto is a different kind of Italian restaurant, a nominally southern Italian place dedicated to local produce and sustainable and artisanally produced meat, and a shrine to the awesome heat of its 15,000-pound oven. You can get the hot, fresh bread with headcheese or puréed lardo instead of olive oil; clams cooked with fresh shell beans and the awesomely spicy Calabrian sausage ‘nduja; or a Sunday-only porchetta practically radioactive with fennel and garlic. Chefs Steve Samson and Zach Pollack may be pizzaioli in public, and the wood-oven pizza is pretty good, but they really seem to be abbatoir jocks instead. 9575 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 277-0210, sottorestaurant.com.
Vincenti - Brentwood must be the world capital of a certain kind of Italian restaurant, the kind with carpaccio, tricolor salads and three kinds of pasta with vegetables, chicken under a brick and tiramisu. Brentwood is also where you will find Vincenti, which could pass as the go-to businessmen’s restaurant in a large Italian city, with Nicola Mastronardi’s superb roasted meats, pastas made with house-cured guanciale and the grilled cuttlefish salad against which all others are measured. 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 207-0127, vincentiristorante.com.