Tried Le Virtù, and came away happy with my meal, less impressed with the others. The antipasto misto was excellent, and my ravioli al cioccolato (cocoa ravioli with rabbit ragu and topped with a sage butter sauce and amaretto cookie crumbles) was outstanding. It was savory and rich, with just a hint of sweetness that complimented the butter and sage well. My friends got the maccheroni with the duck ragu (ok, not great), and the gnocchi with tomato and basil (well made gnocchi, standard sauce). Vin santo for dessert, delicious as usual.
Are you looking for old school, red gravy-style Italian? If so, I recommend Villa di Roma or Marra's (although Marra's pizza is much better than their food). Other places that serve standards plus other Italian fare that I highly recommend are Scanicchio's, Pesto, Chiarella's and Mio Sogno.
For Italian as in "we don't serve chicken parm", try L'Angolo or Le Virtu. I will warn you, L'Angolo is TINY. I don't know how many kids you're talking or their ages, but it could be a bit cramped for you.
All of these are in South Philly. Out of the bunch, Villa di Roma and Mio Sogno are my favorites. I also love La Veranda but it's not in S. Philly and can be pricy. Enjoy!
In my opinion, places like Ralph's, Villa D'Roma and Dante & Luigi are great fun places - but we don't go there for the food.
The food, while fine, abundent and hearty, would not be destination food.
L'Angolo is good and child friendly - very European feel. It is small, and the menu is limited. We liked it better before the owners opened another place in center citiy.
We gave mixed notices to Le Virtu. I loved their unusual ravioli. My husband was diappointed in their bolognese, and the general feeling of the group I was with was that the food was uneven.
Cucina Forte has terrific gnocchi - she's famous for it. Pasta is the strong point.
Paradisio - good food, classy atmosphere, I think it might be too upscale for children. James is not for children.
And yes, Tre Scalini is very much there and very busy. It is their former location that was taken over.
We weren't nuts about Criniti, but we have friends who love it. There was great, warm service when we first got there and after that it was hard to get hold of a waiter. Mixed reviews on the food. It might have been just us or that particular evening - as I said, we know people who are regulars.
I agree with Sylvia. Ralph's, Villa D'Roma, Criniti's, and Dante & Luigi are southern Italian, red gravy restaurants, much like you'd find in Little Italy in Manhattan. Ralph's, in particular, is extremely noisy. And yes, Villa D'Roma is in the Italian market. While I like all of these, I don't think they represent the best Italian that South Philly has to offer, but then, what is "very good" is very subjective.
do you want italian or italian american? we have both.
assuming italian american, dante and luigi's is v similar to bamonte's in brooklyn. but unlike bamonte's, everything at dante and luigi's is good (love bamonte's, but had the worst red crab sauce ever there). d&l's is located on the corner of 10th and catherine.
i would strike ralph's off the list. the food is extremely inconsistent.
I would choose Villa d'Roma over Ralph's for red gravy Italian American. I like Le Virtu, L'Angolo, Cucina Forte. I also love Paradiso, but it is a bit more formal than the others. I'd also add James to the list, but people here go back and forth about it - I've always had great results there and he was named on of Food and Wine's best new chef's this year
I would also vote for L'Angolo. Another great choice is Le Virtu, on Passyunk Ave. Their specialty is food from Le Marche region. We were there with our 9-year-old and 12-year-old, and they loved the pastas. Of course, my son's favorite food is duck confit, so maybe they're not your average kids, but the restaurant is kid-friendly and the menu quite approachable while still offering some different dishes for the grown-ups. Wine list also reasonable.
BTW, I think Tre Scalini is no more--this week's City Paper mentions a new restaurant, Da Vinci, that "took over" from TS.
Our favorite is Tre Scalini. It's on Passyunk, near Broad Street. BYOB.
The mama is the wonderful cook, but her daughter and son-in-law, who both work there, have a new baby who is often around. (Not so new anymore!)
Favorite appetizers: broccoli rabe over grilled polenta, mixed seafood that's a mini bouillabaise, any salad.
Pastas: homemade papardelle (often a special), pasta with three kinds of mushrooms, lobster ravioli, all pastas.
Entrees - if you don't have the pasta as an entree -
the best veal chop and veal filet around. The veal filet (you get 3 or 4 pieces) are thick, tender, and juicy. Really terrific. So is the veal chop. We get one of these rather than the veal tenders. Fish, etc. also good.
This place is very popular and gets busy. If it's a weekend night, you may not be able to get a reservation.
We like the other places mentioned, but we think that Tre Scalini stands out.
Here are a few that have been very good to get you started:
Criniti's - Broad and Shunk
I haven't been there in a while, they are in a new building, a small church. But from what I hear, they still turn out very good food. The old place use to be very small, not sure how well they fit themselves into this church. When I say Church, dont think old school Catholic gothic building. It is an odd shape, comes to a point to fit onto the corner, so maybe a recon to see how it is if you will have a large(ish) party.
La Stanza - 20th & Oregon
I have been here a few times, once for our conpany's Christmas party. Food has always been good.
Ralph's - 9th & Catherine (Cash only)
Also been a while since I was here, but they have always been know for their veal. I had gnocchi there one time, and they were the lightest I have ever had.
Cucina Forte - 8th & Fitzwater
Haven't been here bit some family and friends report good eats here!