You only have to look at the number of school lunch boxes in Chennai with Pasta in them to understand that Italian cuisine is truly mainstream. Blame it on the American globalisation of Italian cuisine, but pizza and pasta are clearly top of mind for diners in the city. First it was smaller stand-alone eateries that started adding Italian cuisine to their menus and then it was all-day diners in luxury hotels that raised the benchmarks for Italian cuisine. 601 at the Park is a great example. The 2000s also saw the debut of Indian chains like Little Italy - Italian has also been positioned as a 'vegetarian-friendly' cuisine. Yes, when in doubt throw in some cheese into the dish. Chennai now boasts of a nice blend of Italian restaurants across price points aside from cafes and multi-cuisine restaurants that serve Italian cusine.
Here's our list of the Best Italian Restaurants in Chennai
Chef Mauro Ferrari is the quintessential Italian Chef, gregarious and a warm, gracious host. His personality complements the warm, informal interiors of Focaccia; this is the closest you will get to a home dining experience. The restaurant works with local ingredients where possible; the open kitchen keeps things interactive while the menu is thankfully not voluminous. Try the Parma ham with honey dew melon or one of their outstanding risottos like the Mushroom risotto cooked in truffle oil - Chef Ferrari is from Milan after all. Where: Hyatt Regency. Anna Salai, Teynampet
(Also Read: 10 Best Italian Restaurants in Delhi)
2. Ottimo - Cucina Italiana
The interiors here find that delicate balance between a Trattoria and a chic, fine dining restaurant. Fronted by a seasoned Southern Italian Chef - Vittorio Greco, the menu has room for an exhaustive list of antipasti and scrumptious wood-fired pizzas; their Parmigiana Siciliana and Prawn Salad with Burata cheese top the list of 'must try' dishes. It's not just haute cuisine, their grappa bar and Italian wine selection complete a wholesome Italian dining experience.
Where: ITC Grand Chola, Anna Salai, Guindy.
3. Tuscana Pizzeria
This might be positioned as a pizzeria, some of their gourmet pizzas with ingredients as diverse as artichokes and pork pepperoni are terrific, but there's more than just pizza on offer here. The setting is casual; perfect for a lazy Sunday lunch where you can also sample their other signatures like the eggplant parmigiana and their calorie-laden lasagne. And do stay for dessert; their panna cotta jiggles.
Where: Wallace Garden, Nungambakkam
4. Bella Ciao
One of Chennai's first authentic Italian standalones, Bella Ciao began as a tiny eatery in Besant Nagar in the late 1990s before moving to a spacious location near the Kotivakkam beach. The menu is exhaustive, almost overwhelming but it's more than just pizza and homemade pasta here. From exquisite carpaccios to a host of seafood dishes and classical Italian salads this restaurant offers a well-rounded Italian dining experience. There's also a kid-friendly menu that makes it a big draw with families.
Where: Shree Krishna Enclave, Kotivakkam
When it first debuted almost a decade ago, Prego was the epitome of fine dining in Chennai and bordered on stiff. All that has changed, the interiors have a friendlier vibe; the effervescence rubs off on the menu too. The culinary team isn't shy to reinterpret traditional Italian recipes - their deconstructed desserts are a thing. It's also one of the more cosy dining venues in the city with a well-stocked Enoteca that has some of Chennai's finest Italian wines.
Where: Taj Coromandel, Nungambakkam
Photo credit: I stock
6. Padrino Cafe
Posters of the Godfather greet you while a large gelato counter sits in the heart of the restaurant. Padrino is your typical friendly, standalone Italian restaurant with a large open kitchen replete with an oven for wood-fired pizzas. The peri peri chicken pizza is one of their bestsellers while their spinach and ricotta cheese ravioli is a safe bet too. Their gelatos and desserts are their strong suit.
Where: PS Sivasamy Salai, Mylapore
Chennai's Italian dining scene has made big strides in the 2010s. It's not just pasta anymore and it's no longer just the preserve of fine dining restaurants in luxury hotels. The city's well-heeled diners and availability of high quality ingredients have played their part. Italian has gone from exotic to mainstream in a city where everything from Ethiopian to Korean restaurants are in the mix.
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About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.