Paisano’s is unstoppable. In the 40 years since opening its first Virginia pizzeria, the chain has grown to more than 15 Virginia and Maryland locations, with more cropping up each year. The pizza mecca was voted 2012 Best Pizza by WTOP Virginia listeners and credits its success to freshness of ingredients, pizza dough, and its universal motto: "We have something for everyone." The Washington Post reports that the owners drew on their Lebanese and Italian parentage in creating the expansive menu, which includes hearty calzones, subs, and stuffed wraps, and of course, Paisano’s signature pizzas with more than 30 available toppings.
Executive chef Gian Piero Mazzi fell in love with food at a young age, when he was growing up in the Liguria region of Italy. His mother’s passion for cuisine planted the seeds for his infatuation, which he cultivated during formal culinary schooling in Florence as well as an internship in France. After honing his skills in the kitchen, Mazzi ventured across the pond, earning new fans stateside when he showcased his recipes at an event at the James Beard House in 2002.
But that was just the beginning. Today, at two locations of Piero's Corner, he and his team hand make an assortment of authentic pastas, including ravioli stuffed with Maine lobster or a blend of spinach and portobello mushrooms. The menu highlights Chef Mazzi's hometown cuisine, with a focus on fresh seafood. Entrees include blackened tilapia and shrimp served with fruit salsa as well as scallops wrapped in prosciutto and arranged on a bed of spaghetti carbonara. Pizzas are made to order and baked in a brick oven, as are calzones stuffed with ingredients such as ricotta, ham, spinach, and tomato sauce. A gluten-free menu features pastas and doughs imported from Italy, whose climate doesn’t support gluten.
Both of Piero's Corner’s locations facilitate mini European getaways, with brick arches framing murals of Italian landscapes, and columns reminiscent of classical architecture supporting their ceilings. In Fairfax, diners can eat or sip wine al fresco beneath red and white umbrellas.
The chefs at Italian Café put new twists on the familiar flavors of Old World dishes as they craft fresh Italian entrees. While kneading housemade dough to make pizzas, chefs grill 12-ounce portions of Angus steak and simmer calamari rings with mussels to serve over linguine. Behind dark wood tables topped with crisp, white cloths, diners split tiramisu—made of layers of ladyfingers soaked in espresso liqueur topped with sweet mascarpone—while gazing at paintings of gondolas floating down scenic Venetian canals toward rushing waterfalls.
At Argia's, chef Ryan Baldini and proprietors Pragun and Salina Rana strike a balance between serving fine northern Italian cuisine and fostering a laid-back dining atmosphere. Many of Ryan's dishes, such as his grilled beef tenderloin and range of handmade pastas, come in solo portions or shareable famiglia servings that sate larger parties. For a taste of the kitchen's signature dish, guests can pry open a Prince Edward Island mussel—shipped to the restaurant daily—and sop up its juices with housemade bread still warm from the oven or a pet sea sponge in need of a soak. Outside, the clinking of wineglasses rings out across a patio enclosed by fragrant herbs; inside, a rustic Sienese-style mural matched with eye-catching frescoes conjures an air of the Italian countryside.
Pizza Boli's dough-slingers craft decadent yet trans fat–free pizzas with more than 20 classic and unusual ingredients. Build-your-own pizzas ($9.99+) drape themselves in coverings ($1.25+) such as pepperoni, bacon, italian salami, and feta. The creamy flavors of a gyro sandwich ($6.99) reappear in a greek pizza ($13.99–$17.99) bearing an unexpected combination of tzatziki sauce, four cheeses, olives, and gyro meat within an unprepossessing wooden horse. The Old Bay crab pizza ($13.99+) dips into the ocean and returns topped with crabmeat, tomatoes, and spring onions, all soaking in an Old Bay–seasoned alfredo sauce. Traditional Italian takeout flavors appear elsewhere in a pair of hearty pastas ($7.75+).
Rocco's Italian Restaurant delights diners with family-style Italian cuisine, created with closely guarded secret sauce recipes. The menu highlights the restaurant’s rich lasagna, a medley of melted cheese and freshly made meat sauce spread across four layers of pasta like a long-limbed meatball taking a nap ($14.95). Large sautéed shrimp cozy up to green peppers, mushrooms, and marinara sauce on a wonton bed of linguine in the shrimp cacciatore ($18.95), and thin-crust or deep-dish pizza comes in varieties such as the Pope's Blessing, a pious bouquet of seasoned meats with mushrooms, onions, and black olives ($11.95+). Rocco's also serves up savory subs and burgers ($6.95+) for a handheld meal safe for white shirts and freshly polished commedia dell’arte masks.