On a recent Tuesday night in New York, a crowd was forming on the corner of King and MacDougal Streets, just below Houston. The restaurant Roscioli, which had been under construction for the past year, was finally taking reservations.
Thick brown paper no longer covered the windows, and just like at the original Roscioli, off Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori square, the walls at Roscioli New York were lined with jars, tins, boxes, and bottles filled with everything from dried pasta to preserved artichokes. Unlike in Rome, this Roscioli doesn’t have separate spaces for a salumeria, bakery, and wine bar. Instead, all three concepts are rolled into one building.
By coming to New York, Roscioli—which officially opened this week—is carrying on a decades-long tradition of restaurants from Italy opening stateside, particularly in Manhattan. The tradition goes way back, but it picked up in earnest in 1982, when Sant Ambroeus opened on Madison Avenue, its first location outside of Milan. (It has since opened elsewhere in Manhattan, including in SoHo, as well as in Palm Beach). In 1985, the Cipriani family, known for Harry’s Bar in Venice, brought Harry Cipriani to Midtown East. In 1987, another Milan hot spot, Bice, opened five blocks south, on 54th Street.
Each of these restaurants has since become globally recognized, with additional outposts all over the world. But can an iconic restaurant from somewhere such as Rome or Florence ever really be replicated in a city like New York or Chicago? It’s inevitable that these Italian transplants lose something when they leave their mother country. Maybe pure replication isn’t even the point.
For Roscioli—a fourth-generation, family-run business with a sterling reputation for the highest quality, and which has had no shortage of offers to expand to places like London and Paris but has until now turned them all down—New York is a test in adapting the soul of their brand to an American market. In the “upstairs” restaurant, which is located at street level, guests can order traditional Roman pastas, such as carbonara and amatriciana. Downstairs, there’s a tasting menu with two nightly seatings at 6 and 8:30. Currently, Roscioli is open for dinner from Monday to Saturday.
“The intention here wasn’t to box up Roscioli and bring it to the United States,” says the New York restaurateur Ariel Arce, a co-owner of Roscioli New York, whose co-owners and partners on this project include Alessandro Pepe, the founder of Rimessa Roscioli, in Rome, and Alessandro Roscioli, one of the fourth-generation members of the Roscioli family. “It’s more about making sure that we’re maintaining the vision and Italian sensibility while bringing something to the New York landscape that will satisfy not just the neighborhood but people that have been to the locations in Rome and want to feel a piece of that here.”
In 2019, Arce opened the dinner party concept Niche Niche in the space that Roscioli New York now occupies. After eating at Roscioli in Rome in 2021, Arce invited the team to come cook at her restaurant. A week of collaborating on pop-up dinners led to an idea: bringing Roscioli to New York.
There’s an entire burrata section on the menu at Roscioli New York, with five options for toppings that range from sun-dried tomatoes to aged prosciutto di Parma. Instead of importing burrata from Puglia, Roscioli New York buys theirs from Chef Collective, which works with dairy farmers who produce cheese in Connecticut, honoring the Roscioli philosophy of highlighting local ingredients. But the menu also includes imported Swiss Schlossberger and Italian Parmigiano Reggiano. “The point is to be uncompromising with our quality,” Arce says.
Part of this commitment undoubtedly has to do with the fact that Roscioli, which first opened in Rome in 1974, has standards to uphold. “People are going to come just because of the name,” says Stefano Secchi, the chef at Rezdôra, an Italian restaurant in New York.
“The intention … wasn’t to box up Roscioli and bring it to the United States. It’s more about making sure that we’re maintaining the vision and Italian sensibility.”
Where Roscioli New York is working to preserve its brand, a transplant from Naples founded in 1870, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele—where Julia Roberts goes to eat in the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love—sees expansion to the U.S. as an opportunity to build a new brand identity.
“The business models of Da Michele Italy versus Da Michele U.S.A. are two completely different ball games,” says Francesco Zimone, the founder of Da Michele U.S.A., who was born in Naples and grew up with Alessandro Condurro, the fifth-generation owner of Da Michele Italy.
At the original Da Michele, in Naples, the menu consists of two pizzas: marinara (tomato sauce and garlic) and Margherita (tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese). In New York, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles, where Da Michele U.S.A. has opened locations in the past four years, the menus include as many as 12 pizzas plus salads, pastas, main dishes, and sides. The New York outpost, in the West Village, and the Los Angeles one, in Hollywood, even serve brunch, featuring specialty pizzas like the “Carbonara,” made with eggs, smoked bacon, and Parmigiano cream.
“We wanted to present something that would let you sit down at the table for longer than just 10 minutes,” Zimone says. As for the breadth of the food offerings, “Why wouldn’t I bring a cacio e pepe?” he asks. “Why shouldn’t my restaurant do their own version of a burger?”
For Secchi, who has eaten at Da Michele in Italy, the answer to that question lies within the charm of the original space. “I fell in love with the simplicity,” he tells me. “What they’ve been doing [in New York] is nowhere near what they do in Naples.”
“The business models of Da Michele Italy versus Da Michele U.S.A. are two completely different ball games.... Why wouldn’t I bring a cacio e pepe? Why shouldn’t my restaurant do their own version of a burger?”
Back in 2017, another well-known Neapolitan pizzeria graced New York with its pies: Sorbillo, from the world-famous pizzaiolo Gino Sorbillo. Sorbillo’s East Village outpost—which worked to replicate the acclaimed Naples spot that his grandparents opened in 1935—attracted both locals and stars, from Jimmy Fallon to Liev Schreiber. While the New York location closed during the pandemic, Sorbillo’s Miami restaurant has remained open.
At the South Beach Sorbillo, you can make a reservation on OpenTable. At the original, in Naples, you get a table the old-fashioned way: by waiting in line.
Pizzarium Bonci, a pizzeria that opened in Rome in 2003, sticks to the basics as much as possible at its locations in Chicago, the first of which opened in 2017. Both Rome and Chicago offer a similar lineup of pizza al taglio, a rectangular pizza cut to order and sold by weight. Although there are inherent differences in the ingredients used—ricotta cheese from the Midwest will never be as soft or sweet as the kind you get in Italy—the pizza at Bonci in Chicago is as close to the Roman original as it gets.
Still, for Katie Parla, a Rome-based American cookbook author, the environment alone separates the two Boncis. In Rome, where you’re a 10-minute walk from the Vatican, Parla says, “it’s a matter of taking a ticket, waiting a very, very long time, and then trying to find a space on the sidewalk where you can perch your tray and eat unglamorously on melting asphalt.” In Chicago’s West Loop, where you’re a six-minute walk from Google’s offices, “you get your tray, and you sit down at a high-top table, and you look at your phone and scroll before you go back to the office.”
Though the vibe in Chicago might feel more transactional, Parla acknowledges that the fact that Bonci is there at all offers opportunities for people to experience world-renowned pizza without having to fly across the Atlantic. The same goes for any of these transplant concepts, including All’Antico Vinaio, a sandwich shop from Florence that opened in Times Square in 2021 (with additional outposts in Greenwich Village, on the Upper East Side, Los Angeles, and plans to open in Las Vegas). The quick-service model works in the same way here that it does in Italy, and the sandwiches themselves are nearly identical, though the prices are astronomically higher.
Transplanting a sandwich shop might have less of a learning curve than, say, a sit-down spot educating diners about regional cuisine. Dal Milanese, a Milan-based restaurant from the Luca Guelfi Company, opened in Los Angeles this past March.
“When we started, you don’t know how many times we changed the menu,” says Barbara Pedrini, who is married to chef Luca Guelfi. At first, they served a meatball without sauce, a traditional Milanese appetizer. Customers wanted tomato sauce with the dish, but that would mean serving something that isn’t rooted in Milanese cuisine. “We try to accommodate without changing our recipes,” Pedrini says. “If a dish doesn’t work, we prefer to take it away and put another one that is closer to the U.S. taste.” The current menu does not include this meatball or any other variation.
Alessandro Pepe, a co-owner of Roscioli New York, was anxious about that very kind of cultural conflict, “especially the simple dishes,” he says—“the tomato sauce pasta, the cacio e pepe.”
So far, Pepe has nothing to worry about. A quick glance around the New York dining room reveals every table has at least one bowl of pasta that guests are twirling around their forks without complaint. And outside, just like in Rome, people are clustered on the street corner, waiting for a table.
Nina Friend is a New York–based writer and editor who covers food, drink, and lifestyle