Pesto literally means to crush. The version most people think of is the traditional recipe from Genoa in Italy’s Liguria region, which includes basil, garlic, pine nuts, salt, and Parmigiano-Reggiano pounded together in a mortar and then mixed with plenty of olive oil. Though that rendition remains as popular as ever, chefs are starting to put their own spins on the sauce. Here are 14 restaurants for pesto to savor – ranging from the classic to the creative. Not near any of them? OpenTable has you covered with more than 51,000 restaurants for any craving or occasion.
Santina, New York, New York
Gluten-averse diners take note. Executive chef Ashley Eddie tosses housemade, gluten-free rigatoni with an unconventional pesto forged from sweet peas and almonds. Full of flavor, free of worry.
Rave restaurant review: “Amazing food … every dish was great! Will definitely go back for the inventive cuisine, fun and relaxed atmosphere, and excellent casual service.”
Make a reservation at Santina.
North Italia, Washington, D.C.
Thankfully, this gigli has nothing to do with Gigli. The ruffled pasta is lavished with pesto and tossed with chicken, toasted pine nuts, garlic, basil, and crispy capers. It’s finished with a snowfall of Parmesan.
Rave restaurant review: “We had a wonderful meal at North. The food was excellent, including the GF pasta, and the portions were surprisingly large.”
Make a reservation at North Italia.
Candor by Giuseppe, La Jolla, California
Raise your hand if you love tagliatelle. Ribbons of the lovable pasta are coated with green garlic pesto and tossed with the summer’s bounty: squash, cauliflower, corn, and asparagus. A tangle of pea tendrils adds the finishing touch.
Rave restaurant review: “The food was an OMG moment … absolutely amazing! There were 4 of us and we each had a different appetizer and main dish and we were all blown away by the incredible blend of flavors.”
Make a reservation at Candor by Guiseppe.
Cesarina, San Diego, California
We could eat bowl after bowl of this pasta and never feel guilty. A standout preparation involves the noodles of your choice tossed with Genovese-style pesto, Parmesan, toasted pine nuts, confit cherry tomatoes, and burrata cheese. Oh so classic; oh so delicious.
Rave restaurant review: “My favorite new Italian restaurant! I think we’ve been there five times in the last few months. We’ve traveled to Italy twice and this place definitely compares.”
Make a reservation at Cesarina.
Saxon + Parole, New York, New York
Usually, kale stems go in the trash or compost, but not here. They’re transformed into to a peppy pesto, which complements a carrot Bolognese. The vegetarian sauces coat sunny saffron pappardelle.
Rave restaurant review: “Another fabulous evening at my favorite go-to spot. Every night of the week brings out NYC and this place is always ready for the crowd. Manhattan from the tap and a perfect steak. S’more pot for dessert tops it off. See you soon.”
Make a reservation at Saxon + Parole.
Oceana, New York, New York
Ravioli are plumped up with housemade ricotta. They’re tossed in herbaceous basil-mint pesto. Fresh peas add a summer-y finishing flourish.
Rave restaurant review: “Went to Oceana for a pre-theater dinner based solely on the reviews on OpenTable. It was fabulous.”
Make a reservation at Oceana.
Pisco y Nazca, Washington, D.C.
Say hello to tallarines verdes, better known as Peruvian pesto. Spinach, basil, walnuts, and fresh cheese are blended to create a verdant sauce, which is tossed with linguini. The pasta arrives with grilled skirt steak.
Rave restaurant review: “Might be one of my favorite restaurants in DC. The seafood small plates are all amazing! The cocktails are great and service is accommodating. 10/10.”
Make a reservation at Pisco y Nazca.
The Table at Crate, Oak Brook, Illinois
Hats off to this premier pasta. Orecchiette is tossed with roasted mushrooms, broccolini, and Pecorino cheese. Oh, yeah, and a verdant dash of pesto.
Rave restaurant review: “Wonderful experience here every time! Wonderful and fresh dishes. I always look forward to my next visit!”
Make a reservation at The Table at Crate.
Bibiana, Washington, D.C.
This pesto is old school. It features Pecorino rather than Parmesan. Pesto-tossed gnocchi are topped with small roasted tomatoes.
Rave restaurant review: “The only thing better than the fantastic food was the friendly and attentive service. My family and I had a lovely dinner here last Friday night. Great atmosphere — sophisticated but not pretentious. And SO delicious!!!”
Make a reservation at Bibiana.
Osteria Via Stato, Chicago, Illinois
Bow tie pasta feels so fancy. They’re dressed up even more with rich walnut pesto. It’s like prom on a plate.
Rave restaurant review: “Fantastic Italian food and service with a warm atmosphere.”
Make a reservation at Osteria Via Stato.
Urbana, Washington, D.C.
Executive chef Ethan McKee handcrafts these cute cavatelli. He bestows them with a perky pesto, adds pepper pepped lamb sausage, and tops them off with ricotta. The results are slightly spicy, hearty without being heavy, and sumptuously satisfying.
Rave restaurant review: “Awesome! The waiter was welcoming and the environment was nice and peaceful. The food was fantastic as always.”
Make a reservation at Urbana.
La Canela, Rockville, Maryland
Peruvian vibes perk up this plate. Traditional basil-spinach pesto fettuccine is twirled atop a breaded chicken breast. It’ll take just one bite to convince you that you’ve somehow been transported to Lima.
Rave restaurant review: “This is one of the best restaurants in town. Great food, great service, great atmosphere, great everything. I highly recommend it.”
Make a reservation at La Canela.
Centrolina, Washington, D.C.
We love these nosh-tastic gnocchi! The darling dumplings are tossed in a tomato basil pesto. It’s a red, white, and green mélange, like the Italian flag come to life on the plate.
Rave restaurant review: “Some of the best pasta I’ve had — and outstanding service! Great job.”
Make a reservation at Centrolina.
Vivere, Chicago, Illinois
Tip of the hat to these cappellacci. They’re packed with tomato, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and arugula. Pesto, blistered grape tomatoes, and tomato water finish them off.
Rave restaurant review: “Food was delectable. Ambiance was amazing. Servers and runners were extremely attentive. I loved every moment of my experience here.”
Make a reservation at Vivere.
Let us know if you’ve been to any of these restaurants for pestos here in the comments or over on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter. And, remember to snap + share your #dishpics with us on Instagram for a chance to win in our weekly giveaway.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.
Photo credits: Noah Fecks (Santina); Paul Johnson (Oceana); Erick Llanos (La Canela); James Tran (Candor); Uyen Tran (The Table at Crate); @swellcreative (Cesarina).