Get the Classic in NYC
Tucked between SoHo and Chinatown, this is America's iconic Little Italy. In its prime, it was large enough that different streets stood in for different regions of Italy. Now largely limited to Mulberry Street, it's still a thriving epicenter of Italian culture and creativity.
Case in point: A few blocks north at Torrisi, chefs Rick Torrisi and Mario Carbone are having fun with dishes like Rice a Roni Carbonara. Don't miss the mother of Italian street fairs, the Feast of San Gennaro (Sept. 13-23, 2012).
New York's Iconic Dish
Pizza! Lombardi's claims to be America's oldest pizzeria.
Show Your Pride in Chicago
Get ready to cheer, sports fans: Sandwiched between two campuses of the University of Illinois, this city's Little Italy is a testament to athletic pride. Hit the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, then cross the street to get a photo with the statue of Joe DiMaggio at Piazza DiMaggio.
Chicago's Iconic Dish
Chicago's Italian beef sandwich is a hot, drippy mess of beef and sautéed peppers served on a long Italian roll. Try a classic example at Al's Beef or Carm's Beef.
Devour Italian in Cleveland
The Murray Hill neighborhood gives its Italian roots an artistic touch with a gallery scene that boasts more than 20 exhibit spaces. It's also where the home pasta machine was invented, and where Chef Boyardee ran a restaurant before becoming king of the cans. Every October, the neighborhood's parade honoring Christopher Columbus wraps up with street parties and grape-stomping.
Cleveland's Iconic Dish
Cassata cake, a Sicilian dessert, combines fluffy white cake with ricotta custard and strawberries. Try a slice at Corbo's Bakery ($5 per slice, 216-421-8181). Chef Mario Batali claims their version is the best he's eaten stateside.
Soak It Up in San Francisco
Forget streetcars: Visitors to North Beach -- also the birthplace of beat poetry -- need only climb Telegraph Hill's Filbert Steps for some of the city's best views. Home to one of the first Italian restaurants in the States, this neighborhood survived the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906 because, according to legend, residents draped their houses in red wine-soaked blankets.
San Francisco's Iconic Dish
Cioppino, the city's famous fish stew, was invented in the 1800s by North Beach's Italian fishermen. Grab a bowl chock-full of dungeness crab, clams, squid, mussels and shrimp in a rich tomato and wine broth at Sotto Mare.
Take a Bite of Philadelphia
Introduced to many of us by Rocky "the Italian Stallion" Balboa, South Philly is even more flavorful in real life. On 9th Street, the Italian Marke -- in operation for more than 100 years -- is the country's oldest and largest working outdoor market. America's longest family-run restaurant, the 112-year-old Ralph's Italian Restaurant, is another tasty slice of history.
Philly's Iconic Dish
Meet the cheesesteak's cousin, the Italian roast pork sandwich: thin-sliced pork on an Italian roll with provolone and broccoli rabe. Try one from Tony Luke's ($8.50), a franchise that began in South Philly.
Feel Like a Local in Baltimore
Baltimore's Little Italy, a pocket of cozy brick buildings, feels like home: Residents pride themselves on having one of the city's most tightly knit communities. Pick up a walking map at the Inner Harbor seaport and check out the more than 30 Italian restaurants and bars. Stop by Germano's Trattoria for a taste of Tuscany, the home of owner Germano Fabiani.
Baltimore's Iconic Dish
Covered with bacon and buttery, garlicky breadcrumbs, clams casino wins big here. Take a complimentary limo from downtown to Da Mimmo for a big plate of them.
Get in the Game in St. Louis
Facebook, schmacebook: On "The Hill," the Italia-America Bocce Club is the real social network. But another game has earned a place on street signs: Residents renamed part of Elizabeth Avenue "Hall of Fame Place" to commemorate native sons and baseball legends Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola. For appetites of a different kind, specialty shops sell tasty Italian imports. Locals swear by the salami at Volpi Foods.
St. Louis' Iconic Dish
Origin stories about St. Louis' toasted ravioli vary, but the breaded and fried cheese pockets are guaranteed delicious -- especially at Charlie Gitto's, one of the spots that stakes claim to the invention.
Feel the Love in Providence
Visitors are always welcome on Federal Hill: The Italian symbol for hospitality, la pigna (the pinecone), adorns a large arch over Atwells Avenue and sits atop the fountain at DePasquale Square. The neighborhood's ties to the motherland remain strong, but much of the local pizza has broken with tradition. Federal Hill is the birthplace of the grilled version. One favorite spot for it: Bob & Timmy's.
Providence's Iconic Dish
"RI-Style calamari" kicks up the classic with hot cherry peppers. Try it at Andino's, where $12 gets you a huge platter served with their "secret sauce."
Try a Pie in New Haven
Italy's mark is all over this city -- where many Italians settled in the 1800s -- but nowhere more than in the area around Wooster Square. On Wooster Street, you'll find the most famous purveyors of the city's most famous food: a thin- crust, brick-oven pie called "apizza."
New Haven's Iconic Dish
It's sacrilege to skip clam "apizza," made with garlic, olive oil, oregano, grated parmesan or pecorino, and littleneck clams. Locals are serious about their pizza allegiances, so best to try all of the heavy hitters: Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, Sally's Apizza (203-624- 5271) and Modern Apizza.