Chow Down! Discovering the Best Italian Restaurants Within Driving Distance (Authentic Eats, No Passport Needed)

By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D.

Columbus Day, a day celebrating the arrival of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492, was celebrated for the first time by New York City political organization Tammany Hall in 1792. But it wasn’t until almost 150 years later, in 1937, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared it a national holiday.

Although Columbus’ history is steeped in controversy, his accomplishments have had an undeniable impact on our nation. Whether or not you choose to celebrate the man himself, the long Columbus Day weekend is the perfect time to get a taste of the area’s Italian American culture.

Italians are known for their food, both in Italy and here in the Harrisburg area. So, take a Columbus Day weekend tour and “mangia” with the best Italian restaurants the area has to offer. “Buon appetito!”

Vito’s Italian Ristorante
Vito’s is one of the only restaurants in the Harrisburg area making and selling its own wine. Changes to the state’s liquor laws in 2016 allow holders of limited winery licenses to sell Pennsylvania beers and distilled spirits, something the Vito’s owners continue to offer.

The casual full-service restaurant serves traditional pizza shop fare such as calzones, cheesesteaks and Stromboli punctuated with specials such as swordfish and steaks. A variety of hot subs, pasta, meat and seafood dinners round out the experience.

Vito’s Italian Ristorante
1150 Lowther Rd.
Camp Hill, PA 17011


Gabriella Italian Restaurant
If you’re looking for a classic Italian meal, this is the place. Gabriella’s ambiance and décor are warm and inviting and the food is very, very good. The authentic Italian dishes are individually prepared and served with care. Gabriella offers a varied menu that includes Grilled Homemade Sausage with peppers and marinara, a side of meatballs and the Chicken Parmigiana, breaded, fried and baked, in a tomato sauce topped with mozzarella cheese; Veal Cardinale, veal with a layer of pan fried eggplant and roasted peppers covered with cheese and a light marinara sauce; and the ever delicious Chicken Marsala, Chicken Francese or Chicken Oscar. Start your meal with Blue point oysters on the half shell and end with one of the delicious desserts such as the Crème Brule or Grandmother’s Cake. Swish it down with a glass of wine and you’ve experienced superb Italian food in an upscale setting.

Gabriella Italian Ristorante
3907 Jonestown Rd.
Harrisburg, PA 17109
Hours: Open until 10 p.m.


Fenicci’s offers its guests excellent service and wonderful, flavorful, quality Italian and American food. No wonder it remains a local favorite. Fenicci’s uses all of the original recipes that were brought over from Italy when the DeAngelis family first opened the restaurant’s doors in 1935. Fenicci’s homemade Lasagna is a crowd favorite as is its DeAngelis Meatball Sub. Looking for something unique? Try the Crab Tortellini Alfredo, a delicious combination of  lump crabmeat and cheese tortellini topped with Toasted Focaccia Bread Crumbs and Parmesan Cheese. Only wanting a pizza? Fenicci’s offers a variety of pizza selections including its famous “Upside Down Pizza.” Steaks and seafood are also available, as is a full selection of bottled beers.

102 W. Chocolate Ave.
Hershey, PA 17033
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m.
Sunday, 12 p.m.-1 a.m.


Mangia Qui
Mangia Qui Executive Chef Rosemary “Qui Qui” Musarra provides her guests with a very sophisticated dining experience. The main dining area which is sunny, and art-filled, is small and quiet, perfect for conversation. The menu features antipastas, primis then secondis. The restaurant’s Tuscan influences can be found in the grilled, marinated ruby centered lamb with lemon fricassee, the grilled Moulard Duck breast sweetened by stone fruit and drizzled with 25-year-old aged balsamic reduction, and the ribeye with a balsamic red wine glaze and gorgonzola melt and a black truffle pasta with truffle oil. Mangia Qui offers a full-service bar that features a great selection of sparkling white and red wines by the glass and by the bottle and cocktails. The bottom line: Mangia Qui does great food, in a great little space, and you’ll be treated like you’re a lot more important than you probably are.

Mangia Qui
272 North St.
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Hours: Lunch-Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner-Monday-Saturday, 5 p.m.
Sunday Brunch-10 a.m.-2 p.m.


You can’t go wrong with Sammy’s. A mainstay for almost 20 years, it’s like a small Italian restaurant that you would find in NYC. . .tables close together. . .and a place to bring a bottle of wine and enjoy great food and conversation. With an incredible view of the state capitol building, guests can enjoy a varied menu which includes salads featuring delicious house dressing and homemade croutons, a Portobello mushroom appetizer, Chicken Siciliano as an entrée and vegetarian pasta.  You’ll also find old standbys such as eggplant parmigiana, manicotti, and homemade lasagna. Add one of Sammy’s famous signature homemade desserts such as bread pudding and you’re good to go. A selection of steaks, chicken, veal, and seafood is also available. BYOB.

502 N. 3rd St.
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Saturday, 4 p.m.-10 p.m.


Lazzaro’s Italian Bistro
Imagine the freshest ingredients, the most delicious sauces, and the aroma of Italy gently filling the air. Imagine a place where families, friends, and couples gather to celebrate, experience, and share the finest authentic Italian cuisine in a comfortable, casual setting. Welcome to Lazzaro’s. Inspired by a childhood in Italy, Lazzaro’s was established in 2012, and has since been a favorite gathering place for locals and visitors alike. Offering fresh seafood and pasta dishes, homemade soups, and mouth-watering appetizers, Lazzaro’s has something for every lover of Italian. For delectable pastas, pizzas and entrees such as Lazzaro’s Baked Tilapia and Lump Crab you’ll feel like family at this BYOB restaurant.

Lazzaro’s Italian Bistro
49 N. Railroad St.
Palmyra, PA 17078
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Closed Mondays


Pastorante specializes in fresh, homemade Italian cuisine; specifically, in fresh pasta, meatballs and specialty pizzas. Opened in 2013, Pastorante’s homemade pasta with fresh sauces and yummy meatballs are sure to please any palate.  A small but mighty kitchen staff crank out the most delicious food from Lasagna and Vegetable Lasagna, Squid Ink Fettuccine with Shrimp to Pappardelle with Oxtail to such specials such as Spaghetti Carbonara. All entrees are definitely worth investigating. Try Pastorante’s Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese, a legend in itself. Be sure to make a reservation, and don’t forget to leave room for dessert! BYOB.

1012 N. 3rd St.
Harrisburg, PA 17102
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday, 12 p.m.-8 p.m.


Marcello Pizza & Ristorante
Marcello Pizza & Ristorante is a hidden gem for those wishing to experience delicious Italian food. Tucked away in a small building in a small mini-mall, Marcello’s is hidden away on an off the beaten path. The restaurant offers its diners a pizza joint out front and a dining room inside. If you love homemade Italian food, try Marcello’s varied choices such as Ravioli, Stuffed Shells, and Baked Eggplant Parmigiana. A varied selection of chicken, seafood, and veal dishes add to the menu. Finish the experience with Tiramisu, Cannoli or a slice of Marcello’s Truffle Cake and you can’t do wrong. BYOB.

Marcello Pizza & Ristorante
900 Cavalry Rd.
Carlisle, PA 17013
Hours: Sunday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.


JoJo’s on 22 Italian Restaurant
JoJo’s on 22 offers its guests three distinct dining experiences: the casual pizzeria, the more formal dining room and the relaxed outdoor bistro. At JoJo’s, Italian food doesn’t have to mean strictly pizza. JoJo’s also serves up a great selection of seafood and meat, and it doesn’t hurt that it still has phenomenal pastas as well. Yes, JoJo’s pleases any palate, with offerings from caprese to cannoli, stromboli to spaghetti, and pizza to pasta pescatore. The fully stocked bar features domestic and imported beers, liquors and wines. But it’s more about the old-school experience here. Order a plate of JoJo’s Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce and you won’t be unhappy. It’s just like what your Italian Mamma made on Sunday. Try JoJo’s Linguini Pescatore, a delightful combination of shrimp, clams, and mussels served with linguine pasta and zesty marinara and you’ll have a hard time putting your fork down.

Jo Jo’s on 22 Italian Restaurant
7800 Allentown Blvd.
Harrisburg, PA 17112