Best Italian Food

Meet Seattle’s Italian Forebears

Italian immigrants (and their offspring) gave our town everything from power dining to world jerky dominance

By Allecia Vermillion Illustrations by Amanda Mocci January 26, 2017 Published in the February 2017 issue of Seattle Met

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Luciano Bardinelli

His restaurant, Settebello, opened in 1982 at Olive and Denny to vault Italian dining from meatballs and checkered tablecloths to osso bucco and prosciutto de parma.

Sample His Legacy  A string of his cooks and servers—Scott Carsberg, Luigi DeNunzio, Peter Lewis—went on to open their own restaurants. But if it’s Bardinelli’s cooking you want, he runs a restaurant called La Locanda in San Luis Obispo.


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Dorene Centioli-McTigue

The daughter of a local fast food franchising magnate opened Pagliacci Pizza Co. the U District in 1979, giving Seattle its first taste of pizza by the slice. Centioli-McTigue sold the business in 2000, though many topping combos endure.

Sample Her Legacy Add a Centioli to your next delivery order—an appetizer of fontina, mozzarella, and garlic, and olive oil atop the thinnest of crusts, cut into diamond shapes.


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Victor Rosellini

The restaurateur who invented power dining in Seattle was such a warm and able host that politicians from both parties flocked to his establishments, even though Rosellini’s cousin Albert was a Democratic state governor for nearly a decade in the 1950s and ’60s. Legend has it civic leaders hatched the idea to host the World’s Fair at the bar of his highest-end restaurant, Rosellini’s 4-10.

Sample His Legacy Italian it isn’t, but Canlis is the last surviving restaurant from the midcentury heyday of elegant nights out.

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Art Oberto

He was just 16 when his father passed away, leaving Art in charge of the family sausage business. In the 1960s, he introduced cured meat to the product line and built the company into a national jerky juggernaut and quirky Northwest icon.

Sample His Legacy At pretty much any grocery store or mini mart, even on Alaska Airlines flights. 

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Mamie “Mae” DeLaurenti

Her husband founded an Italian grocery in Pike Place Market in 1946; her son moved it upstairs to a prominent First and Pike location. But the late DeLaurenti matriarch’s enthusiasm inspired countless customers to make Italian dishes like lasagna or minestrone soup at home. 

Sample Her Legacy DeLaurenti Food and Wine has few rivals when it comes to Italian groceries—not to mention superb local products. 


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John Croce

Known as Big John for his ample size and personality, Croce parlayed a business selling jugs of imported olive oil out of his 1968 Plymouth Valiant into supplying local restaurants with Mediterranean ingredients, from pasta to olives. His death in 2015 extinguished a garrulous fixture in Seattle’s Italian American food community. 

Sample His Legacy In bulk at Big John’s PFI, a no-frills retail wonderland of olive oil, cheese, a bajillion types of hazelnut spreads, and spices by the bucket.


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Joe Desimone

A southern Italian immigrant, he came here to farm but built a quiet fortune acquiring land while selling vegetables at Pike Place Market. Desimone took over the market in 1941; his heirs sold it to the city in 1974 amidst a campaign to rehabilitate the aging buildings.

Sample His Legacy At Boeing Field, actually. When Desimone heard the aviation company might move because Seattle lacked a decent airport, he sold Boeing some prime acreage south of downtown, for the bargain price of $1.


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Angelo Pellegrini

A boy from Tuscany who became an English professor at UW in the 1930s, and by midcentury, Seattle’s seminal advocate for eating locally, seasonally, and surrounded by good company and good wine—values fundamental to Italians but revolutionary in midcentury America. His books inspired locavore champions like Alice Waters and Ruth Reichl. 

Sample His Legacy Thursday and Friday nights, the Corson Building in Georgetown serves a menu inspired by the late professor’s philosophy of food.

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