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The Best Meatballs in America, According to Chefs

Chefs from across the country reveal their picks for the finest meatballs.

Everyone knows spaghetti and meatballs, and meatball subs are an American innovation that can now be found practically on every street corner. But meatballs, when done right, don't need to play second fiddle to pasta or sandwiches. Rather, a good plate of meatballs can stand alone.

"When I think meatballs I think of home cooking; Sundays at grandma's house. It is the type of taste memories that bring you back to a special time in life." So says Michael White, chef of Mirabella at Fontainebleau Miami Beach, waxing poetic on the nostalgia of a quintessential Italian comfort food. His sentiments are shared far and wide by chefs across the country, who similarly crave the homespun cookery of their childhood kitchens or neighborhood trattorias.

To find the best meatballs around, I asked professional chefs for their top picks. Some, like White, skewed nostalgic, while others opted for more contemporary renditions—with Swedish accouterments and Michelin stars to match. From New York City red-sauce institutions to neighborhood cornerstones in Houston, New Orleans, Boston, and beyond, these are the best meatballs in America, according to chefs.

Jon & Vinny's  

meatballs from jon and vinny's
Photo: Jon & Vinny's Restaurant/Facebook

According to Tyler Fenton, chef of the critically acclaimed Bata in Tucson, Ariz., Italian-American cooking doesn't get any better than Jon & Vinny's in Los Angeles. "The meatballs are perfectly seasoned and tender, served with a big cooling dollop of ricotta and nice thick slices of smoky grilled garlic bread," he says. "It is a classic Italian-American staple executed perfectly with true attention and care given to all the details."

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Via Vecchia

via vecchia meatballs
Photo: Via Vecchia/Facebook

It's old-school Italian cooking done right in the Old Port of Portland, Maine, where chef Mike Allen recommends Via Vecchia. According to Allen, chef at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena, Calif., the rustic restaurant "has some great meatballs," made with a blend of pork, beef, and veal, and served with a versant San Marzano tomato sauce.

Locanda Verde

lamb sliders from locanda verde
Photo: TripAdvisor

The best meatballs that James Briscione ever had were the duck meatballs at Andrew Carmellini's defunct A Voce. But, according to the executive chef of Angelena's Ristorante Italiano in Pensacola, Fla., an apt replacement are the ones served at one of Carmellini's other restaurants, Locanda Verde. in New York City. "The lamb meatball slider at Carmellini's Locanda Verde is a worthy substitute," he says, while shouting out the beef and pork rendition served at his own Florida restaurant. "We have refined the recipe and technique for serving them at peak tender and juiciness. I know that sounds like the typical arrogant chef brag, but well-traveled diners regularly tell me that they are the best they have ever had and I'm not one to argue."

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giorgio's meatballs from timpano restaurant in florida
Photo: Timpano/Facebook

"Meatballs hold a special place in my heart, evoking a deep sense of nostalgia," explains Michael Ferraro, vice president of food and beverage at Orlando-based Tavistock Restaurant Collection. "Growing up, they were the epitome of comfort food." Today, he finds similar comfort in "Giorgio's Meatballs" served at Timpano, with two Florida locations in Fort Lauderdale and Hyde Park.


pile of meatballs from carmines italian restaurant
Photo: Carmines Italian Restaurant / Facebook

Another favorite meatball destination for Ferraro is the legendary Carmine's in New York City. "For me, Italian meatballs are a culinary tradition that transports you back to the warmth of Sunday family gatherings," recalls Ferraro. "As a child, dining at Carmine's felt like an extension of home. Their meatballs, tender and generously portioned, served in a cozy Italian American setting, perfectly captured the essence of those cherished family meals."

It's an endorsement echoed by Bret Lunsford, executive chef and director of culinary at Connecticut's famed Sally's Apizza. "When I eat a meatball, I'm looking to be brought back to the memories of eating my mama's meatballs and Sunday sauce," he explains. "If I'm not enjoying a plate at Sally's, I love the meatballs that Carmine's has been serving up for decades. Simple and to the point with no need for unnecessary bells and whistles, Carmine's serves up tender veal and beef meatballs, simply yet thoughtfully seared and braised and then served with a straightforward red sauce that will make any good Italian-American kid say 'Mamma Mia!'"

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The Daily Catch

Calamari meatballs at the Daily Catch
Photo: The Daily Catch/Facebook

One of the more unique meatballs in America has a fan in Jason Woo, chef-owner of Wusong Road in Cambridge, Mass. "For meatballs in the North End (the old Italian neighborhood), there is a small restaurant that sells the best calamari meatballs," Woo notes, referencing The Daily Catch in Boston. "I know it sounds weird; there is no beef, no veal, no pork, no eggs. Just good pecorino romano, some herbs, calamari, and a simple red sauce."

Cooks & Soldiers

meatballs from cooks and soldiers restaurant
Photo: Cooks and Soldiers / Facebook

During a research trip to Atlanta, Tyler Montgomery stumbled across meatballs so memorable that he and his chef de cuisine, Cat Beraud, still reminisce about them to this day. "Cooks & Soldiers in Midtown Atlanta had an Iberico meatball dish with a manchego and tomato sauce that was outstanding," says Montgomery, executive chef of Urban Wren in Greenville, S.C., "and in some ways, that dish inspired the Moroccan meatballs at Urban Wren." He goes on to explain: "Ground lamb and preserved citrus make up the base of the meatball while goat yogurt, pomegranate lacquer, and an almond-date crumble finish the dish. Similar to the Iberico Meatballs, our meatballs feature a fusion of tantalizing flavors that has piqued the interest of guests since the day we added them."

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aquavit swedish meatballs
Photo: Aquavit / Facebook

One particularly modern meatball earns praise from Chris D'Ambrosio, executive chef of Take Care in New York City. "I rarely, if ever, order meatballs when dining out in a restaurant, only because I find that for many restaurants it's easy to treat meatballs as an afterthought," he explains. "Meatballs hold a special place in my heart, having grown up in an Italian household where they were a staple, and I like to see when restaurants give them the respect they deserve."

Such restaurants include Michelin-starred Aquavit. "If I were to indulge in meatballs anywhere, it would unquestionably be the Swedish meatballs at Aquavit," he adds. "Imagine perfect orbs of meat, drenched in a creamy gravy and topped with roasted mushrooms, served alongside silky-smooth mashed potatoes, lingonberries, and pickled cucumbers. It's undoubtedly the most elevated meatball experience in New York City." The chef also prepares his own meatballs at Take Care, blending veal, pork, and beef with three types of cheeses, fresh herbs, and the secret ingredient: ground prosciutto and pancetta for "extra unctuousness and umami."

Cafe Martorano

meatballs and salad from cafe martorano
Photo: TripAdvisor

When Michael White is craving nostalgic home cooking, he turns to Cafe Martorano in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "It is exactly what you expect when you think of a meatball," the chef says. "Juicy, tender, savory, and perfectly seasoned, draped with the perfect amount of pomodoro made from San Marzano tomatoes." White is such a meatball fan that he makes his own version at Mirabella, too. "We use a blend of chuck, short rib, and brisket in equal parts," he says. "Another chef secret is to simmer the meatballs in the tomato sauce for some time before serving. With this step we are marrying all of these amazing flavors together."

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grandma's meatballs from lombardis
Photo: TripAdvisor

It doesn't get more old-school than Lombardi's, aka America's first pizzeria, in New York City. The pizza is hallowed ground here, but for Josh Archibald, executive chef of culinary development at Oregon's Tillamook, the meatballs almost steal the show. "My favorite meatball ever was on my first visit to the iconic Lombardi's," he recalls. "While watching my coal-fired New York pizza be assembled and cooked, I ordered an appetizer and I feasted on one of the greatest bites I have ever had: 'Grandma Grace's Meatballs' are two 4-oz. meatballs that are a beef and pork blend, topped with Grandma's Sunday Gravy and finished with shaved Romano cheese. 10/10, 5 gold stars, no notes."


Meatballs at Domenica in New Orleans
Photo: Domenica/Facebook

While on a recent trip to New Orleans, Brian Mooney became enraptured by the meatballs served at Domenica. According to the executive chef of Tre Luna Bar & Kitchen in Hoover, Ala., he instantly fell in love with the meatballs—so much so that he put his own version of it on his menu. "The soft, melt-in-your-mouth meatballs are paired with a creamy parmesan polenta and then topped with a little bit of their housemade tomato sauce as the perfect complement to the dish," he recalls. "Absolutely amazing."

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Gelso & Grand

gelso and grand meatballs
Photo: Gelso and Grand

"Something about a classic cast-iron meatball at a red-sauce restaurant that really brings me back." So says chef Sandy Dee Hall, of New York City's EL Grupo SN. "I love the ones at Gelso & Grand, since it's located in Little Italy where Italians arrived in America and settled (I'm a history buff). The mix of history and the classic meatball with a mix of veal-beef-pork is how I like it."

Emmett's on Grove

emmetts on grove meatballs
Photo: Peter G / Yelp

Whether sharing plates or going solo, chef Frances Tariga of New York's Tadhana raves about the meatballs at local Emmett's on Grove. "If I go for after work, I order the meatball sliders, and if I stay for dinner it's the spaghetti and meatballs," says Tariga. "The blend includes spicy sausage for a little kick, which I think is different than other meatball styles, and who doesn't love a classic with spaghetti as a full meal."

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kobe beef meatball from lavo
Photo: Tavo/Facebook

It's all about the high-quality classics for Ralph Scamardella, chief culinary officer of Tao Group Hospitality. For him, that means the Kobe beef meatballs at Lavo, with locations in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York, while a close runner-up is the Rao's meatball in East Harlem, for its "great quality beef and perfect sauce."

Pasquale Jones

Meatball sub at Pasquale Jones in NYC
Photo: Pasquale Jones/Facebook

Another New York City recommendation comes from Gavin Fine, who raves about the version served at Pasquale Jones. "Some of the best meatballs I've found during my travels were the ricotta meatballs at Pasquale Jones," says Fine, chef and owner of Fine Dining Restaurant Group in Jackson Hole, Wyo. "I know everyone raves about their Neapolitan pies, but the meatballs are simply amazing. They blend heritage pork and veal, and are roasted in the wood ovens." Fine is also partial to the meatballs at his own Bin22: "We serve them with our signature house-pulled mozzarella and our homemade marinara sauce. Our guests like them so much, we can never take them off the menu."

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Rainbow Lodge

Photo: Rainbow Lodge/Facebook

When restaurateur Tracy Vaught, of Houston's H Town Restaurant Group, wants meatballs, she heads to Rainbow Lodge. "There are many dishes that can be found in most cuisines of the world, and meatballs are one of them," Vaught explains. "One of my favorites are the meatballs with Sunday gravy on the bar menu at Rainbow Lodge." What makes them special, she adds, is that they're a blend of bison, beef rib-eye, and elk, "which gives them the perfect combination of leanness and succulence." The Sunday gravy, she notes, "is as flavorful as any Italian grandmother's," and the mascarpone polenta adds creamy foundation to the whole dish.


a bowl of meatballs at coppa enoteca
Photo: Coppa Enoteca/Facebook

"Cuisine can be so nostalgic—bringing back a memory of a special place or an experience or a family member and being with friends," says Massimo Morgia, the namesake restaurateur behind Ristorante Massimo in Portsmouth N.H. For him, such nostalgia peaks at Coppa in Boston. Recalling the time he first dined there years ago, Morgia details the fork-tender meatballs that exhibited a "delightful harmony of flavors and textures, giving way to a juicy, succulent interior."

The flavors brought him home: "It reminded me of being at my grandmother's house in Italy." He applies the same nostalgia at his own restaurant, where he uses his mother's meatball recipe with a red sauce to much fanfare. "It is a regional recipe from my hometown of Pontecorvo in the Lazio region of Italy just outside of Rome. The response from Italians coming to dine at the restaurant is so beautiful and touching, I have had many guest tear up describing them as even better than their Nonna's, but as close as they have ever had."

Matt Kirouac
Matt Kirouac is a travel and food writer and culinary school graduate, with a passion for national parks, all things Disney, and road trip restaurants. Read more about Matt
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