Scan the menu of any Italian-American restaurant, and you'll likely encounter several standard dishes: Caesar salad, chicken parmesan, pasta primavera, you get the idea. While these dishes may not reflect authentic Italian cuisine, you cannot deny their widespread appeal. This sentiment rings especially true for spaghetti and meatballs.
While the exact origins of this popular dish are unclear, historians believe it was created by Italian immigrants who arrived in America between 1880 and 1920, according to Smithsonian. Since the inception of spaghetti and meatballs, home cooks and chefs alike have created different versions of the popular dish, adding their own personal touch to the standard pasta, meatballs, and sauce.
For Jacinto Vasquez, chef at Constantino's, a family-owned Italian restaurant in Hartsdale, N.Y., the key to making a standout meatball and spaghetti dish is using a proper combination of meat for the meatballs.
"At Constantino's, we use pork, ground beef, and veal, and a generous amount of parmesan cheese," Vasquez tells Eat This, Not That!, adding that the spaghetti and meatballs are his restaurant's second-best selling menu item. "Also, we always believe that the touch of milk we use to coat [or] soak the bread[ing] is what contributes to the most delicious tasting meatballs."
Even so, Vasquez points out there are many variations of this dish. "Don't be afraid to try your own way and perfect it," he says. "Everyone seems to put their own flair on it."
Despite the many opportunities to get creative with spaghetti and meatballs in your own kitchen, dining out can sometimes be the more appealing option. Among the numerous spots serving up classic Italian-American dishes are some beloved restaurant chains that have been praised for this menu item, as well. Here are 10 restaurant chains where you can get a memorable plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
Buca di Beppo
Although "Buca di Beppo" roughly translates to "Joe's small place," there's nothing small about this restaurant chain's food. Known for serving family-style dishes, Buca di Beppo is a great option for when you're dining with a group. Look at the chain's meatballs, for example. These clock in at half a pound—yes, half a pound—and are served with homemade marinara sauce over a bed of spaghetti.
In a 2021 YouTube video from Respect the Chain, run by Sam E. Goldberg, one Buca di Beppo chef revealed the meatball's ingredients. This included ground beef, salt, black pepper, Italian breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, poached garlic, and fresh whole eggs.
"It melts in your mouth," Goldberg said after trying a meatball. "This is a silky, smooth meatball. It's delicate in every way, and you get that cheese. There's cheese in every bite because there's actually cheese mixed in with the meatball."
Maggiano's Little Italy
From the lasagna to the chicken marsala, the dishes at Maggiano's Little Italy have received high praise from both chefs and diners. Spaghetti and meatballs are no exception. Unlike other restaurants, which use a mixture of meats in their meatballs, the ones at Maggiano's are made with 100% ground beef. Plus, diners have the option to order their spaghetti and meatballs with either marinara or meat sauce.
"I typically do not like meatballs, but Maggiano's/Maggiano's Italian Classics have the perfect extra large meatballs," one Yelp reviewer raved. Another satisfied customer who ordered the spaghetti dish from Maggiano's wrote on Facebook, "It's one of the best I've ever tried."
Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano
Since opening its doors in Bloomington, Ill., in 1999, Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano has expanded to 16 locations, drawing in guests with Italian restaurant staples, like spaghetti and meatballs. Biaggi's dish consists of house-made Sicilian meatballs, marinara sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese served on top of spaghetti.
One Reddit user who called Biaggi's "the best Italian in town," described the chain's spaghetti and meatballs (and sea scallop risotto) as "amazing." Another fan on Yelp said the dish "tasted like true Sicilian pasta."
This Cheesecake Factory-owned restaurant chain currently has 33 locations across the U.S., with a few more in the works. Showcasing a menu of Italian restaurant favorites, North Italia also gets creative by serving up changing menu items, such as the "Daily Pizza," also known as the chef's choice.
However, no red-sauce menu would be complete without spaghetti and meatballs making an appearance. The chain's version of this dish features a traditional tomato sauce, basil, olive oil, and pecorino. Customers may also choose to swap out the spaghetti for gluten-free pasta or vegetable noodles for an additional charge.
The Old Spaghetti Factory
There couldn't be a list of spaghetti hotspots without including the chain that has "spaghetti" in its name. Operating 42 locations across 13 states, the Old Spaghetti Factory serves three-course meals, consisting of bread, soup or salad, an entrée, and a dessert.
Served since the restaurant chain's opening night in 1969, this classic dish features two large handmade meatballs, seasoned with herbs and spices, and topped with homemade marinara sauce. For those craving something even meatier, the restaurant chain also offers its Meat Lover's Treat, which consists of Sicilian meatballs, Italian sausage, and spaghetti with a rich meat sauce.
"As a kid I thought [Old Spaghetti Factory] was magical. I still like it for the nostalgia and I'll never turn down a big bowl of spaghetti," one Reddit user commented on a thread dedicated to sharing restaurants with the best spaghetti.
Romano's Macaroni Grill
Unlike other restaurant chains on this list, Romano's Macaroni Grill incorporates ricotta cheese into its meatballs, which are made with a combination of beef, veal, and pork. Called "Mom's Ricotta Meatballs + Spaghetti," this dish can be served with either pomodorina (tomato) sauce or bolognese sauce. Guests may also customize this dish as part of the chain's "Create Your Own Pasta," which lets customers choose from a list of pastas, sauces, proteins, and toppings, such as roasted peppers, fresh spinach, and roasted mushrooms.
"Hit the spot," "always a good choice," and "one of the tastiest I've ever tried," are just three ways Yelp reviewers have described the chain's spaghetti and meatballs.
Carrabba's Italian Grill
Boasting 220 locations across the United States, Carrabba's Italian Grill has been serving Italian-American fare since 1986. Standing alongside the chain's signature dishes like the Chicken Bryan and Pollo Rosa Maria are plenty of simple classics.
For those opting for the spaghetti and meatballs, Carrabba's offers guests a choice of regular, whole wheat, or gluten-free pasta. Fans of the chain's meatballs can also take comfort in knowing they can make the dish themselves, as one Carrabba's chef previously revealed the chain's recipe. This features a mixture of ground beef, ground pork, grated romano cheese, dried breadcrumbs, along with other seasonings.
A few months ago, Carrabba's shared on Facebook, "[T]he secret to good meatballs is to hand-roll them to be tender enough to cut with a fork, but not fall apart." And it looks like this technique has proven to be successful. "Wish I had 10 pounds of meatballs!!!!!" one person commented on the post.
Bravo! Italian Kitchen
As you peruse the menu of this upscale-casual Italian restaurant chain, you'll encounter a few meatball-starring dishes, such as the Meatballs & Ricotta, Wedding Soup, and Sicilian Pizza. But, if you're sticking with the simplest one of them all, you can expect a plate of spaghetti topped with marinara sauce, meatballs made with beef and pork, and Grana Padano Zanetti cheese.
One Tripadvisor reviewer wrote, "The meatballs might have been the best I've ever had including the ones I make! I'd go back!"
What would a spaghetti-focused roundup be without mentioning the restaurant chain famous for its Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion? Available through Nov. 19, this popular deal allows guests to customize their own pasta entrée, with spaghetti and meatballs being offered as an option. Sauce choices include Alfredo, marinara, meat sauce, creamy mushroom, and five cheese marinara. As with any Olive Garden entrée, this special is complete with the famous unlimited soup or salad and breadsticks.
"My favorite dish of all time," one Instagrammer commented on Olive Garden's post depicting spaghetti and meatballs. "A beautiful classic," another one added.
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If you're looking to eat with a large group, Carmine's can certainly accommodate, offering a family-style dining experience that's designed to feel like a "Sunday afternoon at Grandma's." Since opening on Manhattan's Upper West Side in 1990, this six-unit restaurant chain has won over customers with eye-catching plates of chicken parmesan, veal saltimbocca, and pasta dishes like spaghetti and meatballs.
Calling it one of the restaurant's "trademark dishes," Carmine's even has its meatball recipe available on its website, allowing fans to recreate the beef and veal dish in the comfort of their own kitchen. One Reddit user called the meatballs their favorite recipe of all time, writing, "It's the only [recipe] I religiously adhere to."
Another fan on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, shared, "Spaghetti and meatballs from Carmine's [are] my current addiction."