Old-School Italian

The nostalgic, Neapolitan charm of La Famiglia Ristorante

In the heart of Old City, within the walls of a Colonial tea warehouse since 1976, La Famiglia Ristorante proudly claims the title of Philly’s finest Italian dining establishment. 🤵💚🤍❤️🍷 Harnessing the profound influence of our favorite food memories, one of the most potent emotions, the restaurant recently brought back a unique special known as the Nostalgia Menu.

Originally launched in 2016 to commemorate their 40th anniversary, this special menu showcases the classic dishes they served in 1976, complete with their original prices. They also cater to those seeking a broader selection of Neapolitan specialties, as they offer a regular menu brimming with other  delicious options.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit La Famiglia and experience the nostalgia, and dishes from both menus, for myself, and talk to Guiseppe Sena, who runs the front of the house and also, along with his siblings, is a second-generation owner.

The Sena family came to Philly from Naples, where their father, Carlo, was the chef at a seaside restaurant. The family wanted to replicate the feeling of that restaurant by being on the water, which is how La Famiglia got its home on South Front St., right across the river from Penn’s Landing.

(Fun fact: In 1976, when the Sena family opened La Famiglia, they had to lay down a piece of plywood so customers could get to the door. Front Street between Market and Chestnut was a mess of dirt and construction, down to the on-ramp for a still-incomplete I-95.)

The restaurant is elegantly decorated with marble, linen, and crystal, creating a romantic and memorable ambiance. The wine list is impressive, featuring over 10,000 bottles from around the world. The menu is inspired by the old-world cuisine of Naples, with dishes like pistachio-crusted veal medallions, penne alla famiglia, and pan-seared salmon with chardonnay and basil pesto sauce. The gnocchi al pomodoro is a house specialty made with Mama Sena’s carefully reduced fresh tomato sauce. 🍅🍅🍅

Unsurprisingly, the family-run restaurant has excellent hospitality and friendly service. Part-owner and son Giuseppe, who handles the front of the house, doesn’t see himself as an owner but as part of a larger family (his brother is head chef and his sister is office manager). His favorite aspect of the job is watching the food hit the table, seeing the guests take their first bites, and checking in on them to make sure they are satisfied.

During our dining experience, my partner and I ordered various options from the Nostalgia menu and their regular Dinner menu. Guiseppe explained how limited menu options ensure that the chefs perfect each dish. For appetizers, we had the Cozze Napoletane, which were mussels in a red and white sauce, and the Carpaccio Di Manzo, which was cold-served thinly sliced filet mignon topped with lemon, olive oil, parmesan, capers, scallions, and mushrooms.

For our entrees, we had the Tagliolini Alla Pescatore, assorted seafood over homemade pasta and red sauce, and a filet mignon, medium rare and coated in a red wine sauce. I accompanied my steak with homemade spaghetti in a garlic and olive oil sauce. We paired our meals with wine from the restaurant’s award-winning wine list. The dessert stole the show with a chocolate mousse cake, creme brulee, and rich chocolate gelato paired with sweet limoncello shots.

Regretfully, we did not try the gnocchi from a family recipe that traced back to the original chef, Carlo. All of the sons and grandsons have mastered the recipe, making the various gnocchi dishes some of the most popular menu items.

Everything from the appetizers to the sweet treats was cooked to perfection. The menu items were unique and authentic, and the Nostalgia Menu was a great way to celebrate the restaurant’s history (it’s also a way to thank their guests, according to Giuseppe, and attract a new generation of La Famiglia fans). You are truly getting an authentic Italian restaurant experience when you dine here. It’s also a place to relive the past and celebrate the present with family and friends.

Pro tip: The Nostalgia Special will continue throughout August, so book a reservation while you can! Buon appetito!

La Famiglia Ristorante 
Steeped in tradition, owned and operated by the Sena family since 1947. $$ – $$$ 
8 South Front Street, Philadelphia (Old City)
Open Tuesday thru Saturday (5pm – 9pm)
215-922-2803, lafamiglia.com
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COMMENTS WELCOME! Do you have a dining experience to share about La Famiglia Ristorante, or another great Italian restaurant to recommend? Favorite dishes you like to order? Please chime in below, or catch up with me on Instagram @gingersliketoeat. If you enjoyed this feature, please check out last month’s column on the city’s greatest contribution to American cuisine: the Philly cheesesteak!  🧀+🥩+🥖= 😋😋😋

About Eleni Finkelstein 14 Articles
Eleni Finkelstein (aka @gingersliketoeat on Instagram) is a South Jersey and Philadelphia-based food blogger and journalist. She loves traveling, trying new foods, and cheering on Philly sports teams. You can check out her book, "Eat Like a Local: South Jersey" on Amazon.

2 Comments

  1. Eleni is really so good at telling us these food stories -the full range – from street food to fine dining. And she does it all with a sharp sophistication that makes you wanna jump in the car and get to these places asap! I was at LaFamiglia about 15 years ago….after reading her article I’m going back for sure!

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