Food & Drink

The Best Italian Restaurants in Houston

Published On 09/26/2016 Published On 09/26/2016
Coppa Osteria
Coppa Osteria | Debora Smail
Julie Soefer Photography

Coltivare

Heights

The fresh-from-the-garden spot (coltivare means "to grow") may just be the best example of why you shouldn’t discount Italian in Houston. The menu gets a constant refresh throughout the seasons as ingredients legitimately come straight from its 3,000sqft on-site garden. If it’s not grown in the yard, it’s carefully sourced from local farms or made in-house, like charcuterie from sibling concept Revival Market. Don’t come here expecting your grandma’s Sunday gravy or fine-dining veal chops. Instead you’ll find shareable plates in the form of bubbly wood-fired pies, unrivaled cacio e pepe, whole-roasted fish, and seasonal fruit crostata that you must absolutely top with Mexican vanilla ice cream.

Tony's

Tony's

Greenway/Upper Kirby

Tony Vallone’s swanky fine-dining establishment isn’t just one of the greatest Italian restaurants in Houston, it’s one of the greatest restaurants in Houston. Period. End of story... though we guess we’ll elaborate, because the high-end spot has been the gold standard of over-the-top service since hitting the scene in 1965 (even hosting the likes of Tony Bennett, Oscar de la Renta, and seven sitting presidents). With Naples and Milan as its muse, Tony's lets you feast on elegant throwbacks and seasonal inspirations, from salt-crusted snapper to porcini pasta made from scratch. The soaring truffle soufflé goes unmatched, as does its world-class wine list.

Dolce Vita

Dolce Vita

Montrose

One of chef Marco Wiles' trio of powerhouse restaurants, Dolce Vita is best known for teaching Houstonians about the charms of scorched, Neapolitan-style pizza. The wood-burning oven doles out perfectly bubbling and scorched pies (they only take about 90 seconds to cook) in thoughtful flavor combinations like taleggio, pear, and truffle oil or roasted clams and garlic. But you’d be remiss not to get a taste of the rest of the menu, too. Tuck into a dark corner with a bottle of Italian vino and grub on artichoke fritti, Sicilian-style calamari, and perfectly al dente rigatoni studded with guanciale and rich cream.

Sud Italia

Rice Village

Sud means south in Italian. Now that you know that, we bet you’ll never guess what region of Italy this restaurant zeroes in on. Set in an adorable bungalow in Rice Village, this charmer is a nice refuge from the noise of the neighborhood. Even the fare is easy-breezy, with coastal Southern classics that focus on high-quality ingredients prepared simply to draw out their intrinsic flavor. Cozy up with regional Italian wines and saffron-kissed arancini, squid-ink lobster pasta, fresh zuppa di mare in a light tomato broth, and rustic grilled lamb chops that you won’t want share.

Shannon O’Hara

Arthur Ave

Heights

If you thought Houston was missing a classic red-sauce Italian joint from the streets of New York, you were right… for a long time, at least, but not anymore! From the powerhouse braintrust that brought Helen Greek Food & Wine, this newly christened Heights eatery -- named after the famed Arthur Ave in Little Italy -- brings old-school Italian-American to a higher level, and it does so in a way that would make your nonna weep. The team takes every measure to ensure full flavor, from executive chef William Wright’s hand-pulled, made-to-order mozzarella for the gorgeous caprese salad and Grana Padano rind brine for the seriously massive chicken Parm (made with an organic, spatchcocked chicken, obviously), to the house herb-infused gin for their “old world meets new” gin & tonic from all-star beverage director Lainey Collum. Pasta lovers will die for the penne alla vodka, made with perfectly al dente Martelli pasta fresh off the boat from Italy and blanketed in a mascarpone cream sauce that is absolute heaven. Take it all in along with wines from Pax Americana co-owner and somm Shepard Ross, but save room for dessert, featuring some boozy white Russian soft serve and game-changing, fresh-as-hell cannoli that will make you rethink the cannolis of your past.

Da Marco

Montrose

Chef Marco Wiles takes inspiration from Venice and the greater Friulian region for this higher-end take on Italian, so much so that he imports a lot of the product from the motherland itself. What he doesn’t import, he makes fresh, like the sweet corn ravioli with lobster, made-from-scratch garganelli with slow-cooked rabbit, and artichokes alla “giudia” that get fried to a heavenly, airy crisp. Dress to impress here (for real, jackets preferred), and be ready to splurge on vintage Italian wines, a couple of which date back to the '70s. 

Debora Smail

Coppa Osteria

Rice Village

There’s an entire room just for dough-making at this Rice Village cool kid, and since it’s glass-enclosed, you get to peek in while your stomach rumbles. Get ready to go carb-heavy here, because you’ll want all the made-from-scratch stuff it has to offer. Think pies loaded with, like, 100 kinds of sausage and salumi, and house-made conchiglie Bolognese with whipped ricotta, and then some (that "some" being roast chicken “under a brick,” and dreamy spaghetti carbonara that gets cream straight-up poured over the yolk-topped pasta before being tossed tableside). True to Clark Cooper Concepts form, the wine list is beyond reasonable, with bottles priced close to retail for your popping pleasure.

Kim Coffman

Enoteca Rossa

Bellaire

Does it get better than espresso, wine, pizza, and classic plates straight from an Italian-born chef? Don’t strain yourself too hard, the answer is no, it doesn’t. You’ll have to travel to Bellaire to get it (it’s not that far), but you’ll be sorry if you don’t at least try, because the relative newcomer offers one of the finest examples of Italian simplicity in the city. There’s mussels in white wine, paper-thin beef carpaccio with truffle dressing, and local spins like creamy crawfish risotto or a Bolognese rich with shreds of Texas-braised lamb that you’ll likely dream about later.

Paulie's

Montrose

This fast-casual fan favorite is one of the cheapest Italian joints in town, mainly because, like we said, it’s fast-casual. That means you can get hous-emade pastas, from bucatini Amatriciana and canestri alla funghi to one of the hands-down best rigatonis in the city, starting at $8 a pop for a small plate (trust us, it’s plenty for one person). The cool kids also offer an nice, affordable beer and wine list, but you can still bring your own wine for a $10 corking fee. Afterward, save those dollars you saved over at Camerata, the next door wine bar where you can pick from more than 150 European wines, beers, and ciders and share a plate of imported meats and cheeses when you get hungry again... which you will, because you’re living like an Italian now.

Damian's Cucina Italiana

Damian's Cucina Italiana

Midtown

It’s pretty hard to last over 30 years in Houston’s dining scene (especially in Midtown, where restaurants seem to die faster than characters on The Walking Dead). So when a place manages to survive, it earns instant street cred, though that’s not the only reason this Mandola family stalwart earned a spot on the list. Mixing Old World traditions with local flavors, Damian’s cuisine speaks for itself. Feast on Gulf shrimp stuffed with crabmeat, rosemary-rubbed veal chop, and lasagna smooched with veal Bolognese. During the workweek, there’s no better Italian spot at which to power lunch.

North

North Italia

Galleria/Uptown

Don’t knock BLVD Place just because it’s an import from restaurant group Fox Restaurant Concepts; North takes care to incorporate all things local, from farm-fresh eggs, meats, and produce to freshly baked bread from Kraftsmen Baking. It also emphasizes all things made-from-scratch, with the menu reading like a love letter to Italy through light and airy pizzas, scamorza-studded arancini, and heavenly ribbons of house-made tagliatelle tossed in plump Bolognese. With dishes like truffled garlic bread and pistachio and asparagus pizza, the contemporary spot may be a little trendier than your old-school Italian spot, but in this case, it’s plenty welcome.

Luigi's Cucina Italiana

River Oaks

One hood’s loss is another hood’s gain. This longtime Galveston darling picked up and moved to River Oaks a couple years back, and no one (inside The Loop) seems to be sad about it. Fancy River Oaks folk flock here for a range of classic and high-end Italian plates, from veal scaloppini piccata to succulent grilled duck with raspberry reduction sauce. Though it’s a bit fancy, it’s also comforting as hell. Warmed by a corner fireplace and with a wood-paneled, moody interior that evokes the Renaissance, the family-run stunner makes for an off-the-charts date night.

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1. Coltivare 3320 White Oak Dr, Houston, 77007

This fresh-from-the-garden eatery (Coltivare means "to grow") in Heights puts a welcome spin on traditional Italian fare. Everything tastes incredible fresh, because many ingredients come directly from the garden on premises. There are plenty of shareable plates and charcuterie boards in addition to heartier paste entrees and wood-fired pizza. The space has a great neighborhood charm to it and is very romantic in the evenings.

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2. Tony's 3755 Richmond Ave, Houston, TX 77046

This high-end Italian restaurant, named for Tony Vallone, has been serving elegant and elevated dishes since 1965. With a world-class wine list and fine art adorning the walls, this establishment offers an incredibly upscale experience for all dining patrons.

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3. Dolce Vita 500 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

This Westheimer powerhouse from Chef Marco Wiles introduced the beauty of wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas to Houstonians. DV's wood-burning oven doles out perfectly bubbling and scorched pies (they only take 90 seconds to cook) in simple flavor combinations. The menu also includes tapas-like small plates categorized by meat, vegetable, and fish. Tack on a thoughtful Italian wine list and this place is a total winner.

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4. Sud Italia Ristorante 2347 University Blvd, Houston, TX 77005 (Rice Village)

This cozy neighborhood resto dishes out Coastal Southern Italian foodstuffs that are as addicting as they are pretty. Start with saffron-kissed arancini or smoked salmon affumicato before moving onto the regionally inspired big guns -- think squid-ink lobster pasta, fresh zuppa di mare, and crispy, bone-in veal chop.

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5. Da Marco 1520 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

Da Marco is all about authenticity -- inspired by Venice and the greater Friulian region, its menu is studded with old-world favorites that chef Marco Wiles makes his own, such as sweet corn ravioli with lobster.

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6. Arthur Ave 1111 Studewood St Ste B, Houston, TX 77008

Named for the famous street in New York's Little Italy, industrial-chic Arthur Ave is cooking classic Italian fare with the utmost care, using only the freshest handmade ingredients. From the caprese salad with hand-pulled mozzarella to the chicken parm with organic, spatchcocked chicken, the dishes here are approached thoughtfully and plated beautifully. The star is the penne alla vodka, made with Martelli pasta fresh off the boat from Italy and blanketed in a heavenly mascarpone cream sauce. Exposed brick, chandeliers, and banquettes add to the curated feel, as do drinks from the spacious bar, like the house herb-infused gin in the “old world meets new” G&T.

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7. Coppa Osteria 5210 Morningside Dr, Houston, TX 77005 (Rice Village)

Coppa Osteria is deadly-serious about their pizzas. Exhibit A: their dough room. Exhibit B: the Carnissima, a pie with five different Italian meats piled on top.

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8. Enoteca Rossa 4566 Bissonnet St, Bellaire, TX 77401

A trip to Bellaire means a trip to Enoteca Rossa, no excuses. The Italian-born chef at this rustic-chic neighborhood spot, which aptly looks like a giant brick oven from the outside, is dishing out some the best Italian dishes in the Houston area, alongside an extensive wine menu and a full espresso bar. On the menu, you'll have the choice between plates like mussels in white wine, paper-thin beef carpaccio with truffle dressing, and local-spins like creamy crawfish risotto and the bolognese rich with shreds of Texas-braised lamb.

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9. Paulie's 1834 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77098 (Montrose)

Locals count on Paulie's, a fast-casual cafe in Montrose, for consistently tasty Italian pasta dishes, both during their lunch hour when things get buzzy and for a laid-back dinner. This bright and cheery spot is also one of the cheapest Italian restaurants in Houston -- but that doesn't mean they skimp on quality. The pastas here are house-made, ranging from bucatini Amatriciana and canestri alla funghi to what might be the best rigatoni in the city. There's an affordable list of Italian coffees, wines, and beers on the menu, too.

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10. Damian's Cucina Italiana 3011 Smith St, Houston, TX 77006 (Midtown)

Damian's is a Midtown mainstay, which is no easy feat, considering this neighborhood is like a revolving door for restaurants. It's an upscale Italian spot with white-clothed tables inside a spacious dining room, where guests have been feasting on some of the best classic Italian cuisine for decades. The menu fuses traditions with local flavors, such as Gulf shrimp stuffed with crabmeat, rosemary-rubbed veal chop, and lasagna smooched with veal bolognese.

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11. North Italia 1700 Post Oak Blvd Ste 190, Houston, TX 77056 (Uptown)

Uptown’s BLVD Place is now home to this modern restaurant boasting scratch-made Italian foodstuffs that are well worth a visit. Its self-proclaimed love letter to Italy -- which includes light and airy pizzas, scamorza-studded arancini, and heavenly ribbons of house-made tagliatelle -- had us at "hello." No wait, it had us at "ciao" -- because that’s cleverer and stuff.

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12. Luigi's Cucina Italiana 3030 Audley St, Houston, TX 77098 (River Oaks)

Situated in River Oaks, Luigi's exterior may look like a standard suburban Houston home, but walk inside and you'll be transported to an old-world Italian mansion, where fancier locals dine on high-end plates. Wood beams crisscross the vaulted ceiling high above clothed tables holding dishes like veal scaloppini piccata and succulent grilled duck with a raspberry reduction sauce. Just because it's upscale doesn't mean it isn't comforting either: besides the food, there's even a corner fireplace keeping this spacious restaurant cozy.

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