If the United States self-proclaims to be a nation built from the toil and tribulations of its immigrants who draw their core identity from a foundation of cultural diversity, then Houston epitomizes the American dream come true.
As the fourth largest city in the United States and Texas’ largest metropolis, Houston attracts travelers for many reasons, from medical tourism at one of the world’s best medical centers to space exploration at the NASA headquarters.
My reason for traveling almost always involves culinary exploration, and Houston is a culinary goldmine. Owing to its cultural diversity, every culinary tradition is authentically represented. While you might associate Texas with barbecue and Tex Mex, Houston has as many Thai restaurants as Texan fare.
In my most recent trip to Houston, I wanted to explore the bounty of Italian food this sprawling metropolis has to offer.
3320 White Oak Dr, Houston, TX 77007
Located in the heart of The Heights, Coltivare is a refined farm-to-table, rustic Italian bistro owned and operated by Executive Chef Ryan Pera and beverage director Morgan Weber. Chef Pera harvests the bulk of his fresh produce from the massive garden behind the restaurant, and his incredible menu has won Pera a James Beard Award nomination and Food & Wine’s vote for best New Chef of the Southwest.
Coltivare’s warm, rustic-chic interior is a wonderful setting for a romantic and upscale multicourse meal paired with excellent cocktails and imported wine. The rotating menu changes with the seasons and features small plates, snacks, hand-made pasta, Neapolitan pizza, entrees, and dessert. I loved the Ravioli with shrimp and crab, sea beans, garden chives, butter, and chervil.
2002 W Gray St, Houston, TX 77019
La Griglia is an elegant yet inviting traditional Italian bistro that has been a River Oaks favorite for over 25 years. The beautiful interior has colorful murals of Italian village scenes with a charming fireplace, while the outdoor patio is lined with giant oak trees.
They have a great happy hour menu of shareable plates and discounted craft cocktails on the weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. The menu at La Griglia is a combination of traditional favorites and modern creations. I especially enjoyed their Italianized version of a crabcake that they call a Shrimp and Crab Cheesecake with baked mascarpone cheese, jumbo lump crab, shrimp, lemon, and pesto.
1834 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77098
Paulie’s is a family-owned and run Italian restaurant in the Montrose neighborhood, named after former owners’ Bernard and Kathy Petronella’s son Paul, who now owns, manages and is head chef. Paulie’s has been a Montrose institution for authentic homemade Italian food since 1998, and Paul has brought even more local acclaim since he took over the business in 2007.
Paulie’s has a great lunchbox menu with moderately priced packages of sandwiches, cheese plates, salads, pasta, and more with fruit salad, bottled water, and one of Mama Kathy’s famous cookies. If you’re there for dinner, they have daily specials on all your favorite Italian dishes. I had the Tuesday special of beef and pork lasagna with a dinner salad and garlic bread.
Damian’s Cucina Italiana
3011 Smith St, Houston, TX 77006
Opened in 1983, Damian’s Cucina Italiana is a cozy and romantic old-school Italian kitchen whose authentic menu has garnered national acclaim and served many famous local and national stars, athletes, and politicians over its nearly 40 years in Midtown. Old-world, tavern-like décor and stellar hospitality make Damian’s a wonderful place to enjoy an intimate and luxurious Italian feast.
All bread, desserts, and pasta dough are scratch-made in the restaurant’s upstairs bakery, and they use only the finest quality meat and seafood to elaborate small plates, pasta, and entrees. I recommend the Snapper Ruso with lightly breaded, locally sourced gulf snapper sauteed and topped with scallops, sweet peppers, and caper butter over decadent fettuccine alfredo.
Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino
3215 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77098
Teetering between Houston’s Upper Kirby and River Oaks neighborhoods, Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino is a neighborhood café and wine bar that serves Italian-inspired small plates in an artsy and casual setting. Giacomo’s is the perfect spot to socialize and share scratch-made food over a few nice bottles of wine with friends.
Enjoy a family-style meal at Giacomo’s by ordering from a long list of hot and cold antipasti, imported or house made pasta, excellent shareable sides, and entrees. I could’ve made a vegetable plate from the sides alone, with plates like sauteed Tuscan kale, savoy, cabbage, swiss chard, currants, shallots, pinenuts, and verjus and cannellini beans stewed with tomato garlic, and sage.
1700 Post Oak Blvd Ste 190, Houston, TX 77056
North Italia is an upscale Italian bistro chain with locations in 13 states, including 6 in Texas alone. Houston’s Uptown location upholds North Italia’s high standard of quality ingredients and contemporary takes on traditional Italian dishes.
North Italia offers a bustling and lively atmosphere to enjoy wood-fired pizzas, hand-made pasta, and an extensive wine list. I loved their perfectly bubbly and charred Neapolitan pizzas, namely the spicy meatball pie with provolone picante, house ricotta, mozzarella, pecorino romano, and red sauce.
It makes the perfect meal to enjoy with one of their Italian-inspired cocktails, like the Julietta with ginger and vanilla-infused vodka, Italian elderflower, lime, and prosecco.
3755 Richmond Ave, Houston, TX 77046
Tony’s is one of Houston’s oldest fine-dining Italian restaurants, with 56 years in the Upper Kirby neighborhood.
Tony’s features authentic Neapolitan and Milanese dishes in beautifully plated courses with wine pairings in a charming and elegant dining room. Tony’s renowned dining experience has been praised over the years by the Houston Chronicle, Eater, and the Houston Press.
Along with a fancy multi-course menu, there’s a pre-fixe tasting menu and a selection of the finest imported caviar to enjoy with an award-winning wine list. I recommend the Italian classic entrée of grilled branzino served with jumbo lump crab, salsa verde, and Ceci.
With locations in Galveston, Lake Charles, and the Afton Oaks neighborhood in Houston, Grotto Ristorante is an American take on a classic Italian trattoria. Traditional Italian dishes and imported Italian wines abound in a Texas-sized dining room with brightly colored décor and a business casual atmosphere.
The Houston location’s proximity to the Galleria area makes it a prime spot for business lunches and celebratory family meals. Their delicious food is moderately priced, and they have one of the best Happy Hours in town with spirits, cocktails, beer, and wine by the glass under 7$, along with moderately priced small plates and Neapolitan pizzas.
Arturo Boada Cuisine
6510 Del Monte Dr, Houston, TX 77057
Named for local culinary legend and executive chef, Arturo Boada Cuisine is Chef Boada’s most recent Italian and Spanish fusion concept in the upscale Tanglewood neighborhood.
Chef Boada and his sommelier brother opened this friendly neighborhood boutique restaurant to wide acclaim, receiving multiple awards from the Houston Press, including Best Neighborhood Restaurant, and Favorite Dish.
The expertly curated menu at Arturo Boada features an array of Spanish tapas, wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, hand-made pasta, and fresh seafood and steak entrees. I will never stop raving about Mama Sonia’s Ravioli stuffed with chicken and porcini in a white wine cream sauce and topped with jumbo lump crab.
1515 Texas Ave, Houston, TX 77002
Owned and operated by the Astro’s owner and business tycoon Jim Crane, Potente is fittingly located in downtown Houston across the street from Minute Maid Park. Potente is a contemporary fine-dining Italian restaurant in a stunning dining space modeled after an Italian villa. Executive Chef Danny Trace uses locally sourced and high-quality ingredients to create a nationally renowned menu.
The Food Network praised Potente’s Caccio e Peppe and truffle pasta as one of the best pasta in the country. After sampling it myself, I’m inclined to agree! I recommend starting with the fire-roasted southern half-shell oysters with artichoke and locally produced olive oil.
Carrabba’s – The Original on Kirby
3115 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77098
Carrabba’s has been a family-friendly Italian restaurant on Kirby’s famous restaurant row for over 30 years. Owned and operated by the Carrabba family, Carrabba’s soon became a Houston treasure and has expanded to eight new locations around the greater Houston area.
Still, The Original Carrabba’s has a special place in the heart of Houstonians and offers the same famous selection of wood-fired pizza, Texas-sized bowls of pasta, and high-quality Italian-style steaks. Carrabba’s gives families the option to dine family-style with a multicourse meal selection. I loved their wood-fired Neapolitan-style fig, arugula, and prosciutto pizza with lemon preserves, goat cheese, pinenuts, and a balsamic glaze.
700 Milam St, Houston, TX 77002
Located in the heart of downtown Houston’s Theatre District, a few blocks from Market Square Park, Perbacco is an upscale, authentic Italian restaurant owned and operated by Italian Executive Chef Vittorio Preteroti. Originally from the Island of Capri, Chef Vittorio consequently focuses on Southern Italian cuisine.
The high-ceilinged dining room has a nautical meets Italian tavern feel replete with black and white photographs of Chef Preteroti’s family in the old country. The dinner and lunch menus offer classic Italian antipasti, pasta, and entrees at affordable prices. I loved their oven-baked beef-filled cannelloni that I paired with a salmon and fresh spinach salad.
415 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006
Sorrento Ristorante is a fine-dining Italian restaurant in the Montrose neighborhood. In this elegant dining space, you’ll find a fancy piano lounge and circular bar that open into a romantic candle-lit dining room with a stunning mural and classic paintings along its walls. Sorrento’s charming atmosphere, warm service, and delicious food have won OpenTable’s vote for one of America’s 100 most romantic restaurants.
There are various Chef’s tasting menu options along with an a la carte, multi-course menu. I loved the wild mushroom risotto with truffle oil to start, followed by the double lamb chop stuffed with goat cheese and herbs.
2120 Ella Blvd, Houston, TX 77008
Located in the Lazybrook neighborhood along the White Oak Bayou, Cavatore Italian Restaurant is a family-owned and operated Italian American restaurant inside a century-old Texas barn transplanted from Bastrop. The Cavatore family fuses their Italian heritage with their Texas upbringing at this family-friendly neighborhood favorite.
The menu is a vast selection of Italian American favorites in Texas-sized portions, using high-quality ingredients. One of their signature dishes is Tournedos di Manzo Al Brandy, a filet of beef grilled and sauteed in a Brandy demi-glaze with mushrooms.
5210 Morningside Dr, Houston, TX 77005
Coppa Osteria is a refined cocktail bar and upscale Italian eatery teetering between two of Houston’s most iconic neighborhoods of West University and Southampton, minutes from Rice University and Houston’s famous Museum District.
Executive Chefs Jorge Torres and Davide De Angelis deliver families, museum-goers, and academics a world-class traditional Italian meal in an inviting, upscale setting. The signature dishes at Coppa Osteria are their wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, namely the Pepperoni and meat lovers’ Carnisssima pizzas, as well as the classic Spaghetti Carbonara.
They also have some of the most delicious fresh Burrata I’ve sampled, served with baby heirloom tomatoes, finger lime, bottarga, and basil oil.