HOUGuide

The Best Italian Restaurants In Houston

Where the moon looks to your eyes like a big pizza pie, or bowl of pasta.
The Best Italian Restaurants In Houston image

photo credit: Liz Silva

Houston might be better known for Tex-Mex, barbecue, and bánh mì, but Italian restaurants are an inescapable reality in any city, and for good reason. What’s not to love about creamy pasta, fancy cheese, hand-tossed pizza, rustic wine, earthy risotto, and the occasional blanket of red sauce and mozzarella? So whether you’re looking for old school Italian-American, rustic Venetian, a spot conjured straight out of a Tuscan oil painting, or even a quirky pizza spot, here’s our list of the best Italian restaurants in Houston.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Liz Silva

Italian

East End

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight DinnerLunch
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Maybe you’re the kind of person who thinks an Aperol spritz and a bowl of pasta or velvety panna cotta will cure what ails you, then check out Mimo in the East End. Hidden behind a sprawling strip center, the rustic Italian spot looks straight out of one of those paintings of a pastoral Tuscan farmhouse. Think Sicilian beef paninis, fluffy pink radicchio salads, and creamy fettuccine. And, if you gaze through the pink curtains for long enough, you might even glimpse a picturesque landscape sloping toward the Mediterranean Sea instead of a parking lot.

Perhaps your definition of Italian food is a lot of little tiny plates ordered en masse and served al fresco. If so, Giacomo’s Cibo E Vino will delight you. The River Oaks neighborhood spot has a multi-page menu of small plates, various cheese-stuffed vegetables, bowls of handmade and imported pastas, and an Italian-only wine list. Unlike most Italian spots in town, Giacomo’s favors bright and colorful 90s kitsch, and the fact you can bring your dog on the patio makes both even better.


Italian food at Tiny Champions is about as laid back and casual as it can get. The EaDo joint has a small-but-mighty menu with some familiar elements and a few twists. Have rigatoni bolognese in the dining room under a portrait of a well-dressed alligator, or sit on the patio and share a red-sauce pizza topped with fennel sausage with a few pals. Alternatively, kick it alone at the bar with a bowl of roasted mushroom risotto and a cleverly-named cocktail like “evil eye” and “nordic thunder.” Tiny Champs tends to fill up quickly, so make a reservation, or show up when they open and get in where you can fit in.


Mandola’s Deli in the East End serves enough red sauce everyday to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, probably. Roll up to Mandola’s for exactly what you would expect: chicken parm sandwiches, hoagies, and spaghetti with meatballs. The old school counter-service neighborhood deli operates in some kind of pre-millenium time loop. The staff seems to know everyone eating here, there’s more University of Houston memorabilia than conceivably exists, and the amount of family photos on display rivals your grandma’s hallway. Make sure to get some cannolis to go.


This modern, relaxed spot in Montrose could just as easily be the backdrop for an intimate date or an awkward dinner with someone you barely know. The food here mixes Gulf Coast flavors with Italian cuisine–so dishes like the savory roast chicken and redfish with sofrito stand out. Embrace some small talk, romantic or otherwise, and do it over a plate of Ostia’s chicken liver mousse or spicy pickled shrimp in the dreamy greenhouse dining room.


photo credit: Liz Silva

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Somehow this little bistro in Bellaire manages to feel casual, romantic, and a little nostalgic all at the same time. If the Rat Pack, a couple celebrating their 20th anniversary, and a few friends just out for drinks and pizza could all walk into Enoteca Rossa at the same time, not a single group would feel out of place. Enoteca focuses on fairly standard dishes for a neighborhood Italian restaurant, like burrata salads, bowls of housemade pasta, and wood-fired pizza. While this place might feel a little cliche or overly sentimental, sort of like a set from a Lifetime movie, we’re not above enjoying a few tropes, especially when those tropes come with extra shaved parmesan.


Housed in a two-story bungalow right off Westheimer, this casual Montrose spot has a fairly lengthy menu that includes a full page of charcuterie options, tons of small plates and salads, and a fairly laudable mushroom risotto. Vinoteca is the kind of restaurant that’s great for a quick early evening meal with the parents, a casual night sharing charcuterie at the bar, or, once it gets dark outside and the restaurant’s moodiness heightens, a romantic date where you can loiter over a bottle of wine.


Rosie Cannonball’s golden, plant-filled dining has the ability to make anyone and everything look beautiful any time of day. The Montrose restaurant, which is also attached to Montrose Cheese & Wine, is a great place to go with your friends to drink excellent wine and feel bougie and maybe not pay that much attention to the food. We suggest ordering Rosie’s cacio e pepe pizza, a bowl of spicy puttanesca, and whichever dessert calls your name, especially if you’re dining solo or looking for a casual night out.


For the best, wallet-friendly pasta in town, no place can beat Paulie’s, an Italian-American spot in Montrose. The small counter-service restaurant has a line most of the day, mostly during lunch. Everything here comes out quick. Think giant bowls of rigatoni bolognese, pasta salads overflowing with vegetables, and crispy paninis with artichokes and salami. If you’re looking to grab a quick meal solo, meet up with a friend, or feed a bunch of people for a steal, visit Paulie’s. And always get a cookie.


Riva’s Italian in Montrose feels like a dive bar that at some point accidentally hired a pretty talented Italian-American cook and just sort of stuck with that theme. Decked out in near year-round holiday lights and a dizzying array of kitsch, the no-kids-allowed restaurant serves surprisingly excellent plates of pasta, piccata, and a complimentary pre-entree salad with unbelievably good Italian dressing. We’rre actually kind of obsessed with Riva’s, and even though nothing here will blow your mind, the cheesy carbs will  heal what ails you. Go here for a casual meal, a quick date night, or anytime you want to feel a little warm cheer in your cold, grizzled heart.


Even though getting into Da Marco in Montrose feels like cracking a Fort Knox vault—the windows are shuddered, the entrance is tented, and the dining room is obscured by a thick curtain—once inside, this place hums like any other old-school Italian restaurant. Along with nightly specials, Da Marco always has a stacked tray of fresh seafood greeting you at the front to select from, and rarer dishes like Venetian-style fried calf’s liver and whole Dover sole. Plus the enthusiastic staff treats you like supporting your dining experience is their one true calling in life.

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