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Houston’s Top 10 Italian Restaurants

Where to go when you need an Italian fix.

3. Dolce Vita

Though many people in town swear by Marco Wiles's Da Marco, I prefer the more casual Dolce Vita, whose low lighting, crowded tables and frenetic atmosphere remind me of hip trattorias in Florence. If you order one thing at Dolce Vita, make it the pizza, which is fired quickly in a wood-burning oven and enhanced with distinctive toppings such as clams, pears or butternut squash. For those on a budget, Dolce Vita offers the same great quality as Da Marco for half the price. The wine list, made up entirely of Italian bottles, ain't too shabby, either.

2. Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

The best time to go to Da Marco is during black truffle season.
Katharine Shilcutt
The best time to go to Da Marco is during black truffle season.
You bet Backstreet Cafe’s seasonal tomato menu is on this bucket list.
Courtesy of Paula Murphy
You bet Backstreet Cafe’s seasonal tomato menu is on this bucket list.

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My favorite neighborhood restaurant in Houston is Giacomo's Cibo e Vino, but I might be biased because it's close enough for me to walk there, then stumble home, my belly full of gnocchi di funghi made in house and some of the best valued wine in the city. Giacomo's is owned by Lynette Hawkins, who spent much of her youth in Italy and fell in love with the food. The lengthy menu is filled with small dishes ideal for sharing, because that's how Hawkins herself likes to eat. It's hard to pick a favorite from the list of little dishes, though — from the eggplant involtini to the ratatouille topped with a fried egg, it's all authentic and delizioso.

1. Ciao Bello

For the best pasta in Houston, Ciao Bello is your place. Chef Bobby Matos churns out innovative new dishes regularly while ensuring that the established menu items are carried out with the same attention to detail that they'd get at a mom-and-pop restaurant in Rome. This is Tony Vallone's casual concept, and it's more indicative than his flagship Tony's­ of the type of food Vallone himself grew up eating. The bolognese is as good as you're going to find anywhere outside of Italy (and maybe even in Italy, too), while a special dish, pastiera di mare, was the best thing I ate in Houston last year. Ciao Bello often gets overlooked in the shadow of Tony's, but if you want authentic, reasonable Italian food with a little flair, you can't do better in town than Ciao Bello.
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Food Trucks

Midtown Mobile Cuisine

Houston's newest food park hopes to bring the party.

Kaitlin Steinberg

At first I didn't even notice it. The sounds of US 59 echo around the concrete lot and the grassy underpass. A light breeze rustles the leaves on a few nearby trees. Syncopated beats pour forth from speakers on a table in the center of a raised deck. From one corner of the lot, a man leans his head out the window of a truck and yells that the grill is fired up.

And then I realize why this scene is so strange. It's quiet. I'm surrounded by food trucks ready to cook hot meals, and there aren't any generators drowning out the sounds of my thoughts.

"I really do want this to be a food-truck haven," Ren Garrett, owner of Midtown Mobile Cuisine, tells me. "They don't have to worry about anything. That's why we have plug-ins. That's how we're able to have a DJ out here, because all those generators aren't going."

It's not one of those food parks in a grassy lot with shade from old oaks keeping diners cool in the summer. It's a concrete slab at 4002 Almeda near where US 59 and State Highway 288 meet, but it does feel like a haven of sorts on a gritty Midtown block. There are lawn chairs and wrought-iron tables with bright orange umbrellas providing shade and a deck where a DJ is set up to play music for the evening's crowd.

If a crowd ever comes.

"The thing is, we have the support of the community, but we've got to have the consistency of the trucks," Garrett says. "The trucks want to go where the money is, but the money won't be here unless the people are here."

The new food park, which opened in April, is still trying to figure out how to draw crowds with good trucks and how to draw good trucks with big crowds. Getting a food park off the ground is sort of a catch-22. Garrett would like to be open seven days a week, but for now, the park operates Thursday through Sunday, because that's when more people come out. But she still has issues getting trucks to commit to a space that isn't yet on everyone's radar. Sometimes trucks cancel for something that they know will bring them more money.

Garrett is a special-events coordinator by trade, so she knows that gathering a crowd can sometimes be a struggle. In order to entice people to Midtown Mobile Cuisine, she's trying to make it as fun as possible. Not only are there food trucks. There's also a DJ. There are games like a giant Jenga and corn hole. There's a concert series featuring Divisi Strings, an electric orchestra that performs contemporary hits. A few vendors are working on arranging some sort of culinary throwdown. Eventually, Garrett hopes to bring in her own snow-cone truck and a car show under the US 59 overpass.

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2 comments
SkrewstonCupcake
SkrewstonCupcake

Great article as usual gal. "Wow, I don't know who wrote this top 100 recently, but he sure loves his drunk food and and sandwiches!" Ps.. I think you left your jacket ;) -Monica D

SkrewstonCupcake
SkrewstonCupcake

Great article as usual gal. "Wow, I don't know who wrote this top 100 recently, but she sure loves her drunk food and and sandwiches!" Ps.. I think you left your jacket ;) -Monica D

 
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