Local Spotlight

Opposites Attract: Italian-Mexican Fusion Works Wonderfully at Bellissimo

A little more than two years ago, I had dinner at a Heights-area restaurant serving Italian-Mexican fusion cuisine and endured a less than appealing meal with two friends. The saving grace of La Casa de Frida was our sweet server, a jovial man who treated us like family.

So when I kept hearing buzz for another Heights-area restaurant serving Italian-Mexican fusion cuisine, I wasn't exactly beating the door down. In retrospect, I feel foolish for having judged one by the other. Not every French brasserie is the same, not every Korean-Mexican food truck is exactly the same and -- as it turns out -- not Italian-Mexican trattoria is the same.

As a result, it took me far too long to discover the jewel that is Bellissimo, the subject of this week's cafe review.

The family-run restaurant serving an interesting blend of Italian dishes with Mexican twists recently expanded into a larger space on Airline after outgrowing its original location in less than a year. That should have been my first clue that something special was going on at Bellissimo.

Still, I was wary when I pulled up and found Bellissimo in the old location of what was once possibly the world's worst mega-buffet. Still warier when I saw that the interior had been redone on a shoestring budget. Warier even when I opened the menu to find dishes like jalapeño fettucine topped with chicken, tomatoes, black beans, cilantro and more jalapeño.

What a welcome surprise, then, when I found out that not only was the jalapeño fettucine dish amazing...every successive dish I've tried at Bellissimo has ranged from good to terrific, with most squarely on the "terrific" end of that spectrum.

Moreover, it's inexpensive (especially right now while the restaurant sorts its TABC license out and it's BYOB), casual enough for family dinner night and nice enough for a cute date. Like La Casa de Frida, the service is excellent too.

In fact, after a few happy trips to Bellissimo I'm feeling in such a charitable mood that I can't wait to try La Casa de Frida again. After all, I've heard it's improved substantially. And -- like Bellissimo -- proved so popular that it's expanded. A second location of La Casa de Frida opened a few months ago in December 2012.

Read more about Bellissimo in this week's cafe review or take a virtual tour in our slideshow.

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Katharine Shilcutt