Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Austin

PIcture of Italy“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” – Federico Fellini

Craving Italian food, but not sure where to go? Reminiscing of that amazing meal in Italy and need a fix? Non c’è problema! I have put together a list of favorite Italian restaurants in Austin to help you out!

If I had to pick only one style of food to eat, I would undoubtedly choose Italian. Italians are passionate about food. Food is pleasure, love, family, sharing, and community. I love everything about Italian cuisine. It is diverse, yet simplistic, and can encompass many different styles, textures, and ingredients. An Italian dish should tell you a story, and in turn, inspire you to tell others.

To define the list below, I focused on fresh, simple, locally sourced ingredients, a welcoming atmosphere, a decent wine list, and the story. If the food makes me dream of Italy, I will go back again and again!

Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Austin

1. Trattoria Lisina

Trattoria Lisina is located outside Austin in Driftwood, but I had to include it in my list. I go to Trattoria Lisina every few months and I’m never disappointed. Owned by Damian Mandola, the menu is more diverse than Mandola’s Italian Market. Trattoria Lisina offers a multi-course, sophisticated menu from pan roasted chicken, to osso buco, to daily fish specials. It is not uncommon to eat from everyone’s plate while dining there! We had our wedding reception at Trattoria Lisina and everyone involved (event planner, staff, chef) was wonderful! They made our day special and treated us like we were family.

2. Patrizi’s Italian Food Truck

I was fortunate enough to attend a media tasting at Patrizi’s a few weeks ago and had to add it to my list of favorite places. Located at the Vortex Theater, the menu features fresh, simple, homemade pasta dishes using local ingredients. My favorite right now is the pasta pomodoro with homemade ricotta cheese. The garlic confit and infused olive oil is amazing as well! I love the funky Austin vibe, but the food reminds me of a little slice of Italian heaven!

3. Vespaio

I’m not sure I can say anything bad about Vespaio (except not taking reservations). It is a “neighborhood-hangout-meets-Italian-gourmet-comfort-food” establishment. Vespaio makes almost everything from bread, cheese, stocks, pasta, and sauces. They even do all of their own butchering. It is so self-contained that it feels like a working Italian farm. My two favorite things at Vespaio? The wine list and the risotto specials. The wine list offers many wonderful Italian selections and the seafood risotto will blow your mind. It is THAT good. Just go earlier in the day so you don’t have to wait in line.

4. Botticelli’s

Botticelli’s is a small trattoria on South Congress serving up traditional as well as modern Italian cuisine. I like Botticelli’s because it is small, cozy, and the inventive spin they put on some of the traditional fare is unexpected. Check out my first review of Botticelli’s (just ignore the horrible newbie photos!) My favorite dish is the chicken and Italian sausage lasagna with veggies. It is usually offered as a special, but I’ve always been lucky enough to get it. The wine list is limited, but offers decent Italian selections. After dinner, head out back to the beer garden for dessert and live music!

5. Olive and June

Olive and June is located in central Austin and serves Tuscan, farmhouse inspired cuisine using locally sourced ingredients. With a beautiful outside seating area, extensive wine and cocktail menu, and rustic fare, I have to refrain from going every day after work! I also love the small plate options which encourage sharing at the table. My favorite small plate is the zucchini involtini. I recommend following with the sausage gemelli and the citrus torta.

6. Trento

Trento is a neighborhood eatery located in West Lake. I have been going there since they opened early 2012 and I love it. It is convenient, friendly, good wine list, and they make the best ravioli dish I have ever eaten. Try the homemade cheese ravioli with lamb sausage, sage, brown butter, and poached egg (if it wasn’t so rude to lick the plate I would probably do it). For a light meal, I recommend going for happy hour and have the caprese salad or the mussels!

7. Asti Trattoria

Asti is a small, cozy restaurant in the Hyde Park area that offers a Tuscan style menu. And when I say cozy, I mean say hi to the table next to you because you will eventually participate in their conversation. Even though it can get crowded, it is a fun atmosphere buzzing with excitement and great food. I love the interesting, unexpected combinations of the dishes. One of the most memorable meals at Asti was a summer pasta dish with lobster, corn, and sweet cream. SO good! Also try the seafood risotto, duck breast, and rigatoni amatriciana!

8. Gusto Italian Kitchen

Gusto Italian Kitchen is a great neighborhood eatery in the Rosedale neighborhood. We like it because it is convenient, moderately priced, super friendly, and offers solid food and wine choices. It is a great place for a quick weeknight meal or happy hour. Go for the sausage pizza, spaghetti carbonara, slow roasted pork shoulder, and the olive oil cake!

9. La Traviata

La Traviata is a small bistro located on Congress Avenue. It is another moderately priced, solid Italian eatery. It isn’t fancy or intimidating, just good food. It reminds me of the bistros in the Florence area! I especially like the beef carpaccio, proscuitto di parma, and carbonara (can you tell I am a carbonara fan? 🙂 ). Great wine list as well.

10. Andiamo

Andiamo is a locally owned, hidden gem on Rutland Drive. Blink and you might miss it!  Andiamo offers a fresh, seasonal menu using locally sourced products. I have to confess it has been a while since I have visited Andiamo, but it has stayed on my top ten list despite my absence. Try the mushroom ravioli with saffron broth-YUM! They are running a lobster special in June so plan to join them soon!

What are your favorite Italian restaurants? What dish makes you dream of Italy?

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I ricotta, You ricotta, We all ricotta!

Homemade ricottaHello, my name is Michelle, and I am a cheese addict. One of my favorite obsessions, errr, I mean foods, is cheese. I literally cannot live without it! We all need a little ricotta!

I was feeling inspired after a tasting at Austin’s new Italian food truck, Patrizi’s. Patrizi’s serves up fresh, traditional fare and offers patrons a piece of Italy right in the heart of Austin! I especially loved the pasta pomodoro served with fresh ricotta cheese and I thought “Why not make my own ricotta?” Pasta+Wine+Cheese=Brilliance!

Ricotta cheese can make plain, drab food taste like a decadent feast. It can liven up weekday dinners, satisfy a sweet tooth, and can be used in place of a variety of cheeses such as Parmesan. Needless to say, I will never buy store bought ricotta again! It is too easy to make and tastes far better than the stuff sitting on the shelf for weeks.

I made this batch of ricotta with whole milk and heavy cream I found at the grocery store. I would recommend using organic milk and cream if you can find it. I think it would make the cheese taste richer. If not, you can use products that are most convenient to you. It still turned out wonderful.

There are many different coagulates you can use to create the “curd”. I chose lemon juice over vinegar because I thought the taste would be fresher. You can certainly use a white wine vinegar if desired.Preparing Cheese

Straining cheese

I use fresh ricotta on pasta, pizza, as a topping for toasted bread, or as breakfast topped with honey, walnuts, and raspberries. If eating with crackers or bread, I highly recommend adding fresh, cracked pepper and lemon or orange zest. Simple, but out of this world!

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

  • Servings: 8
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 75 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Cheesecloth

Directions:

Line a strainer with cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Juice two lemons for the coagulate and set aside.

Heat milk, cream, and salt over medium-high heat until liquid hits a roaring boil. This will take about 15-20 minutes. Stir constantly to prevent scorching. When liquid starts to boil, lower heat to simmer and add three tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir for two minutes until the curd starts to form. Turn off the heat and let sit for one minute.

Pour curds and whey into strainer and cheesecloth. The whey will drain into the bowl. Let sit for one hour to pull the moisture out of the cheese. Discard whey (unless you want to use in other recipes) and refrigerate cheese. Ricotta will keep 3-4 days in a covered container.

A Food Lovers Guide to Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores signWhat makes a destination truly special? I believe the truth lies in the holy trinity: food, wine, and the best dessert in town. You can tell so much about a place from the establishments that support the community. I learned the Gulf Coast call to arms was “Give me seafood or give me death!”

Once I arrived in Gulf Shores, I immediately started looking for restaurants, food markets, shops, cafes, wine bars, and beach side grills. Because I was on the beach I was determined to take full advantage of the fresh Gulf seafood! Fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, baked shrimp, shrimp gumbo….Sorry, I couldn’t resist the classic Bubba monologue. It was required!

Below is a list of Gulf Shores restaurants that I think any foodie will love.

King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant

After driving 12 hours, the first place I went to eat was King Neptune’s. Featured on Bobby Flay’s Food Nation, I knew I had to try their seafood. King Neptune’s is known for “royal red” shrimp. The small restaurant was completely packed when I arrived, but the service was excellent. I ordered a plate of grilled mahi-mahi, shrimp, rice, and toast along with two glasses of wine for about $30. The seafood was outstanding!mahi mahi fish

The Original Oyster House

The Original Oyster House was featured on Man vs. Food, but it was around the corner from the condo so I thought I would try it. The restaurant is located in a small boardwalk area overlooking a lagoon. My parents and I went to lunch very early so the place was empty. I ordered a broiled seafood platter featuring shrimp, oysters, small crab claws, and flounder for $13. My parents ordered fried shrimp baskets for $11. Overall, the food was very good, but I should have stuck with oysters since that was their specialty. Good drinks and very friendly wait staff!Original Oyster House

Bahama Bob’s Beach Side Cafe

Bahama Bob’s sits on the Gulf Shore beach front and was about a quarter-mile from our rental. It looks like a typical beach side cafe–relaxed and unobtrusive. Nothing fancy on the outside, but good food on the inside. Bahama Bob’s offers a small seating area inside with surfboards on the ceiling and an outside patio. Still on my seafood kick, I ordered coconut shrimp and my Dad had a cheeseburger. I have to say that was the best shrimp I had the entire trip. The breading was light and crispy without being too greasy. It was served with a sweet and spicy pineapple dipping sauce. Yum, yum, yum! Both lunches with drinks cost about $20.

Hope’s Cheesecake

I wasn’t able to visit Hope’s storefront, but I had the original cheesecake at Nolan’s restaurant. Most restaurants that I visited in Gulf Shores offered Hope’s cheesecake for dessert. It was wonderful! I love cheesecake, but sometimes it is over cooked, chunky, or too sour. I thought Hope’s was a perfect combination of smooth, creamy texture and light sweetness.

Nolan’s Steakhouse

Nolan’s Steakhouse is considered one of Gulf Shore’s fine dining establishments offering steak and seafood. The main dining room was spacious and seemed to be on par with Bob’s Steakhouse in Austin. Because I was by myself, I opted to sit in the lounge at the bar and chat. Nolan’s is definitely the happenin’ place for retirees. I was, by far, the youngest person in the restaurant besides the wait staff! Boy, can they boogie!

Nolan’s has a decent wine list and offers a “Captain’s List” of reserve wines. I ordered the filet mignon which was served with sautéed veggies and a side of pasta for $30. The entrée, dessert, and three glasses of wine was $78. Overall, I thought they had good food and would visit again.Steak

The Sunset Cork Room

The Sunset Cork Room is a wine bar/restaurant/wine store located in Gulf Shores. They feature a more eclectic menu using locally sourced produce, cheese, and seafood. Sunset also features weekly farm-to-table menus. The small bar seats about 20 people and offered a nice wine selection. My sister ordered a local cheese plate and I opted for the grilled lamb lollipops. Because I was drinking Cabernet and my sister wanted Riesling, we ended up with six glasses of wine and food for about $120. I would consider Sunset a fine dining establishment for this area, but it is quiet, cozy, with good food and wine.Red and White Wine

Seafood Markets

There are an abundance of seafood markets in the area. If going out to eat isn’t your thing or you just need a break, go to a local market and grab some peel-and-eat shrimp, crab claws, or fish. Blalock’s and S&S Market offer fresh and cooked seafood, wine, and all the fixings. I made shrimp and saffron risotto!Seafood RisottoCosmo’s

Unfortunately, I was not able to try Cosmo’s, but it got great reviews online and I heard several locals talking about the restaurant. The Orange Beach Wine Festival is also hosted by Cosmo’s (as well as Sunset Cork Room). The menu offers traditional items with a twist such as banana leaf wrapped fish, duck and sausage gumbo, and BBQ crab claws. Prices are very reasonable at $10-$20 per entrée and they have an extensive wine list. I will make sure to try Cosmo’s next trip!

Flora-Bama Lounge and Oyster Bar

If fancy dining doesn’t float your boat, why not try a biker bar? Flora-Bama is located on the Florida/Alabama state line and offers a no-frills dining experience. Just beach, burgers, oysters, and beer. My whole family went for burgers and the food was excellent! Cheap drinks too! The crowd was more family oriented during the day, but it gets more diverse in the evenings. I would like to go back when they have live music.Flora-Bama bar

For those that have been to the Gulf Coast, what is your local favorite?

Food and Wine Process Map

Steak and red, seafood and white, dessert and….Food and wine pairings are so confusing that sometimes one needs a process map to figure it out! I thought it would be fun to create a visual process map (yes, I am THAT nerdy) using different combinations. I help groups visually describe their processes so it isn’t surprising my work follows me home! (Process maps are also good to use for recipe planning. It helps organize thoughts into coherent ideas.)

I don’t always pair the “appropriate” wine with food because I like experimenting. Food and wine can be analytical and unpredictable at the same time, but that is part of the fun! Try fried chicken and Champagne, a la Max’s Wine Dive, or a fresh garden pizza and Rose. You might be surprised what works for you.

What is your most creative food/wine pairing?

Food and wine process map

Sunday Supper with Kendall-Jackson Merlot

Sunday dinners are a tradition in my house. My Mamaw always made huge, home cooked meals on Sunday for the family. Sunday “supper” was a requirement if you were in town. Ham, pork chops, collard greens, and soft fried potatoes. Mamaw’s soft fried potatoes were legendary. Must have been that 30 year-old cast iron skillet seasoned with bacon grease!Grandmother

Sunday supper is a Southern tradition that never left me. This past week we decided to BBQ brisket and vegetables. The hubs and I have experimented with several different BBQ seasonings and techniques, but never quite found the right combination. We wanted Franklin’s quality, but kept getting dried out, over seasoned meat. This week we kept it simple: salt, pepper, and 18 hours in the pit over low heat. It was finally hug-yur-Mamaw good! Simple is always better!BBQ Brisket

And of course, Sunday supper in my house is not complete without wine. I’m sure you have realized that I like the Kendall-Jackson brand, but there are three reasons why I keep KJ wines at my house:KJ Wine

1. Affordability-I don’t believe that wine has to be expensive to pair well with food or provide an interesting addition to the table. I like quality and value.

2. Flexibility- I like that some wines can be very complex and distinctive, but they do not always lend themselves to the modern table.  New world wines like Kendall-Jackson are flexible and can be paired with a variety of food. KJ has a good balance of fruit and spice.

3. And gosh darn it, it just tastes good! You should always drink what makes you happy!

I thought the Kendall-Jackson 2010 Merlot would pair nicely with smokey BBQ. I picked a Merlot over a Zinfandel or Cabernet because I thought the mellow fruit would balance out the spicy BBQ. I did not want a smokey Zin to cover up the 18 hours we spent on the brisket! I don’t usually pair bold wines with bold food. With food, as in life, I need balance.

The berry notes and dark cherries of the wine tasted like a light cherry wood smoke added to the pit during the last few hours. Not too fruit forward, but enough to appreciate its fragrant presence. I was afraid the more exotic spice of anise would taste strange, but paired with the wine’s slate minerality, it allowed the brisket to take on a woody flavor. Dark and earthy. Natural and organic. Just the way good Texas BBQ should be prepared. I think the KJ Merlot could also be paired with my Smoked Honey Dijon Rack of Pork!KJ Wine and brisket

I served grilled corn-on-the-cob and yellow squash which provided an interesting dichotomy to the spicy BBQ. The summer vegetables were sweet and the wine enhanced the fresh, garden flavor.

Overall, I think the Kendall-Jackson 2010 Merlot is a great value and flavor for backyard BBQ’s. Because I was serving up Mamaw’s Sunday supper, I thought a reliable wine would be the best choice. Every meal is a feast when you have good wine at the table!Wine and Flowers

*Disclaimer: All thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own. I was not provided samples or compensation so it is all about what I think!