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?

Off the Beaten Path: ciboVino

ciboVino Winnsboro, TXWhile on my East Texas road trip a few weeks ago, I decided to take my Grandpa out for an “Off the Beaten Path” date. I love talking to him and hearing stories of his adventures. (Listen up-your grandparents are fascinating people. So, if they are still around—talk to them! My Grandpa traveled all over the world, helped build a hospital in Saudi Arabia in the 70’s, and did the carpentry in most of the buildings in downtown San Francisco. How cool is that?)

I am, by far, the most adventurous person in my family which is why my Grandpa and I get along so well. When I found a write up in Southern Living magazine on a restaurant in Winnsboro, TX, I knew he would be up for it.

ciboVino is a family-run, Italian restaurant located on the downtown square in Winnsboro, TX. Blink and you may miss it!  However, I was strongly advised by ciboVino’s website to call ahead and make a reservation. I was a bit amused by this, but I was sure glad of it after we arrived. The place was completely packed within half an hour!

Once seated, our well spoken, young buck of a waiter (the owner’s son, Brennan) told us all about the specials for the evening. They were featuring a bone-in veal chop with red potatoes and broccollini that my Grandpa could not resist. However, because I am obsessed with pizza, I went with my stand by: margherita pizza with sausage. If you make a decent pie, I’m willing to go back.

I have to say we were not disappointed.  The veal was perfectly cooked and very tender. The homemade pizza was thin, bubbled, and crunchy around the edges just the way I like it. Not the absolute best pizza I have had (that’s only in Italy!), but a solid choice in the area.ciboVino pizza

I was disappointed they did not offer a wine list, but they may not have the clientele to make it worthwhile. We were offered complimentary red or white wine, but the quality was not the best. However, ciboVino does allow guests to bring their own beverages and that seems to be the best option.

The owners, Rick and Sharon, have taken great care to incorporate the entire family into the business. It was great to see the family taking care of an obviously well-loved restaurant. My Grandpa is already talking about our next visit!

I get so caught up in what the city can offer that I forget there are many great places in small towns like Winnsboro. When you step off the beaten path you never know what you may find!

For more information on Winnsboro, TX check out the recent article in Texas Highways!

The WellGro Co.

Last weekend I participated in a herb garden fundraiser sponsored by The WellGro Co. at Contigo restaurant. The event raised funds to build a garden at Travis High School. The WellGro Co. is a local non-profit organization run by Ed and Kerri Hughey committed to bringing real food back into schools.  Ed and Kerri were moved into action by the childhood obesity epidemic and wanted to support organizations that drive change and make a positive impact. The WellGro Co. holds several events throughout the year as well as offers products on their website to help raise funds to support those organizations.

food 1

This event in particular spoke to me because I was raised on processed food, often receiving free or reduced lunches at school.  I think that is why I am so obsessed with homemade, fresh, healthy food now. I’m not always perfect, but I’ve learned to balance. Kids on low-income meal plans often do not have a choice as to what they eat.  A hot dog and chips are easier and cheaper than organic chicken and vegetables. How can we expect children to choose to eat healthy if they have never been exposed or have access to real food?

Food 2

The Travis High School garden will provide an organic learning environment for the culinary students. They will have a chance to forge a relationship with their food and also educate others (friends, family, etc) on the importance of eating something other than fast food.

The herb workshop was taught by Sam Thorp of Johnson’s Backyard Garden. He shared his tips and tricks for successful planting and maintenance. I plant herbs every year and use them all through the spring and summer. I definitely learned a few new things! During the workshop we planted herbs in Contigo’s garden which will be used at the restaurant.

Food 4

After the workshop we had a great lunch prepared by the Travis High School culinary students. Can’t beat fresh arugula, sausages, and potato salad! Perfect food on a gorgeous day!  I had a great time and met some inspiring people in the food community.

Food 3

Check out some great photos of the event on Chris Perez’s website: MetropoChris.  For more garden inspiration check out Lorin Baum’s company Texas Roots. And support your local food community!

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WineDownAustin goes to France–Food!

Final MBA project almost complete and wedding pictures are done! After almost 3 wonderful weeks in France I had to return to reality.  I have only been back for a few weeks, but I have been dreaming about the food! 

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My favorite restaurants in Angers and Paris…

Chez Remi

Chez Remi is a tiny, closet restaurant with roughly 12 tables. A group of 10 of us walked in and took most of the restaurant! I am sure we provided amusing entertainment for the evening. The menu is chalked on the wall and offers a selection of traditional meals. The wine list is diverse and offers something for every price point and palate.

The menu changes daily and offers fresh, farm-to-table food. Everything was perfectly cooked (you never have to worry about that in France!) and so full of flavor! I started with salmon on a bed of mushrooms and carrots, lamb for a main course, and chocolate cake for dessert.

Le Relais

My favorite meal in Angers was at Le Relais. The food was more sophisticated than other restaurants in Angers and the service was amazing. I received personal attention and they were very patient with me as I struggled through the menu. The waiter explained the entire menu, how the food was cooked, what wines he recommended for the pairing, and went as far to educate me on regional food. I learned so much! I had a salad with proscuitto and melon, white fish cooked in beef broth and potatoes, and a fruit tartlet.

When I return to the Anjou region I will definitely stop by Le Relais again!

Les Plantagenets

Les Plantagenets was the hotel restaurant. I ate there twice as I was too tired to venture out after work. It was nice. I ordered the three-course tasting menu both times and tried different dishes. The first visit I had escargot in pastry shell, white fish with vegetables, and a chocolate something was just amazing. The second time I ordered the eggplant and goat cheese, artichoke ravioli, and of course the chocolate something!

Auberge du Champ de Mars

Auberge du Champ de Mars was near our hotel in Paris. We were staying a block from the Eiffel Tower which can result in poor food for crazy prices! We found Auberge while out walking around one evening. It was small, quiet, and intimate so we decided to try it. What a treat! The chef, Philippe Excoffier, is an award winning chef offering a diverse menu.

My fiancé and I started with the eggplant lasagna then moved on to the veal chop and the roasted duck. We could not get enough of the desserts in France so I had chocolate cake (shocker!) and Mr. D had the cheesecake with strawberries.

 La Fontaine de Mars

La Fontaine de Mars was a fun experience. Not the best food in the world, but certainly an experience. I read about the place online and it was highly rated. Apparently, President Obama ate there as well. So, what the heck? We adopted the French lifestyle and went over at 9pm for dinner, but it was packed! The hostess was wonderful and worked us into the schedule. While waiting, she also brought us a plate of sausage and two glasses of Bordeaux to enjoy before dinner. Very sweet! We both had the steak and fries which was enjoyable. It wasn’t the best value for the type of food we ordered, but it was a lively square with tons of people watching. We also discovered we loved Bordeaux!

O’Chateau

O’Chateau is a wine bar/restaurant that offers wine tasting and wine dinners. We opted to do the wine tasting dinner our last night in Paris. It was very entertaining! The wine dinner was held in the cellar room downstairs. We enjoyed  a three-course meal and TONS of wine. The sommelier teaching us about the wine was very funny. I would recommend this place to anyone going to Paris. It is relaxed and offers high quality food and wine for a decent price.