Around the World in Houston: Discover Italy

Photo courtesy of Houston Italian Festival

With a labyrinth of cultures represented in every nook and cranny of town, Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America. To celebrate this world-class melting pot, we’ll be exploring a new region of the globe through a Houston lens each week, from annual festivals and museums to restaurants and cultural experiences. Join the journey with our Around the World in Houston series.

With a plethora of restaurants offering the flavors of the Boot, gelato and pastry shops bringing the sweets, an annual festival showcasing Italian customs and goods, and cultural groups boasting language meetups, movie screenings, risotto-making classes, and wine seminars, Houston offers a true taste of Italy.

Annual Festivals & Cultural Events

  • Houston Italian Festival This annual festa showcases Italian culture via food, drink, arts, music, dance and more. 2017 marks the 39th year for the festival, with this year’s event held at the University of St. Thomas from Thursday, October 12 to Sunday, October 15. Highlights include an adult grape stomp, pasta eating competition, classic car show, bocce tournament, Spaghetti Western night, and marionette puppet show. Wine lovers will want to check out the “Introduction to Italian Wine” tasting and seminar, held six times over the four-day festival; while beer fans can check out the three Italian Craft Beer Tastings.
  • ICCC Annual Gala The Italian Culture & Community Center puts on an annual gala to spotlight Italian influencers in the community. Enjoy dinner and dancing and themes like casino night.

Museums & Cultural Organizations

  • Italian Cultural & Community Center Established in 1982, this non-profit organization celebrates and preserve the Italian culture and heritage for all Houstonians; and it does so through holding educational, cultural, and social programs throughout the year. Join an Italian language meet-up, check out contemporary films and lectures, or take a wine or cooking class.
  • European Art at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston The museum’s collection of European art boasts paintings and sculpture from the 13th to early 20th century, with Baroque paintings and Renaissance highlights including Italian works by Fra Angelico and Sebastiano del Piombo.

Italian Food & Drink

Restaurants & Bars

  • Antica Osteria Get a taste of Italy in Rice Village, from spaghetti alla puttanesca and ravioli di porcini to veal piccata and pollo al prosciutto.
  • Arturo Boada CuisineFor Italian with a Latin kick, try dishes like shrimp fettucini in cilantro pesto and carnitas pizza at Arturo Boada.
  • Bistecca This modern Italian steakhouse sits on lower Westheimer, packing good wines and contemporary dishes along with it. Indulge in mussels and scallops in white wine sauce, osso bucco, bone-in ribeye, and Salerno soufflé.
  • Cane Rosso With two locations, this Dallas import offers scorched Neapolitan pies plump with the traditional—think hot soppressata, san marzonos, calabrian chiles and housemade mozzarella—and the non-traditional, from ghost pepper and spicy bacon marmalade to cheddar and candied jalapeños. Split a few alongside crispy artichokes, heirloom tomatoes, and carbonara-inspired bucatini; and be sure to check out its killer happy hour and brunch.
  • Ciao Bello This Tony Vallone spot is a Houston standby. Hit it to enjoy thin Roman-style pies, butternut squash pansoti, stuffed trout, and bone-in veal chop parmigiana.
  • ColtivareColtivare takes inspiration straight from its 3,000-square foot garden, with house favorites including cacio e pepe, whole wood-roasted fish, and pies topped with Revival pepperoni. Don’t forget to save room for a seasonal fruit crostada.
  • Coppa Osteria This Rice Village hotspot has a glass-encased dough room, so you can watch the action as you chow down on salumi-topped pies, housemade rigatoni,  meatballs al forno, and roasted chicken under a brick.
  • D’Amico’s Italian Market Café – This casual café from Nash D’Amico offers homemade pasta, panini and pizzas, and house favorites like veal saltimbocca and risotto di gamberi. Pick up Italian goods in the imported food market and grab some homemade gelato on your way out.
  • Da Marco Dress up to wine and dine, Italian-style, at this fine-dining haunt on Westheimer. Start with burrata di Puglia and grilled octopus with orange and peperoncini before moving on to pappardelle with wild boar, sweet corn ravioli with lobster, and mains like prime porterhouse for two and Chianti-braised short ribs.
  • Damian’s Cucina Italiana This Midtown neighborhood favorite from Johnny Mandola has been keeping locals well-fed for over 30 years. Get your passport stamped with grilled sea bass beurre blanc, stuffed shrimp, linguine with clam sauce, lasagna bolognese, and rosemary-rubbed veal chop.
  • Dolce Vita Pizzeria Enoteca Great wines, great food, and great times are waiting to be had at this romantic haunt from Chef Marco Wiles. Get bubbling Neopolitan-style pizzas, pastas studded with prosciutto, clams, and housemade sausage, and fritto, insalate, and pesce to share. And be sure to check Wiles’ other establishments, small plates and wine bar stunner, Vinoteca Poscol and the aforementioned Da Marco.
  • Enoteca Rossa Sitting in Bellaire, this wine bar and Italian cafe offers handmade pasta, dreamy risotto, and house favorites like eggplant parmigiana and Sicilian-style mussels.
  • Frenchie’s Italian Restaurant Over in Clear Lake, this mom-and-pop shop has recipes straight from the Isle of Capri. Dine on spaghetti in clam sauce, shrimp and veal piccata, chicken cacciatore, and tiramisu.
  • Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino With an enticing library of large and small plates perfect for sharing, this Italian haunt has become a neighborhood staple. Feast on regional specialties, from tonno e fagioli and gamberi al diavolo to gnocchi alla romana and pork milanese.
  • Grazia Italian Kitchen Grazia is a local gem with locations in both Clear Lake and Pearland. Start with prosciutto, calamari, and jumbo scallop before moving on to house pasta, pizzas, and chef’s specialties like chicken saltimbocca and roasted garlic ribeye.
  • Osso & Kristalla Downtown has a new trattoria, serving locals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. In the a.m., get homemade Italian pastries, yogurt, and breakfast sandwiches; Lunch and dinner offers salads, wood-fired pizza and pasta, an extensive wine selection, and house specialties including wood-fired flank steak, rigatoni and meatball, and Sicilian bbq shrimp.
  • Pasta e Pesto This North-side restaurant boasts homestyle polpette, Northern Italian béchamel lasagna, housemade ravioli and eggplant, chicken and veal parmigiana. Finish with scratch-made Italian chocolate cake and cream-filled cannoli.
  • Paulie’s A Montrose staple from Paul Petronella, the fast-casual Paulie’s draws locals from near and far. Don’t miss the housemade rigatoni in creamy bolognese, smoked bacon-studded bucatini amatriciana, and daily specials, from Tuesday’s lasagna to Friday’s fettucini and mussels. There are also fresh salads, sandwiches and paninis, pizzas, entrees like roasted salmon, chicken, and veal chops, and sweets.
  • Perbacco If you’re looking for a spot to try out pre-theater, this charmer is it. Wine and dine on mussels alla marinara, baked manicotti, shrimp in lemon butter sauce, and grilled beef tenderloin.
  • Piola Started in Trevisio, this Italian pizza chain showcases the quintessential flavors of the Boot. Here, thin-crust pies are topped with quality ingredients—mozzarella fior di latte, ricotta, porcini mushrooms, and prosciutto crudo; pastas are tossed in béchamel, fresh tomato sauce, and shaved Grana Padano cheese; salads are lightly dressed in housemade dressings and finishing with limoncello is a must.
  • Pizaro’sThis Napoletana pizzeria rocks a brick oven straight from Naples, along with plenty of imported Italian ingredients (“00” flour, olive oil, and San Marzanos) and daily made ones (dough and fresh mozzarella), too. At 900 degrees, the Neopolitan-style pies cook in about 90 seconds, so come hungry.
  • Potente Go upscale in Downtown at Potente, where the menu focuses on local ingredients and Italian flavors. Dig into carpaccio, burrata caprese, and saffron mussels with blistered tomatoes; then move on to cacio e pepe with shaved black truffle, diver scallop with crushed corn risotto, and petite filet with pistachio gremolata.
  • Quattro Sitting in the Four Seasons, this fine restaurant because proves that hotel dining is worthwhile. Here, Italian-born Chef Maurizio Ferrerase transports guests to his homeland via dishes like strozzapreti with short rib ragout and risotto plump with shrimp, grated tuna bottarga, and caviar. The Sunday brunch buffet is also an affair to remember.
  • Sorrento Ristorante Italiano Nestled in Montrose, this classy restaurant wins locals over with the modern flavors of Northern Italy. Dine on foie gras with poached pear and gorgonzola, truffle-drizzled wild mushroom risotto, osso bucco ravioli, and seared duck with Champagne sabayon.
  • Sud Italia Southern Italian fare is the name of the game at this ultra charming Rice Village spot. Indulge in coastal dishes, from light and fresh zuppa di mare to robust tuna steak with green peppercorn sauce.
  • Tony’s Channeling the world-class eateries of Milan and the charm of Naples, this fine dining Italian steakhouse has hosted the likes everyone from Frank Sinatra and Oscar de la Renta. Bring your wallet and indulge in Italian wines, tonno crudo, black truffle risotto, and bone-in ribeye tagliata.

Coffee, Bake Shops & Sweets

  • Amorino Gelato Only the eighth location in America, Amorino sets out to make the highest quality gelato as naturally as possible, with no artificial colors or flavorings. Here, gelato is served in traditional Italian fashion and served with a spatula—often in beautiful rose-shaped scoops.
  • Drew’s Pastry Place Get your cannoli, pignoli, biscotti, sfogliatelle, and tiramisu at this authentic Italian bakery.
  • Café Dolce Gelato Treat yourself to housemade gelato in flavors like organic Sicilian pistachio, hazelnut, roasted almond, stracciatella, cappuccino, and mascarpone lemon.
  • Dolce Neve This Austin import brings its gelato training from Bologna, Italy to Houston, Texas. Indulge in staples like the Madagascar vanilla, 70% chocolate, stracciatella and organic pistachio; try out rotating flavors like whiskey and pecan, gianduja (chocolate and hazelnut), mascarpone and figs, and goat cheese and blueberry jam; or go for seasonals, from eggnog to organic grapefruit sorbet.
  • Fellini Caffè Linger over espresso and pastries as you transport yourself to an elegant Italian sidewalk café at this Rice Village spot.
  • Gelazzi It’s all about Old World-style gelato and pizza at this Heights haunt. Get traditional Italian favorites like bacio, stracciatella, and pistacchio, as well as the Neopolitan standards of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla.
  • Minuti Coffee This coffee chain boasts an Italian passion for the bean and the cup, with 100% Italian coffee.

Groceries & Goods

  • B&B Butchers Hit the deli at B&B butchers to pick up imported Italian meats, including prosciutto, mortadella, and cotta by the pound. While you’re at it, grab a hero to go.
  • Fabio’s Artisan Pasta Pick up ready-to-cook pasta, scratch-made with 100 percent natural ingredients including semolina, extra fancy durum, fresh whole eggs, spinach, and tomato. Fresh and frozen pastas range from capellini and tagliatelle to lobster ravioli, four-cheese tortellini, and chicken cannelloni.
  • Nundini’s Chef’s Table Part restaurant, part market, this warehouse in the Heights is a destination for authentic Italian food and products. Enjoy a meal in the full-service restaurant; or take a stroll through the market to shop for Italian products.
  • Phoenicia Specialty Foods Hit either location of this massive international market to pick up extra virgin olive oils and vinegar imported from Italy, semolina flour, and goodies like Sicilian olives, prosciutto parma and pistachio mortadella, fresh mozzarella, gelato, and torrone (Italian nougat).
  • Vom Fass This olive oil store carries a handful of Italian extra virgin olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars, as well as infused Tuscan olive oils, from basil and garlic to porcini and tangerine.

Language Classes, Education Centers, Groups & Meet-Ups

  • The ICCC Language SchoolWhether you’re traveling to Italy and looking for a starter class or are looking to advance your skills to the next level, these year-round Italian language classes (offered for both kids and adults) are the way to go.
  • Houston Italian Language Meet-Up Practice your skills with this group of Italian-speaking locals, ranging from beginners to advanced.
  • Daughters of Italian Heritage This women’s group meets at the ICCC on the second Sunday of each month, sharing Italian traditions through community outreach activities, luncheons and dinners, and fun events like meatball making classes.
  • Texas Italian American Sports Foundation This foundation promotes Italian-American heritage in Texas communities through a variety of social functions and charitable events, while also providing scholarships for college athletes and contributing to youth-oriented programs and charities.
  • Il Sapore ItalianoThe ICCC’s series of cooking classes aims to promote the Italian traditions, with hands-on culinary experiences ranging from risotto and ravioli making to a kid’s cooking series dubbed La Piccola Cucina.
  • Italian-Americans in Houston Celebrate Italian-American heritage with this local meet-up group.
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Brooke Viggiano is a food and lifestyle writer residing in Houston. When she's not contributing to publications like 365 Things to Do in Houston, Thrillist Houston and the Houston Press, she's on the hunt for the coolest happenings in the city. You can follow her musings on Twitter @BrookeViggiano .