1610 S. Congress, 441-6100
Tue-Sun, 5:30-10:30pm (bar open at 5pm)
Vespaio is the latest innovative Italian effort from local chef Alan Lazarus. In its short history, the South Austin eatery has garnered considerable attention for creative and well-balanced Italian dishes. The menu also features a deep selection of grilled entrees, wood-oven pizzas, inventive pasta dishes, and a great barside antipasto case. The new room has also received consistently high marks for service, wine selection, and atmosphere.
504 E. Fifth, 477-7497
Mon-Fri, 11am-2pm, 6-11pm; Sat-Sun, 6-11pm
Carmelo's opened its Austin branch in 1985, making this old-guard Italian establishment a true survivor. Located a stone's throw from the bustling traffic of East Sixth Street, Carmelo's serves a wide selection of traditional Italian dishes along with a few nontraditional ringers (beef stroganoff?). The menu reads like an edible encyclopedia, with numerous entries from just about every Italian food group, including a "Tableside" section for diners who crave more theatrical dishes. Desserts include classic flambé tableside offerings, including Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee.
310 Colorado, 472-6770
Mon-Thu, 11:30am-10:30pm; Fri, 11:30am-11:30pm; Sat, 5-11pm; Sun, 6-11pm
Mezzaluna has toed the line between elegant and trendy since the Warehouse District was a distant dream -- and it's been packed with downtown hipsters ever since. The stylish, quasi-industrial bar and dining area (designed by prolific local architect Dick Clark) stays consistently packed, especially on weekend nights. House specialties and traditional dishes run in the moderate to expensive range, but always attract an enthusiastic clientele.
9901 Capital of Texas Hwy
(Gateway Market Shopping Center), 372-8030
Mon-Thu, 11am-10:30pm; Fri, 11am-11pm;
Sat, 5-11pm; Sun, 5-10pm
This outpost of Reed Clemons' popular Italian establishment serves the denizens of Austin's fast-growing northbound population center. After a somewhat shaky start, Mezzaluna Gateway has settled into a commendably comfortable rhythm with notable entrees and impeccable service. If you're not in the mood for a full upstairs dining treatment, order from the appetizer and pizza menu at the downstairs bar from a more casual experience.
1500 Barton Springs Rd., 476-1090
Sun-Thu, 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-11pm
Plastic grapes, chianti bottles, and "straight-outta-Mama's kitchen" Italian food. This kitsch-filled Barton Springs standby serves up sizable portions of no-nonsense Italian standards (pastas, pizzas, and various seafood dishes) for surprisingly reasonable prices. Dinnertime winners include Shrimp Romeo (grilled parmesean shrimp with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and a light pesto cream sauce) and Vegetable Ziti. Not exactly a refined romantic atmosphere, but the seductive proof is on the plate.
Treehouse Bar & Grill
2201 College, 443-4200
The menu at this South Austin establishment tends to run the gamut, mixing Norwegian salmon, steaks, and quasi-Cajun blackened chicken into their mid-range Italian menu. The usual suspects are (of course) in evidence: Chicken Piccata, Pasta with Scampi, and Lasagne (vegetarian and con carne). Deckside dining and a reasonably priced wine list make this a good choice for casual meals when the weather is not particularly punishing. Four lunch specials (including a sandwich option) available.
8127 Mesa, 345-5761
Mon-Thu, 11:15am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 11:15am-11pm.
A stalwart of the northwest Austin restaurant scene before the rise of the Gateway/Cedar Park-plex, Little Italy serves a manageable menu of classic and specialty dishes with a few curves thrown into the mix. The specialty dishes can be somewhat personal (Chicken Angelica -- a mix of chicken, broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes, and artichoke hearts in a Parmesan cream) or startlingly direct (chicken and garlic spaghetti). In the great "mom and pop" tradition, the reasonably priced entrees come with salad or salad and hot garlic bread.
3663 Bee Caves Rd., 328-4858
Mon-Fri, 11am-10pm; Sat-Sun, 5-10pm
This Westlake eatery started out as an ambitious "upscale Northern Italian vegetarian" restaurant and became more omnivorous with time. The menu now features a full selection of traditional fish, veal, poultry, and beef dishes along with a good number of meatless entrees. Steak lovers can even sample the Bistecca Fiorentina -- a tenderloin or T-bone grilled Tuscan-style.
2348 Guadalupe , 474-8040
It's fast. It's cheap. It's on the Drag. With credentials like this, you can hardly ask for more -- especially if you happen to be a footbound UT campus regular. But the casual, almost fast-food atmosphere is backed up with solid, unadorned pastas to accompany their pizzas, calzone, and sauce-heavy subs. And for those who tire of the global pizza "30 minutes or less" chains, Tony will even deliver. What's not to love?
Carrabba's Italian Grill
11590 Research, 345-8232;
6406 N. I-35, 419-1220
Mon-Thu, 4:30-10pm; Fri, 4:30-11pm;
Sat, 3pm-11pm; Sun, 3-10pm
This franchised Italian grill sprung from a Houston-based Italian dynasty of the same name and was one of the first Texas restaurants to feature an "open kitchen" atmosphere. Order from the pasta bar or choose one of the wood-fired pizzas or grilled specialties. The menu also includes requisite manicotti, lasagna, and spaghetti options.
Vinny's Italian Cafe
1003 Barton Springs Rd, 482-8484
Sun-Thu, 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-11pm.
Longtime residents will remember this Barton Springs neighborhood joint as the former Holiday House location. The menu features all the pasta dishes you'd expect from a guy named Vinny, and the happy hour bellinis are rumored to be a notable bargain.
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