Italian Garden14611 Burnet Rd., 388-1062
Tuesday-Thursday, 11am-2pm, 5:15-9pm;
The devil may be in the details, but so is the divine. And it's attention to the little things that help make tiny Italian Garden a sweet surprise in a far-north strip center, from the bowl of croutons on every table to the delicate herbal house dressing to the soft, yeasty homestyle bread. Specializing in hearty southern-Italian "Brooklyn-style" fare, this friendly family establishment serves up loving attention in every dish. Reasonably priced dinners come in four courses; you get essential chicken minestrone, an appetizer pizza, and pasta, along with your choice from a variety of entrées. The melt-in-your-bocca veal parmigiana is exceptional.
Cafe Mia3573 Far West, 342-9570
3663 Bee Caves Rd., 327-1795
Both locations of Adrian Creasey's Cafe Mia offer a wide variety of good grub to take out or eat in. There is a breakfast taco bar, an all-you-can-eat brunch bar, salads and focaccia sandwiches for lunch, a variety of hot dinner entrées served with two sides, and lots of sweets, from gelato to brownies. The dinner menu is mostly Italian, including Tuscan pot roast, lasagna, and ravioli, with significant American comfort-food influence in the chicken pot pie, giant crab cakes, and meat loaf in tomato sauce. And for those special takeout situations, the fresh fruit and flower selections are a nice touch.
La Traviata314 Congress, 479-8131
Monday-Thursday, 11am-2pm, 5:30-10pm (bar open later); Friday, 11am-2pm, 5-30-10:30pm; Saturday, 5:30-10:30pm
This bright downtown restaurant with the operatic name is popular at lunch and dinner, serving straightforward Italian food composed of fresh and seasonal ingredients. The dishes on the menu are characterized by light sauces, fresh vegetables, and judicious use of fresh herbs and aromatics, perfectly suited to Austin weather. The generously portioned chicken parmesan is succulent and subtle, and the deceptively simple spaghettini bolognese is a charming combination of ground veal, beef, and pork with mixed wild mushrooms. It takes talent to make a classic Caesar salad seem special; this sherry vinegar-based version is a real winner.
Bellagio Italian Bistro6507 Jester Blvd., 346-8228
Bellagio's popularity means that, unless you wish to dine late, you should prepare yourself for a wait, even with a reservation. Use your time to work up an appetite; this upscale place doles out absolutely enormous portions of well-prepared trattoria fare. The thick, succulent pork chop is stuffed with creamy spinach, pine nuts, and asiago cheese. The Sicilian seafood combination, enough for you and your best friend, is a platter of tagliatelle, covered in quantities of steamed mussels and clams, scallops, and shrimp, sauced in a mildly spicy tomato broth and smothered with crisply tender, fried calamari. (In case you're wondering, you can eat the signature orchids that garnish almost every dish.)
Siena Ristorante Toscana6203 Capital of Texas Hwy., 349-7667
Monday-Thursday, 11:30am-2pm, 5:30-10pm
Friday, 11:30am-2pm, 5:30-11pm; Saturday, 5:30-11pm; Sunday, 5:30-9pm
While Highway 360 near 2222 is not exactly in the country anymore, dining in Siena's imposing Tuscan-style stone manor house might beguile you into thinking that it is. The ambitious northern Italian-style menu includes pork, lamb, and veal dishes, as well as pastas and seasonal soups. On the lighter side, the creamy risotto topped with roasted vegetables is a real treat, as is the delicately sauced taglierini with truffle oil and pecorino cheese. Choose from a variety of substantial salads, including a grilled asparagus salad and a refreshing mixed shellfish salad.
Piccolo Italian Cafe2828 Rio Grande, 476-5600
Friday, 11am-11pm; Saturday, 4-11pm
The funky industrial exterior of Piccolo gives no clue to the tastefully sedate and romantic ambience inside. Definitely the best spot for a food date within walking distance of UT, Piccolo offers a pleasing variety of housemade pastas and wood-fired pizzas, hot and cold appetizers, and nicely prepared chicken, seafood, and veal entrées. Choose from the selection of moderately priced Italian wines and end your meal with the richly flavorful but delicate tiramisu.
Asti Trattoria408 East 43rd St., 451-1218
In their popular Hyde Park neighborhood venture, those talented Foxes, Emmett and Lisa, have achieved that rarest of combinations in Austin restaurant fare -- food that is simultaneously sophisticated and unpretentious, skillfully prepared, and artfully presented. The menu includes dishes styled from various Italian regional cuisines -- Tuscan to Calabrian to Sicilian -- and the extensive wine list offers an interesting range of mostly Italian and Cal-Ital selections. The bowl of perfectly cooked soft polenta topped by grilled eggplant, portobello, fresh tomato sauce, and a dollop of herby goat cheese was the most satisfying lunch I've had in a long time.
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