Like many other cities, non-residents of Austin have a certain perception of the town and its residents. Because it’s near the heart of Texas – not to mention being the state’s actual capital – some people perceive Austin as a place for honest-to-goodness cowpokes, especially when it comes to food. While there are plenty of steak restaurants, taco stands and havens for Southern cooking, Austin is a diverse place for food, thanks in part to the abundance of graduates from Austin culinary school. That’s especially true given the number of Italian eateries that dot the city. Craving some chicken cacciatore? Would a little eggplant parmigiana really hit the spot? Then be sure to visit any one of these ottimi ristorantis, as they’d say in Italia.
1. Botticelli’s South Congress: In many ways, this eatery – located on South Congress – embraces some of its Texas roots. That’s doubly apparent by its happy hour menu, which features the tequila-heavy cocktail called the Mad Don and the Hemingway Daiquiri, a mix of rum, grapefruit and lime. Yet when it comes to the menu, Botticelli’s is a distinctly Italian restaurant, one that has connections to many old school eateries back in the Old World. It’s offerings range from appetizers like gamberetti e polenta, which is spicy shrimp in a rich cream sauce, to the bread each table is served, homemade loaves cooked with prosciutto and rosemary. Fan favorite dishes include ravioli di zucca gialla – ravioli with roasted butternut squash – and a seared duck plate called anatra due maniere. While Botticelli’s doesn’t offer much in the way of a desert menu, there are several post-dinner drinks – called digestifs – including Sambucca and Tuaca.
2. La Traviata: Despite having only been open since 2000, La Traviata has the kind of rich ambiance that mirrors an Italian eatery from the early 1960s. Part of that is the work of chef Marion Gillcrist, whose cooking over the years has attempted to pick up on the simplicity and elegance of most Italian dishes. And that commitment is found across the restaurant’s sizable menus. For lunch, popular items include fettuccine con fungh, a tasty medley of spinach, mushroom stock and pecorino cheese, and several plates featuring toasted shrimps and scallions. Dinner, meanwhile, features not only a number of pasta dishes – like spaghetti carbonara and rigatoni and lamb meatballs – but seafood offerings like seared Atlantic salmon and cioppino, a lively platter of shrimp, calamari, clams, salmon and mussels. Wine lovers will also find plenty to love at La Traviata, including a slew of vintage reds and sparkling wines.
3. Andiamo Ristorante: When it comes to Italian cooking, Daniela Marcone knows her stuff, having emigrated from Naples several years ago to open up Andiamo Ristorante. She might be several thousand miles from home, yet she maintains a commitment to recreating her favorite dishes as faithfully as possible. And local press and eaters have paid attention, honoring the small eatery with a number of awards. The meals speak for themselves, a traditional representation of Italian culture cooked with a fresh sense of enthusiasm. Unlike many other local Italian restaurants, Andiamo has two-plate meals for both lunch and dinner. Lunch features such favorites as fresh baked gnocchi and linguine with fresh clams baked in a white sauce. Dinner, though, is where Marcone and Andiamo shine, serving up plates like costoletta di maiale – pork chops with mashed potatoes – and rainbow trout filled with vegetable and crab meat. Andiamo emphasizes loads of authentic Italian deserts – namely zabaglione, tiramisu and bocconotti – not to mention a nice selection of espressos and cappuccinos.