July 1, 2022

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Why so many new Italian restaurants are opening in Houston

4 min read

When searching for “Italian restaurants near me,” you may have found several unrecognizable names flooding your feed recently. A flock of Italian restaurants have opened in rapid succession in Houston, giving even the most finger-on-the-pulse diners a lot to keep track of.

While institutions like the original Carabba’s on Kirby, Damian’s, La Griglia, and even fine-dining stalwart Tony’s continue to reel in loyal patrons for their comforting pastas and bounty of Italian wines, the city is experiencing a sort of Italian food renaissance as chefs and restaurateurs add a fresh crop to the bunch.

The ragu d'agnello is one of the fresh housemade pastas at Trattoria Sofia in Houston.

The ragu d’agnello is one of the fresh housemade pastas at Trattoria Sofia in Houston.

Jenn Duncan

“I’m from New York—Italian is my comfort food,” said Benjamin Berg, owner of Berg Hospitality and the brains behind acclaimed restaurants B&B Butchers, B.B. Lemon, Turner’s, and most recently, Italian food-focused Trattoria Sofia, which opened in November 2021 in the Heights. Berg felt Houstonians were underserved when it came to quality Italian restaurants.

“This is the fourth largest city in the country, and for a city this big, there just aren’t that many choices beyond the 5-10 you can name,” he said, adding that people noticed there was a void, spurring interest from Houston restaurateurs in adding more Italian to the culinary landscape.

“There is so much to explore in the Italian genre,” he said. “People can’t travel to Italy all the time, so there is a lot of opportunity to develop great Italian food right here.”


Berg’s isn’t the only restaurant worth exploring when craving a modern take on Italian cuisine. Before Trattoria Sofia, Concura opened last summer, Armandos owners unveiled Lulu’s in October, and Amore followed in January 2022, all in River Oaks. Rosalie, helmed by celebrity chef Chris Consentino, reopened in downtown’s C. Baldwin Hotel last fall after its initial debut in 2019. The latest, Marmo in Montrose, joins all of these brand-new restaurants in putting a unique twist on Italian eats.

Alex Smith, CEO of the Baltimore-based Atlas Restaurant Group that’s behind Marmo, agrees that Houston was underserved with Italian cuisine. He feels that while there are wonderful traditional options—attributing Da Marco as his own personal favorite—there’s room for more variety. Now with recent openings, there is far more than a plate of pasta to get amped up about.

Sleek Italian restaurant Marmo sits in the new Montrose Collective development.

Sleek Italian restaurant Marmo sits in the new Montrose Collective development.

Kirsten Gilliam

Marmo is a swanky Italian chophouse that serves as an anchor to the Montrose Collective development at the high-traffic intersection of Westheimer and Montrose Boulevard. The restaurant has a chic lounge with a U-shaped marble bar, a romantic dining space divided with panels of drapery, a spacious covered patio and a grand piano, which is utilized by local talent nightly and during weekend brunch.

Smith explains Marmo’s elegant aesthetic and lively atmosphere sets it apart from Houston’s existing Italian outposts. “It’s like a modern Tuscan farmhouse, and it’s sophisticated and hip,” he said.

A beautiful restaurant is all fine and dandy, but Marmo’s got the great Italian eats to back it up. Most of what’s in the kitchen is sourced from Italy, including custom-built equipment. The menu, modeled after Atlas’ Tagliata in Baltimore, offers 10 different made-from-scratch pastas that rotate seasonally, 10 cuts of steak dry-aged in house, and 400 wine selections with an emphasis on Italian varietals. There’s a crowd favorite chicken parmigiana on the menu, too.

At Trattoria Sofia, the menu doesn’t necessarily fall under the umbrella of a single region. Despite being in a meat-heavy town, Berg said he opted for a menu that is more vegetable-focused. “We’ve only got one steak, but we’ve added a little heat to our food, which is a very Houston thing,” he said.

Marmo in Montrose bills itself as an Italian chophouse, adding something new to Houston's Italian dining scene.

Marmo in Montrose bills itself as an Italian chophouse, adding something new to Houston’s Italian dining scene.

Kirsten Gilliam

The restaurant is an oasis on 11th Street: All noise from neighboring restaurants and bars fades away once entering the dark, moody space. Cozy banquettes and tables offer a glimpse into the open kitchen, while a temperature-controlled patio gives guests the opportunity to dine and drink around a live olive tree.

Flavor-packed plates like cacio e pepe cheese fritters, and bucatini with Sicilian pesto, whipped ricotta and fragrant mint and basil are a feast for the eyes and the palate. The restaurant sources cheeses, oils and vinegars from Italy, while relying on local purveyors for seasonal produce. Add in fresh, house-made pasta and a variety of pizzas, and Berg’s got a recipe for success.

“We don’t have spaghetti and meatballs here,” he admitted. “But we are trying to be approachable and offer a different take on Italian food in Houston.”

As is the case with steakhouses in the city, opening more Italian restaurants featuring good food, entertainment, and lots of wine appears to be always welcomed by Houstonians. The new arrivals complement a scene powered by trusty standbys like Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino, Paulie’s and Spaghetti Western, and even first-wave Italian renaissance restaurants like Roma and Ostia, which opened in 2019 and 2020, respectively.



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