As the pandemic ravaged the dining scene, small Italian eateries quietly thrived with bold flavors and daring menus
Tomato sauce must be in Southern Nevada’s DNA. As a growing Las Vegas began to stretch beyond Downtown and the Strip, Italian restaurants popped up like ragù-red roses across the valley, including ever-popular stalwarts such as Casa di Amore, Nora’s Italian Cuisine, and Pasta Shop Ristorante. Even more, in recent years there’s been a flowering of high-profile eateries opening beyond casino corridors: Esther’s Kitchen in the Arts District and its Tivoli Village siblings Al Solito Posto and Ada’s Wine Bar; La Strega in Summerlin; Locale on Blue Diamond Highway; Monzú Italian Oven + Bar in Spring Valley; and Osteria Fiorella in Red Rock Resort. Pasta is surely a perennial crowd-pleaser here in the Mojave Desert.
Beyond these fine destinations, though, there’s a surprising number of additional Italian restaurants that have bloomed across the valley. Here’s a delectable selection of some (but certainly not all) of our current favorites that might have gone beneath your epicurean radar. Mangia!
Aromi Italian Restaurant
Newest on the scene, Aromi Italian Restaurant (2110 N. Rampart Blvd., aromilv.com) has created a buzz with its array of cicchetti (the Italian take on tapas originating in Venice). The restaurant’s snack-sized plates range from Kobe beef meatballs in zesty Amatriciana sauce and tuna tartare with green olive tapenade to an exquisite fregola salad (pearl-like semolina noodles reminiscent of Israeli-style couscous) with Manila clams. It also offers a three-course lunch menu, something uncommon in Italian establishments. On the dinner menu, fragrant cioppino brimming with seafood — including lobster and branzino — is a startlingly good stew.
Chef Dan and Brandi Thompson helm D’Agostino’s Trattoria (4155 S. Buffalo Dr., dagostinoslv.com), a cozy westside spot. It’s filled with family-style friendliness to match the 120-year-old Southern Italian recipes that Dan inherited from his great-grandfather. The open galley specializes in a wide variety of stuffed pasta with an emphasis on seasonal ravioli in exuberant varieties such as wild mushrooms in sherry cream and three cheeses in pink vodka sauce. Dinner plate standouts include lively chicken piccata and a satisfying eggplant Parmigiana. To finish, a towering slice of cheesecake with an espresso makes for a perfetto combo at this dining gem.
Mosey on down to Spaghetty Western (10690 Southern Highlands Parkway, spaghettywestern.com) for one of the liveliest pasta parlors in the Las Vegas Valley. Filled with cool Sergio Leone-esqe movie posters and dark Wild West wood tones, it doesn’t look a bit like your nonna’s favorite spot back in New Jersey. Handcrafted dishes such as orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe; baked mostaccioli; and veal saltimbocca, however, reflect Old Country culinary cred. The bar also has one of the most advanced and adventurous mixology programs to be found in the thirsty Vegas hinterlands, including the Coop’s Corner, an Italianate take of the Old Fashioned in which rye whiskey meets an herbal amaro and chocolate bitters.
Spaghetto Italian Kitchen
Located in the bustling Park Place shopping center in Henderson, Spaghetto Italian Kitchen (9570 S. Eastern Ave., spaghettokitchen.com) is a welcome surprise. Inside, it looks nothing like its strip mall exterior might suggest. A high-vaulted roof and an airy, stylish room accented with vintage black-and-white photo tones make for a welcome oasis from the glaring, hyper-colored suburban hubbub outside. Of course, spaghetti is the house specialty, and the house-crafted strings are made with egg for an extra-firm bite and are bronze-cut to make for sauce-absorbing texture. A great introduction is the spaghetti pomodoro with its sautéed fresh tomato chunks, onion, basil, and olive oil — simple but totally pleasing (especially with a little grated Parmesan cheese for a finish). Beyond pasta, the menu is replete with choices from crispy calamari with marinara dipping sauce for an appetizer to fragrant risotto topped with scampi for an entrée. For a sweet end to a meal, the eatery’s tiramisu and cannoli are beautiful delights.
Chef Piero’s Roma Kitchen
Chef Piero Broglia has been cultivating upscale Italian cuisine in Las Vegas for four decades at numerous restaurants. Now, with Peggy, his charismatic wife, running front-of-house operations, his name is glowing on the marquee at Chef Piero’s Roma Kitchen (1550 W. Horizon Ridge Pkwy., chefpierosromakitchen.com) in a quiet but posh slice of Henderson close to MacDonald Ranch and sky-high Ascaya. The comfortable eatery is framed with big windows, and favors light-toned table settings throughout the bright dining room filled with flower arrangements and indoor greenery. The menu is rich with classic recipes such as lemony orange roughy francese and alluring chicken marsala. Lasagna Bolognese — the house magnum opus — is worth a reservation alone. Plus maybe some pistachio gelato and an espresso for an end-of-dinner flourish.