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Historic Houston Italian Restaurants


Reefmonkey

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The recent death of Paul Sorvino, coming closely on the heels of Ray Liotta's death, got me think of Goodfellas, a longtime favorite movie of mine. It came out my freshman year in high school, and spurred a fascination with the mafia that lasted the rest of high school (and a little into college, I made a point to eat at Campisi's my freshman year at SMU). One way I fed that fascination, once I got a car, was by eating at venerable old-school red sauce joints, the red-checkered tablecloth, candle in an old straw-covered chianti bottle Italian restaurants we all remember before Northern Italian grabbed American's attention in the late 80s. Several of the old-school places around Houston had a mafia joint vibe about them, places like Pino's on Westheimer at Hillcroft (c.1968-c.2005), Doyle's in Garden Oaks (1954-2019), Buon Appetito, in an old house on Holcombe (1975-c.2018). As you can see, it seems like all of these places closed within the last 15 years or so. Does anyone know of any long-standing venerable old southern Italian restaurant with the mafia hangout vibe I'm talking about that are still around?

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Fred's Italian Corner in the strip center at Greenbrier and Holcombe closed around the same time as Buon Appetito. 🥲  Let's also pour one out for Patronella's (Marvin Zindler's fave).

Not quite the entire full on deal, but Spaghetti Western on Shepherd between Washington and the Katy is still around - haven't been there in a while, though.

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Fred's was the first place I thought of when I saw this, but @mollusk beat me to it. Not sure how much a place in a strip center can have an old-school Mafia vibe, but it certainly was an old-school red-sauce joint. I was just thinking about Fred's the other day - those bargain-priced lunches kept me well-fed for some years when I lived in the area.

Also, the Sacred Heart Society's family-style pasta dinners, a longstanding tradition that has sadly ended (IIRC they got hammered by Harvey and tried to continue afterwards but it wasn't feasible):

The Sacred Heart Society of Little York

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Mandola's Deli on Leeland - mostly known for sandwiches but some red sauce offerngs.  UH mafia? Since 1975

Maceo's - Galveston.  well, the M word was used.  Lunch counter only, small daily menu.

Other Italian places on Galveston ??? Mario's (several), wasn't there an old school Italian mostly known to locals?  Never been to any of these.

Original Napoli - several but I go to the one on Beechnut.  1975.

Airport Italian Deli (and Sushi) on Airport near Broadway.  This one would do it for me.  Haven't been since they added sushi; only had the po-boys, which are/were good.

Probably need to prowl the un-gentrified areas of Houston where sometimes restaurants thrive that never get any publicity.  Likewise the small towns around.

As far as that 'vibe' - Romano's on W. Gray would do it for me.  Don't ask for ranch dressing to dip your pizza in.

And I thought another Italian place had replaced Buon Appetito on Holcombe?

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  • The title was changed to Old Italian Restaurants
  • The title was changed to Historic Houston Italian Restaurants
  • 5 months later...
  • 2 months later...

Cavatore's - Ella @ W. 22nd

Came across this one in the Chron - seems to have escaped my attention for the 5 decades I've been in Houston up until now but looks interesting.

 

George's - Park Place just off Telephone

Used to pass by this one regularly and wondered about it.  Certainly qualifies as a red sauce joint and a family place from the pictures, but only since 1990s?  Looks older than that.

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16 hours ago, steve1363 said:

Doyle’s never struck me as an Italian mafia-vibe place.

No, Doyle's didn't have that Cosa Nostra vibe but it was a great place to have lunch with my "cronies" and we were in the construction trades too. 🙂

Mandola's on Leeland also doesn't have that "vibe" but damn is their Italian sausage wonderful!

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13 minutes ago, Specwriter said:

No, Doyle's didn't have that Cosa Nostra vibe but it was a great place to have lunch with my "cronies" and we were in the construction trades too. 🙂

Mandola's on Leeland also doesn't have that "vibe" but damn is their Italian sausage wonderful!

Was Doyle’s the place that would give you a white bib to cover yourself while eating spaghetti?  I vaguely remember this practice but I can’t recall the restaurant.

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3 hours ago, steve1363 said:

Was Doyle’s the place that would give you a white bib to cover yourself while eating spaghetti?  I vaguely remember this practice but I can’t recall the restaurant.

Yes it was. Also, I could believe some of wait staff was there from day one until the last day. ☺️ That said, service was always prompt, efficient, and friendly. Plus, the spaghetti and garlic bread had me coming back for years.

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On 12/13/2023 at 3:14 PM, Specwriter said:

I am certainly reviving an old thread but I saw no mention of DiBellas at 1902 31st Street in Galveston. It certainly had (or is it has) the "vibe." I haven't been there in 10 years though.

Sadly DiBella's closed in 2016, right before the owner, Charley DiBella, died.

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On 3/10/2024 at 10:42 PM, steve1363 said:

Doyle’s never struck me as an Italian mafia-vibe place.

 

On 3/11/2024 at 3:13 PM, Specwriter said:

No, Doyle's didn't have that Cosa Nostra vibe but it was a great place to have lunch with my "cronies" and we were in the construction trades too. 🙂

Mandola's on Leeland also doesn't have that "vibe" but damn is their Italian sausage wonderful!

Doyle's didn't have a 1930s-1950s old school Godfather I & II vibe, more like a 1960s-1970s second half of Goodfellas vibe, IMO. Places like Pino's and Buon Appetito were like Carlo Gambino/Vito Genovese places, Doyle's was like a Sammy The Bull Gravano hangout.

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