With parents hailing from Sicily and Naples, Anthony Russo enjoyed an Italian upbringing. By age 12, he spent much of his time in the kitchen, learning to prepare Old World recipes with his family and family friends. And from the flurry of Italian phrases and conversation, one quote of his father's stuck with him most: "If you can't make it fresh, don't serve it!" Several decades later, Anthony has hand-tossed his own Italian restaurant franchise and, true to his father's words, employs fresh ingredients in the same family recipes that were passed down to him. Amid exposed brick and walls the warm hue of marinara, skilled chefs craft New York–style brick-oven pizzas with toppings such as spinach, sundried tomatoes, and capers. Servers stand ready to answer questions about the restaurant’s wine lists, letting guests know which wines pair best with the pizzotto sandwich or whether pinot noir can really turn dogs invisible.
The stalwart, rose-colored Old Lighthouse Grocery building has stood on its spot in Port Isabel's historic Lighthouse Square since the 1950s, withstanding both storms and hurricanes. Despite its permanence, the building has undergone change—Manuela Stevenson moved into the vacated space in 1988 and established Marcello's Italian Restaurant & Lighthouse Pub. Much like the building it calls home, the casual restaurant has withstood the test of time, thanks to a casual-elegant atmosphere and a menu of hearty Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. During lunch and dinner, the dining room fills with the aromas of sizzling gulf shrimp, marinated steaks, and baked-pasta dishes dressed in tomato and seafood-based sauces.
Executive chef Marcela Cantu employs extensive culinary training and fine ingredients to infuse each plate on The Ristretto's menu with palate-pleasing passion. Diners can pep-talk taste buds with appetizers such as bruschetta topped with herb-marinated tomatoes ($6.99), or funghi farcito, stuffed mushrooms accessorized with shrimp and crowned with cheese ($7.99). Move on to popular pasta plates such as the fetuccine alfredo with grilled chicken ($9.99) or farfalle al pesto ($9.99) inviting chicken, basil, and pine nuts to a tan-tie affair hosted by garlic olive oil sauce. The more meatily-inclined can select from ample options of chicken and fish, or savor eggplant parmigiana ($10.99) to sate an herbaceous appetite. Pull up a chair in the cozy dining room to set the scene for a romantic evening with a special ladyfriend or amicable gentlemanchum.
Anthony Russo, a first-generation Italian, spent years in the kitchens of his parents and other Italian chefs learning authentic Italian recipes for sauces and pastas. He eventually drew on his experience kneading New York–style pizza to open his own chain of coal-fired pizza franchises. Exposed bricks surround the burning embers at the core of the oven, which bakes thin-crust specialty pizzas, such as escargot with pesto, alongside heart-healthy pies with fresh spinach and artichokes. After sliding out golden-crusted pizzas and singed fairy-tale witches, chefs fill ovens with calzones and flatbreads. A full wine list supplies bold cabernets and crisp pinot grigios.
Vicente, the resident chef at Gazpacho's by Las Tablitas, specializes in incorporating Mexican flavors into globally inspired dishes. In some cases, these are pretty straightforward—empanadas stuffed with sautéed spinach and caramelized onions, or shrimp tacos doused in chipotle sauce. But the remainder of his menu takes a more roundabout route to Mexican tastes. He fills savory crepes, for instance, with poblano peppers and corn, while his paninis sport ingredients such as grilled chicken, avocado, and herbed mayo. Each globetrotting feast unfolds amidst vibrant oil-painted canvases in a lively dining room, which fills with the upbeat sounds of live music every Friday.