DESPITE ITS LOCATION on Dallas’ trendy restaurant row, Nero’s has a tucked-in feel reminiscent of the kind of cozy Italian place one might find downtown in New York City or scattered throughout Boston’s North End. Dark and atmospheric inside, strings of tiny white tea lights hang haphazardly from the vintage pressed-tin ceiling, dimly illuminating the crimson-washed walls and adding a little unpretentious ornament to the red-checkered tablecloths below. But what is most comforting here is the restaurant’s respectful adhesion to home-style Italian fare; classic dishes like Veal Saltimboca and Linguine Fra Diavolo that don’t often find places on more contemporary Italian menus make a strong showing compliments of Luigi, a native Italian and Nero’s chef for the past twelve years.

Satisfied right from the start, we began with salads and Nero’s incomparable Pink Bread, slices of Italian loaf slathered with a deep garlic sun-dried tomato sauce that gives the signature bread its rosy color. While the house salad was bathed in a tangy creamy viniagrette and tossed with plump Sicilian-style olives, it was Nero’s made-to-order Caesar that blew us away. Light and lemony with the unique addition of capers, the traditional salad inspired everything from groans of pleasure to the proclamation, “the best I ever had.” A tough act to follow, but the entrees didn’t at all disappoint. Standouts included Ciopinno, a seafood stew in a tomato broth; the Frutti di Mare pizza (scallops, shrimp, and crabmeat in a white sauce smothered in swiss and gorgonzola cheeses); and the Linguine Fra Diavolo, a pasta dish tossed with grilled shrimp and a spicy red sauce that for me serves as an Italian restaurant litmus test. Nero’s definitely made the grade (and received extra credit for piping in Frank Sinatra and Nino Rota’s “Godfather Love Theme,” the latter of which elicited a chuckle or two but didn’t seem gimmicky in the least).

Desserts at Nero’s don’t have a static place on their menu, instead they appear daily and change regularly on a special chalkboard. The night we visited we got to choose from a number of impressive confections including fresh strawberries with cream and a few varieties of cheesecake, all of which sounded delicious but seemed too much after such a hearty meal. Although we aimed light and shared our selections around the table, our choices did us in justly—the Tiramisu was near-perfect and a white chocolate/chambourd ice cream served in a martini glass was equally intoxicating. The cordial: Luigi emerged from the kitchen as any impassioned chef would—aproned and jovial and covered in tomato sauce—to make sure we had enjoyed our meal. We had.

Nero’s Italian 2104 Greenville Avenue, Dallas
Dinner: Sun-Thu, 6pm-11pm; Fri-Sat, 6pm-12am
(214) 826-NERO

A recipe for Nero’s Chicken Luigi for you to make at home.