Chef Lynette Hawkins opened her small, simple, unabashedly cute River Oaks neighborhood trattoria and wine bar in 2009, and it’s no surprise it is now a truly well-oiled machine, with several dining areas, including two patios, to accommodate the crowds. Almost everything we sampled from the vast menu was excellent, although we pined for a little lemon wedge with most dishes (even the deliciously tender grilled hanger steak served sliced on a bed of arugula could have benefitted from a touch of acidity). On the other hand, if you’re craving the warm hug of carbs, this is your place for homemade pastas. We all but inhaled an order of orecchiette Giorgione (with lamb meatballs, bitter greens, and dollop of goat cheese). Our dieting companion was quite satisfied with a small plate of fine gamberi al diavolo. Both the garlicky Caesar and the crunchy, slaw-like insalata de Tre Cavoli were winners. Adding to the overall experience is a thoughtful list of wines by the glass, heavy on Italian varietals. Finally, a bit of practical advice: Be aware that the noise level is ear-splitting on busy nights and don’t expect to be seated at a table until your full party appears. Also, parking is scarce.
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Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino
This busy, welcoming Italian diner does all the standards right, from pasta to panna cotta.