So you’re in downtown Houston, and in desperate, dire need of Italian food. Now. Anything that isn’t you spinning a fork in some noodles and twirling up a mouthful is pointless. Lord have mercy on those between you and pasta.
Problem is, where? Downtown Houston has its fair share of pennes, pizzas, porettis, and other “P” things, not to mention a whole lot of places to have them in. One of them is even haunted, if you wanted poltergeists with your pepperoni. Damn, you scream, this is too much! If only there was a website about Houston, and a chubby guy with a knack for words wrote something about a few of them!
Well, first off, stop screaming at yourself. It makes you look crazy. Also, it’s-a-me, Jose! And I got to sample dishes from two local places that might be deserving of your patronage; Little Napoli and Birraporetti’s. Using MHL’s patented Houston Scientific Comparison And Analysis Mechanism Of Science (we call it HSCAAMOS for short), I’ll put the two spots side by side. HSCAAMOS will set up a few key categories, and pick a winner for each one. At the end, HSCAAMOS will tally it up, and you’ll know the best downtown Houston Italian food this side of Rome.
Besides, Venice has canals, we have bayous. We can’t be that different, right?
Want to know one of the things that makes Houston great? Our downtown parking situation isn’t a complete disaster. Have you ever tried parking in downtown San Francisco or Seattle? That shit’s fucked, son. You can easily make it a whole night in downtown by walking just a few blocks, all the while leaving your car safe and sound while a hobo watches it for you.
So, which of the two gives you more to do in walking distance?
Little Napoli is right on the intersection of Texas and Main, and only a block from The Flying Saucer. This makes for an easy jump from dinner to drinks at one of Houston’s best beer houses, and a personal favorite of this writer. Even if The Flying Saucer isn’t your cup of tea (or beer), Main street is lined with a multitude of bars and clubs to round out your night.
Birraporetti’s benefits from being right at the edge of the many downtown theaters. The beauty of this is that your night doesn’t have to actually start with dinner – you can watch a play before your filet. Also, only a block across from Birraporetti’s is Bayou Place, a fantastic go-to for twenty-somethings and up. Live! At Bayou Place houses more clubs than you can shake a martini shaker at, so you’re bound to find something you can dance to.
WINNER: Birraporetti’s, due to different entertainment options and proximity to booty shaking.
Little Napoli’s website specifically states that their full menu is for the Westheimer location only. That’s great and all for Westheimer, but this is a battle for the Downtown Chow Down. That doesn’t bode well for the Nap. It also doesn’t help that the majority of dishes on offer steer closer to the $20 range versus the low teens. That being said, Napoli downtown makes the most of what it does offer, bringing a nice, concise menu with a few options for any diet. Looking for healthy dining? Hunks of meat? Something, anything, just drenched in an Alfredo or Marinara sauce? It’ll do you well enough.
Birraporetti’s slogan starts with “A great Italian Restaurant…” and I’m inclined to agree. You’ll find a lot of classic Italian dishes here, so your cravings for Fettuccine Alfredo or Lasagna won’t go unfulfilled. But you won’t find Linguini with Clams at Olive Garden or Little Napoli. Birraporetti’s is simultaneously more experimental and safer than Little Napoli, as the menu includes straight up sandwiches or huge plates of meat. Plus, the pricing for the more traditional meals skews lower than Napoli’s options, though the seafood and grilled meat plates can easily raise the price of your check. The rest of the slogan reads “…A heck of an Irish bar!”, and yeah, totally, I agree. Plenty of drink options and a long, long wine list can either help wind down your night at the theater or rev you up for a good time. Another plus? You can recharge or satisfy your sweet tooth, as Birraporetti’s offers up some surprisingly good coffee choices and deserts.
WINNER: Birraporetti’s takes it again, with a more robust menu, plenty of drink choices, and offerings of coffee and sweets.
This is kind of what it’s all about, right?
I’m no food connoisseur. I eat pretty much anything, and usually like it enough to keep eating more of it. Both of these places have their merits, and it really boils down to how they get their flavors into your mouth.
Little Napoli is all sauce all the time.
Seriously, look at that plate. There are noodles, probably a cow or pig, and possibly the Titanic drowning somewhere in there. Luckily, the sauce is hella good, so it kind of worked out well for Little Napoli. Besides, it makes for a great bread dip.
I ordered the aforementioned Linguini with Clams from Birraporetti’s, and while it was pretty darn good, it had an overpowering saltiness to it that left me chugging my water down faster than my waitress could bring it. It wasn’t all dire, though, as the other dishes I tasted all had wildly different flavors to experience, enough so to bring me back and experiment with the offerings a little bit more.
WINNER: Little Napoli may sink anything and everything under a thick sauce, but I would drink that stuff right out of a cup. It’s that good.
So which place just feels better? A good night eating out means more than just finding something tasty; you have to actually enjoy being there, with good service, in a clean well-lighted place worthy of a Hemingway reference.
Both locations are casual dining friendly. You don’t have to get dressed up for dinner, and you don’t need to feel out of your element for either. Birraporetti’s is undoubtedly easier on the eyes, though, as the tables are set nicely and the lighting is dim without being too dark. I appreciate any place that treats decor with a “less is more” mentality, and Birraporetti’s strikes a great balance with that. Little Napoli, by contrast, feels far more casual. There’s an almost-diner-like feel to Napoli that sort of cheapens the place a little bit. I would’ve liked a bit more care placed on how the seating area is arranged, or how the restaurant itself is presented.
Service wise, my waitress at Napoli sat my party, took drink orders, brought drinks out, took dinner orders, brought those out, and checked on us every 15 minutes or so. That basically summed up my experience with her. That’s not to say it was bad; indeed, sometimes that’s all you want. My waitress at Birraporetti’s was far more involved in the night, as she made entertaining small talk with my party as well as made helpful, knowledgeable suggestions for our dinner choices. She didn’t even bat an eye when one of my fellow diners ordered another dish to replace the one she received and was unsatisfied with. She knew what wines to recommend, and made sure we enjoyed ourselves. A few simple questions go a long way, y’know?
WINNER: Birraporetti’s is a nice place, staffed with nice people. Nothing uncomfortably high society, but classy enough to bring a date to.
And the winner is…
And there you have it! The Houston Scientific Comparison And Analysis Mechanism Of Science has crowned a winner!
The numbers don’t lie. With a dominant 3 to 1 final score, Birraporetti’s trumps Little Napoli in this Downtown Italian battle. Little Napoli shouldn’t be discouraged, though, as it makes a good case for just how important taste is when it comes to eating out, and I’ll bet this won’t be the only time I eat here before heading to my beloved Flying Saucer.
But, there’s no denying science. The proof is in the pudding. Or marinara. I’m hungry now.
So I give it to you guys. Which of these places would you lean your tower towards?