Mamma Mia! Italian Eateries

Posted On September 24, 2015

Find yourself missing the old country?  Long for your grandmother’s Tuscan recipes? Love the romance and cuisine of Italy?  No worries. You can make your taste buds dance with joy at so many excellent Italian restaurants in the Midlands – all with their own family recipes and stories.  Delizioso!

By Kristine Hartvigsen

 Best Italian Restaurants in Columbia SC

Alodia's Cucina Italiana

This petite bistro nestled in an Irmo shopping center is hardly a “strip mall tease.” If dishes like blackened duck penne gorgonzola or roasted red pepper and Gouda bisque make you weak in the knees, you must check out Alodia’s Cucina Italiana. Named after the owner’s great-grandmother, Alodia’s is a cozy, white-tablecloth gem serving up authentic homemade pasta, chicken, and fresh seafood dishes prepared from family recipes brought to America. Servers are knowledgeable about ingredients (mostly local), how the food is prepared, and compatible fine wines. An open kitchen allows diners to watch chefs at work. Regulars rave about the Bowtie Gratinata, tuna, and caprese salad. Lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. They do not accept reservations, and there may be a wait, but it will be worth it. 781.9814; www.alodias.com


Al's Upstairs Italian Restaurant

White linen, crystal, candlelight, and a breathtaking view of the Columbia skyline combine to create an elegant destination at Al’s Upstairs. A longtime fine-dining staple in the Midlands, Al’s has been voted the city’s “Most Romantic” restaurant and is in high demand during Valentine’s week. But for the rest of the year, Italian food lovers flock to the 100-year-old building on the West Columbia side of the Gervais Street Bridge so feed their cravings for such treats as lobster bisque or scampi, flame-cooked Saltimbocca, crispy flounder and risotto, or hand-cut filet mignon grilled to perfection. Patrons don’t just come to Al’s for a meal; they come for an unhurried, memorable experience. Great for special events. Extensive wine list viewable online. Reservations recommended. 794.7404; www.alsupstairsitalian.com


Il Giorgione Pizzeria and Wine Bar

Known as “Gio’s” to the regulars, this lovely bistro has a rustic, old world feel inside with fresh plants on the high-top wood tables. If the weather is agreeable, you will want to dine al fresco on the patio. Great ambiance. The owner makes his own mozzarella fresh daily and seasons many of his dishes with fresh herbs from the courtyard’s garden. Modest prices; perfect portions. And Gio’s has a full bar with generous seating. The pizzas are a popular menu item, prepared in the Roman tradition with thin, crisp crust. In addition to the expected toppings, the pizzas also sport ingredients such as basil pesto, capers, sea salt, balsamic drizzle, and artichoke hearts. Authentic Italian desserts are prepared in-house include apple cake, cannoli, and gelato. Easy parking behind the restaurant. 521.5063; www.ilgiorgione.com


Moe’s Grapevine Italian Restaurant

The rich bounty of the Mediterranean sea has made fish a staple in Italian cuisine for centuries. It only makes sense, then, that the seafood dishes are among the favorite featured on the menu of Moe’s Grapevine Italian Restaurant. Owner and City Councilman Moe Baddoura cut his teeth working and cooking in various restaurants since his college days at the University of South Carolina. Before opening Moe’s, he managed a pastry shop and was chef of the renowned Mediterranean Tea Room. Customers consistently laud Moe’s shrimp dishes and various fish specials – all cooked to perfection. The menu is extensive, however, with myriad traditional pasta dishes and handmade pizza choices. The Lemon Chicken special is a hands-down favorite. Fresh salads, amazing homemade sauces and dressings. Great ambiance and service. Try a delicious glass of Limoncello at the bar. Lovely Sunday brunch menu. www.moesgrapevine.com; 776.VINE(8463)


Pasta Fresca

OK. You had us at “bruschetta.” Pasta Fresca’s generous bruschetta appetizer has been described as “unbelievably good.” But don’t fill up on that. Leave room for the Seafood Gorgonzola and the spinach and chicken lasagna. PF makes its sauces from scratch every day, and its patrons notice the difference. Other customer favorites include Chicken Santa Fe with spinach fettuccine, the crab cakes, and seared scallops. The Pasta Fresca Ravioli uses spinach and walnut-stuffed pasta for a satisfying crunch and rich flavor. Many varieties of pasta to choose from, including vegetarian, all cooked al dente. Check out the bar and try a Fresca-tini, the cilantro and mint margarita, or the refreshing Moscow Mule. Romantic atmosphere inside and out on patio. Private dining room available. Live music on Tuesday evenings. 787.1838; www.pasta-fresca.net

Rosso Trattoria

Centuries ago, Bologna, Italy, was nicknamed “la rossa,” (the red one) for the dominant color of the historic city’s rooftops. Appropriately, red is a signature color in Rosso Trattoria, where one menu item repeatedly comes up in reviews as a favorite – the Ragu de Bolognese, prepared with a slow-cooked beef and pork sauce that is named after old Bologna, its birthplace. Handmade pastas, heirloom tomatoes, and seasonal local ingredients punctuate the culinary experience here. In fact, Rosso regularly stocks its kitchen from more than a dozen local farms. Delectable thin-crust pizzas are baked in a wood-fired brick oven at more than 600 degrees. The Tuscan Steak Frites will make you weak in the knees. The Insalata de Casa with roasted beets is a delicious change. Sexy décor, eclectic menu, and great ambiance. Reservations encouraged. 787.3949; www.rossocolumbia.com


Ristorante Divino

Up until World War II, Italy had a monarchy nestled near its northern border with France. It was called the House of Savoy, and diners at Ristorante Divino are swept back to old Italy, treated as if they were royalty. The restaurant’s award-winning chefs bring authentic Northern Italian cuisine to the Congaree Vista. The generous calamari appetizer is fit for a king − and his entourage. It comes with pesto and smoky pomodoro sauces. Many recommend the seafood cioppino, the pan-seared scallops, and the veal chop with gorgonzola crust. A can’t-miss menu. Nightly chef specials and full bar with talented mixologist. Unparalleled customer service with a personal touch (chef or manager usually visits each table to say hello). Complimentary valet parking. Reservations highly recommended. Come hungry so you may try all the courses, and buon appetito! 799.4550; www.ristorantedivino.com



“Free-range” diners absolutely love Stephano’s homemade chicken, characterized by fresh chicken chunks, pecans, and seedless grapes. Many even take it home with them. But the main event is the consistent, familiar fare that has kept customers coming back to the family-run Lexington restaurant for more than three decades. In addition to a generous salad selection, standard entrees include spaghetti, lasagna, veal, chicken, and eggplant parmesan, as well as pizza. The menu is surprisingly broad, offering something for everyone, including toasted sub sandwiches, wraps, and paninis. A favorite appetizer, hands down, is the fried green tomatoes topped with pimento cheese. Customers can take home their favorite specialties from the eatery’s cold case. Affordable prices. Cozy atmosphere. 359.5436; www.stephanosrestaurant.com



Most foodies like to cook with wine, and sometimes they even put it in the food! Jokes aside, Terra is a restaurant serious about its wines. It has earned a Wine Spectator award every year since it opened in 2006. Their wine list is actually curated. You might say the same of Terra’s terrific menu, which features the freshest, locally sourced ingredients available. Creative appetizers include the extremely popular Lamb Mac with poblano peppers and fontina and goat cheeses. You might also try the heirloom tomato salad or the fried gulf oysters. Menu highlights include the Carolina Heritage Farms Pork Chop, the Seared Sea Scallops, and any gourmet pizza that comes from Terra’s wood oven. Try and sweet-and-savory duck confit pizza with port-soaked cherries. Nightly specials. Great bar and lovely patio. Valet Parking. Excellent service. 791.3443; www.terrasc.com


Travinia's Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar

You might know that a fruity pinot grigio pairs well with a savory veal marsala. Travinia’s knows. In fact, their wine selection offers something companionable for every menu item and appetizer palate. They even have a special wine room for private parties. Specializing in contemporary Italian American cuisine, Travinia’s in Northeast Columbia lends a chic, upscale atmosphere that’s perfect for a special date night. Fresh salads with homemade dressings served in chilled plates are a great preamble to entrees crafted from fresh local and regional ingredients. Customer favorites include ahi tuna, Sinatra chicken, pasta carbonara, calamari, and Italian nachos. Pizzas of any flavor prepared in a wood-fired oven come out with lovely crusts. Several gluten-free menu options. Well-appointed bar and knowledgeable staff. 419.9313; traviniaitaliankitchen.com


The Villa on Bush River

Don’t judge The Villa by its modest exterior. This unpretentious family-owned eatery has been a local mainstay for straightforward Italian food since 1977. A very affordable basic menu is chock full of comfort food choices. Scratch-made spaghetti with meat sauce, lasagna, Greek salad, eggplant parmigiana, and (of course) pizza consistently receive happy reviews. The three-cheese mushrooms are a surprising delight. Subdued indoor lighting lends an intimate ambiance. Great for date night or a meal out with the whole family. Large portions. Fantastic craft beer selection at the bar and decent, inexpensive house wine. A quiet neighborhood icon. 798.6360; www.thevillaonbushriver.com

Villa Tronco

Pizza lovers, you may thank Villa Tronco for introducing the Italian pie to Columbia some 75 years ago. At the time, Tronco servers handed out free slices on the street because few Americans had heard of the savory treat. Family owned for four generations, Villa Tronco opened and continues to operate in an historic firehouse constructed from chimney bricks of buildings destroyed in General W.T. Sherman’s notorious burning of Columbia. Soldiers returning from Italy after the war helped fuel the city’s appetite for pizza. Patrons also rave over pasta staples, including fettuccini, lasagna, ravioli, and linguine with clams. Save room for Tronco’s famous gelato, amaretto bread pudding, or homemade cheese cake. Palmetto Opera performs on first Thursday evenings. Reserve early. 256.7677; www.villatronco.com