Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pietro's, Italian, Dallas-TX




Last visit: November 2014

Rating: Strong Buy 

January 2014 update: Pietro's is as magnificent as ever. Mrs RJG and I just had another exquisite meal here. It remains my all-time favorite restaurant even after 30 years of going here. I beg and urge you all to try it at least once if you have a hankering for Old School Italian food. I'm sure it will not be here forever. Pietro must be close to 80 now, and it's hard to imagine the restaurant without him. We try to go 3 to 4 times a year, almost always on a Saturday or Sunday because of the traffic to get to inner Dallas. Oh, and they straightened the signs. Too bad. :-)

February 2012 update: As stated in the original review, Pietro's is the RJG's favorite restaurant. We only get to this part of Dallas about twice a year, so it's a rare treat for us to dine at Pietro's (usually in the winter). If any of the below sounds the slightest bit good to you, then I would highly encourage you to go as soon as possible. Once Pietro is gone (and he seems as healthy as ever fortunately), you will not find this kind of restaurant in the DFW area again. There are few places like it left in all the US. It's from another era. Some folks are glad that's the case. Others like myself, miss the Sicilian cooking of immigrant Grandmothers. Even the outside signs are the same. One is bent, the other is incredibly worn. (The photos I took 2 years ago look exactly the same now). Pietro's is a living museum.

Be sure to read a couple of the heartwarming comments that were left by long time customers of Pietro.

Original review

To celebrate the second anniversary of the Regular Joe's Guide, I thought it would be appropriate to finally blog about my all time favorite restaurant: Pietro's.

In many ways, Pietro's is why the Regular Joe's Guide exists. The story starts with another Italian restaurant that was literally across the street from Pietro's: Ianni's. There's a Blockbuster in that location now (2012 update: Actually there's nothing now. The entire shopping center across the street is abondoned and empty - sad). It was there that my parents took me on Friday nights (about once a month) from the time I was a little kid (~1971) until I was about 15 or so (1980). At some point I'd like to reminisce about Ianni's, and the memories of the original Lower Greenville location - and their eventual downfall by moving - and attempting to go upscale (and uptown). The restaurant's name is now more notorious for the tragedy that befell them after their move. Google Ianni's and Dallas if you're not familiar with the details.

After Ianni's moved to North Dallas (and subsequently how disappointed we were with the new "concept"), we as a family began to look for our next great Italian restaurant. By that time, the RJG was old enough to drive, so we began our journey throughout central and north Dallas. And the winner didn't require too much research (though we did our diligence and tried about a dozen other places). I enjoyed that experience immensely, and thus began my desire to research and try as many different restaurants as I can. Combine that with a travel lust (not to mention various jobs that required 100% travel), and you have the RJG. Now you know.

According to the newspaper clippings in the main foyer, Pietro's has existed in one form or another since the mid 1960s. There are pictures of a young Pietro with two of his brothers and a chef from Sicily. Today, some 45 years later, Pietro still works the premises and dutifully makes his Caesar Salad in the main dining room. He greets all customers with a raspy throated voice right out of the Godfather. I'm not kidding.


The food defines old school Italian. Pietro's is the gold standard for the term. My favorite dish is the spaghetti and Italian sausage, which is unlike any I've had anywhere. To begin with, Pietro makes his own Italian sausage. I'll go on record right now and say this is the best Italian sausage I've ever had. Even wonderful markets like Kuby's and Jimmy's, who each make fantastic Italian sausages, cannot compete. Pietro's variety is very firm, almost like a steak, and slightly spicy. So firm in fact, you get a steak knife to cut it. Two large links comes with every order. The red sauce you get with the sausage dish will be different than any other on the menu, since he cooks the sausage in it all day. I've never tasted a sauce like this anywhere else. I mean ANYWHERE. And the RJG has been to at least 1500 restaurants (according to my personal database). I love the flavor. The pasta is a thin spaghetti (at times he's used vermicelli), and always cooked perfect (PERFECT) al dente. And the pasta has a wonderful taste as well, as he must flavor the water. I could eat it all by itself. I can't think of too many places where I'd say that. Favorite restaurant and favorite dish. The wife's clear choice is the Fettuccine Primavera, though she requests the spaghetti in lieu of fettuccine. Loads of fresh vegetables, and a tomato cream sauce. We've tried many things on the menu, all are very good, but these are our favorites. Name your favorite classic Italian dish, and compare Pietro's to it. It may not be an instant favorite (that rarely happens with anyone), but do consider that it's probably going to be somewhat unique. This uniqueness grows on you over time. The dinner salad is basic iceberg lettuce with tomatoes - again, perfect for the RJG. His house dressing is an oil & vinegar based concoction. While that may not sound terribly exciting, consider he uses only top quality vinegar, and you can taste the difference. The soups are good as well. Even the parm cheese found in the large glass container is a grade above.

Since this is truly old school, there is no BYOB. And so the bill can get expensive if you want wine. We don't care and splurge on a bottle of Italian red (Chianti, Valpolicella, Montepulciano, etc..). I know - the markups are ridiculous - but if it helps him stay in business, I'll pay it.

I've taken just about every type of acquaintance here over the years from family members, to old school chums, international music friends, business appointments, and a handful of romantic dates. For the last 14 years, it's generally my beautiful wife and I who will wine and dine here together. We go only a couple times a year and savor the experience. I can say without hesitation that the place has been popular with everyone I've brought. Many request it on return visits to Dallas. In reading some other reviews of Pietro's online, it's clear the place is not popular with everyone. If you're strictly looking for the modern variation of the Tuscan dining experience, I would avoid Pietro's. If you're looking for the old Sicilian styled restaurants that once dotted the American landscape in the mid century, then make a beeline here.

Pietro's popularity peaked in the late 1980s and early 90s, before the glut of new restaurants were thrust upon us. He had expanded the space over the years, and even then, it was standing room only on Friday and Saturday nights. It has always been popular strictly due to word of mouth. The Dallas Morning News generally ignored it, or made smarmy remarks about how "old" it was. Today the paper is far kinder to it, as one should respect their elders. Nowadays the restaurant is usually about half full even on prime nights, filled with long time customers and neighborhood families. It's retiring gracefully. There's never been a better time to experience it.

It's almost unreal that a place likes this still exists in 2010. Treasure it and do not take it for granted. There will be a day where the only way you can possibly experience a restaurant like this is because it will have been manufactured to be so. Pietro's is the REAL DEAL. A true artifact. It's not a trip to Disneyland, but rather an excursion to old undiscovered castle in Europe itself.


If you haven't been, or "it's been awhile" (hi Dan), then please make the effort to go one time this year. Remember it's dinner only and closed on Monday's (another old school tradition). For those of you in NE Tarrant, I can assure you there is no place like this nearby and worth at least one trip. Just get on 114 or 183, and head towards downtown Dallas. Take the Woodall Rogers freeway (follow I-45 signs) that belts north of the skyline, and then take US-75 (Central Distressway) North. Exit Knox-Henderson, turn right - and wind your way through all the yuppie chef driven places that will go out of business soon (the RJG has probably seen 100 different restaurants in the area over the last 40 years, and that's not an exaggeration). But it's always great people watching as you attempt to drive through the cattle herd. Continue to Belmont, make a left and drive through the residential area. The homes on Belmont are some of the last remaining from the original neighborhood. The area has undergone tremendous gentrification over the years (there was a time when it was pretty iffy if you know what I mean). Eventually you will arrive at Greenville Ave. Make a right and the next light is Richmond. Make a left and look for the villa on the right. You can't miss the bent flashing lights old sign. 30-40 minute drive tops on a Saturday night.


Seriously - just go.

Pietro's on Urbanspoon

9 comments:

Taco This said...

I am intrigued. A few quick questions:

1. Is the owner Italian?
2. Is their menu posted anywhere online?

I only ask because I am VERY picky about my Italian food. I grew up in Toronto's Little Italy (Sono Italiano) and lived in Naples--where my family is from for some time---thus I have found the best Italian food in DFW is in my own kitchen. :-)

However, I have found a a few "true" Italian restaurants here and am very interested in checking this spot out. Thanks!

RJG said...

Hi Taco This,

1. Yes - he's from Sicily. He's got to be in his late 70s by now.

2. Urbanspoon has photos of some of the menu - which will give you an idea.

This is an "old school" place - though not necessarily what you would find in Firenze or Siena mind you. More of what you would have found in Little Italy of New York in 1972.

Not sure if that's what you're looking for - certainly don't want to mislead anyone!

- RJG

Francis Shivone said...

I will. Soon. I do not think I have been, although I may have many years ago.

I also will order the spaghetti with Italian sausage.

Can't wait. Thanks for the advice.

Taco This said...

Thanks for the update. We will most definitely try this place!

Angie W said...

I am excited! This restaurant was chosen for dinner for a friend's bachelorette party...I would not have known of it otherwise! I am from New York, grew up in my Italian gramma's kitchen and I miss the regional food terribly. There is a place for the "new Tuscan-style concept" restaurants, but they will NEVER be as good as the "paesano", everything-drowning-in-red-ragu neighborhood dives like the ones I grew up in when we WEREN'T in gramma's kitchen.

Like a true southern Italian, my gramma NEVER made spaghetti sauce without cooking some sort of meat in it for hours. My friends are doing family style when we go, but if no one decides on the spaghetti with sausage, I may order one of my own on the side!

Tosca said...

Been a long time since I visited old Pietro's, the last time for dinner with Natasha, aka Madame Krassovska, who lived in the house across the street, behind which was her ballet school, home of the Ballet Jeunesse ballet company (so billed, regardless of whatever the advanced age some of the dancers might have attained; nothing wrong with a little age, experience, and the character that comes with them--as long as you can still get up on those toes, get those legs up in the air, or lift a female over your head, depending on what your gender calls for).

Since she never managed to acquire a drivers license, and relied on the kindness of others to venture to places she could not get to by foot or bus, Natasha got to know the local businesses well (Whole Foods used to let her just take her purchases home in a shopping cart, to keep until her next shopping trip).

Anyway, dinner at Pietro's was one of Mme. K.'s favorite treats, and she was treated very specially by everyone there. Though the food didn't thrill me back then (iceberg lettuce was not something I welcomed), it seems like it might be time for a sentimental visit to Pietro's.

By the way, did the old Ianni's have a fountain somewhere in the entry, along with the requisite scenic mural? Judging from my vague recollections of old Dallas geography, I think it must be the Italian restaurant I remember being taken to en famille as a kid, which seemed so wonderful then (in the '60s, maybe into early '70s).

RJG said...

Tosca,

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your personal story about Pietro's. What an inspiration that Natasha must have been on you and others she met. That is exactly why a neighborhood restaurant adds so much value to our lives.

As for your memory of the fountains, that does not recall Ianni's for me (though I too am going off of memories from when I was 14 or younger). What you have described, however, recalls another old school place in North Dallas called Il Sorrento that used be at NW. Hwy and Hillcrest near Northpark Mall. Could it be that was what you are thinking of?

nick said...

The Pietro family lived with my Grandmother Angelina when they first arrived from Sicily. They worked very hard and saved their money to open their place.
It was good, they worked hard...
a "success story"
Good food = good people!

RJG said...

I agree Nick - Good people. Thanks for the comment!