The penne alla vodka at Nino's is lifted by crab meat. The vodka will lift us.

Image: Clint Sosa

With no shortage of quality lounges, bars, and pubs offering happy hours, Houston presents the spirit enthusiast with plenty of opportunities to “drink your dinner.” But what of the reverse? Where can you “eat your cocktail?” 

Alcohol-inflected entrees exist, though require more work to find, especially if you’re looking for something classier than beer-battered fish and Jell-O shots. Thank God for the Italians, who despite being known more as wine aficionados, managed to invent a sauce made with vodka to dress their penne (vodka helps emulsify the sauce, so hey, whatever works). Iterations of this dish utilizing different noodles shapes and proteins proliferated among Italian communities in the United States, including here in Houston, where a number of restaurants serve pasta with the potential to get you plastered. 

For standard penne alla vodka with a twist (the addition of crustaceans), head to Nino’s, which offers its tubular pasta in tomato-vodka-cream sauce dressed with crab meat. In another turn from tradition, Sorrento Ristorante Italiano swaps the penne for torchetti, relaxed spiral noodles whose thick texture and inner folds have a terrific way of trapping the vodka sauce. The addition of peppery sausage renders this primi a spicy wake-up call for the taste buds.

Ragu & Pesto affords its customers the opportunity to pair their pasta of choice with a number of different sauces, including their own unique version of vodka sauce that utilizes bacon and onion to impart smoky, porcine flavors to the otherwise mild tomato cream sauce. 

At Grotto on Westheimer, four-cheese ravioli form the carbohydrate base for an unctuous sugo rosa touched with vodka. The intersection of the rich dairy fat of the pasta pillows and the basil, tomato, and garlic notes of gravy engender umami flavors that rival the alcohol with regards to their addictive properties. Finally, Prego serves a similarly hearty ravioli alla vodka, which eschews animal protein in favor of mushrooms, thereby demonstrating that good fungi are fungible for meat any day.

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Prego

$$$ Italian 2520 Amherst St.

At Prego, modern dishes like duck ravioli and old-fashioned classics like lasagna appear side by side on the menu, with plenty of antipasti, pizzas, risottos...

Grotto Ristorante

$$$ Italian Multiple Locations

Part of the Landry's family of restaurants, Grotto Ristorante serves rustic Italian in an old-country trattoria setting. Signature dishes include various tak...

Ragu & Pesto

$$ Italian 6445 Westheimer Road

Sorrento Ristorante Italiano

$$$ Italian 415 Westheimer Rd.

Sorrento is an upscale Italian restaurant with a menu that's by turns creative and classic. The cozy dining area, accented by live piano music, is romantic a...

Nino's Restaurant & Bar

$$$ Italian 2817 W. Dallas St.

Nino's sits tucked away in a cozy courtyard off West Dallas with its two sister restaurants, Grappino di Nino and Vincent's, creating a tiny slice of Tuscany...