Roma Ristorante is a Taste of Italy Without Ever Leaving Home

The trattoria-style restaurant in Rice Village feels like a trip to grandmas.

By Shelby Stewart August 2, 2022

Roma Ristorante, formerly Sud Italia, has an all new summer menu. 

Image: Becca Wright

Disclosure: Meal was provided by Roma Ristorante, but the opinions belong solely to the writer.

ITALIAN IS SOME OF MY FAVORITE ETHNIC FOOD, and who would’ve thought a little taste of Italy would be tucked away in a cozy Rice Village bungalow? Located at the corner of Morningside Drive and University Boulevard is Roma Ristorante, the restaurant formerly known as Sud Italia before it was rebranded by owner Shanon Scott. 

The Italian eatery’s rebrand is certainly worth experiencing. Roma’s charming new summer menu, curated by chef Kevin Bryant, has hearty dishes that remind you of home—if home to you is the Italian countryside. 

Chef Kevin Bryant and owner of Roma Ristorante, Shanon Scott. 

Image: Becca Wright

When most Americans think of Italian cuisine, the obvious comes to mind: flour, tomatoes, basil, and more cheese than you can imagine. Bryant’s new summer menu includes a lot of those farm-fresh and locally sourced ingredients, but perhaps the key element to his cooking is love.

“Love is understanding the ingredients and knowing why you put certain ingredients in a pan, in a certain order,” Bryant says. “Italian food is that deep-down grandmother inside of you, showing you the art of it, grabbing the best tomato and basil, and creating an exceptional product out of it.”

I started off impressed by the extensive wine list—Roma’s selections range from sparkling Candoni Moscatos to Bortoluzzi 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon—but I settled on a prosecco (my go-to at Italian restaurants and elsewhere) and some of their complimentary bread and olive oil just to start the evening off. 

A quick glance at the menu is all you need to know that you’re in for a real Italian treat. It’s filled with hearty dishes that just feel like home and align perfectly with the restaurant’s quaint aesthetic — from the outside, it looks like a small cottage, and upon walking in, you’re greeted with antiquated chairs and white tablecloths, the ideal setting for an intimate evening. 

The extremely helpful waitstaff recommended that I get things started on the appetizer front through the arancini. But everyone assured me that everything—and I mean everything–on the menu would be good. The arancini, which are cheesy, deep-fried risotto balls stuffed with ricotta and pesto, came with a tasty house-made red sauce. Chef Bryant followed up the arancini with the insalata di polpo, a simple arugula salad dressed with olives, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, octopus, and a roasted lemon vinaigrette that provided me with an excellent palate cleanser before the main attractions. 

When I say main attraction, I’m talking about the entrees, but the large plates come with a show, too. If you order dishes like the cacio e pepe, prepare to watch your freshly made pasta get mixed and plated tableside. The dish is simple at its core: spaghetti, cracked pepper, and pecorino cheese. But the best part, aside from the fact that the dish puts on a show by being blended together in front of you, is that Roma’s mixing bowl of choice is a hollowed-out wheel of cheese. If you’re not one for frills, you can always go with a bolognese pasta or some of the pesce and carne dishes like the tartufo e baccalà, a salmon filet over artichoke hearts, heirloom tomatoes, and lemon. 

Where Roma has many other Italian eateries in the Houston area beat is in its price point. For an authentic Italian meal, you’re paying less than $40—at best—across the entire menu, making the meal reminiscent of a homey dinner at grandma’s—if your grandma was Marcella Hazan, that is. 

If your grandma is anything like mine, dinner wouldn’t be complete without dessert. My waiter convinced me that after all the deliciousness I had tasted, I needed to leave room for dessert. After all, when you’re in Italy, you must do as the Italians do. I settled for a torta di mele, which translates to a caramelized apple tart with vanilla gelato. The dessert was just the right balance of sweetness—not enough to give you the metaphorical “itis,” but just enough to leave you satisfied and with a full belly. 

Roma Ristorante is where you go when you’re looking for a reasonably priced meal and don’t mind packing on the extra calories. My sound advice: bring stretchy pants, because you’ll enjoy everything

For more information on Roma Ristorante, visit romahouston.com.  

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