But while dining recently at Cafe Italia in Fort Lauderdale, something hit us: “Hey,” we thought, “we’re eating real Italian food.” – And what’s more, virtually everyone dining at this small, unpretentious cafe was speaking Italian

The Miami Herald Dining Section

You could visit an Italian restaurant every night of the year and still not exhaust all the choices in South Florida. But while dining recently at Cafe Italia in Fort Lauderdale, something hit us: “Hey,” we thought, “we’re eating real Italian food.” And what’s more, virtually everyone dining at this small, unpretentious cafe was speaking Italian, a sign there’s authenticity coming out of la cucina.

Owner Francesco Lapi grew up in Abruzzo by the Adriatic Sea. His early memories stretch back to days spent on the beach and dinners of fresh fish cooked simply with the best ingredients — no compromises. It is these recipes, prepared by his mother and grandmother, a former professor at Villa Santa Maria, the famed Italian cooking school where Lapi learned much about his trade, that he now serves in his cafe.

Cafe Italia, open two and a half years, is easy to miss in the Roselli Office Building on North Federal Highway, a few doors from the exotic dancing action at Pure Platinum. Nobody’s dancing on these tables, draped with white tablecloths and cloth napkins. But if Cafe Italia lacks exotic excitement or the glamour of a pricier joint, it does commit to good food that won’t empty your wallet —

Allure of Italy

There’s a quirky, but Old-World charm. Inside the homey dining area, which seats 50 (another 16 seats are outside), shelves are lined with Italian wines; opera plays in the background. Lapi makes the rounds, teasing kids and giving you advice about what you should order. “You don’t need an appetizer — portions are big; you’ll take it all home. . . . Forget soup; it’s summer.” And he’s right. There’s much to eat without the extras, but you don’t have to overdo Italian. The misconception is that Italian food is heavy and reeking with garlic, but well- prepared Italian food is made with light sauces and enhanced, not overwhelmed, by garlic and onion.

So no garlicky rolls dripping with oil at Cafe Italia. You get Italian bread, not heated, but very fresh and quickly replenished. After first advising us against an appetizer, Lapi sensed we wanted to try something and told the server to bring Caprese. The slices of mozzarella (we learned they often have imported buffalo mozzarella, so ask for it) are of fine quality, sprinkled with oil and basil, atop tomatoes.

Complimentary salads are often a tiny bowl of iceberg, but here you get a big plate with firm ruby tomato wedges, served atop four types of lettuce, shredded carrots and sliced cucumbers, all garden fresh, served with oil and vinegar and Parmesan cheese on the side. You can also request a homemade Balsamic vinaigrette made with extra-virgin olive oil, oregano and Parmesan.

Exceptional Italian Seafood in Fort Lauderdale

Along with the regular menu, which offers 15 plus entrees, there’s a list of nightly specials.

Yellowtail snapper, a fresh catch this night, was excellent. Finding fish of this quality at this price in South Florida is a rare catch indeed. Presentation was terrific: The fish was butterflied, tail intact, the succulent white meat exposed. The fish was sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil (Lapi always stresses this point) and wine — a good Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, not cooking wine — with chopped tomatoes, mushrooms and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper and garnished with black olives. The fish was cooked not a moment too long, oozing juices, each bite worth savoring.

It made us wish we had ordered other seafood dishes, like Trio Adriatica, with shrimp, scallops and clams, or slow-cooked salmon. But Cafe Italia also does a good job with meat. You can get items like filet mignon in a light cream sauce or osso buco, but we chose chicken. The classic Marsala was buttery tender, thin slices of chicken sauteed with garlic and Marsala, with sliced mushrooms. The sauce is fragrant, slightly sweet from the wine. Entrees come with your choice of spaghetti, linguine, penne or rigatoni, properly al dente and with a light tomato sauce.

Chicken cacciatore is a simple dish elevated, but not dominated, by a wonderful sauce of mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, garlic, wine and green peppers. You can actually taste the chicken, seasoned with rosemary.

Cannoli was the only item remaining for dessert this eve. The cafe was out of the large pastry shells, so we were given two small ones, light and crisp, not at all greasy, filled with a light, whipped ricotta. It’s a sweet way to end your meal. Top it off with a cup of cappuccino or a glass of wine and you’ll want to say Bravo, Cafe Italia Fort Lauderdale!

Critic Rochelle Koff
The Herald Dining Section

Private Dining Birthday Parties Special Events

Thank you for your interest in CAFE ITALIA for your upcoming event. Our experienced staff are here to make your event a huge success and prepared to handle all your planning needs so you can relax and enjoy the process from beginning to end.

Cafe ITALIA in the heart of Fort Lauderdale features:

  1. Seating up-to 60 guests (restaurant buy-out)
  2. Amazing selection of wineries from Italy
  3. Outside patio seating
  4. Fully customizable menu and bring your own menu (BYOM) available
  5. Monthly reoccurring business meetings

Call (954) 561-3900 to schedule

  • Business Meetings
  • Birthday Parties
  • Baby Showers
  • Wedding Reunions

Cafe Italia to-go

Cafe Italia to go!

If you are looking for great food near you and are just tired from a long day at work. Introducing Cafe Italia to-go. Any pasta or lasagna entree available for pick-up with 10% off including a free beverage per entree, bread and a small salad. Call ahead and pick up authentic Italian food. Of course you may alternatively order anything on our menu including fish and meat entrees.

Call (954) 561-3900

Format Aside

Italian Food Dining Culture Fort Lauderdale Italian Group5 Things to Know About Italian Dining Culture

Italian dining culture is famous around the world, but it is much more than checkered tablecloths and wine bottles covered in candle wax. Visiting Italy is your chance to really get to know Italian food, and through it, Italian culture.

Italians are known to be lively and passionate, so sharing a dinner table with them is quite an experience. They are passionate about life’s pleasures, food being chief amongst them, but they are also creatures of tradition and habit. When it comes to food, they are happiest when things are done right. Volumes could be written about Italian dining and the various meals and types of restaurants, but to start, here are 5 things you may not have known about Italian dining culture. Remember these and you’ll be ready for almost any Italian restaurant. Of course, if you happen to forget something, don’t worry – Italians are always happy to enlighten anyone who will listen about best dining practices.

Best restaurants Fort Lauderdale

Amazing little restaurant near me has the best pasta dishes and sauces around. I stopped in to see what the place looked like since it has been there for over 20 years and never went in! It was a small cozy romantic restaurant with italian music playing. I liked the round chandeliers and asked where he got them.

One of the best restaurants in Fort Lauderdale for authentic Italian cuisine. I ordered the bucatini amatriciana and it was the best pasta I ever had in Fort Lauderdale.

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Spezzatino di Agnello with Asparagus

Lamb and small potatoes slowly cooked in a garlic rosemary tomato sauce.

Until October 15th 2017 we have a special dish of Lamb Stew with Asparagus.

Spezzatino di Agnello with Asparagus
Spezzatino di Agnello with Asparagus

Perfect Italian restaurant near me.

Found this place last week while doing an Internet search. I lucked out because it turned out to be excellent. Very friendly staff. Wonderful food. Great service. I didn’t even know it was there for 20 years.

I was a little sad that they happened to be out of the swordfish that night but my second choice of the Gnocchi turned out to be excellent. Probably the best I have had. My friend had the Papparedelle Mare e Monti and she found it delicious perfectly cooked shrimp with amazing Porcini mushroom sauce. Risotto with mussels and shrimp was awesome! Real Arborio risotto and perfectly cooked seafood.