The Charm and Taste of the Old World

Cafe Italia Pictures

When people recommend restaurants, I always listen, then take their suggestions with a grain of salt. But a friend called recently, and when he calls, I pay close attention, because he rarely raves about restaurants.

So when he said Cafe Italia serves the finest Italian food this side of the Old Country, his recommendation, hyperbole aside, did not go unheeded.

Said friend first learned to cook at his Italian grandmother’s knee before going to professional cooking schools in the Northeast and Europe. He is also the owner and chef of one of South Florida’s finest seafood restaurants.

The Cafe occupies the ground floor of an office building on Federal Highway midway between Commercial and Oakland Park boulevards. Plate glass windows form two exterior walls, and the side facing the building’s lobby is covered with large, colorful posters.

Wall sections are painted lime green, butterscotch or a light cranberry, and a dark-wood bar sits in front of the wall opposite the posters. Tablecloths and napkins are starched white linen. Decor is unpretentious at best, but here the food’s the thing.
Francesco Lapi is the owner and chef of the cafe. He is a short, relatively quiet man but becomes quite animated when discussing his food, and the pride in his voice is clearly discernible.

He is proud of the food he buys, which is always first-quality and mostly Italian, and he will bring some of his ingredients to your table even without your asking — not to show off but to reinforce the notion that he does things his way.

His menu contains nothing you wouldn’t find in many other Italian restaurants, but everything he cooks just tastes different than anything you’ve had elsewhere. Ingredients are uncommonly fresh, pastas are strictly Italian, and his sublime sauces are rich with flavor but ethereally light.

CityLink Fine Dining Critic

YELLOW TAIL SNAPPER
YELLOW TAIL SNAPPER

Take his EGGPLANT ROLLATINI, for example. Despite the melted cheese, bits of bright-green broccoli stuffed within and very tomatoey and exceptionally light sauce, the taste of just-picked eggplant remained the mainstay of the dish. This is one dish you won’t quickly forget.

Other appetizers are simple affairs but as good as they get. BROCCOLI RABE and CAPRESE salad, thick tomato slices with smoky mozzarella, made outstanding starters. And Mediterranean flat bread and prosciutto with melon were equally delicious.

The pasta dishes we tried were sublime. SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA combines pasta with pancetta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, black pepper and an egg yolk for a mingling of flavors that will linger long after the end of the meal.

Lapi marries wide PAPPARDELLE noodles with thick, strongly aromatic and earthy porcini mushrooms. He then adds large, succulent shrimp that are perfectly cooked, tosses in garlic and wine and finishes the mixture in a heady but light cream sauce that is also unforgettable.

The lusty aromas from the dish reach your table long before the food does — a clear indication of just how wonderful it is. The cafe also serves porcini mushrooms with wine and perfectly cooked risotto. Exceptionally firm penne mixes well in a cream sauce garnished with olives, crisp broccoli florets and mushrooms. And if you like LASAGNA, Lapi layers the noodles with a light bechamel sauce and mozzarella that melts like lava, then tops it all with his exceptional Bolognese sauce.

CACCIATORE, LIVORNESE and MARSALA — are available, and every one is several steps ahead of the competition. OLSSOBUCO and ROASTED LEG OF LAMB are also served. Seafood offerings include SWORDFISH, SALMON, TUNA, SNAPPER.

YELLOWTAIL SNAPPER is Lapi’s signature dish, and it was extraordinary in its simplicity. Half a snapper, with its yellow tail perched at the end of the plate, was so fresh it had probably been caught the afternoon of our visit.

It sat in a wine-and- garlic sauce and was garnished with button mushrooms and diced tomatoes — so simple, yet so delectable. Snapper never tasted like this. Given the flavors of previous courses, we could never expect desserts to measure up. They were very good but below the standards set by the rest of the meal.

Tiramisu was soaked with liquor, and the top layer of custard quivered when we touched it. Ricotta cheesecake was nice and not too sweet. Cafe Italia does Italian food like no other restaurant, and will forever change your thinking on Italian cooking.

CityLink Fine Dining Critic

March 2, 2022 Sticky

Fine Dining Italian Restaurant

Best Ossobuco Fort Lauderdale Cafe Italia

For anyone eating out on a budget, the pasta dishes were exceptionally reasonable. I selected the Eggplant Rollatini for my appetizer, and the veal marsala cutlet with mushrooms in a Marsala wine sauce.

Also a side of pasta with a marinara sauce. It was the largest pasta side dish I have ever been served. The eggplant was delicious, and three nice sized slices of veal were so tender you could break them with your fork.

I forgot to mention the tables had a nice light tan first table cloth, topped with another white linen top table cloth, and of course real linen napkins. Service was just perfect, where you were not rushed, and you leisurely enjoy the appetizer, before the entree and pasta were served.

They had a nice selection of Italian house wines by the glass, and the prices were at least half of what you would normally pay in a fine dining Italian restaurant.

Italian Food Event Space

Dinner Cafe Italia

Host your next party with us and enjoy the most authentic Italian cuisine

Four weeks ago I had walked passed, and evidently the owner noticed my reviewing the menu in the window. A nice, polite, mature Gentleman asking if I had any questions. I advised I was just looking. Well over these past several weeks, I could not forget the impression he had left with me.

So on Saturday, I decided to go back and pay the Cafe Italia a visit. As he explained to me when leaving in an apology, he had just had an operation, and walking was difficult, so thus difficult to personally greet myself at the table. I reminded him of my previous time there, looking, and my promise to return. It’s a small but very comfortable restaurant located in the Roselli Building.

There were about seven of the square tables, two round tables for five and an oblong table for eight. Immediately after the presentation of the menu and the wine list, a plate of house made bread with butter was presented, together with a plate of provolone cheese and a round metal cup of Italian Olives. Everything was very tasty.

For anyone eating out on a budget, the pasta dishes were exceptionally reasonable. I selected the Eggplant Rollatini for my appetizer, and the veal cutlet with mushrooms in a Marsala wine sauce. Also a side of pasta with a marinara sauce. It was the largest pasta side dish I have ever been served. The eggplant was delicious, and three nice sized slices of veal were so tender you could break them with your fork. They had a nice selection of Italian house wines by the glass, and the prices were at least half of what you would normally pay in a Ristoranti. I forgot to mention the tables had a nice light tan first table cloth, topped with another white linen top table cloth, and of course real linen napkins. Service was just perfect, where you were not rushed, and you leisurely enjoy the appetizer, before the entree and pasta were served.

While there, a group of six arrived and selected the round table in the front by the window and adjacent to the table for eight, and they were not over-crowded.

Would I return. YES, in a heartbeat. I enjoyed my short conversation with the owner who was seated at an outside table when I was leaving. A wonderful way to spend a Saturday evening.

Best Italian Restaurant

Yellowtail snapper

This is the best italian restaurant right in my home town Fort Lauderdale. Best little hidden gem. I recommend everyone to come in!! It’s a fantastic family restaurant where everyday the owner will great you and recommend a great meal just for you. Five stars for sure!!!

Yelp user Bree B.

June 30, 2019 Sticky

Love this Place! Family Italian Restaurant Cafe Italia

Spaghetti and Clams Fort Lauderdale Italian Food

Family owned, quality food, reasonable prices. Love Love Love

We were the first ones to arrive on a Saturday and when we left the place was very busy. They cook to order and the only waitress was kept busy that night. The bread olives and cheese was delicious. The owner was visible and spent time talking to all his customers. Very Authentic. My table had: LAMB MEATBALL RAGU OVER CHITARRA SPAGHETTI; SALMON; YELLOWTAIL SNAPPER; VEAL SALTIMBOCCA . All was delicious. They took our redemption number and phone number to call if there was a problem. HIghly recommend this place! Will try to go during the week or when they first open on a Saturday again! Our new Italian restaurant!

Love This Place

With its friendly, attentive staff and a nice, reasonably priced wine selection, Café Italia is a neighborhood Italian restaurant that will win you over with its high quality, well prepared dishes. Owner Francesco has been greeting guests here for over 25 years. It’s a small family restaurant where you can hear Italian spoken and all dishes are made to order.

Word of mouth is how we learned about the place which is located on the ground floor of an office building. We were seated immediately and presented with a plate of excellent cheese and olives and outstanding fresh baked Italian style bread. The menu is somewhat limited with emphasis on pasta and seafood. I chose the veal Marsala dish and a side of angel hair pasta with garlic & olive oil. Very high quality, perfectly prepared veal and excellent pasta. My dining mate chose the pasta and shrimp served with a side salad. Wine by the glass is priced at $6 per. Total tab was $65 which was more then fair considering the quality of the ingredients. Thank you for an excellent dining experience!

Fort Lauderdale Italian Gem

So I’ve lived in Fort Lauderdale over 43 years and I have to say this was the best yellowtail and red snapper preparation I’ve ever had. It’s a tiny storefront restaurant with maybe 10-12 tables?  Run by an Italian couple that have been there 23 years. How did I miss this gem? If it hadn’t been for a Groupon coupon I never would have found it. We started with mussels.. they were big, plump and delicious and spicy the way I like them.

We each had fish and it was cooked to perfection. Amazingly fresh as the tail was still on it so it was a nice small size yellowtail snapper or red snapper and the sauce was perfect. We ordered a side of broccoli cooked in garlic and oil and pasta done the same. It reminded me of what I cook at home and I’m a real foodie. We had the Tartufo with pistachio ice cream covered in chocolate and whipped cream yum! It reminded me of a little Italian restaurant I went to growing up in New York.

This is definitely our go-to Italian restaurant from now on.  It is beer and wine only …we had Prosecco for a very reasonable $25 a bottle. This whole dinner cost is $90 which was amazing in itself for a five-star restaurant in my book. I would make reservations if you go on the weekend, during the week it seems good but we went early….love this place!

Snapper Livornese
SNAPPER LIVORNESE
Yellowtail Snapper
YELLOWTAIL SNAPPER

Great Ambience. Perfect Italian Date Night Spot

date night restaurant fort lauderdale

Most authentic italian restaurant fort lauderdale

The people are friendly, the food is good and so is the wine! Our waitress knows what we drink and eat most often and usually tells us what we are ordering before we can tell her! We enjoy the atmosphere as well. The prices are mid range. We try new dishes often. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for an Italian restaurant to make their favorite!

Host Your Next Christmas & New Years Party At Cafe Italia

Large Parties

The real test of a small restaurant is when a large party is to be served. As a group of 12, we were amazed at the quality of the food and the excellence of the service.

Caprese Salad Fort Lauderdale Italian Restaurant Tomato Mozzarella
The mozzarella and tomato salad was perfect – the cheese was fresh with the buffalo type taste, and the tomatoes were flavorful and vine ripened.

One of us had the snapper topped with mushrooms and tomatoes. The fish was cooked to the correct temperature and doneness, and the sauce/topping was light but flavorful. Another had the papperdella – wide pasta with a full-bodied but not overwhelming mushroom sauce.

The mozzarella and tomato salad was perfect – the cheese was fresh with the buffalo type taste, and the tomatoes were flavorful and vine ripened. The homemade bread was excellent as well. Equally as important, each guest was made to feel as if they were individually important, and the service for the large party made it seem like each guest was an individual. This is a real hidden gem

Warm welcome makes Cafe Italia Special

It seems as if I spend my life in Italian restaurants picking apart menus, dining rooms and meals, trying to discern the relative value of a dining experience.

But the truth is that I believe the best restaurants, Italian or otherwise, are not necessarily the ones with the finest Riedel glasses, French- trained waiters and the oldest balsamic vinegar — though that certainly can help — but rather those that give diners a good feeling of welcoming and home. The ones that convey a feeling of conviviality, that entice the appetite not only with fine food but with fine hospitality.


OPEN ARMS

We chose a velvety Amarone that was perfect for sipping with the crusty bread. As for the bread, it would have been better warmed and accompanied by olive oil instead of butter, which, incidentally, is served in fast-food-style foil blocks.

We took some time to look over the simple and compact menu with dishes mostly from central Italy but with some representative favorites from all over the boot. It turns out Lapi is from the Abruzzo.

We also sampled the rappini, known in my family as broccoli di rabe and found it to be just fine. The tender and pleasantly bitter leaves were bathed in olive oil and accompanied by half a dozen garlic cloves sauté ed to a perfect golden brown.

HEARTY SOUP

A simple bowl of pasta e fagioli  was hearty and satisfying with lots of beans and enough ditalini that was perhaps a bit too mushy, some celery and tomatoes, and the requisite herbs.
Like the other dishes it could have used salt and maybe crushed red pepper to liven it up a bit.

With such generous portions it was hard to think about main courses but they arrived quickly.

The yellowtail snapper, the restaurant’s signature dish, was fantastic. The fish was light and moist and served with the tail rakishly draped off the plate. It was accented with a lovely sauce of tomatoes, garlic and button mushrooms, with a slight hint of white wine. A bowl of al dente pasta was a competent accompaniment.
But the pasta that would bring me back was the spaghetti carbonara which my husband ordered. I don’t know how he always ends up ordering the best thing on the menu. But that is another story!

The perfectly al dente strands of dense pasta were coated with a rich sauce that brought to mind a perfectly poached egg with a vibrant flavor and color of the golden egg yolk enhanced by delicate strips of smoky pancetta and a good dose of black pepper.

SKIPPED DESSERTS

Nonetheless, coffees, espresso and American, were uniformly good on their own.

I’d go back to Café Italia in Fort Lauderdale if not for the spectacular food, then for the pleasant and personable service, moderate prices, the relaxed setting and a pasta that inspires cravings just thinking about it.

Lamb Chops Cafe Italia

Lamb Chops w Green Beans

There was no leg of lamb prepared when we visited, so we took solace in the four gorgeous seared lamb chops Lapi recommended instead. Bathed in oil and garlic, the meat was nearly soft enough to cut with a fork. Chicken Marsala brought a plateful of boneless breasts with plenty of mushrooms in a sauce edging to the sweet and oily side, but the flavors were terrific. The ossobuco aficionado at our table thought was reasonable for the quality and quantity of tender veal slow-cooked in tomato sauce with celery, onions, carrots and red wine — and so did everyone who sampled it.

Visit Cafe Italia for Italian Lamb Chops with Green Beans

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Fort Lauderdale Italian Restaurant
  • Italian Wedding Soup
  • Roast Turkey
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Vegetables
  • Cranberry Sauce

limited regular menu also available

Call for Reservations 954-561-3900

Sword Fish Cafe Italia

Swordfish Cafe Italia Fort Lauderdale

Grilled swordfish with fresh tomatoes and mushroom and basil. Stop in this month for this catch.

Party Trays Available

Farfalle Summer Pasta Salad with olives and peas

Hot Lasagna Trays for up to 12 people wach

Hosting a party? We can provide you with a choice of the following:

Pasta with red sauce, your choice of Pasta

Trays of Sausage and Green Peppers with Onions

Call us we can prepare you food and have it ready for pickup at your scheduled time.

Real Italian Food

Mussels Clams Fort Lauderdale Italian Food

“Hey,” we thought, “we’re eating real Italian food.” – And what’s more, virtually everyone dining at this small, unpretentious cafe was speaking Italian

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.

The Miami Herald Dining Section

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.

Francesco Lapi

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.

Francesco Lapi
Francesco Lapi

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.

Exceptional Italian Seafood

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 sautéed 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 ossobuco, but we chose chicken. The classic Marsala was buttery tender, thin slices of chicken sautéed 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

Book your Event/Party at Cafe Italia Now!

Fort lauderdale events private parties

Host your events with us

Host your next private party or event (doors closed to public) with us & enjoy the most authentic Italian cuisine, fine select low sulfite, organic wine & music at Cafe Italia. Since 1993.

Luncheons

Cocktail Parties

Wine Tastings

Weddings

Receptions

Conference Meetings

Dinner Parties

Baby Showers

Engagement Parties

Brand Launching Events

Call our Events Coordinator now at: 954-681-3716 to reserve your space.

11 Health Benefits of Eating Italian Food

Italian Food Health Benefits

The mediterranean diet is essential to Italian Food and provides many health benefits.

Eating a balanced diet is an essential part of good nutrition, improved overall health, and a lowered risk of chronic disease. Italian food is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet — which focuses on fresh vegetables, olive oil, and grains — is an excellent part of a balanced, healthy diet. Eating Italian food offers many health benefits for you and your family!

Manage your weight

The best and our Italian food is made from fresh ingredients and vegetables, including fresh tomatoes, fresh greens like broccoli di rabe and onions. We also have whole wheat pasta and gluten free options. Fresh onions with whole wheat pasta, greens, mushrooms and vegetables is a spring must.

Fiber Foods

Fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels, cholesterol and is good for your digestive system. Vegetables and grains are fiber rich and always present in Italian dishes.

Eating fish is an important source of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential nutrients keep our heart and brain healthy. Two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Our bodies don’t produce omega-3 fatty acids so we must get them through the food we eat. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in every kind of fish, but are especially high in fatty fish. Some good choices are salmon, trout, sardines, herring, canned mackerel, canned light tuna, and oysters.

Heart and Brain

Eating fish is an important source of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential nutrients keep our heart and brain healthy. Two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Our bodies don’t produce omega-3 fatty acids so we must get them through the food we eat. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in every kind of fish, but are especially high in fatty fish. Some good choices are salmon, sardines and tuna.

Olive oil is rich in omega fatty acids. This healthy form of oil is full of antioxidants and extra virgin olive oil EVOO is used in our kitchen! Olive oil helps to reduce inflammation, protect against arthritis, protect your heart, and fight disease. Olive oil is great for your heart.

Eat your Garlic

Garlic can fight sicknesses and disease. It may lower the risk of breast, colon, stomach, and throat cancers. Also, garlic has been shown to offer heart protection properties! And is rich in vitamins too.

  • Manganese: 2% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Vitamin B6: 2% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 1% of the DV
  • Selenium: 1% of the DV
  • Fiber: 0.06 grams
  • Decent amounts of calcium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, iron and vitamin B1

Garlic contains antioxidants that. It against cell damage and aging. It may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Garlic has known beneficial effects on common causes of chronic disease, so it makes sense that it could also help you live longer.

The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthy eating plans recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to promote health and prevent chronic disease.

It is also recognized by the World Health Organization as a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern and as an intangible cultural asset by the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.