Off the Wall: Riva's Italian Restaurant

Categories: On the Menu

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Stacy Zane
When Anamaris Cousins Price wrote about her old favorite Montrose hangouts, EOW reader J. Britt Alexander chimed in with his pick:

"Rivas - directly behind Niko-Nikos and the Tower Lofts off Montrose. -- Old green house romantically lit by white twinkle light. The best bang for your buck Italian food in the neighborhood. And Michael, the owner, always around to make sure everything is perfect. (1117 Missouri St.)

P.S. , save room for the Cannoli."

I've only lived in Houston for three years, but I like to think I'm pretty clued in on local restaurants, especially the ones in my neck of the woods, like Riva's. However, I had never heard of the place, or even seen it, for that matter. "There's a restaurant behind Niko Niko's?" I thought to myself. "And it's Italian?" (Which is my favorite.) I had to check it out.

From the get-go we had good service; my dining companion and I were some of the only people in there. Our waiter was a gentleman who was very attentive and helpful in recommending dishes.

I only wish they hadn't have been so nice. It'd make disliking the food a lot easier. To start with some positives, you really do get a lot of bang for your buck - unlimited garlic bread, soup, salad, and huge portions at very reasonable prices -- the most expensive item on their menu is the Rack of Lamb for $21.95. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this place based on taste or quality.

The garlic bread was average. The cream-based lentil soup decent but unimaginative. And the salad? Well let's just say you can get a better one with more choices than just Ranch or Italian dressing at a Golden Corral. As for our entrees, we chose two highly recommended dishes - the Chicken Funchezzi ($13.95) and the Veal San Pietro ($16.95).

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Stacy Zane
The Chicken Funchezzi was similar to Chicken Parmesan but instead of Marinara sauce, it's drizzled with butter. Not bad, but its taste was comparable to a chicken dish I often make - only I do it better. And you know who else does too? The Olive Garden.

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Stacy Zane
The Veal San Pietro, thin scallops of veal in a lemon-cream sauce with capers, artichoke hearts and tomatoes, was worse. While the meat was tender and perfectly cooked, the sauce was runny and bland. I barely finished one piece before pushing my plate away and deciding that more garlic bread made for a better dinner choice. As for the Fettucine Alfredo that came alongside, it was drowned in what tasted like a stale manufactured sauce and not at all worth the calories.

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Stacy Zane
The Tiramisu we ordered for dessert was this meal's only saving grace. Thin layers of pressed, espresso-soaked ladyfingers sandwiched between a sweet and creamy mascarpone cheese mixture, it was a perfectly light and refreshing ending to a meal that hadn't gone so well.

From what I gathered by a short perusal of the restaurant's walls and a brief Internet search when I returned home, Riva's is a neighborhood treasure. They're proud supporters of the gay community and quite the philanthropists, having donated 100 percent of their profits from April's "Dining out for Life" to AIDS Foundation Houston. I can't knock them for that. And though I may share some differences of opinion with locals as well as the Zagat Guide, I wish Riva's all the best.

Still, next time I crave Italian, I'm going to Nino's for Veal Vincent and Fettucine Alfredo. It's phenomenal.



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Location Info

Riva's Italian Restaurant

1117 Missouri, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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39 comments
Anamaris Cousins
Anamaris Cousins

Yikes! When I saw you had beaten me to Rivas I was bummed, but after reading your review and the ensuing comments, I'm kinda happy I wasn't prompt. I know how difficult it is to write a review when you truly enjoyed the service and personal attention at the establishment. Kudos for being graceful under pressure.

Tlymen214
Tlymen214

I've been to Riva's severall times and have always thoroughly enjoyed. It's a charming local restaurant with some of the best Lasagna I've ever had. I'm looking forward to going back next week when I'm back in Houston.

Irma403
Irma403

The Persian brothers who run the place are gems; I'd suggest sitting at the bar and chatting with them over a drink, rather than eating the food, especially if you know good Italian. Great, laid back and inexpensive place to go, if the food isn't your priority.

J. Britt Alexander
J. Britt Alexander

Wow... just wow.   

So gracious of you to mention my name (a regular there) and then proceed to slam them in a review... I'm sure Michael will be thrilled with me  ... sorry you felt it was so terrible.  I for one will stand by the fact that for 15 bucks I can get a fantastic grilled calamari appetizer (you will need extra bread to sop up all that butter and garlic), soup-salad (and the dressings are really good if you mix them both over your salad) - a fantastic piece of lasagna.... and over the top service from people that know my face and my name and treat me like an old friend no matter how busy they are.  

The Christmas lights and vintage pictures on the wall make you want to slow down and take your time... and the Sunday brunch with their garden patio and mimosas are a treat on any lazy Sunday.

Jamie Matelske
Jamie Matelske

That's a shame. Someone recommended this place to me for Sunday all you can drink mimosas. I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but it doesn't sound like I'm missing much!

SirRon
SirRon

I generally don't like being negative, but the food at Riva's is really bad. Stacy, I appreciate your honesty.

Italicky
Italicky

Sounds a whole lot like our neighborhood Italian place.  Lomonte's.  It's bad, and yet it's been there forever.

trisch
trisch

I was really hoping your review would give me a reason to give Riva's another try, but it sounds like nothing's changed since we tried it almost 10 years ago when I first moved into the neighborhood.  Just like you experienced, we found the service to be attentive and very friendly (and there were actually quite a few other patrons in the restaurant the night we went), but the food was extraordinary in its ordinariness. I don't remember what we ordered, but I remember that the vegetables that came with one of the entrees involved carrot blocks that had been steamed to a mush and served plain with no salt, pepper, cheese, or sauce to mask their suffering. Oh well.

Corey
Corey

Hold on a minute, this review makes me mad!  They have excellent prices, I like the lentil soup (it's darn good), and probably one of the best brunches on Sunday. It's a little small and cramped inside, but we always have the best conversations with random people at the bar.  I wasn't amazed with the chicken marsala (wasn't bad mind you) but I have had some shrimp and veal dishes and they have been stellar. I happen to like the family touch, the owner is a real Gentleman and is exceptionally accommodating.  I wouldn't use "Olive Garden" in the same sentence out of respect alone - any Italian restaurant that doesn't use real garlic is an outright sham (yeah I know they use garlic powder - yuck). You want generic try pronto it's just down the street and there they make an effort to let you know they just don't care...

Jim Ayres
Jim Ayres

I have to agree. Riva's is just awful.

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

Oh, bummer! I've noticed this place and wondered about it. I'm on the lookout for a little neighborhood Italian place but haven't found one yet.

Stacy Zane
Stacy Zane

It's not your fault - but that's what Off the Wall is about. I take the reader's comments, recommendations, suggestions, and follow up on it. I apologize if you're upset that yours was chosen but I can't apologize for disagreeing with it. Believe me, I had a hard time "slamming" them. And I definitely stated the positives - value, service, community, etc. But the food (with the exception of the tiramisu) was simply terrible. 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I think Stacy hit the nail on the head with Riva's. It's a cozy local spot with exceptional customer service and a great attitude of support towards the neighborhood, which almost always forgives a multitude of sins...

Stacy Zane
Stacy Zane

I don't want generic. Hence me not liking Riva's. I really have nothing bad to say about the people, but the food? Honestly, based on what I had, I'd PREFER the Olive Garden. And as you pointed out, that's not saying much. 

Irma403
Irma403

What's wrong with Poscol or Dolce Vita?(Are you really Italian?)

Stacy Zane
Stacy Zane

Thanks Katharine! You said it better in one sentence than I did in a whole article, which is no surprise. But you're exactly right. I mean, as my friend and I were on our way out, they shouted "Bye Babies!" and blew us kisses. How do you fault someone for that? The food might have been subpar but I'd probably go back for drinks at the very least. I love their communal spirit and hell, they've been around for years. They're obviously doing something right. 

Corey
Corey

Try Sunday brunch, it's eclectic and I've seen people fight over the last of the garlic bread.. And bottomless mimosas, and a good omelet, choice.. :)

Stacy Zane
Stacy Zane

Yesssssss, Dolce Vita! Sadly, I haven't made it to Poscol yet. I'll work on that. But Dolce Vita is always a good choice.

Stacy Zane
Stacy Zane

Yes! Good choice. I love Patrenella's!

ShitThowingMonkey
ShitThowingMonkey

Don't disagree there.  The blog entry looked ok didn't it?  Her chat room response of weary instead of wary or leery has drawn almost as many hits as the original topic.

StacyZane
StacyZane

Texasota - you're correct. Major brain fart on my part. And I hate when I fuck that shit up. I did mean wary. And honestly, I appreciate the grammar police because I normally call people out on that kind of stuff. So, thanks!

uncle lijah
uncle lijah

 yes--by all means let's dispense with the grammar police patrol (redundant)

then we can all become shit throwing monkeys

Texasota
Texasota

eh, the grammar police gets to go after people who write professionally or even semi-professionally (and that includes writing for official blogs of alternative newspapers)

Stacy Zane
Stacy Zane

I'm always open to 2nd chances so perhaps I'll try it some time. But I can't say I'm not weary...

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

Dolce Vita has been on the list for awhile now, we just haven't gotten there. Like most of my Italian friends, the urge to go out for Italian is lower than other kinds of food--kinds we can't make better ourselves at home. Not that I'm a great cook, but I can make the stuff my gram & dad taught me better than most restaurants.

Upscale is nice, but I suppose when I said "neighborhood" I meant "home style". Not as common down here as in the Northeast, particularly my little Italian-American pocket of the world.

We'll get around to them all, I'm sure! DV has been on the list the longest so I suppose we'll start there.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Christina, collectively Da Marco, Dolce Vita, and Poscol are some of the best restaurants in the city (and personal faves of mine)!  Da Marco for upscale Italian (I used to go here every year on my birthday), Dolce Vita for yummy pizza (I get cravings for this regularly) , and Poscol for small little plates (think: charcuterie with a glass of wine) . You should try them all.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Oh, and if you don't BYO wine, their house Chianti is surprisingly tasty. And cheap!

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Raia's IS great. and byob. Boiled egg/meatball app, sauteed crab claws, osso bucco are all winners.

don't believe the hype
don't believe the hype

Raia's on Washington is solid.  They give you a TON of pasta for the money, although their sandwiches are a bit pricey. I love their boiled egg and meatball appetizer. Boiled eggs in sauce is old-school Tex-Sicilian home-cooking that I grew up on.

Stacy Zane
Stacy Zane

I love love love love love Vincent's and Nino's. I pretty much go there every year for my birthday. And often in between. Agree completely on Carabba's and Da Marco but what about Damian's? I love that place too. Oh, and Raia's on Washington has become a new favorite of mine. 

don't believe the hype
don't believe the hype

Patranella's is ok in a pinch. As you alluded to, in the general vicinity, Vincent's and Nino's are better. Hell, Carabba's on Kirby rarely disappoints. Then there's da marco, a whole other strata and much less Italian-American influence.

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