For me, all Italian food falls into two categories. There's the cooking that blows me away every time I go to Italy, or to a few restaurants in this country. And then there's everything else. I like the food in the latter category, but not nearly as much as I like the former. In New Orleans we only occasionally get the memorable stuff. Even when it appears, it has a way of morphing into Category Due. Del Porto is the only restaurant in the New Orleans area that has managed to keep that amazing, herbal, rustic, robust style of cooking over the long term.
A strong contender for the title of Best Italian Restaurant in the New Orleans area. Del Porto's food is influenced by Tuscany, as translated by California. That makes it quite different from other local Italian restaurants, even those that claim to serve Northern Italian food. Its Covington location insulates it from the powerful influence of the dominant Creole-Sicilian style of Italian cookery. To Orleanians who have never traveled to Italy, in fact, the food here might not seem Italian at all.
David and Torre Salazzo came to the North Shore after graduating from culinary school and cooking in the California wine country, which has its own style of Tuscany-flavored Italian food. The restaurant opened in 2002 in a miniscule storefront a half-block from where it is now. After the hurricane, it moved a half-block away to a much more spacious, more visible corner location. And then it took off.
The dining room was formerly a St. Tammany Parish courts office, an airy square room with big windows on two sides and a small bar in the rear corner. The dim, subtle lighting at night makes the food look even more beautiful than it already is. A number of tables are set for service on the sidewalk when the weather is nice. A recent renovation added more dining room and kitchen space. The service staff is sophisticated and knowledgeable about both food and wine, and the bar makes very large cocktails well.
Make reservations late for in the evening, when the restaurant is less busy and the noise level lessens. The law-office crowd fills the bar for happy hour most nights. The best (quietest) tables are those farthest from the door on the right.