If you’ve been watching the latest season of The White Lotus, you know that the island of Sicily is as much a character in the show as its expansive cast of well-heeled antagonists. Intermixed with the show’s slow-simmering drama have been stunning shots of the sunny island, as well as stunningly awkward scenes in which the show’s characters sit down for seemingly picturesque Southern Italian meals that almost always reveal them all to be in the possession of whatever is the exact opposite of la dolce vita.
While the show has caused me to further question America’s penchant for putting the wealthy on pedestals, it’s also started giving me weekly cravings for authentic Italian food. In order to satiate my culinary wanderlust, and to get a taste of that la dolce vita life myself, I made a visit to new Highland Village Italian restaurant Numero28, which prides itself on its authentic Southern Italian cuisine. The restaurant ended up charming me in a way The White Lotus’s privilege-cocooned characters never could.
Numero28’s new Houston outpost, which opened back in September, is the third location for the New York City-hailing restaurant in Texas (Numero28 Austin opened in late 2014, and Numero28 Dallas opened in late 2020). The restaurant’s Texas locations are all co-owned and operated by Sicily native Bernardo Nolfo, who brought Numero28 to Texas after receiving the endorsement of long-time friend and collaborator Rolando Biamonte and the Biamonte family, the founders of Numero28 in New York City.
The Houston outpost of the restaurant, like others in the group, represents a crossroads of Italy—from Rome to Naples to Calabria to Sicily—while presenting the best of Southern Italian cooking through a menu that is heavy on pizza, pasta, and enough passion to make Jennifer Coolidge’s do bend-and-snap. (OK, we’re mixing our Tanyas and our Paulettes now.)
Although Numero28 has a rather inviting (and heated) outdoor patio, we chose to enjoy our meal inside, which to our surprise, was much smaller than we had anticipated. After finding our seats in a cozy corner of the pipsqueak restaurant, which gives off major European street-side café vibes, my dinner guest and I perused the the menu while listening to the restaurant’s manager converse in Italian with the table next to us, which we took to be a very good sign that we were in for an authentic experience.
For starters we went with the caponata, a sweet and tangy vegetable mix with eggplant, served atop a crostini; and the arancina tradizionale, a saffron-spiced risotto ball that at Numero28 comes stuffed with a hearty Bolognese beef sauce and green peas. Those two antipasti were quickly chased with the prosciutto e mozzarella, which featured a hulking portion of Parma prosciutto ham, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, arugula, and a chipotle aioli.
Because Numero28 is known for its pizza, we settled on its signature Numero28 pizza for our next course. The pizza features delicately shaved Spek, mozzarella, mushrooms, and a rich truffle cream sauce that had us savoring every bite. Although we were already quite full by that point, we decided that we couldn’t leave without tasting some of the restaurant’s pastas and other entreés, so we treated ourselves to an order of cacio e pepe, served tableside in a little show that involves tossing the noodles in a pecorino cheese wheel, and the Melanzane alla parmigiana, a classic eggplant parmigiana that is prepared lasagna-style with a rather delectable tomato sauce alongside fresh basil and mozzarella. Both dishes hit the spot quite nicely.
We ended the meal as all meals should conclude: with Numero28’s ultra-tasty tiramisu, which was, in another little show, christened tableside with a Vatican-size dose of cream and cinnamon powder. The tiramisu served as the perfect denouement to a meal that, with the aid of some Limoncello-laced cocktails, had us embracing la dolce vita enough that, upon exit, we were saddened when we remembered we would be getting home by car instead of by Vespa—a classic case of scoot-and-switch.