PHOTOGRAPHS BY NATE ABBOTT
Order the pork chops, my dad insisted before I could even open the menu. It’s the signature entrée at Castelli’s Ristorante, the traditional Tuscan-style restaurant that’s beginning its 33rd year in Palm Desert. His suggestion was tempting, considering the chops marinate all day in fresh herbs and seasonings before being charbroiled and served with a sherry wine glaze and caramelized apples. But the seafood lover in me opted for the Linguine di Mare — a deep and decadent dish filled with tender baby calamari, lobster, shrimp, scallops, fennel, and diced green onions in marinara sauce over imported pasta.
This is the best kind of family argument: what to eat. Mom remains silent — a safe bet to order her regular: Vitello alla Parmigiana — while dad and I mix it up. I sometimes choose the savory Ravioli d’Aragosta or the Filetto al Marsala drizzled with white truffle oil.
Yes, Castelli's Ristorante is a family restaurant, exactly as owners/brothers Michael and John Castelli intended it when they opened more than three decades ago. They grew up in “The Hill” section of St. Louis, worked alongside families in their Italian eateries, and remembered how the owners were always working. Likewise, the Castellis often greet us and make sure that dinner meets our high expectations.
In addition to its consistently excellent food and service, we like the feel of this place — a cozy, intimate old supper club vibe with a pianist performing every night. In the Celebrity Room, pictures of the restaurant’s famous guests — Joe Mantegna, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, Jack Jones, Heather Locklear, and James Caan — cover the walls.
Some dishes, such as the house-specialty fettuccine Alfredo and osso bucco, have been staples on the menu since the early days, while newer additions, like dad’s favorite cioppino seafood stew, keep us coming back.
Dessert is just as sweet with a dozen options, including the Castelli’s Ristorante After Dark, made with French vanilla ice cream, layers of fresh strawberries, and chocolate mousse topped with amaretto, whipped cream, and amaretto cookies. Pair with the Cappuccino Romano — which includes brandy, amaretto, and Kahlua topped with whipped cream and Ghirardelli chocolate — and have a nice night. castellis.net
Winners Voted by Our Readers
Johnny Costa’s Ristorante
The vast menu includes many pasta dishes with seafood, as well as meat and vegetarian options. johnnycostaspalmsprings.com
Desert Hot Springs
Located inside Miracle Springs Resort & Spa, Capri is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, when its Italian specialties shine. miraclesprings.com/capri
Trilussa specializes in traditional spaghetti and meatballs, chicken piccata, veal cacciatore, and lasagna Bolognese and features vegan and gluten-free options such as cauliflower bruschetta and zucchini pasta. trilussarestaurant.com
Norma’s Italian Kitchen
We like the Pasta Alla Norma with eggplant, tomatoes, onions, basil, parsley, and garlic topped with pecorino Romano. normasitaliankitchen.com
The menu offers a number of vegetarian dishes, including Skip’s Porcini Ravioli, and classics such as the trio of veal options — marsala, parmesan, piccata. gotothenest.com
Enzo’s Bistro and Bar
Two words: handmade pizza. Yes, Enzo’s serves lasagna, ravioli with ricotta and spinach, and pappardella Bolognese, but we love the Constantina pizza with sliced Parma prosciutto, roasted peppers, artichokes, and gorgonzola cheese. enzosbistroandbar.com
Mario’s Italian Café
Choose from specialty pizzas or build your own. Seafood, veal, and a variety of pasta dishes round out the menu. mariositaliancafes.com