With the constant turnover and always emerging restaurants, I often get caught up in the newness of the Reno food scene. It’s easy to spend all of your time seeking out the new kids on the block. But with that adventure, it’s also easy to forget about the favorites that have been around for a long time.
Johnny’s Ristorante Italiano—a Reno staple since 1966—is one of those places for me. The Fourth Street restaurant donning white table cloths and serving authentic Italian fare has become my favorite, home-style Italian restaurant in the city (replacing my own hometown favorite I was married to for 20 years).
When you walk in, the atmosphere is friendly, bartenders are happy to talk wine with you while you wait for a table, and the staff is always eager to make the most of your meal, no matter how busy the dining room gets.
While service and quality vino rank high on my list of priorities when it comes to eating out, the real treat is the food. With every bite it’s easy to tell that the ingredients are fresh and the dishes are made with care. When I come here, I order pasta. I’m sure the other dishes are just as divine, but at Johnny’s, it’s tradition.
There is a long line-up of handmade pastas on the menu, representing just about every shape you have—and possibly haven’t—heard of. On my last visit to the restaurant I tried the Penne Sorrento, a slightly spicy dish I’d been eyeing but was always a little nervous to take on thinking the spice might overwhelm. To my surprise, the Sorrento peppers added a heat to the dish that elevated the complex flavor profile without causing me to break out into a sweat.
What I like most about this dish is the lack of sauce. While the sauces are flavorful here, sometimes I like a pasta that is cut down to the basics, and a little lighter. In this case, it’s a generous helping of garlic mixed with butter and lemon zest that creates the rich yet refreshing base for the penne. The dish also comes with grilled chicken, Calabrian chili peppers, and pecorino Romano cheese.
All pasta dishes start with a soup or salad. My go-to is the house Caesar. It’s a small up-charge and it stays true to the traditional—essentially, you get exactly what you’d expect, a classic just like Johnny’s. But, I have heard rave reviews about the menu’s minestrone, too.
If you brought your appetite, mull over the antipasti menu. If you’re a calamari fan, you can’t go wrong by ordering the Calamari Fritti. Here, it’s cooked to the consistency of chicken, less chewy than some other restaurants serve calamari. And the pieces are on the smaller side. Fried, but not greasy. Dip it in the spicy marinara and caper sauce, but beware, it does pack a small punch. And remember before you place your order, that all dinners come with a basket of bread, too.
One of the most exciting parts of a dinner at Johnny’s for any wine lover is taking a trip down the wine list and sampling a few. Johnny’s is keen on offering several varietals by the glass, as well as sips to try before committing, from all over the world. And the prices aren’t astronomical, which makes the foray a little more fun; quite honestly a theme of Johnny’s entire menu is that you don’t pay high dollar for the quality you get.
In person: 4245 West Fourth Street, Reno, NV 89523
Call: (775) 747-4511
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 5 to 9 p.m. Reservations suggested. Takeout available.