Dining at Caffe Torino in the foothills is your chance to savor cuisine that easily matches some of the best northern Italian dishes.
Visitors to Italy who stray off the well-trodden tourist trail into small villages or obscure city quarters often report discovering charming cafes, trattorias and ristorantes – family owned and operated, some with folk names like ” La Cucina Della Mamma”, offering delicious, home-cooked food at reasonable prices.
Transported to northern Italy
Enter Cafe Torinotucked away in a corner of a bustling shopping center at the intersection of East River and North Craycroft, may evoke a similar feeling for those who have strolled the cobblestones of Bologna, Genoa or Milan.
How it all began
A spin-off of Caffe Torino in the Oro Valley, which has been drawing crowds of devotees for two decades, the Foothills venue feels surprisingly intimate considering it seats up to 80 people.
Around small tables, surrounded by comfortable booths around the edge of the room, are walls decorated with huge black and white photographs of the family of Daniela Borella, owner and executive chef, taken years ago in his native Italy. These striking, enlarged images reflect the restaurant’s deep Italian roots.
In the late 1980s, Borella immigrated with her parents, Edy and Italo, and in 2000 she and her mother opened a small cafe specializing in coffee and sandwiches.
Encouraged by the popularity of the small panini stand and making good use of a reservoir of family recipes from the old country, the family opened Caffe Torino, in honor of the city of Turin in northern Italy.
A passion for serving incomparably delicious dishes
The menus of the Oro Valley and Foothills Torino restaurants are identical. Daniela, who remains responsible for overall uniform quality control across both locations, also creates inventive new recipes to ensure Turin’s dishes remain fresh and vibrant.
Along with Torino General Manager Ollie Shouse, Co-Executive Chef David Royle and Foothills Site Chef Angel Ciambor, she keeps a watchful and continuous eye on food preparation.
Shouse is quick to point out, “Our passion is to serve incomparably delicious food.
Complete menus and generous portions
Delicious and plentiful. The restaurant’s voluminous lunch and dinner menus feature an impressive offering of starters, salads, pastas, and seafood and meat entrees, as well as vegetarian and vegan options, all presented in generous portions.
But if there is a singular specialty in Turin, it is probably seafood. Since opening its Foothills site in 2013, the restaurant has established a solid reputation throughout the Tucson metropolis for its tasty dishes of pasta and seafood.
“The fish we serve is caught every morning in Guaymas and delivered to us by express the same afternoon,” Shouse said.
Dine like the Italians do
On a recent early evening, waiters first brought to our table the Turinese version of the popular Italian appetizer, Carciofi Fritti, often referred to as “roman fried artichokes”.
Served on a large salad platter, crispy fried artichokes are served on a bed of fresh tomatoes and mixed greens, topped with shaved parmesan and a savory parsley aioli sauce.
A hearty antipasti, these lightly breaded artichokes are perfect appetizers for Turin’s happy hour (3-6 p.m. each day, when all drinks are discounted and restaurant entrees are $3 less than the menu price).
Appetizing menu options
The dish was soon followed by a plate of Bruschetta Caprese – grilled ciabatta brushed with extra virgin olive oil and garlic, topped with chopped tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, and sliced Tuscan Nostraline olives.
Without stopping, our server also delivered an attractive platter of Gamberi E Pancetta — juicy shrimp wrapped in lean Italian bacon on a bed of arugula, bathed in a balsamic reduction and sprinkled with shaved parmesan.
Enjoyable dishes that go beyond seafood
Caffe Torino also offers a range of pasta, meat and meatless dishes that are sure to appeal to customers whose preferences exclude or go beyond seafood.
A particular customer favorite is the Melanzane Alla Parmigiana — an eggplant parmesan with penne pomodoro, covered with a simple but tasty sauce made with olive oil, fresh tomatoes and basil.
Those who are led to believe that northern Italian cuisine is exclusively synonymous with white wine sauce will be convincingly dispelled by this misconception after tasting the exquisite cuisine of Caffe Torino. Bolognese Lasagna.
Bolognese is a thick, tomato-based meat sauce expertly layered with homemade pasta, creamy béchamel and fresh parmesan cheese.
Caffe Torino also offers exceptional veal, chicken, pork and lamb chop dishes daily, in addition to vegetarian options.
Seafood lovers passing through Gamberi or Cioppino may gravitate towards the Linguine Allo Scoglio — wide strings of fresh pasta topped with plump shrimp, wild scallops, mussels and clams – all wrapped in the dinner’s choice of garlicky white wine or tomato sauce.
The icing on the cake
Diners searching in vain for a list of desserts on the printed menu will be delighted to learn that there is always a selection of homemade treats available – each enthusiastically described by the restaurant’s knowledgeable servers.
On a recent visit, the sweets of the evening included New York-style cheesecake, tiramisu, creme brulee, hot chocolate cake with ice cream, carrot cake and hot pie fashion.
We opted for the velvety spumoni, which was as tasty and refreshing as it was colorful.
Dinner with wine
Caffe Torino in the Foothills offers one of the most extensive selections of Italian wines in Arizona, with over 2,000 bottles in stock.
“Whatever your taste in wine and whatever your budget, we can practically guarantee [to have] the wine you love,” Shouse said.
Whether it’s an $8 glass of California cabernet or a $400 bottle of one of Italy’s finest “super Tuscans” – referred to as “nectars of the gods” by connoisseurs – the Caffe Tornino staff are happy to collect, decant and pour.
Whiskey lovers rejoice
Betraying its appearance as a small lounge restaurant, the Torino bar has an extensive repertoire of fine whiskeys, particularly Kentucky bourbon in small batches and single malt Scotch whisky.
A recent late-night visitor told us, “I once lived in London, which prides itself on serving the best Scotch whisky. Then, after returning to the States, I came across a simply phenomenal collection of single malts – where? In a small Italian restaurant in Tucson! Who would have thought?”
An evening that begins at the well-stocked bar of Caffe Torino with cocktails and appetizers, such as Calamari E Greenery or crab cakes (Granchio croquettes), can very well be extended to the restaurant for a dinner consisting of salad, pasta and a dish of seafood or meat, all accompanied by a superb Italian wine.
And then, maybe, an espresso with a shot of rare, aged bourbon before heading home? Good mark !
The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday. Brunch is served on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
If you want to hear The Tony Frank Trio, a jazz combo, they play live Thursday and Saturday nights.
Caffe Torino Foothills is located at 5605 E. River Rd., Ste. 121. For more information, call (520) 300-6860. For more information, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.