Dining With Denise Neil

List says state's best Italian place is in Wichita (and it's not the one you think)

Albero Cafe in Wichita is the best Italian restaurant in Kansas, according to this list.
Albero Cafe in Wichita is the best Italian restaurant in Kansas, according to this list. Denise Neil

As experts on Italian food goes, I'd rank people living and working in New York City right up there.

So a recent list published on the New York Daily News website, purporting to contain the name of the best Italian restaurant in each of the 50 states, caught my attention.

The list, which was posted earlier this year, is presented as a mouthwatering slide show of pizzas, pastas and Caprese salads. If I were you, I'd wait until after lunch to peruse it.

The Kansas Italian restaurant that made the list is from Wichita, but it's probably not the one you are thinking of.

The paper chose Albero Cafe, the solid yet underrated little restaurant that Hassan Ballout opened in 2014 at 4811 E. Central. (Before opening his own place, Ballout had worked for 10 years in the kitchen at Bella Luna Cafe.)

In fact, Ballout does serve some of my favorite local Italian fare, as I described in my review published four years ago. The menu is filled with homey Italian dishes like fettuccine Alfredo, chicken Parmesan and shrimp scampi, and all are beautifully presented.

Perhaps my favorite Albero dish, which I'll describe to anyone who will listen, is the Italian nachos made of fried pasta chips piled high and drenched with a homemade cheese sauce that’s rich, thick, creamy and addictive. It's topped with a mixture of shredded lettuce, sliced peperoncini and tomatoes that’s tossed in a tangy dressing. Customers can opt to top the nachos with chicken or sliced Italian sausage.

Here's what the New York Daily News had to say about the restaurant:

This College Hill standby offers a wide selection of Italian classics and creative specialties like Italian nachos and shrimp dip, and there’s a wide variety of customizable pastas. Chef-owner Hassan Ballout spent 10 years in the kitchens of some of the city’s best Italian restaurants, and when he decided to strike out on his own three years ago he struck gold. Standouts include fried calamari (sliced into strips instead of rings), Tuscan white bean soup, penne al pesto, grilled grouper with lemon herb garlic butter, and Italian lemon cream cake.

And for those of you who, like me, like to travel just so you can eat, the list named Stella in Oklahoma City the best Italian place in Oklahoma. And in Missouri, the winner was Trattoria Marcella in St. Louis.

One of Wichita's favorite Italian restaurants is back, and people are willing to wait as long as it takes to taste its food again. Video by Denise Neil / March 24, 2016

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