Listen to Austin 360 Radio

South Congress staple Vespaio as buzzy as ever under new owners

Matthew Odam
Chef Ryan Samson, left, and Daniel Brooks took over ownership of Vespaio earlier this year. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

There are restaurants where people go to see and be seen; restaurants where you're likely to see at least one person you know across the room and give a nod or a wave; and then there are restaurants where you love running into friends. The rebooted Vespaio, as with the original iteration, falls into that last category. Maybe it's the dim lighting, the fact that the drinks are stiff and the food lends itself to pairing well with red wine, or the room's rich 21-year history, but the South Congress Avenue staple brims with a clubhouse vibe buttressed by familiar service that makes you feel like you're at a cocktail party or a fun wedding rehearsal dinner.

Longtime Vespaio chef chef Ryan Samson and former general manager Daniel Brooks, who also owns the equally convivial Licha's Cantina in East Austin, purchased the restaurant from founders Alan Lazarus, Scott Bolin and Claude Benayoun earlier this year and have not only maintained but re-energized the vibe of the beloved Italian restaurant. The wine list is interesting but not overwhelming and the food is solid and comforting, but its the ineffable sense of community, bonhomie and good times that help set the restaurant apart. After a recent visit, I'm sure the long list of regulars feel the restaurant remains in good hands, and I'm happy to see Vespaio buzzes with the potential to continue to be a relaxed but spirited hang for future generations of Austin diners. That visit afforded us the opportunity to catch up with old friends at a neighboring table, and juice them for wine information, and allowed us to meet some new friends, as well. Our dinner stretched late into the evening and theirs even later. Was it the best Italian meal I've had this year in Austin? No, though the sweet pumpkin-filled pansoti pasta draped with sage are spectacular regardless the season. Was it the most fun? Undoubtedly.