Mario’s Portofino Ristorante1505 S. Virginia St.
Reno, NV 89502
In the pantheon of Reno’s Italian eateries, Mario’s Portofino was always considered one of the local faves, but unfortunately, they closed their doors for service and called it quits for a while.
I didn’t have the chance to eat at the old location, but I remember my mom telling me how good the meatballs were and how the traditional Italian desserts were amazing.
Well, Mario’s is back. The new location is inside the Sports West shopping center on the corner of Virginia and Mt. Rose streets—in an old Chinese restaurant.
At first, I was sad to hear that the dim sum restaurant had shuttered, but once I saw the beautiful work Mario’s did remodeling the place.
My friend Mary described it as, “very Tuscan,” with warm-colored walls and lush greenery with rich wood trim. The dining room is large, seating about 150 people.
It’s a good thing the place is so big, because when I showed up on a Friday night during the big dinner rush with a group of friends—Pat, Mary, Trudy, April and my girlfriend, Chérie—we had everything except reservations. Even with two large parties, they managed to squeeze us in.
Mario’s was packed, but I could tell that the wait staff was comprised of seasoned veterans. They were very attentive and doing a great job at the lost art of service. The staff was very friendly from the beginning of our experience to the end. And that’s truly what it was—more of an experience than a simple meal.
The hostess escorted us to a cozy booth. All six of us squeezed in. It’s a good thing we all like each other because it was arm to arm to arm in there.
I checked out the menu and sure enough, the Mario’s meatballs were there. They came with spaghetti in meat sauce, or bolognese for $13.95. I actually don’t remember what everybody else ordered because once my meatballs arrived to the table, my senses stayed dynamically focused on my meatballs.
What a show stopper, these meat balls! They’re the size of tennis balls, made from scratch from ground beef, pork and veal, with plenty of good seasoning.
Our busperson came out to our table with the fresh Parmesan and covered my plate with the stuff. I don’t think anybody else cared about what they were eating, because they only had eyes for my big, delicious Italian meatballs.
My friend Pat made the first move, offering to trade one ravioli for a quarter of a meatball. Of course, I obliged, as there was no way I was going to be able to finish them without a little help from my friends. Everybody else was asking me for a taste, except for Chérie. Her strategy was less formal. She began chipping away at them during my lulls in attention. I guess she assumed what’s mine was hers.
Everybody enjoyed their meals, but it was time for coffee and desserts. April ordered Illy coffee; Mary ordered espresso, also Illy. Mary’s came out in a petite cup with a lemon peel and a sugar cube … a nice touch.
Our server rattled-off a long list of desserts, but I didn’t hear him say panna cotta—an egg-less custard. I asked him if he had any and he had to go check the “secret stash.” He found two orders of panna cotta, at $6 each, They were smooth, rich treats accompanied by a sweet and slightly acidic raspberry sauce—absolutely delicious.
Pat ordered the crème caramel for $6, and Mary ordered the tiramisu, also $6. The desserts were amazing.
The new Mario’s lived up to the old hype, and then some. But you simply must try the meatballs.