When making a reservation at Battista’s Hole in the Wall, remember to come hungry. The dinner menu consists of 24 basic Italian staples, served up in generous portions along with complimentary garlic bread, minestrone soup, or Italian salad. The cost of each all-inclusive meal also includes free house wine (red or white) and Battista’s signature cocoa cappuccino at the end of the meal. The menu hasn’t changed in decades, and that’s precisely why Battista’s is still a Hole in the Wall that locals and tourists alike have been crawling back to since 1970.
Battista Locatelli, founder of the Las Vegas landmark, came through Ellis Island from his native Italy in 1949. After moving to Las Vegas to pursue work as a singer, he purchased a small bar called “The Dive” with the goal of turning it into a first-rate Italian restaurant. Locatelli’s version of the American dream panned out—and Battista’s Hole in the Wall has been family owned and operated ever since. Despite the restaurant’s legendary status as an old-school celebrity haunt—familiar faces like Frank Sinatra hang among the hundreds of celebrity photos adorning the walls—the staff at Battista’s doesn’t seem to discriminate between its guests. From the minute you enter the Hole in the Wall, you’re part of the family. And that means you’re also a part of the fun.
The first thing you notice at Battista’s—besides the kitschy décor that includes a mascot moose named ‘Moosolini’—is the service. The staff is friendly and outgoing, and they will do their best to make you feel right at home. And just like a real Italian family, they encourage you to mangiare from the moment you take your seat. Our waitress was delightfully brusque, her unaffectedness a bit of fresh air on the Vegas strip. It’s obvious that Battista’s is a place of frill-less, rustic charm that both whets your appetite and satisfies it. But the heartiness of their dishes speaks that same, basic language: this is comfort food at its best.
Sampling the garlic bread, which was the first dish to arrive at our table, we noticed how generous the portions were. This was not garlic “toast”, but a heaping basket full of fresh oven baked bread. Thankfully, it wasn’t drowned in garlic or butter, and was indeed light enough to enjoy a few bites before our soups and salads showed up.
I ordered the soup, which was a simple minestrone consisting of zucchini, spinach, diced tomatoes, beans, and pasta in a beef-based broth. The pasta was a little overcooked, but what do you expect when the soup’s always on? The other option is a basic Italian salad with thinly sliced salami, a stick of mozzarella, pepperoncini, tomatos, olives, and lettuce in Italian dressing. Both are flavorful and satisfying, much like the complimentary table wine, which was placed on our table in two carafes, one red and one white.
While munching on our starters, we were treated to a familiar occurrence at Battista’s. Gordy, the strolling accordion player, is a fixture at the restaurant, delighting diners for more than twenty years with his energetic renditions of classic tunes. When you hear the music emanating from this ancient troubadour, you are likely to get caught up in the moment. The atmosphere is lively, but it can also be intimate and romantic, and caters easily to big functions like wedding and bachelor parties, as well as the casual business or dinner date. The layout of the restaurant works with any occasion. There are 8 rooms: one is a large banquet room that seats 85, and the rest seat between 50 and 35 people. Altogether, the house can accommodate 280 people at once, but you’d never guess it. All of the rooms seem warm and familiar.
We order off of the wall. The same exact menu has been painted there as long as anyone can remember. The prices have also remained largely the same, and they range from $18.95 for basic Spaghetti or Ziti to $34.95 for Filet Mignon or New York Steak. I decided to go with the Chicken Rio, a dish named after Locatelli’s wife. The chicken breast was smothered in a mouth-watering cream and sherry sauce, which was a pale tan color, and served with a side of julienned zucchini, squash, and carrot, as well as tri-colored rotini pasta.
One of my dinner companions ordered Chicken Marsala, which was not on the menu, but our server was quick to insist that it could be done. (Veal Marsala is a regular menu item at Battistas). The sauce was a bit thin; but redeeming the dish was a truly delectable side of creamy spinach with anise and nutmeg, which was of perfect flavor and texture. This dish also came with the side of rotini pasta.
My other companion is a die-hard fan of Battista’s four-cheese lasagna. There are five layers of noodles, and tucked between are the cheeses: romano, parmesan, mozzarella, and ricotta. The marinara sauce seemed to have the perfect combination of staple ingredients. It was pleasantly tangy, and I detected a zing that was foreign to other marinaras. Yet Battista’s chef conformed that there is nothing other than the simplest combination of ingredients at work, or as my dinner companion observed, just “pure tomato goodness.” While my companion opted not to, you can order a meat sauce, if you prefer, drizzled over top of the lasagna. We easily agreed that the lasagna was cooked to perfection, pleasantly filling but not heavy. This was the lasagna that you wish could be made at home whenever the mood struck you— with a handy cleanup crew nearby.
While we didn’t order it, Chef Richard Gibson’s special that night was a salmon with cream sauce. On the weekdays, the daily specials are usually pasta dishes, such as a salmon with sundried tomatoes, fusilli, stuffed ravioli, or wild mushroom tortellini. On, the weekends the specials are “center-of-the-plate” specials—fresh seared scallops, double cut pork chops, or sea bass.
If there is any room for dessert, I highly recommend the spumoni, a perfect combination of pistachio, chocolate, and strawberry ice-cream with an absolutely heavenly crème anglais. The dessert menu also offers a fine chocolate mousse cake and a good tiramisu. But if the free wine, appetizers, and generous main course left you satisfied many bites ago, perhaps the only sweets you have room for are the liquid kind—and Battista’s has that too: their complimentary cappuccino, a special recipe made with sugar and cocoa and topped off with whipped cream, is surely the way to go.
At the conclusion of our meal, surrounded by all the kitsch memorabilia, we felt as if we’d died and gone to Italian restaurant heaven. Battista’s is not only an excellent destination for dining on lasagna, pasta, and every other great dish in the Italian index, it’s also a place where being surrounded by friends and family and warm service never felt so good.