Restaurants / Openings

Former Da Marco Chef’s New Houston Restaurant Quietly Opens to Foodie Raves — No Publicity, But Plenty of Buzz For Amore Italian

Alfredo Mojica's New Shepherd Drive Spot is a Labor of Love — and Hard Built Waiter Connections

BY // 01.27.22
photography Shelby Hodge

A mere seven weeks after opening Amore Italian Restaurant in an unassuming building on Shepherd, a road which happens to be in the middle of a disruptive redo, chef Alfredo Mojica is wining rave reviews and quickly building a loyal Houston clientele for his classic Italian cuisine.

On Wednesday night, the 60-seat restaurant at 3310 S. Shepherd was filled with jovial diners savoring truly delicious plates from the highly-tenured chef’s kitchen.

No publicity. No media nights. No friends and family freebies. Not even a sign out front. Simply, word of mouth about the remarkable menu and its deft execution along with the familiar waitstaff is rapidly spreading among Houston’s culinary sophisticates. We predict that it won’t be long before reservations are a must at Amore Italian Restaurant.

“I’m so happy and lucky to have people coming in. I know a lot of people from all the restaurants and from Da Marco,” Mojica  says. “Friends recommend it. It took me by surprise, right? I didn’t know this was going to happen.”

Amore Italian Restaurant at 3310 S. Shepherd rose from a dilapidated building thanks to a complete redo.
Amore Italian Restaurant at 3310 S. Shepherd rose from a dilapidated building thanks to a complete redo.

Fine diners will recall Mojica as the man at the helm in the kitchen at Da Marco, where he donned a toque for two decades. Before that, the native of Mexico worked for seven years under Tony Vallone at Grotto on Woodway. He entered the restaurant world through the lowest ring on the ladder, as a 16-year-old dishwasher at the now long-gone River Oaks Grill.

The relationships that Mojica established with waiters along the way eased his hiring for the new enterprise. Diners will recognize waitstaff from Brasserie 19, Da Marco and a few other popular Houston restaurants. These are men that Mojica has known and worked with off and on for 25 years.

Finding Amore On His Own

Seated at a table mid-afternoon in the narrow dining room that once housed a lobster roll joint and before that a pastry shop, Mojica takes a modest stance. He never expected such a rapid success when leaving Da Marco two years ago.

He also did not anticipate the long delay between heading out on his own and opening the door on his charming bòite which is formally dressed with white tablecloths and fresh flowers. Amore is Mojica’s very own enterprise. No investors other than himself, his wife Christina and family.

Bad timing, they signed the contract on the dilapidated building two months before the COVID shutdown. Their plans were halted for six months and unbeknownst to them the resurfacing of Shepherd Drive, a major disadvantage to any other newbie restaurant, was about to begin.

The name Amore, love in Italian, Mojica tells PaperCity reflects the love for his wife, for his family and for food. The chef’s beautiful wife joins us for photos toward the end of the interview and adds that the couple is still working on several design elements of the restaurant.

Amore is a partnership of a restaurant. Christina selected the gilded pizza oven that keeps the grilled bread and the pizzas coming.

The gold tiled pizza oven at Amore Italian Restaurant, under the toque of chef Alfredo Mojica.
The gold tiled pizza oven at Amore Italian Restaurant, under the toque of chef Alfredo Mojica.

While we swooned over many items on the menu, our table of four was wild for the prosciutto with mozzarella and arugala salad, the eggplant parmesan, the branzino and the fried oysters, the latter to die for.

The chef’s penchant for truffles is evidenced from the seven truffle-laced dishes on the menu. Six crudos, assorted appetizers and entrees, plus 13 pizza varieties expand the offerings.

The prices are incredibly affordable for the moment as Mojica notes that these have been “promotional” prices. Diners can expect slow increases on both food and wine prices as the restaurant gains popularity. Amore does not have a liquor license, something that the owner will consider as an option later down the road.

Amore Italian Restaurant is open from 11 am to 10 pm Tuesdays through Sundays. Expect a special Valentine’s Day menu popping up on the website soon as Amore will be open on Monday, February 14.