5908 Magazine St., (504) 509-6550; restaurantavo.com

Avo has a one-of-a-kind setting deep in its Uptown neighborhood, where the courtyard dining room, flickering candles and overarching trees make the space feel like a town square (with a retractable roof when the weather doesn't cooperate). Still, the really distinctive draw is chef Nick Lama’s contemporary ideas for high-end Italian cuisine. There is precision and artfulness across his menu, but also the softer edges of familiar flavors. A strong sense of family runs through this upscale operation, from some of the dishes to much of the staff. It helps explain why Avo feels like a New Orleans restaurant even though it doesn’t serve overtly New Orleans food. Dinner Mon.-Sat. $$$$


Staff photo by Ian McNulty - Cavatelli pasta with Calabrese sausage at Del Porto Ristorante in Covington.

Del Porto Ristorante

501 E. Boston St., Covington, (985) 875-1006; delportoristorante.com

A classic Tuscan approach to robust roasted meats, house-made pastas and a light touch with seafood are the enduring hallmarks of this modern Italian restaurant. Preparations are straightforward, though still multidimensional, with a balanced interplay of fresh herbs, the right hit of oil or a dash of spicy heat. The seasons play out through this approach. Get the luscious porchetta whenever it appears (you’ll need a glass of Chianti to wash it back). If you’re in downtown Covington in the late afternoon make any excuse to visit the small plates-style happy hour (Tue.-Fri., 4:30-6 p.m.) Lunch and dinner Tue.-Sat. $$$$


Photo by Ian McNulty - Tritone, a seafood pasta, at Marcello's.

Marcello's Wine Bar and Bistro

715 St. Charles Ave., (504) 581-6333; and 4860 Veterans Blvd., (504) 301-3848; marcelloscafe.com

Marcello’s offers a read on Sicilian flavors that stands apart from the local Creole-Italian standard. Clams set in a bouquet of garlic, olive oil and spaghetti, baby artichokes halved and grilled on the stem, meal-sized lobster panzanella salads and crusty, moist zucchini fritters all relate more closely to a school of Sicilian cooking popular in the Northeast. Marcello’s has two locations now, and both share the same offbeat, enormously appealing approach to wine. You pick your bottle from racks arrayed like a retail shop, and with prices closer to retail than most restaurants. It makes a second bottle all the more tempting. Lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner Mon.-Sat. (CBD); lunch and dinner daily (Metairie) $$$$


Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty -- Snapper crudo (left) and tuna carpaccio are fixtures on the menu at Mariza in the Bywater.


2900 Chartres St., (504) 598-5700; marizaneworleans.com

The tuna carpaccio at this elegantly understated Bywater eatery could not be simpler. It’s beautiful raw fish, pounded thin, and finished with lustrous olive oil and sea salt. Perfection. The recipe that has made Mariza one of my favorite restaurants is similarly straightforward. Chef Ian Schnoebelen takes an elemental approach to regional Italian cuisine. It's much lighter than red sauce Italian joints, but still lushly flavorful. Fresh pastas and shaved raw salads, steaks and whole fish and composed salumi plates fill the bare wood tables, and the wine list is well chosen and approachable. Prices are mid-range. The whole place feels seductive without appearing to try, which of course is more seductive still. Dinner Tue.-Sat. $$$

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.