At Lucia, one of the most coveted dinner reservations in Dallas, Jennifer and David Ugyur conjure the spirit of their journeys through Italy. If you look closely, you’ll notice David’s international driving permit from one of their trips framed on the wall. Beyond inspiring the décor, a laid-back, European sidewalk café vibe permeates the Bishop Arts District space.
“We love places in Italy that offer delicious food and good wine but don’t feel fancy,” says Jennifer, who oversees front-of-house operations while David mans the kitchen. “We wanted that at Lucia.”
Perhaps that’s why, even after more than eight years in business, Lucia books its 14 tables at least a month in advance.
And if you can’t get in …
To accommodate guests frustrated at the difficulty in getting reservations at Lucia, the Ugyurs recently opened Macellaio just around the corner. Macellaio offers an expanded salumi menu, along with grilled snails, Island Creek oysters, lamb casserole, and Wagyu bone-in short ribs.
287 N. Bishop Ave., Dallas
Inside the shotgun space warmed with cozy banquettes strewn with colorful pillows, patrons sit amiably cheek-to-jowl at closely placed tables. Upon settling in, guests enjoy little plates of warmed olives while perusing a wine list heavily populated by Italian choices, as well as a selection of Austrian, French, and Spanish varietals and a few Oregon pinot noirs. Sometimes, Jennifer appears at the table to see whether wine recommendations are required. Though the knowledgeable server ably answers food and drink questions, Jennifer supplies her own notes on David’s specialties.
The couple has been playing off each other’s strengths since they began dating as East Texas high schoolers (she’s from Marshall; he hails from Longview). They found the joy of cooking together early on, entertaining friends with dinner parties. Work took them to Portland, Oregon, where David worked as a chef, and Jennifer fell in love with pinot noirs. Meanwhile, a passion for great food found them touring Italy to explore the country’s cuisine. Landing in Dallas in 2001, they began planning to open their own place. Until they saved enough money, David built a solid reputation as executive chef at the esteemed Lola, a tasting-menu bistro in Uptown, and Jennifer honed her oenophile expertise working in Central Market’s wine department.
Since Lucia opened, David’s salumi misti board has been a signature, with changing meat choices—from coppa and pâté to sobrasada and basturma—each of which he’s cured by hand. Foie gras-stuffed prunes, tender with a balance of sweet and earthy flavors, never leave the menu. Handmade pastas, which change frequently, are another staple. Some are familiar, like ricotta ravioli, but some are rarer finds stateside. One of the most popular dishes is the cacio e pepe, a traditional Roman pasta made with Pecorino cheese and cracked black pepper. In summertime, he leans toward southern Italian specialties with tomatoes and olive oil.
“We always have a cut pasta, a stuffed pasta, gnocchi, and some kind of risotto,” David says, admitting he cannot count how many pasta varieties he’s served in eight-plus years. Among lesser knowns, he names “strascinati, shaped like a pea pod, served with fresh peas in springtime, and grattigiata, a pasta dough we grated into duck broth with duck confit.”
Though the Dallas-Fort Worth area is experiencing a mini-renaissance of intimate and elevated Italian restaurants (see sidebar) no restaurant boasts Lucia’s overwhelming popularity or credentials. Dining critics have bestowed on it all the stars they can, and David has been nominated by the James Beard Award committee as a semifinalist for Best Chef Southwest for five years. The Oak Cliff neighborhood’s happening Bishop Arts District, with more than 60 bistros, bars, shops, and galleries housed in renovated 1920s and ’30s brick buildings, has proven a perfect home.
Even famous people don’t get a break in nabbing a table: When a culinary celebrity called ahead last year to book a 7:30 p.m. reservation, the caller was told that a table wouldn’t be ready until 8:30. The guest showed up at 7:30 and was sat at the four-seat bar in front of the kitchen, as are all walk-in guests when the restaurant is full.
“We’ve had celebrities who have joined us for dinner, and we’re so glad to have them—who doesn’t get star-struck?” Jennifer muses. “But we’re wildly egalitarian. If we have a table available, you’re welcome to it.”
Their success isn’t owed to the power of a star rating or star power, Jennifer says, but to loyal clientele. “From the start, we were delighted and overwhelmed at how many guests wanted to visit us. Some who have been coming twice a month are now very dear friends. That’s what helps us create an experience people want to return to again and again.”
408 W. Eighth St., Suite 101, Dallas
Can’t get enough Italian fare? Here are other DFW metroplex restaurants that excel in the stylish, authentic cuisine.
Owner-chef Julian Barsotti produces gems from a wood-fired oven, along with lobster ravioli, in a Highland Park hideaway.
4115 Lomo Alto, Dallas
The ode to Roman dining showcases pizza, pasta, and inspired salads in Oak Lawn.
4010 Maple Ave., Dallas
Owners from Emilia-Romagna bring the best of home in pastas, wine, and décor.
5615 Colleyville Blvd., Suite 410, Colleyville
Owner-chef Donatella Trotti, a native of a town near Lake Como, shares her grandmother’s recipes for bresaola, cappellacci, and torta ciotola.
1400 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth
Piattello Italian Kitchen
Chefs Marcus Paslay and Scott Lewis turn simple into sublime with house ricotta, pappardelle with rabbit, and cannoli with chocolate ganache.
5924 Convair Drive, Suite 412, Fort Worth