The new location of Niki’s Italian Bistro is like a punch line to a joke: They didn’t like the neighborhood … so they moved across the street!
But it’s the truth. For more than 20 years, the restaurant has been located in North Richland Hills along a busy stretch of Davis Boulevard that has perhaps seen better days. This past summer, however, the family-owned business opened a handsome new stand-alone spot, with “more rooms, more space and a bigger kitchen,” owner Mike Nazari says.
And you might want to save room this holiday season for a visit to Niki’s. Spot-on renditions of Italian favorites plus a convivial, almost clubby atmosphere — where live music reigns late on weekend nights — make the restaurant an especially winning place to feast with family and friends.
That’s what we did on a recent early weeknight evening. We got the party started with the combo appetizer plate ($10.95). The dish featured stuffed mushrooms, indistinguishable fried calamari and sauteed shrimp, and a nutmeg-y spinach-cheese sauce. Our favorite of the platter was the mushrooms, baby bellas filled with a breadcrumb and cheese stuffing. The savory preparation perfectly set the tone for the rest of the food to come.
From linguini puttanesca to chicken marsala, the well-priced menu is flush with options. We bypassed the requisite salads because ours was a meat-and-carbohydrate crowd, but we didn’t suffer for it. The ziti with meatballs ($7.95) had rigate noodles — wide and lined — covered in a gorgeous cheese crust and studded with meatballs. The latter were delicate and juicy, perfectly absorbing the kitchen’s assured tomato sauce, which toes the line nicely between sweet and tangy.
The rigatoni a la vodka ($9.95) had all the hallmarks of a house specialty: premium seafood mired with a de rigueur ingredient — prosciutto. The tiny scallops in the dish were almost lost in the tangle of pasta, cream sauce and the salty ham, but overall, it was an enjoyable, sloppy affair.
For a glimpse into how leaner folk eat, we ordered the linguini ortollana ($6.95), al dente noodles doing business with garlic, olive oil and pieces of broccoli. There was nary a teaspoon of cream near this sauce, and the simple dish was light and refreshing, executing the epitome of Italian cuisine.
Similarly, chicken Parmigiana ($9.95) and the meat lasagna ($7.95) were satisfying, collectively cheesy iterations.
Of course, Niki’s offers pizza, too, and even though the Neapolitan version ($7.95-$12.95) advertises a thin crust, ours arrived without the cracker-crisp crust we anticipated. Nevertheless, it was a very good pie, garnished with just the thinnest amount of sauce, plenty of cheese and generous toppings.
This time of year, we’re often burdened by a crammed-to-the-gizzards-with-leftovers refrigerator. For that reason alone, Niki’s delivers, offering flavorful Italian standards, just like your nonna might cook up — if she weren’t in the kitchen right now making a turkey sandwich.