The Italians Next Door

Las Vegas’ Old World Italian dining dynasty evolves to keep up with the fast-paced city

Gino and Rosalba Ferraro have been fixtures on the Las Vegas food scene since the late ’70s, when they first arrived here from Syracuse, N.Y. Today, Gino, 57 and sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, is still a movie-star handsome man, while Rosalba, two years older, retains a figure most 25-year-old women would envy. Could it be the pasta? Not likely.

The couple met while still in junior high. Their families came to this country when the kids were barely teenagers, and they have been together ever since, proud parents of two daughters, Teresa and Gina, and son, Mimmo, a Culinary Institute of America graduate and now executive chef at Ferraro’s, a fine-dining establishment just east of the Strip.

Their family photo album, which Rosalba has downloaded onto her MacBook, displays somber black-and-white shots of a handsome clan, where everyone is trim, attractive and quite ethnic. I ask Rosalba her secret. “I go to the gym every day,” she tells me, “and I don’t eat carbs a whole lot.” That means no daily linguini, she adds.

Happily, though, that restriction doesn’t apply to their customers. The original Ferraro’s on West Flamingo Road was one of the first restaurants I visited when I arrived here during the late ’90s. Gino had an impressive wine cellar and a loyal local following back then, serving classics such as osso buco, spaghetti Bolognese and creamy risotto—all delicious.

But times have changed, and the Ferraros have had to reinvent themselves to keep up with changing tastes. Today, the restaurant is housed in a spiffy, 9,000-square-foot location on the corner of Harmon Avenue and Paradise Road, the better to take advantage of the 40,000 adjacent hotel rooms and nearby conventions.

“I was told I was crazy to make this move,” Gino says, “but it turned out to be the best one I ever made. Half my customers are walk-ins.” The menu now includes rustic fare such as braised rabbit, tripe and pappardelle with wild boar ragu in keeping with trends in the industry.

Gino has been doing just that since 1983, when he opened a business here that imported Italian foods, including olive oil, tomato sauce and cheeses. That morphed into a deli on Sahara Avenue, which the family opened in 1985, selling groceries from all over the world, as well as fresh pizza. “I was the first person in Vegas to bring in pastas like Barilla, prosciutto and various Italian cheeses.” In 1988, it became his first restaurant.

Business slowed nearly to a halt when the economy soured, and he ended the restaurant’s long run at 5900 W. Flamingo Road by moving to the current location. “Upscale restaurants relying solely on locals are having a tough time these days,” he observed, and rightly so.

After a tour of the cellar, kept at 58 degrees, stocked with rare wines such as Brunellos, Barolos from producers like Angelo Gaia and Bruno Giacosa and pricey Super Tuscans, we sit down for a “small lunch.”

It’s impossible to socialize with Italians without food, and soon, pasta e fagioli soup, spicy house-made sausage and the city’s best spaghetti carbonara hit the table, followed by absurdly rich cream puffs.

Mimmo has been the chef at his father’s restaurant since 2003, and his cooking has gotten more daring. “We make bread, pasta, sauce and dessert,” Gino says. “Rosalba comes in every day to make Italian cookies, tiramisu and cream puffs.” I ask about their secret filling, but she isn’t saying.

The new restaurant is well-appointed. The seating capacity is a whopping 340, and there is a patio for outdoor seating. Most nights, a live entertainer plays piano on a stage.

The Ferraros remain a bit old-school and wistful about the past. “I liked it when the kids were little,” Rosalba says, “and people put on their Sunday best to go out for dinner.”

But even though this isn’t the place for flip-flops, this First Family of Italian food in Las Vegas has adapted to the present and seems to be thriving.

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