Italian Hideaway

Italian Hideaway

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A delicious evening at Pietro’s Famiglia.

Over breakfast in Tamarack Casino’s coffee shop, Pietro Ochoa reminisced about the days when he owned his first restaurant. It was 1985, and he and a couple of buddies — all in their early 20s — opened a fish restaurant in the beach town of San Francisco, Nayarit (also called San Pancho), Mexico.

Ochoa, chef/owner of Pietro’s Famiglia Ristorante Italiano, chuckled as he looked back on that summer as a young entrepreneur, busy, bustling, and having fun… until he wasn’t. The seasonal restaurant died in the off-season. But Ochoa’s goal of owning another restaurant didn’t fade.

The son of a Mexican father and an Italian mother, Ochoa migrated in 1986 from Nayarit to Reno (where he had visited years before). He worked for years in local restaurants — including La Strada in the Eldorado Hotel Casino and Andiamo, an Italian restaurant in the Reno Hilton (which eventually became Grand Sierra Resort).

In 2005, he hit his goal: his own restaurant in Sparks, financed on a wing and a prayer.

“I started with credit cards and some cash, not millions (of dollars),” he says.

A Restaurant of His Own

The space — “a hideaway,” as he describes it, on the second floor of an old building where previous restaurants had tried and failed — needed serious attention. The black carpet was worn through, the walls splattered in clashing colors. Undeterred, he painted the walls in warm sunflower hues, tore out carpet, and installed tile. The tile had to be replaced several years later — “I didn’t do it right,” he says sheepishly — by a professional tiler; the white-marbled tile still remains.

Pietro’s Famiglia is not a restaurant of bare tables, paper napkins, or a menu you scan online. It’s a dinner house with an ambience that echoes the fine-dining scene of the mid-20th century, with cloth napkins, linen-clothed tables, and large, leather-bound menus. But it also contains homey Italian touches, such as faux ivy lacing trellises on the ceiling and paintings of Italy’s scenery. In addition, the dinner-house menu spotlights favorites of Italian cuisine, cooked to order.

Seafood cioppino, steak pizzaiola, and crab cannellini grace the menu at Pietro’s Famiglia

The restaurant specializes in classic pasta and seafood dishes (which chef Pietro handles with exacting deftness). You might start with the generous antipasto plate (seafood, meats, vegetables, and cheese) for two or more people and build from there. You have 15 pasta dishes to choose from; one crowd-pleaser is the crab cannellini with lobster mascarpone cream sauce. Other favorites include New York steak pizzaiola (pan-seared steak cooked in a spicy tomato sauce) and seafood cioppino, often said to be the best in Reno. For a sweet ending, Pietro’s house-made tiramisu is not to be missed.

Along with the main menu, nightly evening specials are offered. One night it was pan-seared halibut with saffron mushroom risotto and fresh sautéed vegetables. The impressively thick piece of halibut was expertly cooked, crispy on the bottom, and lusciously sweet and tender inside. The risotto’s earthy flavors and al dente vegetables added tasty contrasts.

At 6 feet 2 inches, Ochoa — in his black chef’s jacket with red buttons and black beret — is easy to spot in his open kitchen. He is on the job from mid-afternoon, prepping and cooking until the evening is over. A from-scratch, hands-on chef, his food reflects his belief in freshness, from crisp lettuce to fresh, wild, natural sea scallops.

Song In His Heart

Regular customers reading this know that part of the restaurant’s history is lately missing. For the past 13 years, Richie Ballerini had entertained diners on the weekends, singing, in a liquid velvet voice, songs from the Great American Songbook. In his heyday, he worked with Martin in Las Vegas during the Rat Pack era. But on April 30 of this year, he died of a heart attack. A still-grieving Ochoa says he simply isn’t sure yet whether he will continue offering live music.

Still, his 17-year-old restaurant is as strong as ever. He is the master chef, doing something he loves to do, and his fans still are coming in. He is most proud of that.

“They love this hideaway,” he says.


Reno food writer Sandra Macias had an adventure finding Pietro’s hideaway. Now she knows the way: Start at Great Basin Brewery and walk down one, two, three, four doors. There you will see the name “Pietro’s Famiglia” etched on the door’s glass panel. Enter, and take the stairs — or elevator — to the second floor. There you are!


Pietro’s Famiglia Ristorante Italiano
834 Victorian Ave., Ste. 200, Sparks
775-355-7557 •
Dinner served 5 – 9:30 p.m., Wed. – Sun.



Apple Salad

(courtesy of Pietro Ochoa, chef/owner, Pietro’s Famiglia in Sparks. Serves 4)


2 Granny Smith apples, cut in wedges or slices
½ cup dried cranberries
1 bag mixed greens (5 or 6 ounces)
½ cup walnuts, chopped
½ cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

For dressing

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup balsamic vinegar
¼ to ½ cup honey
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
½ cup sundried tomatoes
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium-sized bowl, place all ingredients, except sundried tomatoes. In blender or food processor, blend sundried tomatoes with a touch of olive oil. Blend until smooth. Add prepared sundried tomatoes to dressing. Whisk rapidly, incorporating all ingredients. Set aside.

Place salad ingredients in salad bowl and mix gently. Add dressing and toss.

(Note from Pietro: You will have plenty of leftover dressing for another day.)

Linguine alle Vongole (Linguine with Clams)

(courtesy of Pietro Ochoa, chef/owner, Pietro’s Famiglia in Sparks. Serves 4)


1½ pounds linguine
2 pounds clams, washed and soaked
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons shallot or onions, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
2 ounces white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
Parsley, chopped

In large pot of boiling salted water, add linguine, then cook until al dente, according to box instructions, reserving 1 cup of linguine water for sauce.

In large frying pan over high heat, add olive oil, butter, and clams, then toss. Add garlic and shallots (or onions), stirring until mixture is slightly brown and clams are open, about 3 minutes. Add flour and toss to coat. Add white wine, lemon juice, and linguine water, stirring to thicken sauce. Remove from heat; set aside.

Place pasta in four bowls, then cover with clams and sauce in equal portions. Sprinkle parsley over bowls and serve.


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edible Reno-Tahoe
316 California Ave., No. 258,
Reno, NV 89509.
(775) 746 3299

Stay updated with our Newsletter

Discover new products, thriving traditions, or exciting food events, festivals, restaurants, and markets – all of the things that are helping to make us a true culinary destination.