Occupying the former space of another Italian restaurant, Lugano Ristorante has been open for 2 years this January under owner Tom Havrish. Service has been consistently great every time I’ve been to Lugano and this visit was no different. No trip to Lugano is complete without mentioning how awesome their bread basket is. This is not your typical, run of the mill bread basket. Their little basket comes filled with fresh rosemary parmesan crackers, hot and crunchy baguette slices, and a nice herby focaccia. Alongside the fresh breads comes a dish of extra virgin olive oil to dip into and get your palate ready for the meal to follow.
The Calamari Fritti ($10.00) was deliciously crisp and tender on its own, served with both a fresh marinara and an Italian salsa. Seasoned well, the calamari was tasty on its own. The accompanying sauces were just icing on the cake. The fresh marinara was nice and warm with a slight spicy kick at the end. However, the real standout was the Italian salsa. The salsa brought this dish over the top and I could drink it all on its own. It was garlicky, spicy, citrusy, herby…all the good –y adjectives. This dish is a must-have when you come to Lugano Ristorante.
Currently a lunch special, the Italian Beef Sandwich ($10.00) was described on the menu as being “shaved ribeye”. However, the meat tasted and looked like the roast beef you buy pre-sliced and prepackaged at the store. This was a letdown because all the other components of the dish were spot on: the warm and crusty baguette, rich red wine demi, and nicely roasted peppers. The real standout of this dish was its side, the homemade potato chips that were fried to a crisp and dusted in parmesan cheese. If this sandwich were to have freshly shaved ribeye, as advertised, this item would be an all-around winner.
Unfortunately, the sandwich wasn’t the only disappointing item. The Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes ($11.00) were all filler with very little crab meat. The cakes disintegrated upon picking them up from the platter and putting them on our plates. They were flaky and dry from all the breadcrumbs with no real flavor aside from that.
The Chicken Picante Pizza ($11.00) was amazing on every level, from crust to toppings. The crust was crispier than most, while still having a good chew to it. Topped with spicy grilled chicken, smoky bacon and caramelized leeks made this pizza delicious enough. The dollops of garlic-herb goat cheese sent this pizza over the edge with the creaminess from the cheese and enough garlic and herby-ness to cut through the richness and round it all out. This is another item you have to order when you come to Lugano Ristorante.
Service was friendly, accurate and prompt. Despite the 50/50 outcome of this visit to Lugano Ristorante in regards to their food, the potential for greatness is there. Their menu items are clearly made from high quality ingredients; there are just a few small details that need to be done to refine them to make them come together.
Address: 1060 Darrington Drive, Cary, NC 27513
Tessa Nguyen is a chef and registered dietitian working in the Triangle area. She is an alumna of Johnson & Wales University and Meredith College. When Tessa isn’t traveling and discovering new food spots, she teaches culinary nutrition cooking classes at Duke and works as a consultant in the health and wellness industry. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @