Legendary Houston Restaurateur Tony Vallone Has Passed Away
After years of struggling with undisclosed health issues, legendary Houston restaurateur Tony Vallone of the iconic Tony’s died on Wednesday, September 9, at the age of 75. Founded by Vallone in 1965, this year was the 55th anniversary of his acclaimed original restaurant, a spot that defined fine dining, elegant Italian fare and outstanding service in Houston. Tony’s started on Sage Road before Vallone moved to its current location at 3755 Richmond near Greenway Plaza.
Vallone used to say, “I’m going out with pasta in one hand and fish in the other,” and indeed, pasta and seafood was something for which he was known. He not only maintained rigorous standards of excellence in dining, but introduced Houston to fresh, authentic takes on Italian cuisine. As noted in a Houston Press interview from 2015: “Tony’s served pasta with seafood, and at the time that was a new thing for Houstonians. ‘People were just raving about it and it was something I grew up on. They were used to the American-Italian restaurants we had in those days.’”
“Mr. Vallone is a true pioneer of Italian cuisine in Texas and the United States. His celebrated career as an Italian gourmet, chef, and restaurateur has helped to elevate Italian cookery, both innovative and traditional, to a fine art and science in North America,” declared a statement by the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas, upon presenting Vallone with an award in 2018.
“I’ve lost the love of my life and my best friend, but I will continue Tony’s legacy,” his wife Donna Vallone said in a statement. In addition, Austin Waiter is reportedly continuing in his current role as head chef. Tony’s staff members, some who have worked there for over 40 years, will also help in maintaining the restaurant’s high standards and commitments to its customers.
While Tony’s is the original and most iconic of all of the Vallones’ restaurants, during some periods they owned multiple throughout Houston, including steakhouse Vallone’s in Memorial City, which shuttered in 2018. Ciao Bello also abruptly closed in 2018 after nine years of business.
Tony’s is closed at this time, but is slated to reopen on September 15. According to a press release, a memorial service is being held at a later date and information will soon be available for those who want to make donations in Vallone’s honor.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.