More often than not, when Americans think of Italian food, their mind instantly goes to pizza and pasta. While that’s an understandable oversimplification, Mora Italian has made a concerted effort to change the way people think about Italian cuisine here in the Valley. Owned by celebrity chef Scott Conant, Mora specializes in finding unique and creative approaches to traditional Italian food. Needless to say, their menu is packed with flavorful renditions of some of your favorite Italian dishes.

Mora’s modern atmosphere

From the moment you walk in the door, you’re instantly hit with an ambiance of modern luxury. Open concepts have taken over the restaurant industry, and Mora Italian has doubled down on the aesthetic. The open concept kitchen allows you to witness the magic happening right before your eyes, as your mouth waters with anticipation. Look up, and you’ll notice an open concept ceiling arrangement, as well. The natural wood and black piping pairs perfectly with the dark overtones of the restaurant. Finally, a beautiful mural spans the brick wall in the back of the establishment. The black and white design features prominent figures spanning decades of history, such as Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. From the natural light in the bar area to the dimmed dropdown dining room, Mora Italian has certainly created a modern luxury masterpiece.

Scott Conant’s masterful menu

For those of you unfamiliar with Conant’s work, he is a frequent Food Network collaborator, often appearing on popular shows like Beat Bobby Flay and Chopped. With a culinary influencer of that caliber at the helm, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that my expectations were sky high going in.

Mora is the type of place that appeals to guests with all types of dining motives. The extensive cocktail menu and wine list provides plenty of high-quality choices for those that are looking to simply socialize after a long day at work. The menu offers an assortment of appetizers for guests looking for a lighter meal, while the entrées are guaranteed to fill you up with happiness, and of course, delicious food. Finally, the dessert menu offers an array of mouth-watering masterpieces that will make you want to skip right to the end of the meal. After all, my wife embodies the creed, “dessert before dinner,” so no judgement here.

Mora Italian Polenta
Stuffed sweet peppers (left) and polenta “creamosa” (right) at Mora Italian. Photo by Paul Schaum.

If you’re looking for recommendations, start with the polenta “cremosa.” It is a creamy cornmeal base with seasonal mushrooms, truffle and a balsamic dressing that pairs the many different flavors and textures perfectly. In fact, our food runner and menu expert Kelvin Rivera shared a fun anecdote about when Conant was teaching the staff about the menu. Apparently, the polenta was a staple for the world-renowned chef in college, earning him quite a few dates back in the day.

For an entrée, you should consider the rigatoni verde. It’s a delicious homemade pasta dish, complete with chunks of fennel sausage, goat cheese, spinach and baby tomatoes. The fresh ingredients compliment the bold flavor of the sausage and the saltiness of the goat cheese. As alluded to in the title, this is a creative approach to traditional rigatoni that is packed with flavor to keep you coming back.

Mora Italian entrees
Rigatoni verde (left) and pasta al pomodoro (right) at Mora Italian. Photo by Paul Schaum.

Finally, you can’t go wrong with the salted caramel budino for dessert. It’s a butterscotch pudding base layered with salted caramel and topped with gianduja crumble, sea salt and whipped cream. It was like they were giving us a trophy for all the good eating we did. Needless to say, we did not need a to-go box for this culinary gem. Heck, we barely needed a spoon.

Ultimately, Mora Italian is a must-visit spot in Downtown Phoenix. Top-to-bottom, they did not disappoint. Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the people that complete the entire experience. Shout out to the many wonderful people working in the service industry, including Mora’s Director of Service Amanda Ridgway and our waitress Rowan Staige.