RIVER VALE, N.J. -- Armando Talocco is two months shy of five decades of marriage to his wife, Linda -- and they've spent that working together, in the restaurant business. They opened Armando's Tuscan Grill in River Vale together in 2010, continuing his family's nearly half-century tradition of Italian eats in the area.
"It's Italian cuisine, and everything is made fresh," Armando told Daily Voice. And that quality goes down to the basics, too including fresh chicken stock instead of bouillon, and sweetening tomato sauces with carrots instead of sugar.
Linda described the restaurant as a small BYO Italian spot: "It's very very warm and cozy."
Armando's Tuscan Grill seats 50, and it hosts parties, as well as doing catering.
The River Vale eatery is a smaller incarnation of Armando's Italian Restaurant, on Main Street in Fort Lee, which he and Linda opened it in 1979, together with Armando Talocco Sr.
The senior Armando had emigrated from Rome in 1961. He opened his first eatery two years later: Pizza Eva, in Queens. Three years later, he opened Piza Chef, in North Bergen.
"Because of his superior recipe for pizza sauce, and his knack for keeping all of his customers satisfied," the website notes, "seven years later, Armando Sr. and his son Armando Jr. opened Pizza Chef on Main Street in Fort Lee."
Armando's Italian Restaurant was next in line, and it had "33 successful years," Linda noted. The elder Armando has since passed.
Her advice to the patrons of their old restaurant? Drive the 30 minutes, it's still worth it.
Armando Jr. has kept up the family tradition of detailed Italian cuisine. TripAdvisor ranks Armando's Tuscan Grill the best of the 241 Italian restaurants in a 25-mile radius of River Vale.
Asked how she'd describe the food, Linda said, "I'm not skinny anymore," laughing.
"We make all our own pastas, dressings and even the mozzarella," she said. "When you order chicken, we start tenderizing it."
Armando's is open seven days a week, for lunch and dinner, has specials every evening, and has ample parking, she added.
Pondering, she decided the two most popular entrees were the Chicken Martini and Linguine Marechiaro. The former is chicken breast with romano crust, asparagus, lemon and wine sauce, served with potato croquette and chef vegetables; the latter is a signature dish with shrimp, clams, mussels, light plum tomato and basil, served over linguine.
From the range of desserts, she thought their homemade creme brulee took the cake -- so to speak.
Armondo described the restaurant's cuisine with pride: "Each plate is made accordingly, just the right way," he said, "olive oil here, touch of garlic there.
"I use the best products, put it that way."
He described some of the chain Italian restaurants' commercials. "I see on TV, oh delicious -- and then you see, probably not delicious. We do everything fresh."
Area foodie Matt Savage told Daily Voice he and his wife have been going to Armando's -- which he calls "Little Italy in River Vale" -- for years, and they'd gone to the bigger original restaurant in Fort Lee as well.
He raved about the homemade authentic Italian dishes and the eatery's excellent thin-crust pizza. His personal favorite is the gnocchi bolognese, and his wife is partial to the signature salad, with a homemade edible cheese bowl, strawberries and toasted almonds over baby greens, with a balsamic reduction.
Savage has a large following on Instagram, which he credits to being a male nurse and a foodie, and to his tattoos and beard. He's worked the night shift for 11 years, "and during the daytime, I go on my foodie adventures," he said.
"I love eating, but I enjoy food photography even more."
The restaurant has also brought in a third generation, the couple's younger son, Chris. He hosts, manages, "wherever he's needed," Linda said.
"My oldest went into air conditioning," Armando added. "You can't make them do what they don't want to do."
And the restaurant family contains others, too, like sous chef George Santos, who's been Armando's sous chef for 30 years.
But, "I'm the main character here," Armando said. "I'm usually in the back." Linda is the restaurant's hostess, he said. "She's great with the people."For more info on the restaurant, visit its website or Facebook page.