La Bella Napoli
by Steve Baker
La Bella Napoli -- C. Indepedencia #635, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, 332-5402. I've lived in Santa Cruz for a total of 3 years. I have eaten at all the "best" restaurants (and many of the worst). To me the best of the best is Bella Napoli! I would bet I've had lunch or dinner there more than 50 times, often taking guests, and things have been perfect or near-perfect every single time.
The largely Italian food is among the best I've ever had, and I spent much of my life in Chicago--famous for its Italians and Italian restaurants. I swear the tomato and putanesca sauces are the world's best. The ravioli de carne is heaven, the carne de pimienta and carne de champiñones are as good as any beef you'll get anywhere in Santa Cruz. Portions are generous. The service is friendly and extremely competent.
If you are looking for a restaurant to impress your date or significant other, you can't go wrong with Bella Napoli. The restaurant is very large, with two large patios under grape arbors, and many little hidden corners. It has to be the most romantic restaurant in Santa Cruz.
Now...why it is so good, yet largely unknown? That's as big a mystery as la Virgen de Cotoca, but the excellence comes from one man, the owner, don Armando Gramaglia. He's always there to greet guests with a friendly, enthusiastic, "Buono giorno!", because, you see, he is the real deal--an old-world Italian gentleman. And, get this! He's 90-years-old and smokes cigarettes like a fiend, yet he runs every detail of his restaurant as if he were serving the Pope. He once told me the secret of his longevity, health, and energy was that he eats spaghetti with garlic and olive oil every day (a dish which is on the large menu). He also drinks a little lemon chello of his own making every day (made with pure grain alcohol and, unfortunately, not on the menu. But, if don Armando likes you, he may invite you a little glass).
I hope you will try La Bella Napoli. I think you will be as impressed as I have been. Bon Apetite y Salud!