After taking about 2 1/2 years to select a location and design a concept, Santiago Pelaez opened Zanti Cucina Italiana to bring authentic Italian cuisine to The Woodlands area in June 2019 on Research Forest Drive.

Pelaez said he had a tie to The Woodlands area after visiting with his family from Mexico since he was a child.

“We decided to do an upper-casual restaurant,” Pelaez said. “Opening Zanti has changed my thinking. What I love is to serve. My passion is to make people happy. I love talking to people and being around people and creating happy moments.”

Crafting authenticity

Executive Chef Stefano Ferrero said he wanted to bring his 15 years of culinary experience and his Italian culture to the table with the restaurant’s menu.“I try to maintain the traditional Italian food as authentic as possible,” Ferrero said. “It is a bit hard because this restaurant is not fine dining, but the passion for the food that everybody has ... it is a 98% scratch kitchen.”

Pelaez said he was worried people in the area might be hesitant about the menu at first because many items are not what people might expect, such as the pizzas, which are thinner than American-style pizzas.“Some little details had to be changed to make them more approachable,” Ferrero said. “When you travel and go to Italy, you will have the same dish there that you have here.”

Pelaez and Ferrero said when they add new dishes to the menu, if they do not have the expertise to execute it to the best of their ability, they consult with outside experts on how to make it.While changing some recipes, such as making carbonara a bit creamier or adding chicken Parmesan, which is not a traditional Italian dish, Pelaez said he has been introducing other classical dishes through specials so The Woodlands community can try new experiences.

“At Zanti, we are transforming ingredients into an experience,” Pelaez said.

Keeping it casual

A key factor in Zanti Cucina Italiana’s concept is to keep the environment casual and prices reasonable. Ferrero said the reason for this is to have customers coming back so they can continue to experience new things.

“We have white truffle, which if you go to some places it may be up to $200,” Ferrero said.

Pelaez said his team has a passion for making people happy, and he gets to indulge in a passion he has been working on for around 25 years in the food and hospitality industry.

“If you want to come and celebrate something fancy, you are going to have those elements of the restaurant,” Pelaez said. “But also if you want to come in your shorts and a hat, you are going to be comfortable here. It is fun; you are going to eat well, and it has a good vibe here.”

Zanti Cucina Italiana

10000 Research Forest Drive, Magnolia


Hours: Mon.-Thu. 4-10 p.m.,

Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.