by Teri Link
Walking into Mario’s Italian Restaurant is like stepping into one of those Valentine’s Day Postcards from years gone by. Nostalgia and romance sit side-by-side in this expansive space. Although the horseshoe shaped bar is the first thing you see, it’s clear that the central focus of the restaurant is authentic Italian dining. The oversized booths arranged back-to-back, each with its own tiny shaded lamp and the richly paneled walls haven’t changed much over the years, and that’s how long-time patrons want it to stay.
Dubuque sure does love its traditions, and Mario’s tops the list of must-visit places for both current and past residents. And it’s this embrace of tradition that defines both the restaurant and the family behind it.
Tonio Mario Bertolini met Angelina Tucci at a house party in their picturesque Italian town located in richly fertile farmland. Mario became smitten with the beautiful but shy Angelina, and although he had already immigrated to New York, he courted her through love letters and visited whenever he could. Finally marrying in 1969 in Montebello di Bertona, Angelina moved back to New York with her young groom and they worked together in the pizza restaurant Mario’s family owned at the time.
When a friend suggested they buy a restaurant that was for sale in the middle of the country, Mario thought it would be the perfect place to raise their two young daughters away from the congestion of the city. The friend stayed behind, but Mario and Angelina made the move to Dubuque in 1977. The restaurant has expanded beyond the original space over the years and the sprawling dining rooms – with the addition of a full private basement dining area with its own bar – became the go-to place for authentic Italian cuisine.
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