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Stefano's = Italian

Updated: May 29

(This article was written by Remi Gibbs and appeared in the June 2024 issue of Explore Harlingen Magazine.)

Stefano's exterior. Photo courtesy of Remi Gibbs.

Stefano’s originally came on the scene in Harlingen as a pizza joint based in Steve’s Food Mart in 2012. Mustafa “Steve” Shehada, owner of Steve’s Food Mart and Stefano’s Brooklyn Pizza, initially connected with Chef Bruno to create the New York Italian recipes that Stefano’s is known for. As the pizza joint became more popular, Steve decided he was ready to turn it into a full-service restaurant and purchased the former Lone Star restaurant on Business 83 as the location.

As he transitioned Stefano’s from the gas station/food mart into the new space in 2014, Steve hired Graham Smith as his General Manager and Chef to create the menu, modify some of the recipes to better suit the local audience, and run the restaurant. Graham was a great choice as he grew up in Harlingen, had a degree in Restaurant and Hotel Management from Texas Tech University, and was a classically trained chef through the Culinary Institute of America. Stefano’s was wildly popular in its heyday, offering a full-service Italian menu, full bar, event space, and a great patio to enjoy al fresco dining and live music.

The pandemic was a big disruption. However, they were able to adapt by focusing on takeout and delivery, services they already offered. Unfortunately, in December of 2021, a large fire destroyed most of the restaurant, causing it to close until now. They successfully moved the takeout and delivery business back to Steve’s Food Mart as they endeavored to rebuild. After 2.5 years and $3.2 million, Stefano’s is excited to reopen and serve the Harlingen community once again. At the time of the writing of this article, they expect to be fully operational to accept walk-in guests without reservations by June 1.

In October of 2023, artist Leo Rivera was commissioned to create a mural that depicted a phoenix rising from the fire, or in this case, a pizza. Leo said that it took about two weeks for him to complete the piece and was pleasantly challenged to create fire. The design was created using spray paint and acrylics. It can be found as a monument to triumph on the patio in the covered area.

Leo Rivera's mural depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes, a nod to the rebuilding of the restaurant after a devastating fire. Photo courtesy of Remi Gibbs.

Chef Graham Smith is back at the helm and advised that the menu will primarily be the same as before. He says the most popular dishes are Lasagna, Chicken Alfredo, and Chicken Parmesan. His favorite dish to make and eat is the Chicken Piccata. He also recommends that more people try the Chicken Tetrazzini because it is “way underrated.” They offer gluten-free options of pasta and pizza dough for those with special dietary needs. The bar is full-service and boasts an extensive yet affordable wine list.

Stefano’s is a great asset for Harlingen as it employs 120 people, many of high school and college age, often making Stefano’s their first job. The local community is very important to owner, Steve, and he goes above and beyond to support the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District (HCISD) and other organizations. An HCISD group was heading into the banquet space at the time of this interview.

Stefano’s Brooklyn Pizza, LLC is a family business. The family has been busy opening other locations in Greenwood Village, Colorado, operating as Stefano’s Brooklyn Pizza Express, and in Pharr and Weslaco, Texas operating as Stefano’s Pizza Express. They are smaller establishments focusing heavily on pizza and subs for takeout and delivery, though they do offer in-restaurant dining. Graham and Steve have been discussing other locations they want to open throughout the Rio Grande Valley and possibly trying out some other restaurant concepts. Stay tuned!

Stefano’s main dining room seats 200 people. There are two meeting rooms: the Texas room seats 230 people, while the New York room seats 70. The patio can accommodate up to 250 people. Groups and private parties are welcome; offsite catering, takeout, and delivery are available. You can order online at or over the phone at (956) 425-6281. They are open 7 days a week: Sunday through Thursday, 11 am to 9 pm and Friday and Saturday, 11 am to 10 pm.

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