Colletti's: Where Family Tradition Meets Culinary Excellence
(This article was written by Beth Marie Cantu and appeared in the February issue of the Explore Harlingen Magazine .) Near Downtown Harlingen, a culinary gem named Colletti's blends delicious Italian food with the warmth of a family’s Sicilian heritage. The restaurant has been crafting an exceptional dining experience since its opening in 2011, cooking their meals from scratch and using authentic recipes passed down through generations. Founded as the passion project of owner Todd Aune, Colletti's has become a beloved establishment, blending delicious cuisine with the warm family-oriented ethos Harlingen is known for. Todd Aune’s mother, Jo Wagner, is at the core of Colletti's, serving as the head manager, co-owner, and the heartbeat of the operation. The family ties deepen as Todd's twin brother Steve, who is also the owner of Nip’ n Tuck Draperies on Jackson, frequently lends a hand. The next generation, Todd's son Jaden Aune, awaits his turn to steer the restaurant forward after completing his college education. With exceptional role models guiding him, the legacy of Colletti's rests confidently in his capable hands. Reflecting on the restaurant's roots, Jo shares, “My mother owned an Italian restaurant in northern California.” This familial connection echoes through Colletti's cherished recipes, which are steeped in the rich culinary history of both sides of Jo's family. "My mother was THE Colletti. Both sides of my family are Sicilian, so I grew up with all the great cooking," she adds. For Jo, Colletti's is not just a restaurant; it's a place that fosters a sense of community and love. She shares, "I love the people that come here. The other day, I had a lady come to me; she said that she felt the love in the restaurant because she saw me greeting and hugging [patrons]. That made me feel good. It made me feel closer to the community." From the time of its inception to its current status as a local favorite, Colletti's has crafted a narrative of dedication to serving mouthwatering authentic meals that evoke the comforting essence of home. But what truly sets Colletti's apart from other restaurants is their commitment to using family recipes and crafting each dish from scratch. "We try to make every dish that comes out something to be proud of," she explains. "So, I think that’s what sets us apart from other restaurants. The love and the food. Having an establishment that carries on family tradition." Colletti's not only boasts delicious cuisine, but also unique cocktails devised by assistant manager, Mtisha Wiley. Jo notes, "Mtisha creates drinks that are just for Colletti’s. She tries to keep them fresh; we don’t use canned things in our drinks. I’m very proud of what she does." The kitchen is led by Chef Gino, who consistently creates dishes that leave patrons coming back for more. As a testament to their commitment to excellence, Colletti's is introducing a new menu and bringing back favorites from before COVID for patrons to enjoy once again. For wine enthusiasts, Colletti's prides itself on a thoughtfully curated wine list, keeping high-quality options affordable for its patrons. Additionally, special occasions like Valentine's Day are celebrated with at least one unique menu item, carefully crafted by Chef Gino, providing a delightful experience for all. This year’s $85 Valentine’s Day special is a pan-seared 8 oz. filet with sauteed shrimp and scallops in a balsamic demi glaze; roasted fingerling potato medley and grilled broccolini; and a glass of sparkling champagne. Aligned with Jo's sentiment, Colletti's transcends being merely a restaurant; it's a legacy; a celebration of family traditions, love, and delicious food that keeps the community returning again and again. Whether you're a longtime resident or a passing visitor, a trip to Colletti's promises a traditional culinary adventure with a lot of heart. This local treasure, with its delightful Italian roots, friendly ambiance, and commitment to community, leaves a lasting impression on all who cross its threshold. And next time you're in, don't forget to stop and say hi to Jo, and become a part of the family .