Orlando Magazine’s 2020 Dining Hall of Fame

Francesco’s staff from left Dan Reich, Eno Catalli, Ciara Robles, Chef Francesco Aiello, Nino Carrera, Lynyrd Pipes, Kennedi Davis, Kyra Narvaez, Hector Alarcon, Jr, photo by Roberto Gonzalez

We are so excited to have been honored in Orlando Magazine’s 2020 Dining Hall of Fame!

The pandemic has changed much on our dining scene—but not the level of excellence each of our five honorees brings to the table.

From the outside, Francesco’s, flanked by a Jimmy John’s sandwich place and a Walgreens drugstore, looks like any Maitland strip mall restaurant. Inside, it is (pizza joke aside) a slice of Palermo, the ocean-facing capital of Sicily, where chef/owner Francesco Aiello was raised to love seafood and hospitality.

“It’s a passion I got when I was a little boy,” he says of cooking. “In my house there was always a beautiful smell. It stayed with me.”

Aiello opened his eponymous restaurant in 2011, after cooking at The Sicilian in Casselberry and Terramia in Lake Mary. He is a cordial force wherever he is in the restaurant—not always cooking, but always guiding the kitchen, while also asking diners “How is everything tonight?”

“If you don’t love this business, you can’t go anywhere,” he says. “You work many, many hours. It’s not a 40-hour job.” It’s impressive to watch the calmly efficient crew. Nino Carrera, a veteran of six years, bringing plates to appreciative diners; Giorgio Solano, the expert pizzaiolo getting perfectly charred pizza from the 700-degree wood-fired brick oven; Michelé Pennington, the adept sous chef; servers and hosts like Hector, Ciara, Kennedi and Kyra around the restaurant; each of them and more have practiced the dance performed every night through this space. “I spend more time with them than my own family,” Aiello says. And the past few months have been full of Chef Francesco cooking dinners and family meals for pickup or delivery to what, to him, seems like every household in the area.

The restaurant is famous for its spaghetti alla carbonara, fresh pasta made simply with pancetta, egg and black pepper. Marinara, Bolognese and Alfredo sauces are done in-house, and Aiello’s pastry chef father, Paolo, has created desserts like cassata al forno, a fresh ricotta cake specialty from Palermo. And Francesco has his favorites.

“Everything is good on the menu, but I’m born in Sicily; I love seafood,” he says. “Order the seafood.””