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Ask the Critic: Where to Eat (and Avoid) in Little Italy, Midtown with Kids

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[Illustration: Robyn Lee]

Editor's note: Here to answer your questions is senior managing editor, former SENY editor, and frequent author of our NYC restaurant reviews Carey Jones. We'll take a few of your questions each week and give you the New York restaurant advice you're looking for. Email nyeditor@seriouseats.com with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question!

We've had a run of Little Italy questions recently, so we'll answer a few of 'em in one go, before we recommend spots for a few special occasions.

Little Italy #1

I have always been curious about Little Italy but never quite explored it during my visits—it was always something I just passed through on the way to Chinatown. My boyfriend and I are visiting Manhattan again in the spring and hope to finally eat in Little Italy. What are some good old-school, cheap to mid-priced Italian restaurants we can go to, and what should we order there? I'm willing to put up with lines and crowds for amazing food, but if you have more low-key, quiet recommendations, I'd love to hear those too.

Gonna to make a pretty big statement here: "Good old-school, cheap to mid-priced Italian restaurants" don't exist in Little Italy.

Not if you try to work in every part of that request. You say that the neighborhood was "always something [you] just passed through on the way to Chinatown," and frankly, that's the right idea.

Mulberry Street, in particular, is lined with restaurants named Amici and Buona Notte and La Bella Vita, all blasting "That's Amore," all of them with virtually identical menus of ragu Bolognese and Caprese salads and saltimbocca alla Romana, all of them with Italian (or could-pass-for-Italian) charmers yelling Ciao bella! and trying to lure you in for dinner. Serious Eats Headquarters happens to be smack in the middle of this neighborhood, and for awhile, I was convinced (convinced!) that there had to be a diamond in the rough. 15 intern lunches and a big chunk of our research budget later, I gave up. I can't tell you a single one that stands out from the pack of decent-but-unremarkable red sauce fare.

That's the doom and gloom. But as for recommendations:

1. The best thing about old-school Little Italy: the food shopping. Spend an hour at DiPalo (and it will be an hour) and pick up some cured meats, fresh mozzarella, incredible porchetta. Stop by Parisi Bakery. As far as Italian institutions in the neighborhood, they're the best thing going.

Rubirosa's Eggplant Parmesan

Rubirosa's Eggplant Parmesan.[Photo: Laura Togut]

2. If you're okay with new-school Italian, head a few blocks up Mulberry Street. Rubirosa just opened in 2010, the right choice if you want that Italian-American charm but food that's, well, better. The chef is straight outta Staten Island, but then spent time in serious restaurant kitchens; he brings that culinary skill to classics like lasagna, thin-crusted pizza, and meatballs. Incredibly good, soul-satisfying, and not too expensive; they do red sauce right.

Or for something still more casual, Parm, an elevated Italian-American lunch counter that serves dinner (and great cocktails), too. Get a few veggie sides, a meatball parm platter, and some garlic bread, and you've got one of the better Ital-American meals in the neighborhood.

Little Italy #2

I am headed to New York next month and looking to try eat in a different borough at a different restaurant each day for breakfast and lunch for 10 days. Could you do a quick response on the best Italian food in New York? Possibly in relation to Little Italy. We are looking mid range budget but will pay more money for decent food!!

Per above: unless you're going for Rubirosa or Parm, Italian in Little Italy is more-or-less skippable.

But wow, does this city have Italian food. Killer sit-down meals at Perla or Maialino or Il Buco Alimentari or Locanda Verde. Michael White's Osteria Morini, Batali's classics Babbo and Lupa.

Farther-flung: Enoteca Maria in St. George, Staten Island. Or up to the Bronx for pizza here or here.

A little less money: Surprisingly affordable pastas and awesome veggies at Otto. Neapolitan-style pizza at Kesté or Motorino or Paulie Gee's (in descending order of orthodoxy). Head to Carroll Gardens for Frankie's 457, or Park Slope for al di la, or uptown for Salumeria Rosi. Cozy West Village spots dell'anima or L'Artusi. Less-known spots like Bianca or Celeste.

Eat well; report back!

Manhattan For A Quick Visit

I'll be coming into Manhattan on Saturday for an evening at the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue. I live out east on Long Island, and I'm an avid Serious Eats reader, so I actually have a huge list of places I want to try. That said, I'll be coming in with my wife and two young children (ages 6 and 4), and I'd rather not impose my preferences on them. Can you suggest any lunch and dinner options in the vicinity? Something that doesn't require an advance reservation may be in order. We'll be going to the Museum of Natural History, but otherwise we plan on keeping our schedule flexible. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Closer to your hotel: We're big fans of Sip Sak, a Midtown Turkish restaurant quite near your hotel that operates a few dollar signs below its expense-account-friendly neighbors. Kebabs, veggie spreads, and awesome warm bread all tend to be quite kid-friendly.

After the Museum of Natural History, you've got quite a lot of options. With kids, Shake Shack is sure to be a hit; if you want to hit the NYC classics, consider Barney Greengrass. We also like Kefi for kids, or the all-American, family-friendly Fairway Cafe.

Ask Us!

Email nyeditor@seriouseats.com with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question. All questions will be read, though unfortunately not all can be answered.

Your Thoughts?

Have more advice for these folks? Jump in, in the comment thread!

About the author: Carey Jones is the Senior Managing Editor of Serious Eats. Follow her on Twitter (@careyjones).

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