Where To Go When You Can’t Get Into Lilia guide image


Where To Go When You Can’t Get Into Lilia

Can’t get a reservation at Lilia? Neither can we. Here are some places that are almost as good.

So you can’t get into Lilia. That’s fine. No one can. Here’s where to go instead. These restaurants serve excellent food, are well-suited for kind-of-fancy dinners, and will make you feel significantly better about the fact that you lack the killer instinct required to get into a place serving the city's best agnolotti.


Nonna Dora’s Pasta Bar

The pasta at this Kip's Bay restaurant is made fresh daily (by a nonna named Dora), and it's some of the best in the city. There's a huge selection, with everything from orecchiette in rabbit ragu and tonnarelli with lobster to a huge slab of lasagna with tissue-thin layers of pasta. They serve some great negroni variations as well. There are always a few day-of reservations available, although if you want to eat at a prime time, book a week in advance.

Don Angie is almost as difficult to get into as Lilia, and you probably won't find any reservations online—but it isn't impossible to get a bar seat at this West Village Italian restaurant. Just stop by and put your name on the waitlist. You might have to wait an hour and a half before you can eat your poppyseed-covered gnocchi and stuffed garlic flatbread, but there are plenty of bars in the neighborhood where you can hang out and kill time.

Much like Lilia, Fausto is a cool, somewhat upscale Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. It's filled with beige banquettes and fancy light fixtures, and it’s perfect for a nicer date night or a dinner with a friend who had kids and stopped showing up for most social functions. Everyone will be happy with the pastas here (especially the orecchiette), and the cauliflower with currants and anchovies is secretly one of the best things on the menu.

LaRina has one thing Lilia doesn’t: a nice backyard. The yard is paved with checkered tiles and feels like something you’ve dreamed about owning behind your own Brooklyn brownstone. This Fort Greene spot also serves noteworthy housemade pastas, with interesting options like tonnarelli with bottarga and smoked spaghetti with hazelnuts and chiles. It's a charming place, the food is great, and you can get a table here tonight.

The William Vale, a massive hotel in Williamsburg, has a restaurant on the ground floor where you can pretty much always get a table and eat a solid meal. That restaurant is called Leuca, and it's a useful place to know about. With its leather booths and big marble bar, Leuca feels fancy enough for a big night out, but it's no longer the hottest or newest, so you won't have to compete for a table here.

You can’t make a reservation at Emilio’s Ballato, but you can just walk in (early) and hope you get a table. There will likely be a wait, especially on weekends, but it’s worth it if you want to eat some good red sauce Italian food at a Nolita institution where both Barack Obama and Rihanna also like to hang out. The interior might not look that impressive, but as soon as you settle in for a meal and start observing the scene around you, you’ll start to feel like you’re in a clubhouse.

Like Lilia, Evelina is a nice-looking place in Brooklyn where the only possible reason that your date would fail is if you refused to share your pasta. That scenario could happen at this Fort Greene Mediterranean spot—the rotating pastas, with things like wild boar ragu and uni, are all excellent. If there’s a wait, you can share some small plates and Italian wine at the long bar.

You want to impress a date by taking them to Lilia, and you think you have a plan. But then you show up and find out even the walk-in bar seating is completely full for the night. At this point, you should lie and tell your date that you hoped this would happen, and go to Llama Inn for modern Peruvian food instead. It's just a short walk away, and you should be able to have cocktails at the bar until a table opens up.

Via Carota has always been tough to get into, and it seems to get more popular every year. They take some reservations now, but those are usually impossible to get—so just stop by and put your name in for a table. Will you have to wait two to three hours? Probably. But so will everyone else. Hang out at Marie's Crisis or Bar Pisellino until you get a text informing you that you're now allowed to eat. The cacio e pepe is essential, as is the chopped steak.

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photo credit: Henry Hargreaves

Where To Go When You Can’t Get Into Lilia guide image