So you can’t get into Lilia. That’s fine. No one can (unless you book at midnight exactly one month in advance, or try walking in and risk being told there’s a two-to-four-hour wait or no room at all). Here’s where to go instead. These places serve excellent food, are well-suited for a kind-of-fancy dinner, and will make you feel significantly better about the fact that you lack the killer instinct required to get into a place with agnolotti that you occasionally attempt to lucid dream about.
Don Angie is only slightly easier to get into than Lilia, but at least you can go online right now and find a reservation. Sure, it might be at 10pm - but that’s better than nothing, and if you book far enough in advance, you should be able to eat some poppyseed-covered gnocchi at a decent hour. You can also have stuffed garlic flatbread, chrysanthemum salad, and a pile of veal tartare covered in a sheet of raw tuna, and you probably won’t make any conversation until all of it is finished.
Much like Lilia, Fausto is a cool, somewhat upscale Italian restaurant in Brooklyn - although this restaurant is a little more neighborhood-y. The dining room has beige banquettes and fancy light fixtures, and it’s perfect for a nicer date night or a dinner with friends 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.
For a place with such good food, Casa Apicii isn’t as busy as it should be. This, of course, is wonderful news, since it means that you can probably get a table here tonight. And, once you do this, you can eat some excellent bucatini all’amatriciana and clam linguine. As an added bonus, the dining room (in a West Village townhouse) looks like a social club for billionaires, and some of the furniture is indeed velvet. To get the most out of this place, you should also plan for a pre/post-dinner cocktail at Bar Fortuna, the speakeasy upstairs.
It might technically be the inferior restaurant, but LaRina has two things that Lilia doesn’t: a backyard and a pasta tasting menu. The yard is paved with checkered tiles and feels like something you’ve dreamed about owning behind your own Brooklyn brownstone, and the pasta tasting menu is surprising affordable. For $39, you get three different pastas, and the serving sizes aren’t just a few bites. So if it’s warm out, go ahead and convince yourself that this place was your first choice. At the very least, we can guarantee it’s a great one.
To some, the William Vale Hotel might seem like the giant shadow monster from FernGully. Except instead of destroying a rainforest, it’s here to turn Williamsburg into Manhattan. To, others, however, it’s just a big, cool hotel with a restaurant on the ground-floor where you can pretty much always get a table and eat a solid meal. It’s also a short walk from Lilia, and it’s similarly a place where you can bring people who generally don’t eat anywhere east of the East River.
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 excellent red-sauce Italian food in an NYC institution where both Barack Obama and Rihanna also like to hang out. The restaurant is behind a discreet entrance on the South side of Houston, and while the interior might not look that impressive, 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.
The hype around Lilia today is similar to Charlie Bird a few years ago. So this is a good time to remind you that this Soho spot still has the same excellent seafood small plates, pastas, and protein-heavy entrees - and you don’t need to monitor the reservation system like you’re waiting for tickets to go on sale for Mean Girls on Broadway. They also have one of the best wine programs in the city.
Like Lilia, Evelina is a cool-looking space 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 or uni, are all excellent. If there’s a wait, you can share some small plates and Italian wine at the long bar.
Lilia is great, in part, because it appeals to everyone. You can eat light or take a food-Ambien, come with a date or a group, and celebrate turning 27 or 72. All of these things are equally true of Upland, and this Gramercy spot also serves some very good pizzas, pastas, and vegetable-focused dishes, along with a much longer wine list.
You want to impress a date by taking her 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. So just tell your date that you figured this would happen, and you even kind of hoped it would - so you could go to Llama Inn for modern Peruvian food instead. You should be able to have cocktails at the bar until a table opens up in the fancy Rainforest Cafe-like space or up on the roof.
You don’t want good pasta. You want “why do I eat other types of food” pasta. Lilia certainly has it, and so does I Sodi, a narrow, white tablecloth Tuscan restaurant in the West Village. While it doesn’t have the same celebrate-a-promotion atmosphere as Lilia, I Sodi definitely succeeds in feeling upscale without being stuffy. If you want some of the city’s best pasta, the 20-layer lasagna with an insanely good meat sauce is a good place to start.