The Casual Italian Restaurant Guide  guide image

photo credit: Emily Schindler

NYCGuide

The Casual Italian Restaurant Guide

From a Bronx classic to a Sunnyside staple, these are the reliable neighborhood Italian spots where you'll want to be every weeknight.

Here, we’re specifically discussing the casual, neighborhood Italian spot. These aren't places where your pasta will be topped with truffles. They're reliable restaurants where you can eat some reasonably priced spaghetti on a Tuesday night or roll in with a group of six and not blow $100 on dinner. Checkered tablecloths and bottles of house red wine ahead.

THE SPOTS

L&B Spumoni Gardens review image
9.0

L&B Spumoni Gardens

$$$$

2725 86th St, Brooklyn
View WebsiteEarn 3X Points

Making the trip to Gravesend for a Sicilian slice and spumoni from L&B is a New York rite of passage, but it would be a mistake to write this classic establishment off as merely a slice shop. L&B makes some of the best red sauce Italian in Brooklyn, so it’s worth getting a table inside to check their very good non-pizza options. We especially love the arancine parmigiana, eggplant rollatini, and any pasta served under a blanket of tangy pink vodka sauce.

There’s no seating at this tiny takeaway spot on the border of Windsor Terrace, but that doesn’t mean Joe Brancaccio doesn’t make some of the best Italian food in Brooklyn. The move here is to pick up dinner to-go: meatballs, orecchiette with broccoli rabe, and rotisserie porchetta are some of our favorites. Toss a white cloth on your kitchen table, light a candle in an old wine bottle, and lay out your Brancaccio’s bounty.

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SoleLuna is a charming Sunnyside restaurant where you can have a coffee at the bar during the day or stop by later at night when the space fills up with locals sharing simple pastas and bottles of wine. This place serves perfected staples like a basic lasagna, spaghetti alle vongole, and a fresh, bright pollo al limone—but pay special attention to the dinner specials. Past favorites have included an inexplicably flavorful octopus-and-mango salad and a creamy gorgonzola fregola.

If the sheer number of Italian spots on Arthur Avenue gives you a feeling of paralysis because you can’t decide where to go, we’re here to make your decision easy. Head to Zero Otto Nove. Order the insalata di mare with eight different types of seafood in addition to the comforting baked rigatoni and meatballs smothered with melted mozzarella. Try to get a table in the main dining room, which is painted to look like a courtyard in Italy. (It’s a little cheesy, but charming nonetheless.)

Cafe Spaghetti serves simple, quality Italian food, and it’s the perfect addition to the Carroll Gardens aesthetic. Their spaghetti pomodoro with simple tomato-and-basil sauce on handmade pasta tastes like your everyday spaghetti if it went through an episode of Rustic Rehab on HGTV, and they have a super cute yard filled with small round tables under yellow umbrellas.

A sit-down spot where you can only order whole pies, Lombardo’s feels very much like a cartoon Italian restaurant, checkered tablecloths and all. They serve pizzas in 12- and 18-inch varieties, as well as calzones, burrata, and a handful of salads for those who like to consume leaves with their bread products. The crust here is thin, charred, and pleasantly chewy. We especially love the hot soppressata pie, which comes thoroughly drenched in Calabrian chilies.

When you walk into Patsy’s, the first things you’ll see are a statue of Frank Sinatra and a signed headshot of Liza Minelli, so you know this place is legit. Eating here feels like taking a trip in a time machine back to an era when West 56th and Broadway was the coolest spot in town. Stick to the classics, like rigatoni fra diavolo and anything parmigiana.

Every time we mention Malatesta, someone inevitably says, “Oh, I love that place!” Located on a corner of Washington Street in the West Village, Malatesta has a great outdoor seating situation, but the cozy, brick-walled inside is charming as well. The menu is short and simple: pastas, salads, and a few protein options.

Chances are, you’ve never heard of Il Passatore. But if you have any friends in East Williamsburg, this is probably where they go when they need to sit in the dark and eat noodles covered in meat sauce. This cash-only Italian spot serves some lamb ragu as well as red beet tortellini, and you should always start a meal here with a piadina stuffed with prosciutto.

Stop by Noodle Pudding on a reasonably warm day, and the big front windows might be open, letting a breeze run through the old-school, Brooklyn Heights dining room. Start your meal with the jumbo fritto misto, get some burrata, and order as much pasta as you can handle. The lasagna bolognese is always a good choice, although it’s about as large and dense as a car battery. And that’s only a slight exaggeration. This place is cash-only, they don’t take reservations, and the bar is a wonderful spot for a solo meal.

Uva is a rustic, cozy little Italian spot in the East 70s that’s always lively. The food is satisfying, the wine list is relatively affordable, and the menu is big enough that pretty much anyone can find something that suits their needs. In addition to a dining room with brick walls and chandeliers, there's an excellent outdoor patio.

photo credit: Teddy Wolff

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Marlow Bistro

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Marlow Bistro is on the northern end of the Upper West Side, and it’s about as broadly Mediterranean as olive oil and maritime commerce. The menu has everything from meatballs and burrata to a strip steak with artichokes and sun-dried tomato pesto, and there are also a bunch of solid pastas and pizzas. Plus, the whole place looks like a vintage farmhouse, with tiled floors, potted plants, and an old-timey espresso machine.

Saggio is an extremely pleasant place to grab dinner in Washington Heights. Claim a table in the small, dark dining room, drink a few $10 glasses of wine, and eat a big portion of housemade pasta. Will the food blow your mind? Probably not. But we’d still come here several times a month.

Lil Frankie’s works well for many day-to-day situations: a casual catch up, brunch, a big group dinner, or even a date. And the food—pasta, thin crust pizzas, some vegetables—is reasonably priced and satisfying. There’s always a crowd at this East Village classic, but you can usually get a table without too long of a wait.

Malaparte is another one of those far-west West Village places that people love to think of as “their place.” And we don’t blame them. This restaurant is cute and fun, and it serves nice takes on the usuals (pizza, pasta, branzino, etc.) that don’t cost too much.

Vesta is where you eat with your aunt and uncle in Astoria. It’s also where you bring a date when you need to seem like the kind of person who goes to bed at a decent hour and folds laundry right out of the dryer. It’s a small, friendly neighborhood trattoria, and it’s a great spot for a relatively quiet meal. Get the boar lasagna.

Have your birthday at Saraghina. Or just look through your phone, find all the people you can stand, and organize a big group dinner. There’s plenty of room, the pizza is fantastic, and most things cost less than $20. Even if you don’t live nearby, you should still find some time to have a meal at this Bed-Stuy spot.

Tavola has the distinct honor of being the best thing to exist on the weird stretch of 9th Avenue behind the Port Authority. The Italian food is totally solid, and the space has a charming market-in-Rome kind of vibe. Stick to the pastas over the pizzas.

Alberto is an old-school Italian spot in Forest Hills with free bread, excellent gnocchi, and a TV behind the bar in case you want to watch sports while you make small talk with a bartender in a tie. It’s a great spot to grab a nice meal with some family members, and it also works for a celebratory dinner.

Gersi is the Cobble Hill default for quality Italian food that won’t cost much more than what you’d spend on groceries trying to make your own meal. Almost everything costs less than $25, and the food is pretty standard and exactly what you want it to be. The long dark space gets pretty busy, and it’s perfect for a group dinner with a few friends.

If you’re in the Clinton Hill or Fort Greene area, this is already your favorite local Italian spot. The restaurant is in a cute space that used to be a pharmacy, and the Northern Italian food is great. There’s also an excellent and reasonably priced wine list. This place hits all the cozy, rustic neighborhood notes just right.

Say you’re meeting up with a friend in Chelsea, and you’re looking for a casual, attractive place where you can eat a bowl of pasta and make some light conversation. Go to Pastai. They make all their pastas—like bucatini with sardines and garganelli with burrata —in house, and you can get any of them gluten-free. There’s also a bar where you can put your head down and spend some quality time with noodles, if that’s the sort of dinner you’re having.

San Matteo is our pick for best neighborhood Italian spot on the Upper West Side, mostly because it’s just so versatile. The space is big, with two floors and plenty of windows, and if you’re with someone who just wants to eat bread and cheese, they make some great Neapolitan pizzas here. Plus, there’s a bar where you can hang out and watch sports.

Bonafini very much feels like someone’s living room. It’s a small Italian spot across from Prospect Park in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and it’s filled with mismatched furniture and framed pictures of various flora and fauna that look like they came from a yard sale. You can get a very good bowl of pasta here, and you can also stop by for an egg sandwich or some chocolate chip pancakes in the morning.

If your average neighborhood Italian spot is a quality pre-owned sedan, Camillo is a newer-model coupe with leather upholstery. It’s still pretty casual, and you can sit at the bar by yourself and get to know a bartender while you have a solo weeknight meal, but it’s also great for a date night or a dinner with some visiting family members. This place has high ceilings and brick walls decorated with copper pots and fancy mirrors, and they specialize in Roman flatbreads known as pinsas.

Bono Trattoria works for a lot of things, and that’s why it’s our favorite neighborhood Italian spot in Harlem. You can stop by for Happy Hour and drink a bunch of wine while you snack on something, or you can have a date night or casual dinner with your roommates here. The pizzas are excellent, and the pastas are exactly what you want them to be. If the weather's nice, they’ll open up their windows so you feel like you’re dining outside.

Aita is on a corner in Clinton Hill, and it’s the sort of place you wish you had on your block. If you need a quaint, casual spot where you can share some very good seasonal Italian food with a date or some friends, Aita is an excellent choice.

The people behind Aita in Clinton Hill also run this neighborhood spot in Crown Heights. If you’re in the area, come by for dinner with people who you wouldn’t mind sharing some pasta and a few small plates with. The lasagna is big enough for two and will make all of the other lasagna you’ve eaten in your life seem questionable.

If we rated restaurants purely on how good they are at making pasta, Fiaschetteria Pistoia would get a near-perfect score. The pasta at this East Village spot is all housemade, and it’s consistently delicious. Try the creamy cacio e pepe or the gnocchi in a simple tomato sauce. You’ll want to eat several plates of either of these things.

Out in Astoria, Trattoria L’incontro is a ridiculous place: The waiters wear earpieces, and everything is over the top. The restaurant is basically what you’d imagine Little Italy in Long Island to be. This also means it’s a lot of fun.

Oregano is one of the actually-good restaurants right by Disney Brooklyn’s main entrance gate (the Bedford L stop). Like many of the restaurants on this list, this is a good spot for a casual dinner or date. There’s plenty on the menu, but the handmade pastas are where it’s at. Sadly, Oregano’s no longer BYOB, but the back garden makes up for this.

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