If you want to eat Italian food in New York City, you can have it pretty much any way you want. You can have an expensive tasting menu, you can have a slice of pizza, and you can have pretty much anything in between. And it’s that in between we find so many people most interested in. Here, we’re specifically discussing the casual, neighborhood Italian spot. Not the place where your pasta will be topped with truffles, but the reliable places you can share spaghetti with your date, or roll in with a group of eight and not blow $80 on dinner. Red tablecloths and cheap bottles of red wine ahead.
Looking for a casual neighborhood Italian restaurant in the East Village is like looking for a bong shop on St. Marks - it’s not hard. And they’re probably all fine. Il Posto Accanto doesn’t get talked about quite as much as others, like Supper nearby, and it’s on the low-key side. That’s why we like it so much. Plan to roll up to the bar and order some of the best meatballs in town along with a whole lot of red wine.
There are a lot of good, simple Italian restaurants in the East Village, and Lavagna is one of the best. Compared to its peers, the crowd is a little older and the food is generally also a little better. The service can be harsh, but in just the right way.
Every time we mention Malatesta, someone inevitably says, “Oh, I love that place!” Located on a corner on Washington Street in the West Village, Malatesta has a great outdoor seating situation, but the cozy, brick-walled inside is also the kind of place you’d want to hide out in the winder. The menu is short and simple - pastas, salads, and a few protein options.
Celeste is a reasonably-priced Upper West Side standby, and easily our favorite choice in the area for neighborhood Italian. There are brick walls, good pastas, and plenty of kids. Because that’s what lives on the Upper West Side.
Ridiculous name aside, there are a few reasons people come to this spot on the DUMBO/Brooklyn Heights border, and one of those reasons is the $15 bottle of the house Merlot. Yes, bottle. The other reasons are the welcoming vibes and quality food.
Uva is the ultimate Upper East Side second date spot. It has the brick wall and chandeliers thing going on, as well as an excellent outdoor patio.
Spaghetti Incident’s main thing is that they serve spaghetti in a paper cone to takeaway. It’s actually a fairly genius invention - the cone makes for perfect swirling while you walk down the street. But eating here is surprisingly nice too. The space is dark and tight, but cozy. Come with a small party, and plan to eat spaghetti. There are a few other things on the menu, but not a whole lot.
If you’re familiar with Aria Wine Bar in the West Village (as well as Hell’s Kitchen), Cotenna will look suspiciously familiar. It’s pretty much the same restaurant (same menu, same decor), only less than half the size. And that means it’s good for dates, the service is friendly, and most things cost twelve dollars or less. Cotenna gets a little cramped at peak hours, however, so go with someone you won’t mind getting cozy with.
We probably send people to Lil Frankie’s more than we send them almost anywhere else. Not because it’s the best restaurant in town, but because it’s one that works so well for so 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 always satisfying. It looks small from the outside, and there’s always a crowd, but there are actually a number of smaller rooms in the back, meaning you’ll usually get a table without too long a wait
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,” fun, and serves nice takes on the usuals (pizza, pasta, branzino, et al.) that don’t cost too much.
The older sibling to Lil Frankie’s, and the original in the Frank Prisinzano empire of downtown casual Italian restaurants. It’s small and tight, but the food and vibe are always spot on.
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.
A midtown-specific casual Italian joint, this one’s worth knowing about for pre-theater or a post-office building bowl of pasta. With classic red booths and prices mostly under $20, keep it in mind for when your aunt takes you to see Book Of Mormon, or something.
If you’re in the Clinton Hill or Fort Greene area, this is already your favorite local Italian spot. The restaurant is an old pharmacy turned into an extremely charming place, 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.
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 place to share some very good seasonal Italian food with a date or some friends (and you happen to be in Clinton Hill), Aita is an excellent choice.
Out in Astoria, Trattoria L’Incontro is a ridiculous place: the waiters wear ear pieces, 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.
A casual Italian go-to in the Carroll Gardens area. There’s nothing incredibly notable about this place, but that’s the point – and the food is always fresh.
One of the actually-good restaurants right by DisneyBrooklyn’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 it.