photo credit: Noah Devereaux

The interior of Emilio's Ballato.

Emilio’s Ballato



$$$$Perfect For:See And Be SeenCelebrity SightingsSpecial OccasionsClassic Establishment

Included In

We know someone who fainted in the line for a table at Emilio’s Ballato. They’re okay, and we’re happy to report that after some water and a brief rest in a chair provided by the restaurant, they made it inside, where they ate off-menu veal (more on that later).

The line at this celebrity-swarmed Nolita hotspot is no joke. One frigid Friday evening, we talked to a couple who had been waiting 2.5 hours for a table. You cannot call ahead, you cannot put your name in and go get a drink. You will wait on East Houston for hours of your life, as everyone else walks by, smirking at you, and assuming you’re here to eat baked clams in the vicinity of Taylor Swift tonight. (They’re probably not smirking at you. That’s just how it feels.) 

But now that we’ve made Emilio’s sound almost entirely not worth it, we’re going to pull a 180. Because once you’ve made it inside—even if you never see Taylor Swift eating baked clams—you’ll realize why people actually come to this legendary Southern Italian restaurant. The food at Emilio’s Ballato, which has been open since 1956—is excellent. 

Which brings us back to the veal. The Vitello Antonio is an off-menu special, and it tastes like veal parm that hired a personal stylist, and asked them for a wardrobe refresh. It's smothered in vodka sauce, and best enjoyed as only one part of a proper spread—the rest of which should include things like chicken parm, bolognese, and caesar salad.

A spread of dishes at Emilio's Ballato.

photo credit: Noah Devereaux

The bolognese at Emilio's Ballato.

photo credit: Noah Devereaux

Though couples sip red wine in the front room, which is covered in framed photos of notable visitors, Emilio's Ballato is best with a group, because then they'll seat you in the semi-secret, nearly windowless back room. (Unless, of course, there’s a certain celebrity back there, working through a buttery platter of bivalves.) Let a server convince you to do things family style, which really just means taking the dishes and their prices, and multiplying them both, liberally. Obviously, showing up with a large group on a Saturday night would be like descending into hell—but we came with a group of six on a Tuesday, and only waited 30 minutes.

The interior of Emilio's Ballato.

photo credit: Noah Devereaux

A spread of dishes at Emilio's Ballato.

photo credit: Noah Devereaux

The interior of Emilio's Ballato.

photo credit: Noah Devereaux

The interior of Emilio's Ballato.
A spread of dishes at Emilio's Ballato.
The interior of Emilio's Ballato.

For a seriously exceptional restaurant that serves seriously good food (at times, to seriously famous people), Emilio’s is, at its core, a family-owned establishment. Even during the busiest service, the table just inside the door is occupied by Emilio Sr., who surveys the dining room and watches YouTube videos on his phone, while cleaning his teeth with a floss pick. His son Anthony is in charge of the kitchen, while Mario and Emilio Jr. run the show out front, occasionally dropping into a group of regulars for a glass of wine. On one visit, when we worried we might have overstayed our welcome, Emilio Jr. assured us: "If I was busy, I'd tell you to get the fuck out of here." Things like that only make us love this place more. 

Food Rundown

The bolognese at Emilio's Ballato.

photo credit: Noah Devereaux

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

If you were to take every bolognese you've ever had and make it better, you'd have the one at Emilio's. It’s probably our favorite thing here, which is saying a lot considering everything is noteworthy. There’s a subtle creaminess to this dish that makes it entirely distinct from a regular old meat sauce.
Chicken parm at Emilio's Ballato.

photo credit: Noah Devereaux

Pollo alla Parmigiana

They're going to recommend the veal parm, and it is indeed great. But the chicken parm lurks in its beefy shadow, and is a similarly excellent pounded meat that costs less than half the price. (The veal is $85; the chicken is $40.) For every bite heavy with cheese and sauce, there is a corner, crisped until almost black, but not quite. In the search for the city’s best chicken parm, this one is a shoe-in.
The Vitello Antonio at Emilio's Ballato.

photo credit: Jordan Lawrence

Vitello Antonio

If you’re going to splurge on veal, this is how to do it. The off-menu masterpiece is covered in vodka sauce and topped with crispy prosciutto, and your server is going to like you for ordering it. Maybe they’ll like you so much that you’ll secure an invite to their next door speakeasy after dinner. (It's called Da Milio, and though we've never made it inside, we've heard people smoke cigars in there.)
Spaghetti at Emilio's Ballato.

photo credit: Noah Devereaux

Spaghetti con Polpette

Spaghetti feels like a boring order, until you try this spaghetti. The red sauce here is deeply savory and smooth, something you might imagine swimming in—or at least drinking in the morning like a smoothie—and the meatballs are tender and soft.


People like to do crazy things to caesar salad these days. They top it with sunflower seeds, or put miso and tofu in the dressing, or swap the romaine for brussels sprouts. Here, caesar salad is caesar salad. It’s a pile of light green, almost-white romaine, with just enough dressing, and croutons we’re pretty convinced came from a box. Just how we like it.
The fried calamari at Emilio's Ballato.

photo credit: Willa Moore

Calamari Fritti

We are sad to report that the fried calamari is a special, so we cannot guarantee it will be available when you visit Emilio’s. If it is, you’ll receive a platter overflowing with expertly-fried squid, under a pile of pickled cherry peppers. If it’s not, we’d recommend coming back again and again until it is.
The fried zucchini at Emilio's Ballato.

photo credit: Noah Devereaux

Zucchine Fritte

There’s nothing wrong with a giant platter of fried zucchini strands, but there’s also not a whole lot that’s very exciting about it either. Save room.


We’re not very good at math—that’s why we just eat food for a living—but if we were to guess, we’d say this tiramisu is about 98% thick, beautiful cream, and then 2% all the other stuff. As with everything at Emilio’s Ballato, it’s textbook perfect, and then some.

Included In


Suggested Reading

A spread of dishes from Carbone on a table with a white tablecloth with red chairs.


People like to hate Carbone. But an evening at the iconic Italian restaurant is difficult not to love.

a few pastas and other dishes from Roscioli in NYC

Where to eat Italian in NYC when you aren’t willing to settle.

The Best Restaurants In Nolita image

All the buzzy spots that are worth the hassle and a few great places where you can grab a table anytime.

Infatuation Logo


2024 © The Infatuation Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The views and opinions expressed on The Infatuation’s site and other platforms are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of (or endorsement by) JPMorgan Chase. The Infatuation and its affiliates assume no responsibility or liability for the content of this site, or any errors or omissions. The Information contained in this site is provided on an "as is" basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness or timeliness.


Get it on Google PlayDownload on the App Store