Little Italy suggestions
as both a baltimore native and someone who lived (and ate, ate, ate!) in italy for two years, i wholeheartedly recommend la tavola. stay away from the tourist dishes, standards like parmigiana or lasagna -- they're dumbed down to meet the demands of people whose idea of italian food is spaghetti and meatballs, period, with maybe some cheese from a can on top.
the real standouts are the mafalde alla fiorentina, and the veal chop if they have it. fish is also usually a good bet. let them know you're coming with a large party and they will set up the upstairs alcove for you -- service can be spotty, though --
Lucien is right, I was recently in the neighborhood for an expense-account meal in Little Italy (the best way to dine there, to be sure.) We went to Da Mimmo, which had its charms and its comfort food, and of course the walls covered in celebrity photos.
Our host was a co-worker from Atlanta, and I think the neighborhood appeal was as big a factor in the favorable experience as the food (like Joe said.) But the bottom line was he LOVED it. He wouldn't shut up about how good it was. My opinion: tasty food, attentive service, but not particularly interesting. And of course expensive. I wouldn't go back if I were paying.
I second the idea of cannoli from Vaccaro's though.
Other than that, I have also enjoyed La Tavola on more than one occasion. They lean more to northern Italian side if I recall (less pasta with red sauce) and are not quite as pricey.
One thing to watch out for--a lesson I learned the hard way--is that some of the Little Italy restaurants charge EXORBITANT prices for their specials, a lesson I learned the hard way when a pretty good lobster and shrimp ravioli dish ended being $49.00!!!
That being said, I agree with the comments already posted about the quality of Little Italy restaurants. If I had to go anywhere, I've always liked Luigi Petti's for overall value (not nearly as expensive as Sabatino's, et al. and better than Amici's). I've not been to La Tavola or La Scala either.
The Indian place in Little Italy is pretty good, if you're not wedded to Italian.
Yea, Federal Hill!
Seriously though, I haven't eaten Little Italy since someone tried to kill me with a rehearsal dinner in 1998. The offending joint shall remain nameless lest I am called to do business there one day.
Any opinions out there? I think Darin took a spin through LI in the not too distant past....How's Della Notte these days? Man, I need an expense account........and an alias, according to one restauranteur. What, "Lucien" isn't anonymous? ;')
I first went to Little Italy in the early '70's and stumbled into Maria 300's looking for pizza and found truly great veal pizziola and garlic bread. Today, Maria's is gone as is Russo's which took it's place. But over the past 30 years I've eaten my way through what must be all of the restaurants in Little Italy including the highly touted Bocaccio's where my wife and I passed up a meal at the new Tyson's Corner Maestro to venture to Baltimore instead.
Bocaccio's couldn't hold a breadstick to Maestro.
In fact the absolute best of Little Italy sadly pales in comparison to Obleisk, Laboratorio and Maestro. Before you get mad at me for saying this bear in mind that Bocaccio is almost $200 for two with a moderately priced bottle of wine. And Sabatino's I have never understood. Nor Caesar's Den nor Vialeggia's nor most of the other's.
I did like Amicci's which is a real "find" and a real value.
But the real advantage to Little Italy is the experience. It is a genuine neighborhood and going out to eat there is a big deal that takes me back to when I was in high school and college. Unfortunately now that I've been to the North End of Boston and New York's Little Italy I realize just how badly Baltimore needs a really good Italian restaurant.
Having said that I would flip a coin. Bocaccio's was really no better than Dalesio's or any other. Caesar's Den has a good wine list and Chiaparelli's has its merits but overall I really believe that just going to Little Italy is the highlight, not any particular restaurant.
About six months ago I posted on here that Little Italy has really not changed a lot over the years. It's just that so many other restaurants (D. C., etc.) have grown up around it. What was once great and really worth the drive is now merely mediocre and overpriced at best. Mamma Maria's in Boston's North End and Philly's Saloon are restaurants tha Baltimore should have and doesn't.
Enjoy the neighborhood and the experience, just lower your expectations a bit.
No matter how bad your meal in Little Italy is, or how overpriced or disappointing, you can stop in at Vaccaro's for a freshly stuffed cannoli and all will be well.
Then take a cannoli kit home and see if you have the willpower to not eat the filling out of the tub with a big spoon.