Where to eat in Little Italy
I'm coming in from Chicago, bringing my 18 year old daughter and her friend on their first trip to nyc. We'll be staying in the financial district, and would love some recommendations for dinner, Italian (moderate) that would be a fun place for two 18 y/o's, in Little Italy.
I live in the area and couldn't agree more about Little Italy - if you want to walk through (I take guests all the time, everyone always wants to see it despite my forewarnings), do so for a coffee or gelato but save your appetite for a better restaurant nearby. I second Lombardi's - great pizza, cozy family atmosphere, claims to be oldest pizzeria in the U.S.
I also like Bianca and I go there frequently, it's decent and reasonably priced - but I think Lombardi's is a better option in the area.
I personally never ate in Little Italy until this past month and actually went with a friend of mine (he's a regular there) to this place called Due Amici (117 Mulberry) and its actually really good. It's just one smallish room, the waiters don't do the stupid pressure thing where they don't give you menus but "order" for you by sending you dish after dish. We had some of the creamy pasta dishes (a la vodka, carbonara) and some of the larger meat entrees and had an excellent meal. The place is really old-school with plenty of b/w photos on the wall and nothing gawdy about the place, although occasionally the host will do some pretty energetic humming that turns into all out singing; but its moderately priced, and pretty low-key. This place of course, if you're deadset on the "ambience" of Little Italy. Otherwise, ya, I'd go with the Lupa or Max recs above.
I have to agree with all the recs for Bianca. It is also in a great location since you can walk through Little Italy, and see what you will not be missing, into Nolita. It is a great area for shopping and teenage girls would love it. Just walk up Mulberry from Canal Street to Bleeker Street, make the right on Bleeker and it is between Elizabeth and Bowery, within eyesight of the former CBGB. Bianca is cash only and does not accept reservations but if you are there before 6:00 you will have no problem getting a seat.
Everyone has given you excellent advice on this forum, if you HAVE to go to Little Italy, at least go to the one in the Bronx on Arthur Avenue. It's not that the restaurants there are any better, but the atmosphere there is a bit more authentic. Dominicks is an interesting choice since it doesn't have menus and you order based on what you feel like having that day. Be careful of the prices on these items, but it is pretty unique. And make sure you stop at the ravioli place and pick up some good spinach and ground pork versions of my favorite meal.
My family is Italian and we would NEVER eat in Manhattan's Little Italy, unless we wanted sausage and peppers at the San Gennaro festival or were checking out Lombardis - that's about it. My mom claims Mario Batali's Lupa has the best gnocchi, and as she makes the best I've ever had, I take her opinion very seriously.
Incidentally, if you want really good gelato, head over to the Lower East Side and try Il Laboratorio de Gelato - it's as close to Italy as you will find anywhere!
I've had all of one meal in Little Italy (la mela, wasn't bad) but if you really wanted italian food and don't mind a short walk, why not go to Bianca (on bleecker west of bowery) just a little north? you can walk through ctown and little italy, soak up the atmosphere and buy some pastries, and then have a simple, great meal in a small intimate space. Bianca's tiramisu is pretty delicious too!
As you'll soon learn, most people think Italian food is mediocre in Little Italy. And it is. However, there is something to be said for going there if that's where you really want to go. If that's the case, the only place worth going to, in my humble opinion, is called Benito II - 163 Mulberry St.
Even better options, though, would be the following (mostly in Greenwich Village):
Il Corallo Trattoria
Cacio e Pepe
Searches on this board will of course turn up many more.
I think most folks on this board would agree with me that most Little Italy restaurants are pretty much tourist (and suburbanite) traps, and that much better Italian food is available elsewhere in Manhattan. It's a fun area to walk around in, but the best food in the area is really Chinese or Vietnamese.
I dont know specific places in Little Italy, but I do know most places have guys outside handing you a menu and offer complimentary drinks or food to come in and eat. I have tried a few places and have not been dissapointed yet. I cant wait to go back in December to visit NYC again and get some good old Italian food. Have fun.