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Best Italian in Hell's Kitchen?

Hello, I was wondering if anyone has an opinion on the best Italian in Hell's Kitchen? I assume Esca is up there, and am wondering what folks think of viceversa, the various Roberto Passon restaurants, and any others? Thanks!

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  1. I know of only one Roberto Passon restaurant, which is on the corner of 9th Av. & 50th St. Although I think the food is very good there, I can't honestly say it's "the best" in that area because there are a boatload of Italians in Hell's Kitchen, and I haven't been to all of them.

    2 Replies
    1. re: RGR

      I've been to a few -- Roberto Passon is excellent and my standby suggestion, too.

      1. re: RGR

        We were unable to get a booking at Roberto Passon's post-matinee today and ended up eating at Scarlatto, on 47th off 8th. Apparently this is a sister restaurant to Roberto Passon, and shares a similar menu, wine list, and pricing. Also as at Roberto Passon's, the food was very good for extremely reasonable prices. Appetizers of octopus with chick peas and calamari/zucchini that was tempura-like in the greaselss light frying, rigatoni in a creamy, smoky version of carbonara, and a herb & parmesan risotto topped with a split quail were all excellent. Service was fine, if a bit pressed in the pre-theatre rush, and we were seated in a narrow loft-like space on the second floor which was actually quite pleasant and did not suffer from the noise and bustle of the main dining area (I'd recommend requesting this seating area for parties of 4 or fewer).

        This is another good option for the theatre district, and will go on our list.

      2. There are many, and many are bad. I live in the area, and here's the one that I'd go back to: Becco. Search for it--there is a recent thread about it. Not the best in the world, but reasonable and reliable.

        NB: I haven't eaten at Esca.

        1. I'd like to put a vote in for Maria Pia, a very small, very good Italian place on 51st between 8th and 9th. Great and friendly service, fresh ingredients, and an outstanding selection of fresh pastas which is a big plus for me.

          Everything was perfectly al dente, the buffalo mozzarella was extremely fresh and perfectly textured. Also highly recommend the warm chocolate tort with hazelnut gelato as a dessert.

          1. Also re: MP, it's almost criminally underpriced. You'll pay $13 for an entree that most places would serve for $17-20.

            1. I believe Passon was involved with Puttanesca too. I love his eponymous restaurant. I was underwhelmed by Maria Pia--I don't think it's in the same league as Passon.


              1 Reply
              1. re: Peter Cherches

                I'm pretty sure Passon was at Le Zie previously. I think the other owners of the new place are the Puttanesca people...

              2. I was very impressed by Roberto Passon. I had the pumkin ravioli and it was delicious. Service was also very friendly. I had a horrific experience (service-wise) at Puttanesca and advise people never to go. I've lived in the neighborhood for 5 years and my personal favorite is Rino Trattoria (8th Ave, between 52nd and 53rd). The food is delicious, and you won't find a warmer, more garcious restaurant in the area.

                1 Reply
                1. re: emgoodman

                  I, too, had such poor service issue that I regularly and strongly advise people to avoid Puttanesca. At the time, I attempted to discuss the service problem with management and the manager was incredibly rude to me. I cannot believe Puttanesca manages to thrive given its extremely poor service and very average food.

                2. Not sure if it's still considered Hell's Kitchen, I don't know what the northern boundry is seen as, but Ralph's, at 56th and 9th, SE corner, is extremely good and the prices are very reasonable.

                  1. Roberto Passon, Maria Pia, Putanesca, and Cara Mia are all owned by the same people -- they also own film center cafe (which on an unrelated note was just renovated). Also in the hood are Vice Versa (on 53 next to Maria Pia) as well as La Locanda (at 9th/50th), 44SW and L'allegria; Becco (Lidia Bastianich restaurant), Barbetta, Tuscan Steak, and Tremonti on restaurant row; Esca (Mario and Lidia's son and David Pasternak) ... I think that's all of them (and Mangia e Beve, but that is strictly for bacherlette parties).
                    Esca is in a class by itself, I think Passon/Putanesca/Cara Mia all can be above average and are a good price point. I was underwhelmed at L'allegria and La Locanda, Vice Versa feels a little dated, and I haven't made it to the restaurant row italians, though Barbetta is the oldest Italian restaurant in NYC I believe -- I think they've been around 100 years or so...

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: John_Keenan

                      Acc. to Menupages, there are 18 Italian restaurants in the West 30's, 57 in the West 40's, and 56 in the West 50's. Granted, they aren't all in Hell's Kitchen proper, but still, your list is far from complete.

                      1. re: RGR

                        Hmmm, I listed 14 restaurants, I think that is a pretty fair listing of Italian restaurants in HK. Any reason for your snarkyness or would you care to actually add anything to the conversation?

                        1. re: John_Keenan

                          Regulars to this board know that I always try to post in a courteous manner, so I'm sorry you misconstrued my post as being snarky since that was not my intention. Because you said, "I think that's *all* of them" (emphasis added), I was pointing out that's not the case. But, you're right. I should have been more specific. So, I'll mention Cascina, Amarone and Lattanzi though there are many others I haven't been to which may be very good.

                      2. re: John_Keenan

                        Thanks for such a thorough list! (And to everyone else for all your tips.)

                        1. re: John_Keenan

                          I'll give a nod to Maria Pia as well, although to clarify, it's on 51st, as is Vice Versa, which is a few buildings west.

                          I've heard good things about Patsy's on 56th St b/t B'way & 8th Ave. I don't believe it's affiliated with the chain of Patsy pizza places.

                          1. re: ultbil

                            I've never been to Patsy's on 56 Street but everyone I know who has, says it's terrible. And you are right, they have no connection to the Patsy's pizza chain (very mediocre) or the Patsy's Pizza on 1st Ave at 117 Street which is superb.

                        2. I have always liked Osteria al Doge - not exactly Hell's Kitchen, but its just across Times Square on 44th Street.

                          1. I like the coniglio and the pastas at Locanda Dei Vini on Ninth and around 49th. Curious if anyone else has been here.

                            1. We go to La Locanda frequently but usually for appetizers and wine -- we've never found much to be excited about in the pastas or main courses.

                              For awesome pasta, Roberto Passon can't be beat. Unfortunately, I've had some truly horrendous service, and last time they really disappointed me by sending out cold pasta.

                              I've heard Maria Pia is much better at lunch. I've only been for dinner (a disaster), but I've heard from others it's good at lunch. I've even heard from one who likes it at lunch that she went at dinner and thought it was horrible.

                              We order a decent amount of take-out from Amarone. I can't imagine actually eating at the restaurant. Until recently, they discounted prices 25% for delivery and now only 10%. Even at 25% the prices weren't cheap for the quality level (not particularly high, but nonetheless oddly satisfying), so I can't imagine paying their "full" prices.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: kersie

                                I second Roberto Passon. Their food is excellent, especially given their prices. I've had no problems with the service, however, it can be hard to understand what they're saying (slight accent).

                                They also read a long list of specials that tend to be pricier.

                                1. re: eatfood

                                  Ditto all around. We've eaten there happily several times and have had perfectly acceptable service.

                                  On the specials: the last time we ordered a special buffalo mozzarella appetizer which, while delicious, was twice the price of their regular apps (which we didn't know until the bill arrived). Next time - and there will certainly be a next time - we'll be sure to ask the cost of any specials we're considering ordering.

                                  1. re: Striver

                                    When they have it, I personally think their buffalo mozzarella is worth every penny :) -- it's one of the best I've ever had in the US OR Italy!

                                    1. re: kersie

                                      I had the buffalo mozzarella special the other day. It was $14, and very good. Might not be THE best ever, but good.

                                      1. re: eatfood

                                        Interesting. The night we had it, it was $19 ($14 wouldn't have been that surprising). Maybe it was the accompanying mushrooms?

                                  2. re: eatfood

                                    No kidding, you should have seen the face of the waiter (disappointed, almost like someone got caught cheating or something) when I asked for the prices for the specials.

                                2. Is Pietrasanta still there? I used to go there occasionally and always thought it was above average. Bricco could be called Hell's Kitchen 'fringe' and is on 56th St. very near 8th ave. It's in the old Le Coq Au Vin spot.

                                  1. We've eaten at a bunch of them and wouldn't recommend most. That said, Roberto Passon is always a good bet. Esca is good too, if a little spendy. We like L'Allegria's brick oven pizzas, as well.

                                    There's a lot in the mediocre Italian category (I'd put La Locanda, Pietrasanta, and Cascina here)--places that aren't bad, but aren't more than OK.

                                    Personally, I think Amarone should be ashamed of itself and the food it serves, so I wouldn't recommend it. But as with most aesthetic judgments, opinions vary.

                                    Good luck,


                                    NYCnosh* http://nycnosh.com

                                    1. A little update (but not to put an end to this lively conversation by any means!): I went to Roberto Passon. I thought the food was very good (especially for the prices as some have said.) The salads were all excellent. I had the butternut squash ravioli, which was great, if a little "subtle" and not exactly bursting with flavor as much as I'd wish, but I'd still recommend it. My aunt had a special of risotto in wine sauce with duck (and I ate the leftovers) and it was excellent. My uncle had a lamb chop special and was quite pleased. My only complaint is a bizarre service/ambiance problem - it was unbearably hot in there! We were all sweating. And this is November, for the record. I would have enjoyed everything a lot more if it were more comfortable in there (and hopefully this was unusual). But overall, I would add to the recommendations for RP, and thanks to others for the recommendations.


                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: pedrita

                                        Did you ever consider asking them to turn on the a.c.? The weather has been quite warm recently, and I've found that restaurants don't always properly adjust a.c. and heat for outside weather changes that affect indoor temps. If I find a restaurant's temperature uncomfortable -- either too warm or too cool -- I ask a staff person if the a.c. or heat can be adjusted, and I usually find the managers to be quite accommodating.

                                        Btw, I agree that RP does do excellent risotto. My husband's osso bucco was accompanied by risotto, and I couldn't stop myself from "helping him out." lol

                                        1. re: RGR

                                          At the risk of repeating myself, let me again note that we ate at Scarlatto's on W.47th Saturday, for the first time. I don't know the details, but this restaurant is clearly related to Roberto Passon - which we like very much, and which was booked at the time we wanted for Saturday - and has a very similar menu (and cooking style), wine list (I'm partial to the $32 Innominato Cennatoio), and pricing.

                                          We had a fine dinner, and my risotto (herb & parmesan surmounted by a quail in an intense reduction) was outstanding, as were the pastas and appetizers had by the rest of the party. I definitely recommend this as a companion/alternative to Roberto Passon.

                                      2. My Favorite in the area is Basso 56 @ 56th and 8th Ave. Just next to Patsy. It is new and superb. Paolo the owner has another restaurant downtown call Basso EST.