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Feb 7, 2008 08:10 AM

Who knew? A good meal in Little Italy! $12 lunch at Il Cortile

I've never eaten in Little Italy. I thought the restaurants there were traps for out of towners. And so I was very surprised to have a pleasant lunch at Il Cortile. I went about 2:30 PM, and at that hour what I thought would be a glitzy tourist place was a neighborhood joint -- for a neighborhood I thought had died forty years ago and more. (Until yesterday I thought that "Mean Streets" was, though filmed in Little Italy, really about the Italian neighborhoods of Brooklyn.) My table was near the bar. Next to me, three priests from the church around the corner were enjoying a well deserved lunch after a very busy day. (It was Ash Wednesday.) At the bar, an old guy from the neighborhood was telling the bartender how he'd been cheated out of a few hundred dollars on his insurance. Later a woman wandered in, announced "It's crazy out there today!", greeted the staff, and left.

For lunch at Il Cortile, they have eight pastas at $12 and eight entrees at $ 15. I ordered capellini with shrimp. The waiters were friendly and attentive. First came a huge bread basket, including a hefty tomato foccaccia. Then came the pasta, with a rich pink frothy sauce made with tomato and vodka, topped with basil leaves and five big shrimp. And no, it wasn't the best pasta I've ever eaten. I probably won't go back for dinner, which is double the price. But it was good. And I will go back for lunch. And if you're thinking of finding a better deal in Little Italy.... fuggedaboutit

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  1. I agree with you and that is a very good time to go as well. Love Il Cortile.

    1. I've tried them all in Little Italy. Il Cortile is by far the best there, and great for NYC too.

      The waiting area is a creepy, cold, clammy bar in the back, with too few chairs. Once you get by that, the food is great.

      1. Brian,

        Thanks for this reports. You are such an asset to this board! Your reviews are always well-written, i.e., correct spelling and grammar, and you always make it a point to include many interesting and charming details. Bravo! :-)

        4 Replies
        1. re: RGR

          Thank you so much for this. Means even more coming from you. I try so hard! It kind of interferes with my enjoyment of the food though, since I'm writing the review in my head as I'm eating, and trying to remember the good phrases.

          It was such a surprise for me, since this was the first time in my life I've eaten in Little Italy (except for San Gennaro food stalls) I think the best time to go is when I did, in mid afternoon.

          Il Cortile
          125 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

          1. re: Brian S

            Well, Brian, you obviously have a good memory since those wonderful phrases do manage to make it onto the page. :-)

            With regard to interferences, we've come to feel that way about taking photos. We used to do it a lot but eventually stopped because we found it was getting in the way of truly enjoying the meal.

            I don't recall ever eating in Little Italy. I have heard some very good things about a restaurant called Focolare, also on Mulberrry, which opened this past year and has a menu which is atypical of what one normally finds in that neighborhood. It's on my "go to" list.


            1. re: RGR

              I've noticed Focolare. They have a $12.50 lunch that includes an appetizer as well as pasta. I read somewhere that they are a branch of a New Jersey restaurant.

              As for photos I'm the same. Long ago I spent six years vagabonding around the back roads of Africa and Asia (including 18 months in China and Hong Kong) . I didn't carry a camera; it would have interfered.

              1. re: Brian S

                Clicking on Focolare's url, turns out, you are correct. The parent company is Lombardi's Restaurant Group, which has two called Lombardi's, and a third, called Lucky's 73, on the way, all in NJ.

        2. Appreciate the report, as always. In fact Il Cortile is one of the places that local chowhounds credit with having a capable kitchen. Little Italy's reputation as home to "traps for out of towners" comes in large part from those inflated dinner prices that you mention. Still, it's nice to have a recent read.

          Just as valuable is a Little Italy post that describes an actual meal, rather than falling back on detail-free stereotypes that tar the whole neighborhood. It's been noted more than once that Little Italy posts on Chowhound tend to adopt a scornful, all-knowing tone, but then add that there's one restaurant that's the exception to the rule. Funny thing is, when you add up all the exceptions to the rule, you've got hound endorsements for a dozen or more restaurants :)

          Il Cortile
          125 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

          1. Thank you so much for this. It seems all I ever see is negative reviews of LI in Manhattan. Il Cortile has always been outstanding, and that extents beyond lunch to a great place for dinner. Since I find it impossible to confine myself to a single pasta dish or entree there (their apps can be outstanding, especially the specials) and generally add a glass or two of wine, I spend more like $40 BUT is is entirely worth it. A very nice experience and makes a day trip to LI (if I'm not doing a pretty decent pizza at Lombardi's) worth it.