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Taking Students to Little Italy, Recommendations?

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  • J.T. Apr 11, 2011 10:47 AM
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I'm taking a group of twenty college freshman on a field trip. They want to eat in Little Italy. Any recommendations for a place that could do something at $25-$35 a head?

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  1. vietnamese, Nha Trang Centre
    or dim sum Red Egg
    both better than LI

    Nha Trang
    148 Centre St, New York, NY 10013

    Red Egg
    202 Centre Street, New York, NY 10013

    1. tell them to wander Little Italy but then take them to eat somewhere better...maybe Cacio e Vino on 2nd Ave...

      Cacio e Vino
      80 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10003

      1. Why do they want to eat in Little Italy? Do they just really want good Italian food? Because it's not there...

        1. No one's really answering my question. They want to eat in Little Italy because they're college freshmen, tourists if you will. Why not offer help instead of sneers?

          4 Replies
          1. re: J.T.

            It's not a sneer to ask for information to help get them a good meal. You could even tell them that Little Italy is nothing more than a bunch of tourist trap mediocre restaurants, and that if they want good Italian food, it's not the place to eat it. You'd be doing them a favor.

            1. re: gutsofsteel

              I concur. Wholeheartedly.
              The first two responses were honest and spot on. Walk the streets, take in the atmosphere, but for good Italian food go elsewhere.
              Cacio e Vino, by the way, is an excellent suggestion.

              Cacio e Vino
              80 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10003

            2. re: J.T.

              I would take them to Angelo's on Mulberry Street. It's one of the last few, true Italian, restaurants in Little Italy. In my opinion, they are the best of old Mulberry Street and a do a fair representation of old school Mulberry Street. After that, I would take them to Little Cupcake Bakeshop up north on Prince and Mott. While not Italian ( although, I think the owners are), it's the best dessert experience in the nabe.

              Angelo of Mulberry Street
              146 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

              Little Cupcake Bakeshop
              30 Prince St, New York, NY 10012

              1. re: J.T.

                There isn't a single good restaurant in Little Italy.

              2. Well, the problem is that little italy has become a pretty bad tourist trap. In fact I'm not really sure why it still exists except as a strange little museum to what the neighborhood used to be like. It's almost completely subsumed by chinatown.

                Most people who live/eat in NYC don't go there (anymore). Now... having said that, I went to a place called Lunella a number of years ago with a large group, and they were pretty accommodating with a family-style dinner.

                N.B. I wasn't paying, and since it was easily 5 years ago I can't/won't try to comment on the food. Only that they seemed to do a good job with feeding 15-20 people. And it was in Little Italy.

                173 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

                1. Thank you Egit and Betty. You've given me leads. Any thoughts on Il Cortile?

                  Il Cortile
                  125 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: J.T.

                    The ambiance is tourist hell. Tell them to grow up and try some real chinese

                    1. re: J.T.

                      Il Cortile was my next choice....went there for a birthday last year...loved it!

                      Il Cortile
                      125 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

                      1. re: betty benjamin

                        I hated my meal at Il Cortile. Everything was oversalted and near inedible. The atmosphere was unnerving and I went as a fresh college grad and found it extremely expensive for what it was. Considering you are bringing college freshman, I'm not sure how much money they have available, but if any of them were struggling students like me, I would be sore to spend my money there.

                        Il Cortile
                        125 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

                    2. Look into Rubirosa. It's close enough to Little Italy to make them feel like they're still eating there, but it's actually good Italian food, unlike what you'll find in real Little Italy.

                      235 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: loratliff

                        Sorry J.T. for some of the responses you've gotten. I've also heard Rubirosa is very good, but I'm not sure it'd be good to accomodate your group or what it's prices are like. It might be worth looking into Lombardi's. It's not right on Mulberry but it's very close. It's primarily pizza. It's not the best NYC pizza, but it's not as bad as some on here might claim, and it has a ton of history, claiming to be the oldest pizzeria in the city. I know when I was a young college-aged tourist first visiting the city I enjoyed it. Good luck.

                        32 Spring St, New York, NY 10012

                        235 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012

                        1. re: Mr Porkchop

                          i don't think you need to apologize for any of the responses here: i think everyone was giving an honest and helpful opinion, and trying to steer JT and his/her students away from an experience that will likely offer mediocre-at-best food, bad touristy vibe, and might even include a ripoff...

                          i think when a group of college freshmen vote for "Little Italy" as their dinner option, they are voting that a) they like the idea of seeing old Mulberry area, and b) they like comfort foods like pizza, pasta, etc...both those desires can be accomplished by a) walking around Little Italy, and b) going to a restaurant nearby in Nolita (i'd suggest Peasant but the price point is a little high) or the East Village where they'll get better food and won't be involved in the touristy ick of it all...i personally don't like Lombardi's, but for this meal it might work...

                          but hey, these are just suggestions from people who know and love the food of NYC (theoretically the reason JT posted on chowhound to begin with)...JT is welcome to take the advice of tout in front of a "free wine" place instead...

                          1. re: Mr Porkchop

                            I'm almost certain that Rubirosa can accommodate a group of your size. Great pizzas, pastas, salads.

                        2. Keeping in mind everything that everybody else said, there is a reconstituted version of an old favorite, Grotta Azzurra, which I went to once recently for sentimental reasons but it's lost its former glory.

                          Wherever you go, you might consider Ferrara's afterwards for lemon ices and/or cookies.
                          Hounders, is Ferrara's still as good as it was?

                          Grotta Azzurra
                          177 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10013

                          195 Grand St, New York, NY 10013

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: pauliface

                            No. Either that, or I had lower standards when I was a kid in the 1970s, but I think it was better then. I haven't been in some time, but I think it was just OK last time I checked.

                          2. I'd agree with everyone who says there ain't much worthwhile to each in Little Italy group dinner wise. But if you must, is it wandering around then picking a spot, or making reservations? If it's the former, just let the students walk around and pick something. If it's the latter, any place mentioned in-thread is probably good. I'd pick L'Asso for both very decent pizza and pasta, or Lombardi's for historical pizza. Or Da Nico or Angelo's, for probably fairly popular representative Little Italy pasta joints, or Umberto's, especially if there are any sports radio fans.

                            But beyond that, snacking in Little Italy might be worthwhile, stopping along the various shops on Grand Street (DiPalo, fer sure) and bakeries up and down Mulberry probably will max out the educational and cultural experience without injuring the stomach with a so so meal.

                            Should be a fun trip.

                            Di Palo's Fine Foods
                            200 Grand St, New York, NY 10013

                            Da Nico
                            164 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

                            Umberto's Clam House
                            132 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

                            192 Mott St, New York, NY 10012

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: villainx

                              Say, anyone been to Umberto's since it reopened on Mulberry?

                            2. Just one word of caution. A friend of mine went to a restaurant in Little Italy not too long ago (and no, I don't know which one), with a group. Apparently there was someone outside the restaurant shilling and begging them to come in and saying he would give them some free wine... something like that... When they ordered the server made "suggestions" of some amazing sounding specials and begged the table to let him take care of them and choose what they should eat. Which he did, and their bill came to over $100 per person ...including the "free" glass of plonk wine they each got.

                              So make sure you know the prices in advance of ordering.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                Yes, the knock on Little Italy isn't just poor quality food. It's also a ripoff.

                                1. re: Chandavkl

                                  I hear that all the time too. Which Little Italy places have you found wanting lately?

                                  1. re: squid kun

                                    We were so mad I don't even remember the name of the place. Mrs. Chandavkl ending up getting in a shouting match with the manager. West side of Mulberry, close to Hester.

                                2. re: TrishUntrapped

                                  That's outrageous. I've seen the guys outside barking for customers to come in or advertising that they have the "best __________ (insert Italian dish here)" so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that scams come along with all of that.

                                  1. re: loratliff

                                    Those guys are just as bad as the internet Nigerian scams

                                3. If these are college freshmen, why not guide them away from Little Italy to Chinatown. I live in NoCal and when I visit NYC I'm definitely a tourist. We've eaten at a couple of LI spots that were totally forgetable. The only place we regularly visit is DiPalos which, IMO, is a/the quintessential NYC/Italian experience. Lou and Sal and Marie Dipalo are just the best. But, yeah, go to Chinatown. Walking the (few) blocks of Little Italy, I'm more annoyed than charmed. The "barkers" out in front of TOO many of the places is more than offputting. Grrr. You're the "grownup." Push the puppies :)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    I second DiPalo's!! It's the only place I frequent in Little Italy....Located on the corner of Grand & Mott. Do the tourist thing and take the students to Lombardi's for pizza. Supposedly it's the birthplace of NY style pizza. You could also go to Ferrara's for pastries & gelato.

                                  2. It has to be Angelos. In my opinion, not only had the consummate Little Italy feel but the food is amazing, unlike almost all other restaurants on the block. I actually have a connection with one of the head waiters (from going almost once every other week for years) and can guarantee he would make it an amazing experience for you. Regardless, thats the way to go.

                                    1. Did I find the general range of responses helpful? No.

                                      Did I find the attitude behind most of the responses off-putting? Yes.

                                      Remember, I began with a simple question: could anyone recommend a restaurant in Little Italy that could do an inexpensive meal for a large group? I did not ask anyone's opinion of Little Italy in general. I did not ask about restaurants in the East Village, Nolita, or elsewhere. I did not ask anyone's thoughts on the wisdom my students' decision to eat in Little Italy. Nor did I ask about restaurants in Chinatown, a cuisine the class roundly rejected. I certainly did NOT ask for wise-ass remarks like, "JT is welcome to take the advice of [a] tout in front of a 'free wine' place instead..." of bowing to the collective wisdom of anonymous Chowhound food snobs.

                                      Alas, only about three or four responses actually answered my straightforward, informational question. For those people who did try to help, I thank you. I've checked out the places you recommended online and am going to Little Italy this afternoon to select one. I'm currently veering toward Lombardi's. That way I won't have to negotiate a prix fixe and collect money. The students can order and pay themselves. The trip is on Thursday, by the way.

                                      For the record, my students are eighteen-year olds who want an inexpensive dining experience with a touch of ambiance that, for them, would be out of the ordinary. They are not gourmets, gourmands, or "foodies" (odious term, that!). They have a lifetime to acquire taste and discrimination and get over their inexperienced palates. Places like Lombardi's and Il Cortile are good starting points to teach them that dining can be an experience with a touch of history added and that food doesn't come off an assembly line. If they don't like their meal, that's part of the learning curve, isn't it?

                                      Il Cortile
                                      125 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: J.T.

                                        I would only recommend Lombardis. it's a little touristy yes, but the pizza is definitely still decent, it's bustling and I can imagine young college kids loving it. Plus, it's definitely affordable. And the myriad of pies will have starving mouths stuffed when they leave.

                                        Ar per my post above, please please please do not go to Il Cortile, when I went 5 years ago, even my just budding palate found the food down right awful. It was a date but the meal for two came up to almost $150.

                                        Il Cortile
                                        125 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

                                        1. re: J.T.

                                          Il Cortile is WAY out of your budget range. Lombardi's is a pizzeria. I don't find it out of the ordinary in any way.

                                          Il Cortile
                                          125 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

                                          1. re: gutsofsteel

                                            Guts, Lombardi's may not be out of the ordinary to you but it might be to some out of towners. Especially 18 yr old kids who probably do not have a better frame of reference.

                                            1. re: MVNYC

                                              Seems to me that pizzerie are common all over the country...but hey, to each his own.

                                          2. re: J.T.

                                            For a group of 18 year olds, Lombardi's will be perfect. People around here sometimes seem to forget the context in which their recommendations apply. I am not sure where you are from but Lombardi's will offer Pizza that is most likely better than what you have as well as a historic location. For smaller groups of older people I would also normally shoo them away from Little Italy for many of the reasons stated above but for your specific needs Lombardi's will work.

                                            1. re: J.T.

                                              I'll just add, in case I didn't, make a reservation. Not sure if Lombardi's does that - maybe for large parties like in your case (or throw your college field trip and see if they bite), or if you were planning early Thursday evening before the rush or during prime dining hours.

                                              Oh, Eileen's is also a block from Little Italy, small place, and they might already have their fill of Italian sweets. But if you need another snack recommendation, Eileen's has good individual size cheesecakes. But probably have to take home or eating on the go.

                                              Plus if they stop by DiPalo, maybe head over to Despana (two blocks from Mulberry) to compare and contrast with how the cold cuts, cheeses, olives and so forth are done Spanish style.

                                              Oh, and at Lombardi's there is also a clam pizza pie. Some might (rightly) say it ain't as good as it sounds or not as good as other places, but it's good enough to eat, and probably will give them more stories to tell about their Little Italy trip

                                              408 Broome St, New York, NY 10013

                                              Eileen's Special Cheesecake
                                              17 Cleveland Pl, New York, NY 10012

                                              1. re: villainx

                                                Oh, I love the DiPalo/Despana idea. I've bought from both and love the products.

                                                @OP: Please keep in mind that OPs don't get the privilege of "owning" these posts. I've wanted to be able to do that more than once :) In addition to answering (or not) your question, there will be others who may read this thread. Others who may not know what LI is like and may make their dining decisions based on what's written here. And for THOSE people, it could be really helpful to find out that, overall, Little Italy is no dining mecca. As a brand new CH I learned it the hard way, spending money that could have bought me multiple meals a couple of blocks away. BTW, you have probably figured out that the Manhattan hounds strongly opinionated. LOL.

                                              2. re: J.T.

                                                J.T., I think Chinatown was recommended because Chinatown *is* Little Italy now—Little Italy is shrinking dramatically, as Chinatown is overtaking it.

                                                1. re: J.T.

                                                  I think many of the people that have posted negative comments may have just had very bad experiences in Little Italy. I know I have. I've gone several times looking for decent family style Italian food (nothing fancy). Every time, the food was very bad and overpriced. I hope that the recommendations you got are helpful and that they help you avoid the type of experience I had In terms of food, you probably are best sticking with visiting a bakery and a pizza shop. When people suggested that you walk through and then eat at a different Italian place nearby it is completely in line with what you asked for because they were hoping to help you give your students a good experience.

                                                  1. re: mattbg

                                                    I can see that. There are certainly decent Italian places close to Little Italy (Torrisi, Peasant, Falai, Morini, etc.). But when you are talking about 20 or so group, decent food ain't necessary going to be easy, especially at a reasonable price point or limiting the stress of the planner.

                                                    I remember heading out to Montreal as a high school junior student on a school trip, all the places I ate at were magical. Yet, they were probably mostly pretty crummy places if I knew what I know now.

                                                    Just unfortunate that most of the pasta joints in Little Italy are so not worth it (quality and money wise) that recommendations other than pizza are risky.

                                                    68 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002

                                                  2. re: J.T.

                                                    I moved here as a 17-year old college freshman from the Midwest and still vividly remember my first meal in Little Italy. It was towards the end of San Gennaro and our RAs told us that going to Little Italy would be our baptismal NYC experience. So of course, eager freshmans that we were, we got a group together and took the exciting walk down through SoHo to the festival and chose one of the restaurants whose excited hosts grabbed at us and beckoned us in with infectious Italian charm. My thoughts at that first meal are the same as now: I just spent a ton of money I don't have to cram myself into a hard plastic seat eating legitimately terrible food, surrounded by obnoxious cacophony. This is pretty much the same reaction I've witnessed from every visitor who demands we have lunch at Little Italy to make their trip "complete."

                                                    You came to one of NYC's premiere sources for good food and when we told you there isn't any to be had at your destination you decided the best recourse would be just to insult us as snobs, even though several of the most trustworthy posters on this site have obviously tried to be helpful in recommending a memorable meal for your students without forcing them to shell out twenty bucks for spaghetti and slop. Many of us have eaten phenomenally at greasy spoons whose names you'd soon forget, just as we've tripped the light fantastic after a Michelin-starred destination. Asking New Yorkers what the best Italian is in Little Italy is like asking a Hong Konger which Panda Express has the best dim sum. Sorry, but that's the unhelpful truth and it doesn't make us snobs.

                                                    And just so I don't become the object of your denigration for providing you an explanation for why our repeated experiences would make us not want you to repeat our mistakes, I understand how adamant tourists can be about going to Little Italy, especially when they have no context for it other than the movies and tour guides. If you're leaning towards pizza, I'd give my vote to Rubirosa's or Lombardi's. Personally I find the latter burnt-tasting, but it's allegedly a famous institution.

                                                    235 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012

                                                  3. JT

                                                    Lombardi's is your place. Just walk up Mulberry to Spring Street. It is absolutely amazing pizza! It was the first pizzeria in the US and spawned all of the other great pizza places in NYC, so that is 100% my recommendation.

                                                    I have been going to Lombardi's for years and I will admit that it isn't as good as it was 10 years ago or so, but it is still really great. It is the best version of pizza that they will have ever had. Fresh Mozzarella, great pepperoni, yada, yada. It is cooked in a Coal Oven so it cooks really fast and sometimes the crust gets charred, which most people find delicious, but some kids might call "burned."

                                                    If you were on a trip to find the best pizza in NYC, I'd have a few other suggestions...

                                                    There is a great little Italian Bakery on Mulberry that might be fun. White boxes with tri-colored cord tied around them. (I haven't done the Little Italy think in years, but I think it's still there.)

                                                    This is a site for people who are REALLY into food, so don't mistake passion for ill-intentions.

                                                    Good luck!

                                                    1. I haven't been there since I was in college, but Puglia would give them what they need...and when they're old and bald like me look back and laugh!

                                                      Say hi to Jorge, the house "entertainment" - he does a great Love Boat theme.

                                                      I am now ducking for cover...

                                                      189 Hester St, New York, NY 10013

                                                      1. Dear Chow People,

                                                        This thread was last updated a little more than a year ago, but it holds the question I wanted to ask-- that is what are the best places to eat in Little Italy, and these very sad, disappointing replies. ( meaning the change in little Italy is sad) I have lived for over three decades in California. I'm a bit of a " foodie", loving good food in the continuum of restaurant ambience-- from fine dining to ethnic holes in the wall. I grew up in NYC and am half Italian-- so I know good Italian food from Southern to Northern, from home-cooking to elegant restaurant. A couple of years ago I went to NY's china town and found it disappointingly touristy-- nary anyone Chinese in sight, save the waiters. And mediocre, very overpriced food. That having been said, this summer my 20 year old daughter is living and working in NYC, and suggested on our upcoming visit to her we eat in Little Italy since she has never been there. (She has been to Little Italy in Montreal, where she goes go University and where we had a fabulous meal in a place with a great singer, but I digress.) Anyway, it really saddens me that NY's Little Italy has become a tourist trap. All that having been said, I do have a couple of new questions and hope that there will be some new posts.
                                                        First, has anything changed since this thread was last updated?
                                                        Second, If not Little Italy, then where for a meal that would feel like Little Italy did a couple decades back? Someone mentioned the East Village--but any specific recommendations? We don't want pizza, and we don't want the ambiance of fine dining, but we do want good food. And probably somewhere that has a varied menu-- from red sauce and things like lobster fra diavalo, to veal picatta.
                                                        Third, someone recommended walking around in Little Italy for the ambiance--, but where exactly is there anything remotely " real' and not going to feel like a visiting a tourist trap. Are there some streets-- maybe one's with old churches or something like that and little shops that don't have barkers touting " good deals with terrible wine?" etc. I think you get the picture. Is it just going to feel like Disney Land no matter what? Maybe is Ferarros still open? Do they still have good pastry and espresso-- or gelato-- would it be worthwhile to go there for dessert? My thanks in advance.

                                                        9 Replies
                                                        1. re: withabandon

                                                          -- you must have not researched the boundaries of Chinatown very well -- sure, if you only walk 50 feet down Mott St and/or if you go to a bigbox dimsum place like Jing Fong, there are lots of Westerners of all types (tourists and non-Chinese NYers)...but otherwise, your "no Chinese but the waiters" comment is simply blind: walk down E. Broadway or Division St or sit in the Columbus Park by Bayard/Mulberry, it's 90% Chinese, all day, every day...

                                                          -- yes, Little Italy is as useless as ever...this question gets asked every couple months...

                                                          -- other Italian places you might enjoy: Picolo Angelo, Malatesta, Cacio de Vino...maybe John's on 12th St...many threads to search...

                                                          Hope you have a nice trip and get some tasty food that you enjoy...

                                                          1. re: Simon

                                                            Thanks-- and that is so sad about Little Italy. As for China town, we were directed to the restaurant we went to by a fine-hotel concierge where we'd stopped in for drinks. He should have known better. There was not a single Chinese patron in the place. I figured if that is where the concierge sent us, it must be representative. And we had specifically asked for a place where the locals go. sigh. no harm-- there is great Chinese food here. Glad to know all of NY's Chinatown has not disappeared. Thanks for the recommendations to other Italian places.

                                                            1. re: withabandon

                                                              Far from disappeared, Manhattan's Chinatown keeps growing and expanding. That concierge sent you somewhere he thought white people would like (and I'd like to know where, actually). Next time, don't ask a concierge for a Chinese recommendation, but check here.

                                                              1. re: Pan

                                                                Also, I wouldn't really bother with bemoaning the decline of Little Italy.
                                                                Though historically significant, the main reason it has receded to a symbolic block or two is that as soon as they could afford to move, the original residents couldn't get out of there fast enough to get away from the cramped tenements and really unpleasant living conditions (this is long before Manhattan real estate became what it is today). I have many friends who grew up there in the 60's and 70's and it was not a fun or picturesque place to be. I'm really not sure where a lot of these romanticized notions - including those held by many New Yorkers - of the neighborhood come from (Maybe movies? I just don't get it.).
                                                                And red sauce Italian is the chicken with broccoli of western cuisine - if you were disappointed by the lack of 'locals' at the place recommended by the concierge, I can't imagine how you would react to any of the old school places. An Italian wouldn't eat that food if you paid him (that includes me, born and raised in Rome). So definitely follow Simon's advice... or take it a step further and catch the train to Flushing - they'll be far more rewarding experiences. Happy chowing.

                                                                1. re: snaporaz

                                                                  1. Anyone with romantic ideas about growing up in that neighborhood should see the early Scorcese movies, "Who's That Knocking at My Door?" and "Mean Streets."

                                                                  2. You wouldn't see an Italian-Italian eating red sauce. But you'd see plenty of Italian-Americans. I can remember, when people of my low social class started to do European travel back in the '70s, that the families of many of my Italian-American friends would come back from Italy and complain that the food in Italy was "terrible" because "it wasn't really Italian."

                                                                  1. re: Sneakeater

                                                                    Sneakeater, there was a fun episode of The Sopranos where they go to Sicily and Paulie has the same reaction to the food as you describe above -- he pokes at the various dishes and asks horrified: "Where's the gravy??" :)

                                                          2. re: withabandon

                                                            This thread makes me think of Times Square. All my friends who visit from out of town for their first time want to go there. I've given up trying to explain that it's a disgusting tourist trap, and leave it to them to figure out on their own that it's a waste of time.

                                                            And that's the bottom line with Little Italy. No matter how much you warn people, folks just have this romantic idea in their head of what Little Italy is, and no matter what you say, you're not going to dispel it, so it's not worth arguing with them.

                                                            Were exactly did you go in Chinatown -- I'm not trying to be mean, but you clearly went to the wrong place.

                                                            1. re: von_levi

                                                              Yeah, I remember when a friend came to visit from St. Louis a few years ago.

                                                              HER: I want to have dessert in Little Italy. Where should I go?

                                                              ME: You shouldn't go to Little Italy.

                                                              HER: But surely every New Yorker has a favorite spot in Little Italy.

                                                              ME: No New Yorkers go to Little Italy. Tourists and people from New Jersey do. And apparently people from St. Louis.

                                                              HER: But where should I go in Little Italy?

                                                              1. re: Sneakeater

                                                                Even if you embellished... very funny