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Recommended Italian Restaurant for <$50?

Long time lurker, first time poster. A few friends and I are visiting NYC later this month, and we're looking for a good Italian restaurant, preferably for dinner but open to lunch ideas as well. I've read about places like Babbo and Scarpetta, but we're on a pretty tight budget so we're hoping to find a place where we can eat for under $50, excluding drinks - is this possible at either restaurant? If not, any other restaurants to recommend? Here are the criteria...

Must Have: Great Italian food, < $50 per person excluding drinks, no pizza joints (we're doing that separately).

Nice to Have: Location in or around Little Italy (one of the friends really wants to go there, and we're only going to be in NYC for a few days, so it'd be nice to kill two birds with one stone), more casual than dressy atmosphere.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Look into Peasant, which is in Nolita, and a short walk from Little Italy.

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    Peasant
    194 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY 10012

    1. Does $50 include tax & tip? It's the difference between a $50 menu price and a $38 one, a pretty major difference - the cost of an app or dessert, potentially.

      If that doesn't include t/t, Caffe Falai and Peasant would be my top options. Babbo and Scarpetta are pretty much out of the equation, unless you're going to skip dessert and limit yourself to pastas for your main courses. But mind you, at many of the better Italian restaurants, pasta courses aren't huge. They're sized with a four-course "traditional" Italian meal in mind - app, pasta, entree, dessert. The "big honkin' plates of pasta" type of place is more of an Italian-American thing.

      On the cheaper end, Frankies 17 Spuntino (or the new Frankies 570 Spuntino) is/are fantastic. Every dish is under $20, IIRC, and the wine is decently priced. Their cavatelli with sausage is a (well-deserved) classic, worth going just for that.

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      Babbo
      110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

      Frankies 17 Spuntino
      17 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002

      Caffe Falai
      265 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012

      Peasant
      194 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY 10012

      Scarpetta
      355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014

      Frankies 570 Spuntino
      570 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

      1 Reply
      1. re: sgordon

        I second Frankies 570, Rubirosso is a good one also.

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        Rubirosa
        235 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012

        Frankies 570 Spuntino
        570 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

      2. If the $50 does not include tax and tip, you could squeak by at Maialano or Ciano if you avoid the most expensive dishes. Either of these would be a great choice. Otherwise, Ciano offers a $20 lunch special that is a steal. Spina is another option, with a huge selection of house-made pastas and a small list of main courses. If you like beer, Spina has some excellent ones on tap.

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        Ciano
        45 E 22nd St, New York, NY 10010

        Spina
        175 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009

        Maialino
        2 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10010

        1. Thanks for the responses so far, this is great! To answer the question about the price limit, unfortunately the $50 does include tax and tip. However, there are a couple people in the group that are willing to go beyond that, so maybe only a third or half of the menu needs to fit within that price range. Also, don't worry about including dessert, we'd likely go elsewhere and therefore I'm treating it as a separate expense.

          I figured that Babbo and Scarpetta wouldn't work, but it was a little hard to tell from the prices on the menu. Oh well, there's always next time!

          Peasant and Spina both sound like they could work, and they have fairly different menus so it might just be based on what people feel like eating that day. Is it recommended that I make reservations for either restaurant for a weekend dinner?

          Any other suggestions out there for restaurants in Little Italy, or within walking distance?

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          Babbo
          110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

          Scarpetta
          355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014

          Spina
          175 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009

          1 Reply
          1. re: mellowpa

            Torrisi Italian specialties is very popular, and is close to Little Italy, but their $50 prix fixe dinner exceeds your budget. Other reasonably priced Italian options (outside Little Italy) include cacio et vino, frankie's sputino, gnocco and the del posto lunch prix fixe.

            Some old Little Italy threads that might help:
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/746561
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/785765

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            Frankies 17 Spuntino
            17 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002

            Del Posto
            85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

            Gnocco
            337 East 10th Street, New York, NY 10009

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

            Torrisi Italian Specialties
            250 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012

            Frankies 570 Spuntino
            570 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014

          2. If you want something charmingly off-the-beaten-path, check out Malatesta in the West Village. It's particularly lovely on a nice evening when you can sit outside.

            Everything that I have had there was good, though the pastas are particularly excellent (nicely al dente, good sauces). To boot, the wine list is pretty reasonable. Caveat: Cash Only.

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            Malatesta
            649 Washington St, New York, NY 10014

            1 Reply
            1. re: asgaynor

              I did not love Malatesta on the one occasion I was there. The food was just OK and the service was awful. After perhaps an hour and a half -- much of which was spent waiting and waiting to be served -- the waiter asked us to clear out to make room. Would not go back...Cacio e Vino might work for the OP.

            2. A lot of this comes down to how creatively you're willing to order. For example, my wife and I have gone to scarpetta and shared an order of their marvelous polenta, followed by a pasta for each of us. Add in their complimentary bread basket, refilled on request, and this is plenty of food. This is easily under $50 per person, and one of the best Italian meals you can have in Manhattan right now.

              If you're open to a high end lunch, then Del Posto is a great option. $29 per person plus tax and tip for 2 courses. Additional courses can be added for $10. Not near Little Italy, though most on this board would encourage you to tell your friend that Little Italy is a shell of its former self and not necessarily worth visiting (unless you're headed to a place like Torrisi for dinner).

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              Del Posto
              85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

              Scarpetta
              355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014

              4 Replies
              1. re: ml77

                Actually, Del Posto's lunch is $29 for three courses, not two - antipasti, pasta or secondi, and dessert. Plus there's the amuses, mignardaises, and bread basket which is practically a course in itself. A steal for the price, really.

                Also, I think the additional courses are significantly more than $10, though you'd have to call and check - prices are always changing.

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                Del Posto
                85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

                1. re: sgordon

                  Yes, thanks for the correction. It is a 3 course lunch for $29. Additional courses were $10 when I went there in January, and given that the price for the prix fixe hasn't gone up I would be very surprised if the price for extra courses had risen.

                  1. re: ml77

                    Amazing what a deal it is there for lunch. At dinner, as I recall, the "extra dish" cost is $25/antipasti, $35/pasta, $45/entree, or something along those lines. Was it ten bucks for any course, do you remember?

              2. Thanks for all the suggestions everyone! I think I should be able to convince my friend that Little Italy is not the place to eat Italian. Del Posto for lunch sounds like a great value, that's probably the front runner right now. We'll probably end up playing it by ear based on what everyone feels like, but I'll be sure to report back on where we end up. Looking forward to the trip!

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                Del Posto
                85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

                5 Replies
                1. re: mellowpa

                  I wouldn't do lunch at Del Posto by ear given that it's an upscale restaurant with lunch reservations highly recommended. You may also need to dress up a bit.

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                  Del Posto
                  85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

                  1. re: kathryn

                    There's no dress code at Del Posto. Batali is very anti-DC. One might feel a little under-dressed at dinner if they're not wearing a collared shirt, maybe. But at lunch... a pretty wide assortment of people are in there. Last time I had lunch there I wasn't the only person in a t-shirt & jeans in the dining room.

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                    Del Posto
                    85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

                    1. re: sgordon

                      True, Batali is pretty anti dress code, but then again, Del Posto is his 4 star fancy joint place. I personally would feel underdressed in, say, shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers. So it might not be a "let's drop in and have lunch on a whim" sort of place.

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                      Del Posto
                      85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

                      1. re: kathryn

                        The Del Posto website states their dress code as no shorts, no sleeveless tees (for men), and no sandals. Otherwise, it looks like if we showed up in jeans and sleeved t-shirts, we'd be technically acceptable. But point taken about looking/feeling a bit out of place.

                        What about the other places mentioned on the thread? Do we need to worry about this for any other restaurants?

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                        Del Posto
                        85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

                        1. re: kathryn

                          just wear orange crocs and it won't be a problem.LOL
                          Babbo is kind of dressy too

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                          Babbo
                          110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011