Gaia Italian Café – Great Homemade Italian Sandwiches, Salads and Other Specialties in the Lower Eastside
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Gaia is a casual cafe in the Lower Eastside that serves casual Italian food mainly sandwiches, salads and a few pastas. I found this place fairly recently and I’ve been going most weekends for lunch for the last couple of months as the food is excellent and the prices are very reasonable for the high quality of food you’re getting.
The restaurant is in a weird location on Houston below the street level in a basement type area. The room has walls with exposed brick and the floors are all wood. It’s got around 6 tables with magazines on them and it’s generally a very casual place.
The owner is a nice Italian woman who does all the cooking herself. She clearly takes pride in her food and I really like that. I will say that while she is great, the other people there are somewhat incompetent and dealing with them can be a pain if it’s crowded as they re disorganized and don’t seem to really know what they’re doing. However, the food is very good and the owner is great, so I don’t mind at the end of the day, but just a word of warning about that.
Anyhow, onto the food:
- Bresaola Carpaccio with Arugula, Parmesan: Bresaola is a salt cured beef. It was tender and delicious and paired perfectly with the argula and parmesan. The owner squeezed a lemon over the whole thing, which really kicks it up a notch. This is my favorite dish here. 8.75/10
- Arugula Salad with Cherry Tomatoes in Pesto Sauce with Parmesan: This salad is self-explanatory, but it is excellent. The pesto sauce goes really well with the parmesan and argula. This is really good. 8.5/10
- Delizioso: This sandwich is prosciutto cotto, mozzarella, tomato, anchioves and mustard. As a note - for all of the sandwiches, the bread that is used is homemade and is amazing (I’d give the bread 8.75/10). It is thin and crispy and has great flavor. All the ingredients in the sandwich were good. However, the mustard was sweet and prosciutto cotto isn’t a salty meat, so I thought it made the sandwich a little too sweet. I would’ve liked it much better if it wasn’t sweet mustard. 7.25/10
- Montanaro: This sandwich is speck, taleggio and mixed vegetables. Speck is a type of ham and taleggio is a type of cheese that reminds me of brie cheese. The sandwich tastes just like it sounds and it was quite good. 8/10
- Elegante: This sandwich is bresaola, goat cheese, lemon and black pepper. The saltiness of bresaola goes very nicely with the goat cheese and lemon. This might be the best sandwich I’ve tried here. 8.25/10
- Milanese: This sandwich is chicken cutlet, pesto sauce and tomatoes. The chicken cutlet is breaded and fried and then topped with pesto sauce and chopped tomatoes. The pesto sauce is very good and the sandwich is tasty. The only downfall was the chicken was slightly drier than I like, but still good. 8/10
- Bubi: This sandwich is mozzarella di bufala, tomatoes and basil. This is a very simple and self-explanatory sandwich, but all the ingredients are excellent and paired with the awesome bread this was very good. 8.25/10
- Angel Wings: The owner bakes all of her own pastries, which is commendable as that is quite time consuming. The angel wings are best if you can get them out of the oven and taste great with coffee. They are not quite as good if they’ve been sitting around for a while. 8/10
- Brioche with Orange Marmalade: This is pretty self-explanatory. It was decent although next time I’d prefer it with Nutella, which is the other option. 7.25/10
- Lemon Cookie: This was a lemon cookie with white frosting. It was okay, but I thought it was a little flat flavor wise. 6.75/10
- Strawberry Jam Pastry: This was an almond paste pastry that was topped with strawberry jam. I’ve always like almost paste pastries, so that was good. However, the strawberry jam was too sweet and there was too much of it, so it was a bit overpowering. 7/10
- Greek Yogurt with Strawberry and a Touch of Coffee: This was a simple dessert of Greek yogurt, freshly cut strawberries, honey and coffee powder. Everything was fresh and delicious. I really liked this dessert. 8.5/10
- Macchiato: I’m not the biggest coffee drinker, but this coffee was quite nice. 8/10
- Pear Juice: While it had good flavor and was freshly squeezed, it was sort of room temperature, which I didn’t think went over so well since it was a pear. 7/10
Overall, I really enjoy Gaia a lot and I’d highly recommend checking it out.
251 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002
It does not get any better than Gaia Italian Cafè. It just doesn't. Everything on the menu is perfect, from the espresso to the pasta to the salad to the desserts. Gaia is one of my two favorite restaurants in NYC. Her espresso and cappuccino is perfect every time too. Dollar-for-dollar, there is not a better value anywhere.
I really like this place too and I kind of hope less people find out about it before it becomes one of those Nolita type places with 50 billion people queuing up outside... I Iike how laid back it is and the owner is great. I haven't been addressed as "nice gentleman" in a while, if ever...
The system where you order your meal at the counter and they bring it to you and you go to the counter again to pay is kind of weird, and the staff seem a bit disorganized / stressed when the place is busy... today my wife got the wrong sandwich but didn't realize it until the guy at the next table got her sandwich...
But the food is great and $5 for a sandwich is truly a steal when you consider places in NYC serving this type of food usually charge 2x as much...and the past two times I've been they've tried to refuse my tip or not charged me for the coffee! Nice people.