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Apr 19, 2012 10:12 AM

Italian Food in Wilmington, DE

As a teenager (please don't ask how long ago that was!) I lived in Wilmington for a little while. I have some awfully fond memories of The Charcoal Pit, but the only food I remember really going a bit nuts over in Wilmington were the Italian restaurants around...was it Union Street? Especially a place called Pala's. None of the places my dad and I would go to were fancy, but they were real Italian-American joints serving truly yummy red gravy dishes. I recently moved back to Philadelphia after several years away, and I have family still down in DE. I am trying desperately to come up with suggestions for places to go for lunch that don't involve chain restaurants around the Christiana Mall.

I learned that Pala's has been gone for some years. This made me sad as I have lovely memories of their food (especially their antipasto and their spaghetti with sausage). I was wondering if anyone here could recommend any other places for good Italian or Italian-American in that area? If that neighborhood has changed so much that there is nothing to recommend, I'm open to other ideas.

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  1. My favorite spot in that area is Mrs Robinos, on Union St. Red gravy place if I ever saw one and the food is all fresh and delicious. I think you'll find what you're looking for there.

    15 Replies
    1. re: jessicheese

      Seconding. Their alfredo sauce is also yummy, and not too heavy. And the white clam sauce. And the broccoli rabe. And, apparently, the antipasto, since you mentioned that (I'm not an antipasto person, but my parents like it).

      The service is great, especially Lottie.

      1. re: Rilke

        Well, I adore GOOD antipasto. Bad antipasto you can keep. It's like almost everything else in life...the good stuff is great! Seriously, I have been eating antipasto for 30 years. I know all too well the disappointment of receiving a plate of iceberg lettuce, anemic veggies, and meats that taste like they came from Wawa's deli counter. However, it's the chance I take sometimes because when you get it someplace using lovely marinated veggies and wonderful meats, it is a thing of beauty.

        1. re: StrandedYankee

          I understand. I feel that way about things like Caesar salads, and macaroni and cheese. They're relatively easy to get right, but very easy to screw up, and when they're terrible I wish I had just stayed home and made it myself.

          Well, I don't want to recommend Robino's antipasto directly, as I've never ordered it. But the other dishes I mentioned I can personally vouch for.

          1. re: Rilke

            Oh, how I long for a great Caesar salad. And mac & cheese is one of the ultimate "It's wonderful or it's crap" foods. Middle ground? Almost non-existent.

            The broccoli rabe you mentioned? How well have they tamed the bitterness? I've had broccoli rabe at many otherwise great places where it's so bitter it tastes poisonous.

            1. re: StrandedYankee

              Isn't that the truth? Coincidentally, Robino's does a good Caesar as well. Get the dressing on the side though, because sometimes they drench it.

              As far as the broccoli rabe . . . I like bitter greens like kale, so my palate may be more tolerant than yours. But their broccoli rabe is apparently very popular, so I imagine it doesn't taste poisonous to many diners ;) They also have an escarole version. I don't think it's as good, but it's certainly milder.

              Edit: They are also heavy on the garlic, with both greens dishes. My family and I all ask for even more, as we are garliholics ;) But if you aren't, here's your due warning.

              1. re: Rilke

                Do they do a REAL Caesar? Raw egg? Anchovies? The whole deal? If you say yes, that will clinch it.

                I like bitter greens, but there is a point where bitter goes from being a flavor note to being all a dish has to offer or say for itself. Escarole is great in some things, but it doesn't have as assertive a texture as some other greens.

                1. re: StrandedYankee

                  Ha! I I wish I could affirm, but I don't know. :( I'm fairly certain the dressing has anchovies in it, but now I am doubting myself -- I've tasted so many Caesar dressings.

                  1. re: StrandedYankee

                    I've tried the escarole and was a big fan of it. I'm not the hugest broccoli rabe fan, due to the bitterness, and don't remember it being over the top bitter.
                    I will say that their cheese ravioli is the best I've ever had. Makes it near impossible to try other things, so I usually take tastes from my dining partners.

                    1. re: jessicheese

                      My brother feels the same about the cheese ravioli with the red sauce. I've never seen him order anything else, save a cup of soup to start. He also binges on their bread.

                      My other brother is equally consistent with their gnocchi and the spicy diablo sauce.

                      1. re: Rilke

                        I'm glad that I'm not the only one! The crab sauce and the lasagna are both on my to-try lists, but when I get in that seat I just can't bring myself to try anything else. Its that good.

                        1. re: jessicheese

                          When I mentioned Mrs. Robino's to my Aunt, she said "My God! I haven't been there in YEARS!" and heartily approved the suggestion. She seconded the sentiments expressed here about the cheese ravioli. So, Mrs. Robino's it will be. I am seriously looking forward to it!

                          1. re: StrandedYankee

                            Excellent! Let us know how it goes :)

                            1. re: StrandedYankee

                              Great! We'd love the feedback! It looks like I'll also be heading there this weekend. All this talk about it has put red gravy on my mind!

                    2. re: Rilke

                      How can you get a good Caesar salad if you ask for the dressing on the side? Doesn't the beauty of a good Caesar salad rely on it's composition -- mashing the garlic in the bowl, adding the anchovies, the oil, the lemon juice, tossing in the romaine and adding the egg (not all necessarily in that order)... It's not like the dressing is pre-mixed and tossed into the lettuce. Or at least, it shouldn't be.

                      By the way, IMHO, Mrs. Robino's is over-hyped. Admittedly, I haven't been there in a couple of years, but on my last visit I was terribly underwhelmed.

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        I guess I prefer a "bad" salad over one swimming in dressing.

          2. For red gravy Italian, we like Attilio's at Lincoln and Lancaster Ave. (they have fried smelts all year round!) For more authentic Italian, Pomodoro on Union St. is delicious, and one of the few places to make their own pasta.

            4 Replies
            1. re: liddy

              Seconding Attilio's. We also like Mrs. Rubino's as well -- again, total red-gravy style, the menus are very 'plain jane', but if this is what you're looking for, both places will hit the spot. Excellent comfort food. At Attilio's, the ricotta linguini is my favorite.

              At Rubino's, they are very accommodating with their pastas -- if you want to try two sauces (or cut their diavlo, which is incredibly spicy), they're happy to split half and half.

              1. re: spyturtle008

                I didn't know that about Robinos! Will they split it in one dish, or two? I finally branched out and tried the white clam sauce, which was tasty. I can't imagine that in the same dish with something else, though.

                1. re: jessicheese

                  I get the linguini with half mushroom sauce and half blush, same plate. My partner gets half red and half diavlo (we like heat, but we also like flavor!). The servers are always really accommodating -- I think as long as your request is reasonable, they'll make it happen.

                  1. re: spyturtle008

                    That makes sense. I'll keep it in mind for next time!

            2. Cafe` Napoli 4391 Kirkwood Highway

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