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Italian restaurants for people unfamiliar with Italian food?

This weekend I'm hosting some people who all recently moved to the US from India and don't have a lot of experience with Italian food, but are very keen to eat at an Italian restaurant while they are in town. One of them "heard that the Olive Garden in Times Square is very good" [he didn't know it's a chain in every pocket of America]. I can't let the Olive Garden happen, so where can I take them for similar low-to-moderate prices, vegetarian options, and a positive, flavorful experience? I know Little Italy is tourist-y, but it may appeal to them on that level and be more bearable than Times Square for me. Or somewhere else in lower Manhattan would be fine. Any suggestions would be great. Thanks!

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  1. If you're talking THIS weekend, then I suggest you go to Open Table and check out availability and then go back and forth between there and CH. Good luck.

    1. I think Carmine's might your criteria.

      It's basic, tourist-y type of red-sauce Italian place that is about 1 step above Olive Garden.

      1. I haven't been there in decades, but I used to enjoy Il Cortile on Mulberry Street, in what's left of Little Italy.

        http://ilcortile.com/

        1. Not sure if by Italian you mean "Italian American" (which I suspect you and your guests do), or "Italian", typically food by Italian or Italianate chefs that references contemporary Italian cuisine, whether regional or innovative or both. If the former, Carmine's might be a good choice--certainly, the experience of family style service and abundance it provides can be entertaining and reflective of an Italian American tradition. Il Cortile used to be a cut above other places in Little Italy, so search the Manhattan board for an recent opinions. John's on East 12 St is very traditional, with somewhat variable food, but a very old and atmospheric scene. If the latter, then you;ve got a dauntingly wide range of choices. For a relaxed, non-touristy, and also old-fashioned meal (service and food) uptown, at fairly good quality levels, Quattro Gatti on East 81 and Third has been going strong for years.

          1. Take them to a place like Supper on E. 2 St. Don't pay attention to people steering you to Carmine's: It's not good.