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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.


        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.

            1. I'd say any of the Felice restaurants (they have one on E 81st, one around E 60th and one in the financial district.
              Aurora SoHo or Quinto Quarto in the west village.. Reasonable prices, classic italian food (not italian/american) and nice and "italian-like" dining rooms..

              2 Replies
              1. re: alepenazzi

                Felice is so overpriced for what you get.

                1. re: UES Mayor

                  Pastas are in the 12-18$ range and secondi in the 23-32$, I think it's priced as a normal mid-level restaurant in Manhattan... But the quality is good and the wine list has some really good italian wines that won't break the bank...

                  I personally like the ambience as well, but that's probably more of a personal matter..

              2. Lupa
                Locanda Verde
                Osteria Morini
                Cacio e Pepe
                Frankie's Spuntino

                (prices vary, though most of the above are pretty reasonable - "moderate" for NYC prices, at least.)

                1. Another idea is Otto. I've enjoyed my meals there, it's not too expensive, and it's got a variety of food.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: plf515

                    Otto is a good thought. If they go there, they should get a bunch of appetizers. Their policy of forcing all the appetizers to be ordered at once really bugs me, though. The last time I was there, we therefore over-ordered, and it's put me off from going back.

                    1. re: Pan

                      All due respect to Otto, I cannot imagine this place as a successful or even accurate introduction to Italian food for an Indian family unfamiliar with it. It's a basically a frenzied bar/pizzeria,of a certian type, filled with noise: OP's guests might want a chance to sit and eat comfortably.

                      1. re: bob96

                        I see your point. But if that's the case, Carmine's - also suggested in this thread - would certainly not be better.

                        1. re: bob96

                          It wasn't a family, it was a group of computer programmers in their mid-20's. I don't think they would have minded the hustle of Otto, they may have enjoyed it! We didn't end up there, but thanks @plf515 for the recommendation! Will keep in mind for the future.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              John's of 12th in East Village. See my other post above. :)

                      1. How about Gnocco in the East Village? Delicious, affordable, lots of options.

                          1. re: linguafood

                            +1 for Crispo. Seems to fit all the requirements.

                            Unfortunately, the OP seems to have disappeared.

                          2. Thanks everyone for all the replies! I needed recs for this past Sunday, and we ended up at John's of 12th St, which seemed to work out. Safe enough menu, not too price-y, easy location for everyone. The tricky thing I've found about entertaining people from India is that they are used to eating food with so many spices mixed in that they find the more subtle flavors of Euro/western cuisine a little boring. The palate is completely different, so it can be hard to meet their expectations (whatever those happen to be).

                            I hadn't expected such a response and it was really interesting to read the thoughtful considerations on what an intro Italian restaurant should be. There are great recommendations in here, and I'll have to keep some of these in mind for myself and for another time. Thanks again!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: argylesweater

                              Fascinating! Thanks for the report back.