Gaia Italian Café

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83 Very Good

Charming, affordable, no-frills Italian café run by a passionate Milanese expat who makes her own bread and pasta, and infuses the homey place with personality.

251 E. Houston St., New York, NY, 10002


Known For

The lowdown

Gaia Bagnasacco serves homespun, absurdly affordable Italian salads, sandwiches, and pasta; bakes her own focaccia and pastries; and runs daily specials that belie the casual setting and $15-and-under price point. Be sure to heed the rules of the house: If you plan to visit after 4:30 p.m., pick up the phone and make a reservation; the 18 seats go fast and the kitchen closes at 6:30 p.m., except on Fridays and Saturdays when it burns the candle at both ends, and stays open until 7:30 and 9 p.m., respectively. BYO (Discovery Wines is around the corner, on B and 2nd). Order at the counter. And, for chrissakes, be patient: As Bagnasacco is fond of saying, “this is not fast food.” Also: “Gaia is based on food not on service.” You will want at least one baked pasta, cooked and served in a sort of tin pot you’d take on a camping trip, like the spinach-ricotta gnocchi barely bound by flour; and maybe a nice panino, like the Sano, with frittata, pesto, and Parmesan; and whatever special Bagnasacco has just scribbled on the board.

Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld

What you need to know

Recommended DishesSpinach and ricotta gnocchi; Siciliano; arugula with cherry tomatoes in pesto sauce with Parmesan; brioche with Nutella.