Trattoria L'Incontro - Inventive Italian With Traditional Roots
L'Incontro is one of the best known and more expensive Italian restaurants in Astoria. It is a splurge, but the quality of the food is worth every penny. A highlight -- or a test of your memory -- will be the ten-minute recitation of daily specials.
What makes L'Incontro inventive are modern takes on traditional classics -- think green apple and mascarpone ravioli ($18), pear and gorgonzola risotto ($23), or chocolate pizza ($13). With the new come the classics: fresh spaghetti with juicy meatballs ($15) and creamy penne alla vodka ($13). The pizza is worth trying and it's everything a coal-oven pie should be: crispy and light with a slight hint of smokiness ($8-$14).
- Trattoria L'Incontro, 21-76 31st St, Astoria, NY 11105, 718-721-3532
Bella Via - A Cozy Pasta Heaven in LIC
Like L'Incontro, Bella Via offers a warm, family environment but in a more intimate setting: a much smaller space in a neighborhood that's still fairly quiet and low-key.
Fresh pasta and brick-oven pizza are the main events, but before you dive into those starchy indulgences, start with a seafood appetizer such as baked clams oreganato ($9) -- deliciously fresh, swimming in an exquisite white wine sauce. The homemade spinach and ricotta gnocchetti are a must ($15) and the tagliatelle with shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes are also recommended ($16). Pizza portions are generous and toppings range from margherita to truffle oil and Robiola cheese ($11-$19).
- Bella Via, 47-46 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City, NY 11101, 718-361-7510
La Vita Mia - Il Maestro of Pizza
A friendly neighborhood pizza joint, La Vita Mia is the Cheers of Astoria. They might not remember your name, but you'll always be greeted as a "friend." La Vita Mia is primarily for takeout, but there are a couple of casual tables. I recommend eating in at least once; catch the ball game on TV and the banter bouncing between patrons and staff.
Pizza is by far the best thing on the menu and La Vita Mia serves a mix of traditional and inventive toppings, such as chicken cheddarella ($3.75). My favorite is the grandma, with fresh mozzarella, garlic, and organic tomato sauce ($3.50). You can even find Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza: cheese ($15/pie) and meat lover ($20/pie).
- La Vita Mia, 28-01 24th Ave, Astoria, NY 11101, 718-267-0310
Il Bambino - Paninis Have Never Been this Exciting
It's ironic that while Il Bambino boasts a very Italian vibe, it's actually owned by Darren Lawless, a young Irish ex-pat. There's a welcome saying at Il Bambino: "The Italians invented the panini but it is the Irishmen who perfected it." I wholeheartedly concur.
The paninis ($7+) are the item to get -- to go or to enjoy in the casual dining area -- and the options run from prosciutto, gorgonzola, and fig to savory fried eggplant with fresh tomatoes and basil. The soups of the day are a great way to start your meal and I've sampled the root vegetable ($7), which reminds me of tomato bisque. Il Bambino is a BYOB joint, so bring your favorite bottle to enjoy with your yummy sandwiches.
- Il Bambino, 34-08 31st Ave, Astoria, NY 11106, 718-626-0087
La Guli Pastry Shop - A Nostalgic Trip to the Old Country
This Italian, family-owned bakery is an endearing blast from the past, still in its original storefront, dating back more than 71 years. The minute that you step into La Guli you can't resist a smile. It's impossible not to with all the gorgeous cakes, pies, cookies, and colorful marzipan that surround you.
La Guli is known for its ornate cakes, made for weddings, birthdays, and holidays. The homemade gelato is a famous piece-de-resistance, especially because it's sold all year at $2.50/scoop. But the most impressive sweet feat is the big selection of pastries and cookies -- from thick chocolate-dipped cannolis ($2.50) to the taunting marzipan fruit ($3.50). Heaven!
- La Guli Pastry Shop, 29-15 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria, NY 11105, 718-728-8225