Emilio's Ballato is the kind of restaurant you always hope to find on the streets of Little Italy, but never do.
Sitting just north of that neighborhood's kitsch, Emilio's offers straightforward, unfussy preparations of southern Italian standards.
The environs straddle two worlds: The first room, which appears untouched since the restaurant's opening in 1956, boasts the distressed and spackled walls that nearby establishments can only replicate artificially. But a second, larger room (added over the summer) has polished touches of the present day.
You can count on the namesake owner, Emilio Vitolo, always being on the premises, where he keeps a trained eye on patrons from the edge of the bar.
The other constant is the menu. Start your meal with standout vegetable antipasti: a plate of flash-fried zucchine fritte ($16) and garlicky broccoli di rape ($15). Generous portions of clam-packed linguine alle vongole ($21) and a tagliatelle alla Bolognese ($21), teeming with the richness of beef, pork and veal, are thankfully not deconstructed or reinterpreted renditions of those traditional dishes.
And we'll keep our fingers crossed for the spaghetti and meatball special. Emilio's version banishes the dish's quotidian reputation, reminding us why it's a classic.
Finish dinner by sharing a colossal square of cocoa-dusted tiramisu. We can assure you it won't last, unlike this old-school gem.
Emilio's Ballato, 55 E. Houston St. (at Mott St.); 212-274-8881
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