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Finding a niche in a neighborhood of similarities

For decades, Little Italy residents and business owners have worked to give their neighborhood a modern feel while retaining an old world appeal.

Although many of the restaurants promise similar quality food, they are set apart by a unique dedication to different regions of Italian cuisine and diverse dining environments. Each restaurant in Little Italy has its own identity and serves up its own specialties, so visitors from all over the area can find a nice Italian restaurant to suit their individual tastes. Visitors will find a parking garage right on the corner of Albemarle and East Pratt –labeled for little Italy. Others may choose the convenience of valet parking (commonly $5), or find parking on one of the many side streets around Little Italy. The following restaurants are just a selection of what Little Italy has to offer.

(829 East Pratt Street)

Velleggia’s has the distinct honor of being the oldest restaurant in Little Italy. It has been owned and operated by the same family since 1937. Frank Velleggia now runs the restaurant with some other family members, including his brother and nephew. The restaurant was opened by his parents as a small pub-style restaurant, adding new space over the years to make it one of the largest restaurants in the neighborhood. In the beginning his mother cooked the homemade pastas from traditional family recipes. Frank attributes the success of his restaurant to the concept of feeding guests the same thing they fed their family. Frank grew up in the area and stays connected to the neighborhood through the myriad weekly and monthly social functions. Frank also owns the Casa de Pasta take-out across the street from Velleggia’s. Casa de Pasta has been has been in business for over 25 years and mainly operated by Frank’s son. Here you can find the same food served in Velleggia’s restaurant prepared and ready to cook.

(306 South High Street)

Aldo’s has the appearance of a historic residence of yellow stucco with large wooden doors. The restaurant is owned and operated by Aldo Vitale. The cuisine is described as Southern-inspired regional Italian. Aldo’s has a unique upscale ambiance , so jackets are suggested and reservations recommended . The restaurant enjoys a strong relationship with local organic farmers, top quality fresh seafood purveyors, organic poultry raisers, and free range cattle ranchers from Montana and Wisconsin. In other words, they start with the best ingredients. They offer many private dining options—from the expansive atrium (18 guests) to the below-ground, temperature and humidity-controlled wine cellar for exclusive private dining (4 guests). Others may enjoy their mahogany cigar and martini bars. Take a virtual tour of the restaurant, look at the wine list, or make online reservations at http://www.aldositaly.com/

(231 South High Street)

Since 1990 Amicci’s has been known as Little Italy’s “ very casual eatery ”. It was started by a couple of friends (“amici” in Italian) who noticed an abundance of expensive upscale Italian restaurants and decided on a casual concept with moderate prices (appetizers $6; meals $10-12). In their own words, “Amicci's is dubbed ‘a very casual eatery’ because we want people to get great food in a relaxed environment. We don't want you to be intimidated by stuffy tuxedoed servers and muffled silence. You won't find that at Amicci's because we dare to be different. Carve out our own niche, be rebels!” The atmosphere is less formal (walls adorned with movie posters from Goodfellas and Scarface), more relaxed than many Little Italy establishments, and its menu is not quite as extensive as some. But they have all the staples one expects, plus some very creative dishes unique to this busy and fun place. They offer many shrimp specialties such as penne la rosa and shrimp cacciatore. For more information on Amicci’s, visit http://www.amiccis.com/

La Tavola
(248 Albemarle Street)

Winner of “ Best Italian Restaurant ” from the City Paper's Best of Baltimore 1997, 1998 & 2000 . The restaurant is colorful and bright (going beyond the traditional red, white and green), with Art Deco style with murals on the wall of people eating and drinking. La Tavola offers a small dining area and special individualized treatment from a knowledgeable staff (many long-time employees) that will make you feel extremely well taken care of. After just a week on the job, hostess/waitress Melissa Salazar said, “It feels like it’s my second home. Everyone here feels like family”. Find out more about La Tavola at http://www.la-tavola.com/

India Rasoi
(411 South High Street)

In a neighborhood full of Italian restaurants the attraction of India Rasoi seems self- evident. They boast “over 80 authentic Indian culinary delights on the a la carte dinner menu”. They give area residents some variety in their diet. Visitors who like Indian food might like to know that the City Paper’s Best of Baltimore 2001 , calls India Rasoi the “ best Indian restaurant ”. The cuisine has the distinction of the Punjabi region that extends from Northern India into Central Pakistan. They have a good menu that includes large appetizers, vegetable combination platters, and lentil based soups. India Rasoi serves as an alternative for people who are looking for healthy vegetarian food, but also maintains a variety of seafood and meat. If possible try to catch the daily lunch buffet for $6.95 (it includes 13 items). For more information call (410) 385-4900.

For a large overview of Little Italy (maps, social activities, restaurants) visit http://www.littleitalymd.com/.