Tucked away on Houston street, amongst the trendy boutique shops, speakeasies and crowded happy hour bars, lies Gaia, the most authentic Italian restaurant in New York City.
I was lucky to learn about this place from my roommate’s sister who discovered it while visiting the city from Venezuela. She told me I HAD to go – it was affordable Italian food, very casual, but better than any fancy Italian restaurant around. She was right.
“Gaia” is both a tiny cafe, and a determined woman with big priorities. I met Gaia herself – the restaurant’s namesake, owner and chef. Her purpose is to bring homemade Italian to New York, using whole foods – no processing. She said she only cooks food that’s “good for you, from the Earth.” And that’s exactly what Gaia means – Gaia was a Greek Goddess who embodied the Earth.
On to the food. I went with Scott, my dinner partner in crime and we ordered:
Pesto Lasagna $8
Antipasto Italiano con Focaccia (medium size, $18)
Milanese Panini $7
Gnocci alla Romana (special) $12
We “oo’ed” and “ahh-ed” every time a plate arrived on the table from the kitchen. It was colorful, picturesque but humble. It tasted anything but humble. The panini was one of my faves – the homemade bread was crispy and buttery, creating the perfect bite amongst the pesto sauce and roasted red peppers.
The food takes a bit of time, but it doesn’t matter. At Gaia, you have all the time in the world. You’re completely displaced from New York City, and welcomed to Italy where the food comes out whenever it’s done and the wine flows freely (yeah, it’s BYOB, so the wine flows as freely as you want).
All the diners just get it. They know that the food is meant to be savored, that they’re welcome for as long as they’d like and that they can’t get this experience anywhere else in New York.
On our way out, Gaia gave us some sweet Nutella desserts to take with us on the way out. I was happy. My stomach was happier.