Gaia Italian Cafe – freshest paninis in the LES

I came in and noticed that Gaia had a lot more customers than when I first reviewed the cafe. A good sign for her business. She even hired a girl who was just as hard-working and friendly as she is. I asked for two panini: Militare and Milanese (both $5). They took a while to arrive, and came one at a time.

The Militare had mortadella, smoked caciotta, and honey mustard. It was stacked very generously with meat between two very light pieces of charred bread. I took a bite and was surprised how the crispiness of the bread and the softness of the meat went so well together. The meat was impressively sliced thinner than paper, which actually made a huge difference when eating it. The sweet honey mustard and the spices in the meat paired together well, and the cheese was clearly high in quality and fresh.

The Milanese however was disappointing. I had it before and considered it to be my favorite panino. With only chicken cutlet, pesto sauce, and tomatoes, it was simple and delicious. This time the panino bread was stale and a challenge to bite through. The breaded chicken was no different. Trying to bite off a piece was tough. The sauce and the tomatoes were fresh and bursting with flavor, but couldn’t save the panino. I had to leave most of my sandwich untouched because it was that bad.

Although it was a bad experience, I’m certain I caught them on a bad time. I may come back, and hopefully will have a better experience. By the way, you don’t need 3-4 to be full. A Militare Panino should be enough.

Gaia Italian Cafe ★★★★☆
251 E Houston St (between Avenue A & Essex St) map
Manhattan, NY 10002
Neighborhood: Lower East Side

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