Lil’ Italian Cafe, Big Taste

Restaurant Review
In the mood for something  a little different, but traditional, a bit Mediterranean, but recognizable? How about with some basil and garlic, some fresh olive oil? Oh, you want a kabob maybe, instead? Br. Tahir Imran’s place, Lil’ Italian Cafe in Herndon, Virginia can give you that, too, if you want to take it back to the more familiar. As the name implies, he offers up traditional Italian food, halal and plentiful.

There are a plethora of both traditional and Italian subs; meatball parmesan, eggplant parmesean, chicken parmesean, tukey, roast beef, pastrami, Philly steak, with and without cheese.  There’s the home-grown Virginia cold cut sub, the Virginia burger supreme and the intriguingly named Sajji special spicy steak.

To get really back to the old country try the Lil’ Italian stuffed rolls. These are homemade rolls stuffed with mozzarella cheese and either fresh spinach or beef pepperoni. Or the classic calzone, a thick turnover  with turkey ham, mushrooms and the twin cheeses of the stretchy, stringy mozzarella you’ll love and the smooth, creamy ricotta that gives a nice contrast of textures.

But you want pizza? Oh, then you can request the usual suspects like pepperoni, or veggie lovers. But Br. Tahir, who has been making pizza for over 4 years offers Greek pizza with gyro meat, sharp feta cheese, black olives and thinly sliced tomato; Spring pizza topped with  spinach, feta and garlic butter. Go for someting completely different and ditch the tomato sauce totally and try the white pizza - olive oil, garlic butter, ricotta and mozarrella. Get the feel of “that other pizza place” and savor the halal Chicago-style deep dish, thick and chewy crust with your choice of over 15 toppings, offered in a personal 7” size, too.

Fill your plate with a dinner of tummy-loving baked meat lasagna, cheese ravioli with tangy marinara, fettucini alfredo, or rich baked manicotti. The pesto pasta alla Genovese is a huge plate of your choice of penne or linguine pasta cooked al dente  and tossed gently with a little basil sauce, sun-dried tomato, olive oil, and sprikled lightly with pine nuts and shaved fresh parmesean. It’s a wonderfully satisfying meal, but ask for a little more basil to really enjoy that fresh pesto flavor. Keep it veggie, or order it topped with grilled or fried shrimp or grilled chicken.  This is the kind of food that you’ve always wanted to get as halal. Savor every bite.

Br. Tahir explained that a traditional Pakistani menu with its complex regional spices and flavors can be a little challenging, so he drew on his years of having worked in an Italian restaurant to come up with a diverse, but classic menu where most items are made from scratch right in his kitchen. He decided to make all his meat offerings halal about a year ago, and has seen his customers increase since then.

You can’t finish all this Roman deliciousness with any ‘light” or diet desserts, so just toss that notion. Carrot cake, cheesecake, baklava, cannoli and ice cream are served here. The cannoli are  little crepe-type wafers, wrapped around a cannolo form, and quickly deep-fried. The ends get dipped in chocolate and then the tube-shape is pumped with a sweet and soft ricotta cream. Cannoli’s have been known to be habit-forming. Don’t forget to lick your lips.

Lil’ Italilan Cafe, 3065-R Centreville Rd., Herndon, VA 20171. 703-904-0223. Open Monday – Thursday 10 am to 10 pm; Friday 10 am to 11 pm; Saturday 11 am to 11 pm; Sunday 11 am to 10 pm