Nestled between the shopping bustle of Soho, the late-night bars of the Lower East Side and the dim sum restaurants of Chinatown lies Little Italy, a pocket-sized swath of land packed with vintage clothes stores, independent art galleries and top-tier dining. From trumped-up morning bagels to some of the world’s best New York pizza, here are the best Little Italy restaurants to try in NYC.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Little Italy, NYC
Best Little Italy restaurants
Owner Giuseppe Pappalardo of Staten Island pizzeria Joe & Pat's enlisted his son Angelo (Esca) as chef and pizzaiolo at this Italian restaurant, offering simple, thin-crust pizzas and classic red-sauce fare. Rubirosa's crisp yet pliable pies have a delicate char and a small ring of crackerlike crust around the edges. We've yet to go wrong with the no-frills vodka rendition, which boasts a layer of creamy, booze-spiked tomato sauce and a gooey patchwork of fresh mozzarella.
Gennario Lombardi opened his shop in Soho in 1905—the first pizzeria in the U.S. It’s hard to vouch for how the pizzas tasted a century ago, but there’s more elbow room now after a renovation, if not the charm of the old joint. Still, Lombardi’s continues to bake a hot contender for best pie.
Bari Musacchio—Rubirosa’s longtime general manager—tackles the old-fashioned boil-and-bake technique at this diner upgrade. Musacchio’s operation is, like in the olden days, small-batch and labor-intensive: Slow-rising dough rings are set on burlap-covered boards and given a spin in a rotating tray oven, resulting in springy-yet-crusty vehicles for spreads like beet-horseradish, cucumber-dill and wasabi-tobiko cream cheeses.
The team behind Chelsea's Eolo brings you a 130-seat shrine to the paradisiacal Isle of Capri, trimmed with blue-and-white accents, ceramic tiles and photos of 1960s icons Jackie Onassis and Valentino strolling the island's cobbled streets. At the helm of the kitchen is Italian young gun Franco Aliberti, formerly of the Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, who offers seafood-heavy fare such as a grilled whole Mediterranean branzino and a grigliata di pesce, with grilled shrimp, calamari and a half lobster over pasta.
Leave the crowded sidewalk tables to the people-watchers and sit inside with the dressed-up tourists and neighborhood residents. Terra-cotta-colored walls and flattering lighting give the dining room a Tuscan feel. The specials list is extensive; pay attention as the waiter struggles to remember it all, because you’ll likely be ordering from his recital. One recurring favorite is chicken breast stuffed with smoked salmon and hearts of palm. Grilled fingers of polenta get a well-seasoned tomato topping, and the linguine rustica is tossed in a rich tomato sauce with chewy slices of sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms.
Talk about a melting pot—French-Chinese husband-wife team Marc Kaczmarek and Mei Chau are dishing out traditional Malaysian to Little Italy. Chau (born to Chinese parents in Port Dickson, Malaysia) and her Parisian hubby reincarnate the East-meets-West vibe of their beloved Tribeca bistro, Franklin Station Cafe (shuttered in '08), at this bright, narrow restaurant. The teensy open kitchen supplies big portions of Malay homestyle fare, from laksa (spicy Peranakan noodle soup) to lemak (coconut milk rice, the country's national dish).
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Mama Mia 44 SW
When the Schiattarella family first purchased their Hell’s Kitchen restaurant in 1971, the neighborhood was still a barricade-the-door-at-night kind of place. The surroundings have changed quite a bit since then, but the homestyle cooking at Mama Mia 44 SW has not. Start off the night with an order of freshly baked focaccia bread ($11) and perhaps some baked clams ($15). For your main course, choose from a whole host of Southern Italian classics such as chicken marsala ($21), spaghetti and homemade meatballs “mama’s way” ($19), gnocchi with fresh mozzarella ($19) and calamari fra diavolo with penne ($21). This is New York, so there are also several house pizzas, ranging from the classic margherita ($17) to customized pies ($16, plus $2 per topping). Wash it all down with one of their signature, Italian-themed cocktails like the Sophia Loren with dragonberry rum, cranberry juice and seltzer or a pitcher of sangria.
Venue says: “Bring in your theatre ticket and get a house wine for free. Happy hour from 5p-7p Mon-Thurs. Live Music on Tuesdays 8p”