Today the neighborhood can feel overrun by kitschy restaurants catering to tourists, with faux vintage interiors and steep prices. But institutions like Caffe Roma and Parisi Bakery are worth sifting for. Of course, Little Italy, NYC is no longer just Italian food, either. Yes, there's some of the best New York pizza and heaping portions of fork-twirling pasta. But the neighborhood has more nuance than that. In fact, one of our favorite Thai restaurants and Vietnamese sandwich shops, live here, too.
Whether you're in the neighborhood for The Feast of San Gennaro or the nearby New Museum, this is your no-fail guide to Little Italy dining.
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Best Little Italy restaurants
This long-standing Little Italy bakery has been peddling crusty loaves to New York restaurant clients and consumers since 1903. Among the many carby offerings, you must try their line-inducing deli sandwiches, which include roast beef on an onion roll, eggplant parm and pepperoni with mustard and pickles.
While many come to Little Italy for Parisi Bakery stacked sandwiches or Di Palo's cheeses, Caffe Roma, to us, is one of the neighborhood's most charming destinations. Open since 1891, this Little Italy institution offers pignoli cookies and cannolis with a side of history, seen through details like wire heart-shaped stools, quaint floor tiles and chocolatey wood walls. Caffe Roma is a rare neighborhood respite, you could sit down and read a book at with your espresso.
This family-run restaurant helped usher in Mulberry Street's red-sauce revival, 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.
The Michelin-starred Thai restaurant Uncle Boons has opened a, well, sister restaurant with this takeout spin-off. The chef-owners Ann Redding and Matt Danzer are keeping the meals wallet-friendly, too: Main plates—like a curry crab omelette and fried-chicken laab–all cash in at $16 and under. The compact spot retains a dash of vintage decor left over from Mr. Donahue’s (the owners’ former restaurant), with a wood-paneled counter, an exposed-brick wall and throwback posters.
When your first restaurant goes platinum, all eyes are trained on your next project. Torrisi and Carbone unspooled theirs in two parts, turning their original venue into a serious restaurant (all tasting menus) and moving its casual half into Parm. The cozy annex is an ode to the Italian-American deli. But while the menu reads as well-worn as the space, the food is new and exciting, prepared by grease-spattered cooks in white paper caps who happen to have high-end restaurant résumés.
Known to its fans as “the jewelry-store one,” the tiny Chinatown takeout operation does indeed share space with an accessories counter. Regardless, the cheap prices, succulent pork preparations and crispy-chewy bread that’s baked in-house are worth taking a walk for.
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.
Displayed alongside the cannoli and carrot cakes, the rainbow cookies at this Italian bakery are our favorites. Ferrara has been serving up treats like these, alongside daily lunch specials, since opening in 1892.
Family owned since 1910, this gastronamia represents all 20 regions of Italy with imports such as handmade cheeses, cured meats, olive oil and vinegar.
Pasquale Jones, a sequel to Ryan Hardy, Grant Reynolds and Robert Bohr’s jaunty, wine-charged Soho spot Charlie Bird, is a touch warmer than neo-Italian brethren like Café Altro Paradiso. That might be due to Reynolds’s graciously priced wine list or to the actual glow emanating off a pair of wood-burning ovens in the nimble open kitchen, the promise of pizza within. Manned by San Francisco chef Tim Caspare, those roaring hearths produce one of the city’s best pies: the clam pizza, a char-puffed beauty covered in briny littlenecks, wilted rapini and a delicate garlicky cream.
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.
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 including laksa, a spicy Peranakan noodle soup.
Seamore’s is a white-washed, pastel-trimmed Nolita remake of old Montauk fish shacks, spotlighting underutilized species (monkfish, tilefish) from east-end outfits Dock to Dish and Sea to Table.
Two food-world buzzwords—poké and bowls—collide at this fast-casual Chinatown concept from Michael Jong Lim. Hawaiian poké (raw-fish salad) is zapped with Japanese, Chinese and Korean influences at the six-stool restaurant: The six sea-to-table bowls on offer include a goma-shoyu tuna with garlic chips, a chojang-fired fluke and a sushi-grade Scottish salmon variety with Szechuan-spiced mayonnaise and daikon, and the stock Japanese-rice base can be swapped out for Asian greens.
The flat white is the most well-known of Australian coffees, but the shop’s true darling is the Outback cap. Served alongside chocolate-covered Tim Tam cookies, the espresso is dusted in cocoa powder, which rises to the top of the intricate fern-patterned foam head.
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. The menu skews toward seafood-heavy fare such as salmon baked in a potato crust and a grigliata di pesce, with grilled shrimp, calamari and a half lobster over pasta.
Since 1943, Forlini's has been serving up Italian food in its charming Downtown New York restaurant. Entree prices run up a pretty penny, but portions are heaping and offer a window into Old New York.