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The dining room of a restaurant with white table cloth lined tables, black chairs, and a plethora of photos on the wall
The dining room at Rao’s
Photo by Nick Solares

12 Truly Old-School Red-Sauce Italian Joints in NYC

Gabagool, galamad, moozadell, and more

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The dining room at Rao’s
| Photo by Nick Solares

Nowhere in the world does red-sauce Italian-American fare as competently as New York City. The cuisine was born here, where names of dishes have taken on slang: Gabagool is capicola, galamad is calamari, moozadell is mozzarella. The youngest restaurant on this list opened in 1981, while the oldest dates all the way back to 1896. Go often to these relics, which hark back to a simpler time in dining.

Note: This is an updated version of a map originally published in March 2018.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Mario's

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2342 Arthur Ave
Bronx, NY 10458
(718) 584-1188
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Founded in 1919 as a pizza parlor, Mario’s is the oldest restaurant in the Bronx’s Belmont neighborhood (aka Arthur Avenue, or the Bronx’s Little Italy). It’s a sprawling palace of shabby elegance that will send you back through the decades: Oil paintings darkened by age line the walls, Michelangelo statuettes pose at intervals between the paintings, and white ionic columns are intended to suggest the glory that was ancient Rome. The menu calls itself Neapolitan, but has a wider geographical span with dishes such as linguine with red clam sauce and Roman spiedini, as well as Italian-American hits like chicken giambotta and veal marsala. For dessert, the waiter wheels over a trolley of outsize desserts, though it’s perhaps better to opt for an espresso “corrected” with complimentary anisette.

A pork chop at Mario’s
A pork chop at Mario’s
Photo by Robert Sietsema

2. Rao's

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455 E 114th St
New York, NY 10029
(212) 722-6709
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Rao’s is the oldest restaurant on this list — established in 1896 — and without question the most exclusive. This is the hardest reservation to score in New York City, because regulars have weekly, monthly, or quarterly reserved tables that only they can gift out. Of course, the ubiquitous jarred pasta sauce line gives a taste to outsiders of the red-sauce joint dishes such as meatballs or lemon chicken. In terms of actually eating there, though, best of luck getting someone to answer the phone — first-timers are more likely to try working connections or being forced to the Las Vegas or Los Angeles locations.

Rao’s

3. Piccola Venezia

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42-01 28th Ave
Astoria, NY 11103
(718) 721-8470
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The waiters dress in dapper red jackets and black bowties at this 1973 Italian-American restaurant deep in the heart of Astoria. Quoth former Times critic Frank Bruni: “If you’re after a certain kind of red-sauce outer-borough cliché, it’s the best of the bunch I’ve tried.” Go for the pasta e fagioli, three-cheese ravioli, or veal chop Sorrento style with eggplant, prosciutto, and mozzarella.

4. Il Mulino New York

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86 W 3rd St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 673-3783
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Il Mulino is a literal sellout after it was bought out and expanded nationwide, but the original Greenwich Village location, opened in 1981, is still worthy of a visit. Get ready to drop a lot of money, but in return receive a feast of heaping dishes such as chicken parm, fried calamari, veal saltimbocca, and bistecca alla Florentina, served on top white tablecloths. Under-order, since complimentary plates of Parmesan cheese, fried zucchini with garlic, a cured meat plate, and bruschetta are dropped on the table.

Il Mulino Photo via Il Mulino/Facebook

5. Monte's Trattoria

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97 Macdougal St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 228-9194
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Since 1918, this classic spot favored by NYU staff and students has been feeding Villagers abundant servings of minestrone, bread-crumbed baked artichokes, stuffed manicotti, and veal pizzaiola (with mushrooms and peppers). The walk-down premises shows every year of its age, and the menu is a tad too ambitious, so stick with the Italian-American standards.

Monte’s Photo via Monte’s

6. Emilio's Ballato

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55 E Houston St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 274-8881

This thoroughly old-school Italian joint, open since 1956, has been a celebrity fixture for years, feeding the likes of Rihanna, David Bowie, and Barack Obama. Chef-owner Emilio Vitolo is a big draw here, as is the housemade tagliatelle bolognese and huge meatballs. Don’t skip the wine list, on which the dead-pan servers are well-trained.

Emilio’s Ballato

7. Frost

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193 Frost St
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 389-3347
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Williamsburg’s Frost — located at the corner of Humboldt and Frost (hence the frigid name) — is more obscure than the well-known Bamonte’s. It dates to 1959, and the décor still seems European, with the square dining room featuring big arched windows and moody marine paintings. A meal begins with a free plate of roasted green chile peppers, spicy as hell, and the menu concentrates on seafood, vegetables, and wonderful baked pastas. An irresistible entrée is the casserole of baked cheese ravioli mantled in mozzarella and nicely browned, with an extra tableside sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Other good choices include spaghetti with meatballs or sausages, pork chops with pickled hot cherry peppers, scungilli fra diavolo (conch in a spicy red sauce), and lobsters done several ways.

Baked ravioli at Frost
Baked ravioli
Photo by Robert Sietsema

8. Forlini's

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93 Baxter St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 349-6779
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Forlini’s has been open since 1943, mainly catering to the judge-and-jury crowd from the nearby courthouse as well as to Italian-American regulars. Pink banquettes make for a distinctive look alongside a menu of old-school favorites, from chicken marsala to baked ziti. More recently, the restaurant has seen a resurgence in customers from the fashion crowd, who flock here ever since Vogue hosted a pre-Met Gala party in the space in spring 2018.

9. Bamonte's

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32 Withers St
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 384-8831

There’s no place quite as much fun as Bamonte’s. Founded in 1902, it shows every year of its venerable age and is the setting for numerous TV episodes and films. Tuxedo’ed waiters are all old-timers, and will gladly talk diners through the menu’s complicated list of selections. The menu is the perfect evocation of Italian-American cuisine, including a spaghetti with meat sauce and meatballs and a pork chop with sweet or hot peppers. The baked clams and chicken francese are don’t-miss dishes.

Bamonte's Photo by Robert Sietsema

10. Michael’s of Brooklyn

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2929 Avenue R
Brooklyn, NY 11229
(718) 998-7851
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Michael’s is a youngster in Italian-American restaurant years, having been founded in 1964 in Marine Park. The exterior is faced in rusticated stone, looking like some hilltop fortress, while the interior is more like a Frank Sinatra movie with the main room bedecked in chandeliers and paneled in warm woods. The menu hits all the old Italian-American classics with some newfangled stuff thrown in, mainly on the specials menu, which often features wild boar stew, arugula and orange salad, and burrata. Other more standard fare includes a hulking veal chop of the tenderest meat, flattened and breaded, as well as linguine with clams and spumoni cake.

A stoned building has a red glowing neon sign saying “Michael’s” Photo by Robert Sietsema

11. L&B Spumoni Gardens

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2725 86th St
Brooklyn, NY 11223
(718) 449-1230
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This 1939 gem really hits its stride in summer, when the outdoor tables throng, but winter is the time to sit indoors in the restaurant and enjoy huge servings of pasta and heroes perfectly executed. Also a must-get: the spumoni, which comes in perfectly colorful scoops in disposable cups.

12. Gargiulo's

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2911 W 15th St
Brooklyn, NY 11224
(718) 266-4891
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This cavernous 1907 hall miraculously persists, nearly the same vintage as nearby Totonno’s, and now given over mainly to banquets. Anything featuring clams is recommended, and all the stand-bys are on the menu such as rigatoni in meat sauce, veal marsala, and filet of sole.

Gargiulo’s Photo via Gargiulo’s/Yelp

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1. Mario's

2342 Arthur Ave, Bronx, NY 10458
A pork chop at Mario’s
A pork chop at Mario’s
Photo by Robert Sietsema

Founded in 1919 as a pizza parlor, Mario’s is the oldest restaurant in the Bronx’s Belmont neighborhood (aka Arthur Avenue, or the Bronx’s Little Italy). It’s a sprawling palace of shabby elegance that will send you back through the decades: Oil paintings darkened by age line the walls, Michelangelo statuettes pose at intervals between the paintings, and white ionic columns are intended to suggest the glory that was ancient Rome. The menu calls itself Neapolitan, but has a wider geographical span with dishes such as linguine with red clam sauce and Roman spiedini, as well as Italian-American hits like chicken giambotta and veal marsala. For dessert, the waiter wheels over a trolley of outsize desserts, though it’s perhaps better to opt for an espresso “corrected” with complimentary anisette.

2342 Arthur Ave
Bronx, NY 10458

2. Rao's

455 E 114th St, New York, NY 10029
Rao’s

Rao’s is the oldest restaurant on this list — established in 1896 — and without question the most exclusive. This is the hardest reservation to score in New York City, because regulars have weekly, monthly, or quarterly reserved tables that only they can gift out. Of course, the ubiquitous jarred pasta sauce line gives a taste to outsiders of the red-sauce joint dishes such as meatballs or lemon chicken. In terms of actually eating there, though, best of luck getting someone to answer the phone — first-timers are more likely to try working connections or being forced to the Las Vegas or Los Angeles locations.

455 E 114th St
New York, NY 10029

3. Piccola Venezia

42-01 28th Ave, Astoria, NY 11103

The waiters dress in dapper red jackets and black bowties at this 1973 Italian-American restaurant deep in the heart of Astoria. Quoth former Times critic Frank Bruni: “If you’re after a certain kind of red-sauce outer-borough cliché, it’s the best of the bunch I’ve tried.” Go for the pasta e fagioli, three-cheese ravioli, or veal chop Sorrento style with eggplant, prosciutto, and mozzarella.

42-01 28th Ave
Astoria, NY 11103

4. Il Mulino New York

86 W 3rd St, New York, NY 10012
Il Mulino Photo via Il Mulino/Facebook

Il Mulino is a literal sellout after it was bought out and expanded nationwide, but the original Greenwich Village location, opened in 1981, is still worthy of a visit. Get ready to drop a lot of money, but in return receive a feast of heaping dishes such as chicken parm, fried calamari, veal saltimbocca, and bistecca alla Florentina, served on top white tablecloths. Under-order, since complimentary plates of Parmesan cheese, fried zucchini with garlic, a cured meat plate, and bruschetta are dropped on the table.

86 W 3rd St
New York, NY 10012

5. Monte's Trattoria

97 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012
Monte’s Photo via Monte’s

Since 1918, this classic spot favored by NYU staff and students has been feeding Villagers abundant servings of minestrone, bread-crumbed baked artichokes, stuffed manicotti, and veal pizzaiola (with mushrooms and peppers). The walk-down premises shows every year of its age, and the menu is a tad too ambitious, so stick with the Italian-American standards.

97 Macdougal St
New York, NY 10012

6. Emilio's Ballato

55 E Houston St, New York, NY 10012
Emilio’s Ballato

This thoroughly old-school Italian joint, open since 1956, has been a celebrity fixture for years, feeding the likes of Rihanna, David Bowie, and Barack Obama. Chef-owner Emilio Vitolo is a big draw here, as is the housemade tagliatelle bolognese and huge meatballs. Don’t skip the wine list, on which the dead-pan servers are well-trained.

55 E Houston St
New York, NY 10012

7. Frost

193 Frost St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Baked ravioli at Frost
Baked ravioli
Photo by Robert Sietsema

Williamsburg’s Frost — located at the corner of Humboldt and Frost (hence the frigid name) — is more obscure than the well-known Bamonte’s. It dates to 1959, and the décor still seems European, with the square dining room featuring big arched windows and moody marine paintings. A meal begins with a free plate of roasted green chile peppers, spicy as hell, and the menu concentrates on seafood, vegetables, and wonderful baked pastas. An irresistible entrée is the casserole of baked cheese ravioli mantled in mozzarella and nicely browned, with an extra tableside sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Other good choices include spaghetti with meatballs or sausages, pork chops with pickled hot cherry peppers, scungilli fra diavolo (conch in a spicy red sauce), and lobsters done several ways.

193 Frost St
Brooklyn, NY 11211

8. Forlini's

93 Baxter St, New York, NY 10013

Forlini’s has been open since 1943, mainly catering to the judge-and-jury crowd from the nearby courthouse as well as to Italian-American regulars. Pink banquettes make for a distinctive look alongside a menu of old-school favorites, from chicken marsala to baked ziti. More recently, the restaurant has seen a resurgence in customers from the fashion crowd, who flock here ever since Vogue hosted a pre-Met Gala party in the space in spring 2018.

93 Baxter St
New York, NY 10013

9. Bamonte's

32 Withers St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Bamonte's Photo by Robert Sietsema

There’s no place quite as much fun as Bamonte’s. Founded in 1902, it shows every year of its venerable age and is the setting for numerous TV episodes and films. Tuxedo’ed waiters are all old-timers, and will gladly talk diners through the menu’s complicated list of selections. The menu is the perfect evocation of Italian-American cuisine, including a spaghetti with meat sauce and meatballs and a pork chop with sweet or hot peppers. The baked clams and chicken francese are don’t-miss dishes.

32 Withers St
Brooklyn, NY 11211

10. Michael’s of Brooklyn

2929 Avenue R, Brooklyn, NY 11229
A stoned building has a red glowing neon sign saying “Michael’s” Photo by Robert Sietsema

Michael’s is a youngster in Italian-American restaurant years, having been founded in 1964 in Marine Park. The exterior is faced in rusticated stone, looking like some hilltop fortress, while the interior is more like a Frank Sinatra movie with the main room bedecked in chandeliers and paneled in warm woods. The menu hits all the old Italian-American classics with some newfangled stuff thrown in, mainly on the specials menu, which often features wild boar stew, arugula and orange salad, and burrata. Other more standard fare includes a hulking veal chop of the tenderest meat, flattened and breaded, as well as linguine with clams and spumoni cake.

2929 Avenue R
Brooklyn, NY 11229

11. L&B Spumoni Gardens

2725 86th St, Brooklyn, NY 11223

This 1939 gem really hits its stride in summer, when the outdoor tables throng, but winter is the time to sit indoors in the restaurant and enjoy huge servings of pasta and heroes perfectly executed. Also a must-get: the spumoni, which comes in perfectly colorful scoops in disposable cups.

2725 86th St
Brooklyn, NY 11223

12. Gargiulo's

2911 W 15th St, Brooklyn, NY 11224
Gargiulo’s Photo via Gargiulo’s/Yelp

This cavernous 1907 hall miraculously persists, nearly the same vintage as nearby Totonno’s, and now given over mainly to banquets. Anything featuring clams is recommended, and all the stand-bys are on the menu such as rigatoni in meat sauce, veal marsala, and filet of sole.

2911 W 15th St
Brooklyn, NY 11224

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