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Rubirosa
Rubirosa
Daniel Krieger

Where to Actually Eat Well in NYC’s Little Italy

Blow right past those aggressive salespeople to the legit good food

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Rubirosa
| Daniel Krieger

Manhattan’s Little Italy is home to overpriced, wildly mediocre restaurants packed with nostalgic tourists twirling bites from heaping plates of spaghetti. Let’s face it: New Yorkers don’t eat in Little Italy. At least, they don’t really eat in the Little Italy of today, a honky tonk stretch of Mulberry Street north of Canal and a smattering of Mott Street, dotted with restaurants where the red sauce often tastes like it came from a jar.

But in 1890, when over half of all Italians in New York City lived in Little Italy, the neighborhood extended from East Houston to Chambers Street, and from Broadway to the Bowery. Do yourself a favor: Pretend it’s 1890, and venture to the outer limits.

By that definition, Little Italy still has some dolce vida left in it — here’s where to do the neighborhood right.

Note: This an updated version of a map originally published in 2017.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Emilio's Ballato

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

It takes guts to walk into Emilio’s Ballato, where there’s no phone and no way to call for a reservation, where regular diners compete with VIPs like Lenny Kravitz or Barack Obama. Owner Emilio Vitolo is an imposing presence in a tall box of a room lit warmly by crystal chandeliers with faded walls lined with framed photos of celebrity diners. The waiters are deadpan, and the food superb. Go for the antipasto platter, filled with tuna-stuffed peppers, exemplary baked clams, and housemade tagliatelle bolognese. Don’t skip the wine list, on which servers are well-trained.

Emilio’s Ballato Nick Solares

2. Parm

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248 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 993-7189
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Given the couldn’t-care-less attitude of all the ailing, old eateries on tourist-subsidized life support, it’s no surprise that some of the best food in Little Italy can be had at the fresh-faced newcomers. Parm is the new-school red sauce joint from Major Food Group (Carbone, the Grill). The meatballs really do melt in the mouth, and the eggplant parmesan really does offer bottomless depths of flavor at this sub shop-plus on Mulberry Street.

Sandwiches from Parm Parm

3. Rubirosa

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235 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 965-0500
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There are as many reasons as there are items on Rubirosa’s menu to suffer the long wait for a table there — from the loaded steamed artichoke to the sweet, creamy vodka pizza. This, a New Yorker knows. Gluten-free diners and groups are especially well-suited to dining here.

Rubirosa Daniel Krieger

4. Lombardi's

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32 Spring St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 941-7994
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Lombardi’s has world-class hospitality in which if diners hem and haw over the house chianti or zinfandel, they might bring both and charge for one. As for the pizza, consider the clam pie, a 16-incher blanketed in tiny bellies, with a quartered lemon propped at its center. Coated in olive oil, the thin crust has crisped in the heat, a crunchy, blank canvas for the garlicky, mollusky, parsley-flecked topping. Be prepared to wait for it at this institution open since 1905.

Lombardi’s Robert Sietsema

5. Piacere NYC

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351 Broome St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 219-4080
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Piacere is a relatively mellow alternative in the congested, tourist-clogged main drags of Little Italy. The rustic decor and outdoor seating, plus a straightforward menu of classic pizzas and pastas, make Piacere a worthy choice in the area. The orecchiette with sausage, broccoli rabe, and pecorino is a solid choice.

Piacere Piacere [Official Photo]

6. Di Palo's Fine Foods

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200 Grand St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 226-1033

This fifth-generation, family-owned Italian deli opened in 1910 on Mott Street as a dairy shop selling housemade mozzarella and ricotta. Grab a number and brace for a wait, but there’s great people watching during and generous samples after. Those creamy cheeses are still signatures; also order a sandwich to devour in a nearby park. Next door, there’s a wine shop, Enoteca Di Palo, plus a newer sit-down osteria concept.

7. Ferrara Bakery

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195 Grand St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 226-6150
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The housemade hazelnut gelato — one of a dozen varieties of the Italian ice cream served here — is ultra-creamy with big flavor. Glitzy and crowded as Ferrara may be, the bakery has been doing some things right since 1892. The cannoli has a snappy shell to put the neighbors’ soggy ones to shame. The sweet ricotta filling, not overly cinnamon-y, has a plethora of chocolate chips and candied citrus mixed in. Got room for more? Crackle through the flaky waves of pastry that wrap the Bavarian cream in the luxurious sfogliatelle.

8. Aunt Jake's

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149 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10013
(646) 858-0470
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For a hipper, made-for-social-media ambiance, newcomer Aunt Jake’s has an airy, skylit upstairs dining room. Fresh pastas made in-house daily are paired with myriad sauces, from lamb ragu to carbonara, offered as solo or family-style portions. Or, skip the DIY approach with options like squid ink fettuccine vongole. There’s another location in the West Village.

Aunt Jake’s Aunt Jake’s [Official Photo]

9. Capri

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145 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 625-2626
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Not everything is a win here, but the chicken parmesan is worth coming for alone. Blanketed in sauce and bubbling cheese, the thick cutlet has the tangy, marinated flavor that transcends the rest of Capri’s forgettable food. It’s like chicken parmesan meets chicken piccata.

We're ready for you, New Yorkers! Come celebrate the 90th annual San Gennaro Feast #capriristorante #newyorkcity #nyc #manhattan #littleitaly #italian #cuisine #foodie #nyceats #sangennarofeast

Posted by Capri Ristorante on Thursday, September 15, 2016

10. Umbertos Clam House

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132 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 431-7545
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Back in 1972, “Crazy Joe” Gallo got himself offed here during a meal with his wife and kids, thereby making Umberto’s famous for generations before and after the Sopranos. Umberto’s has moved locations since then, but it’s still on the map for fans of the mob show. The key here is don’t order anything but raw bar and a cocktail — cooked food at Umberto’s is unreliable. But the littlenecks on the half shell are fresh, clean, and ice-cold, and so are the ample martinis. Relax, enjoy an aperitif, and wait for the host stand at Rubirosa to text and say the table down the block is ready.

11. Il Cortile

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125 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 226-6060
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The environment at Il Cortile is certainly strange — the atrium dining room feels lifted from a suburban Holiday Inn with over-the-top servers speaking in cliches. But stick to the cheese on the menu and get the schiacciata, a garlicky mozzarella tart striated with hunks of sausage and artichoke. Finish off the meal with the ricotta cheese pie, which is not too dry and not too moist, not too sweet and not too sour.

Il Cortile Il Cortile [Official Photo]

12. Forlini's

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93 Baxter St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 349-6779
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Tucked amid the Chinese restaurants on Baxter Street, the art-lined Forlini’s is a beaut. Since 1943, the family has run the place with loads of old-school class, employing white tablecloths, live music featuring Rat Pack classics, and garrulous waiters offering Sambuca, Amaretto, or limoncello at the finish. Best orders include springy veal scaloppini, lasagna, and Monte Cristo-like spiedini alla romana. The restaurant has experienced a recent resurgence among the fashion set.

Forlini’s Eater Archives

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1. Emilio's Ballato

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

It takes guts to walk into Emilio’s Ballato, where there’s no phone and no way to call for a reservation, where regular diners compete with VIPs like Lenny Kravitz or Barack Obama. Owner Emilio Vitolo is an imposing presence in a tall box of a room lit warmly by crystal chandeliers with faded walls lined with framed photos of celebrity diners. The waiters are deadpan, and the food superb. Go for the antipasto platter, filled with tuna-stuffed peppers, exemplary baked clams, and housemade tagliatelle bolognese. Don’t skip the wine list, on which servers are well-trained.

55 E Houston St
New York, NY 10012

2. Parm

248 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012
Sandwiches from Parm Parm

Given the couldn’t-care-less attitude of all the ailing, old eateries on tourist-subsidized life support, it’s no surprise that some of the best food in Little Italy can be had at the fresh-faced newcomers. Parm is the new-school red sauce joint from Major Food Group (Carbone, the Grill). The meatballs really do melt in the mouth, and the eggplant parmesan really does offer bottomless depths of flavor at this sub shop-plus on Mulberry Street.

248 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10012

3. Rubirosa

235 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012
Rubirosa Daniel Krieger

There are as many reasons as there are items on Rubirosa’s menu to suffer the long wait for a table there — from the loaded steamed artichoke to the sweet, creamy vodka pizza. This, a New Yorker knows. Gluten-free diners and groups are especially well-suited to dining here.

235 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10012

4. Lombardi's

32 Spring St, New York, NY 10012
Lombardi’s Robert Sietsema

Lombardi’s has world-class hospitality in which if diners hem and haw over the house chianti or zinfandel, they might bring both and charge for one. As for the pizza, consider the clam pie, a 16-incher blanketed in tiny bellies, with a quartered lemon propped at its center. Coated in olive oil, the thin crust has crisped in the heat, a crunchy, blank canvas for the garlicky, mollusky, parsley-flecked topping. Be prepared to wait for it at this institution open since 1905.

32 Spring St
New York, NY 10012

5. Piacere NYC

351 Broome St, New York, NY 10013
Piacere Piacere [Official Photo]

Piacere is a relatively mellow alternative in the congested, tourist-clogged main drags of Little Italy. The rustic decor and outdoor seating, plus a straightforward menu of classic pizzas and pastas, make Piacere a worthy choice in the area. The orecchiette with sausage, broccoli rabe, and pecorino is a solid choice.

351 Broome St
New York, NY 10013

6. Di Palo's Fine Foods

200 Grand St, New York, NY 10013

This fifth-generation, family-owned Italian deli opened in 1910 on Mott Street as a dairy shop selling housemade mozzarella and ricotta. Grab a number and brace for a wait, but there’s great people watching during and generous samples after. Those creamy cheeses are still signatures; also order a sandwich to devour in a nearby park. Next door, there’s a wine shop, Enoteca Di Palo, plus a newer sit-down osteria concept.

200 Grand St
New York, NY 10013

7. Ferrara Bakery

195 Grand St, New York, NY 10013

The housemade hazelnut gelato — one of a dozen varieties of the Italian ice cream served here — is ultra-creamy with big flavor. Glitzy and crowded as Ferrara may be, the bakery has been doing some things right since 1892. The cannoli has a snappy shell to put the neighbors’ soggy ones to shame. The sweet ricotta filling, not overly cinnamon-y, has a plethora of chocolate chips and candied citrus mixed in. Got room for more? Crackle through the flaky waves of pastry that wrap the Bavarian cream in the luxurious sfogliatelle.

195 Grand St
New York, NY 10013

8. Aunt Jake's

149 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013
Aunt Jake’s Aunt Jake’s [Official Photo]

For a hipper, made-for-social-media ambiance, newcomer Aunt Jake’s has an airy, skylit upstairs dining room. Fresh pastas made in-house daily are paired with myriad sauces, from lamb ragu to carbonara, offered as solo or family-style portions. Or, skip the DIY approach with options like squid ink fettuccine vongole. There’s another location in the West Village.

149 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10013

9. Capri

145 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

Not everything is a win here, but the chicken parmesan is worth coming for alone. Blanketed in sauce and bubbling cheese, the thick cutlet has the tangy, marinated flavor that transcends the rest of Capri’s forgettable food. It’s like chicken parmesan meets chicken piccata.

145 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10013

10. Umbertos Clam House

132 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

Back in 1972, “Crazy Joe” Gallo got himself offed here during a meal with his wife and kids, thereby making Umberto’s famous for generations before and after the Sopranos. Umberto’s has moved locations since then, but it’s still on the map for fans of the mob show. The key here is don’t order anything but raw bar and a cocktail — cooked food at Umberto’s is unreliable. But the littlenecks on the half shell are fresh, clean, and ice-cold, and so are the ample martinis. Relax, enjoy an aperitif, and wait for the host stand at Rubirosa to text and say the table down the block is ready.

132 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10013

11. Il Cortile

125 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013
Il Cortile Il Cortile [Official Photo]

The environment at Il Cortile is certainly strange — the atrium dining room feels lifted from a suburban Holiday Inn with over-the-top servers speaking in cliches. But stick to the cheese on the menu and get the schiacciata, a garlicky mozzarella tart striated with hunks of sausage and artichoke. Finish off the meal with the ricotta cheese pie, which is not too dry and not too moist, not too sweet and not too sour.

125 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10013

12. Forlini's

93 Baxter St, New York, NY 10013
Forlini’s Eater Archives

Tucked amid the Chinese restaurants on Baxter Street, the art-lined Forlini’s is a beaut. Since 1943, the family has run the place with loads of old-school class, employing white tablecloths, live music featuring Rat Pack classics, and garrulous waiters offering Sambuca, Amaretto, or limoncello at the finish. Best orders include springy veal scaloppini, lasagna, and Monte Cristo-like spiedini alla romana. The restaurant has experienced a recent resurgence among the fashion set.

93 Baxter St
New York, NY 10013

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