Many tourists grow up with an image of Manhattan's Little Italy burned behind their retinas - Italian gangsters sitting down to feast on bowls of pasta and meatballs, dark-haired young hosts calling patrons in off the street in their native tongue, and a Frank Sinatra shoe-in holding court over the dining room. In reality, Little Italy is more tourist trap than romantic rendezvous, and regardless of what you've seen in the movies, it's more than a little disappointing when we're talking authentic cuisine.
Instead, the city's best Italian food is found in various neighborhoods across the city, from the far reaches of the Bronx's Arthur Avenue, where you'll find mainstays like Roberto's, to the chic streets of TriBeCa, where Locanda Verde mashes up downtown cool with the atmosphere of an Italian taverna.
Heavy hitters like Marea and Ai Fiori, both icons of Chef Michael White's empire, go head-to-head with celebrity chef Mario Batali's hotspots Del Posto and Babbo. The winner? Well, we'll let you be the one to decide.
From the banks of Staten Island to the northern reaches of the five boroughs, we've pulled together ten of the best Italian restaurants in New York City. Now, all you have to do is close your eyes, pick your pasta, and try one - or all - of them on for size.
Tucked into TriBeCa, Locanda Verde has been delighting Italian food lovers since it opened its doors in 2009. A rustic ease is prevalent in the decor and the menu, which features casual basics like sheep's milk ricotta with sea salt and herbs on chunks of wood-fired peasant bread, to lamb meatball sliders, to squid ink linguini with manila clams, soppressata, garlic and shishito peppers. The vibe here - along with the crowd - is downtown cool, the high heeled fashionistas and established young professionals clinking glasses of vino against a brick-walled backdrop. An Italian taverna dropped into a New York postcard, this is the Italian joint you should go to when you want to see and be seen. (212-925-3797)
While Manhattan's Little Italy is more tourist trap than enticing experience, Little Italy in the Bronx still holds on to some (though sadly, not all) of the charm of days gone by. If you make the trek, don't skip one of the borough's best in Roberto's. Nestled between the park and Arthur Avenue (the Bronx's version of Mulberry Street), Roberto's is housed within a terra cotta facade that transports diners straight to the old country. The scene is pleasant, comfortable, even a tad rustic thanks to elements like the wooden, farmhouse-style tables. Homemade pasta dishes are delivered in deliciously heaping portions, but wise regulars know to check the chalkboard of daily specials before they order. Indeed, Chef Roberto Paciullo never fails to offer a handful of dazzling choices like veal scalloppine or baked corkscrew pasta wrapped in tin foil. (718-733-9503)
Ai Fiori - which translates to 'among the flowers' in Italian - is the first creation from Michael White's Altamarea Group, which also owns city favorites Ristorante Morini and Marea. At Ai Fiori, elegance is recognized and rewarded: the restaurant has earned three New York Times stars, and Michelin stars in 2011 and 2012. On the menu, diners will find avante-garde offerings from the kitchen, including a fluke crudo with caviar and meyer lemon, or a guinea hen coq au vin smothered in carrots, turnips, pearl onions and red wine sauce. While it's all available a la carte, the powers that be recommend the four course prix fixe for $97, or the seven course chef's tasting for $135. (212-613-8660)
For those who eat gluten-free, Bistango is something sent straight from the heavens. The decor here is modest, even homely, but the food more than makes up for it. From gluten-free stuffed pastas to breads and cakes, the restaurant prides itself on offering foods that gluten-free diners thought were lost to them forever. While the restaurant used to fly under the radar for years, it's been thrust into the spotlight thanks to the internet, so we'd recommend reservations for busy weekend nights. During the summer months, take a seat on the sidewalks - a perfect spot for some prime people watching. (212-725-8484)
Sister restaurant to Osteria Morini in Soho, Ristorante Morini is located on the Upper East Side and dabbles in the various regional cuisines of Italy. Upon entering, your attention will undoubtedly be drawn the filigree bar, an unexpectedly loud announcement to dinner, especially as the rest of the white table-clothed dining room is timid by comparison. Regulars revel in Morini's pastas, of which you'll find classics like tortellini with ricotta and mascarpone, or orecchiette braised with fennel sausage, broccoli rabe and chilies. For a more upscale culinary rendezvous through the Italian countryside, opt for the gnocchi with black truffle - reviewers have called it a little piece of heaven. (212-249-0444)
This is the Italian restaurant that has won the respect of restauranteurs and chefs the city over. Spread over two floors, L'Artusi's menu is simplicity personified. Instead of hard-to-prononce ingredients with something to prove, you'll instead find pastas like spaghetti with garlic, chilies and parmesan, or branzino brandished with roasted lemon, olives and honey. The wine list is similarly simplistic and features a wide range of Italian drops from nearly every region of the boot. On the weekends, L'Artusi also offers brunch: think lemon-ricotta pancakes, delicate frittatas and creamy polenta with poached eggs, pancetta-tomato sauce and pecorino. A word from the wise: reservations are your friend. (2122555757)
Tucked away on Waverly Place in a former coach house, Babbo offers up Italian food in its purest form. Known for its classic simplicity both in decor and menu selections, this establishment provides diners with exotically named, sumptuous pastas and meats flavored to perfection by celebrity chef Mario Batali. But it's not just food that will have you coming back time and time again. The extensive Italian-focused wine list is the perfect complement to whatever food choice tickles your fancy. Add in lovely bi-level setting and a skylight that provides connoisseurs with the perfect backdrop to a truly unique meal, and you've got yourself a winning combination. (212-777-0303, 212-353-8064)
Imagine you're at the table of a Tuscan grandmother on Tuesday, then breathing in the salty, sea air from the terrace of another nonna on Thursday, and experiencing the ancient city of Venice in the cozy abode of yet another Nana by Saturday. As you might expect, each location and each woman holds on to different secrets and special recipes, which - to your delight - she presents to you in a way that only a grandmother can. Now imagine you're having this same experience on the banks of Staten Island - transporting from one area of Italy to another, a smattering of culinary lifetimes served up on the plate in front of you. Wait, what? What sounds like myth becomes reality when you step through the doors of Enoteca Maria in Staten Island. Each night of the week, a different Italian grandmother from a different region of Italy steps into the open kitchen to cook up a feast from her hometown. The result is, of course, amazing. Don't question this. Just go. (718-447-2777)
Revered as one of the most elegant and upscale Italian restaurant in the city, Del Posto is the brainchild of Mario Batali, Joe and Linda Bastianich and Executive Chef Mark Ladner. Along with a top-notch wine list and unbeatable service, the menu is organized in either five or eight courses, with dishes ranging from spaghetti with dungeness crab and sliced jalepeno to more traditional offerings like sliced lamb gnocchi. Surprisingly, all of the pastas at Del Posto are gluten-free, a move that sent shock waves around the food world when it was announced last year. Unsurprisingly, Del Posto's kitchen has navigated through the change flawlessly - if we hadn't told you these pastas were gluten-free, you'd never know it. (212-497-8090)
What do you get when you mix an ingredients-driven, award-winning Italian menu, impeccable service, and a fantastic wine list with over 750 selections? The answer is Marea. Meaning "tide" in Italian, Marea is manned by Chef Michael White and has earned three stars from The New York Times, two stars from Michelin, and a city of devoted regulars who claim that this is the best Italian in the city. Fare here leans heavily in favor of seafood, with dishes like dressed blue prawns with carrot crisp and tarragon to share, or four different types of caviar, starting at a mind-boggling $110 per ounce. Our recommendation is to opt for the 4-course prix fixe, a modest $99 affair that allows you to sample a crudo, pasta, main and dessert. (212-582-5100)
About Andrea Duchon
Andrea Duchon was bitten by the travel bug from an early age, and has lived in New York, Seattle, Cleveland and Sydney, Australia since 2007.
When she's not traveling or planning a trip, you'll likely find her eating tacos while throwing darts and watching the Cleveland Browns.
Read more about Andrea Duchon here.
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