When it comes to Manhattan’s tourist traps, Little Italy has sadly earned a spot at the top of the list. The area saw its heyday in the early 1900s, when tens of thousands of Italians called these cobbled roads home. Since then, Chinatown has all but swallowed up the neighborhood, and tenement dwelling families have long been replaced with deep-pocketed professionals.
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It also doesn’t help that the few remaining restaurants annoyingly troll for diners in the streets, and find themselves landlocked by gift shops on both sides. Fortunately, if you know exactly where to look, you can still experience a vestige of the old world nestled between the soggy pasta and commercialized cannoli.
Take Lombardi’s, for example. Sure, it’s a well-known tourist destination but unlike much of Little Italy, it’s earned its status for good reason. Established in 1905, it holds the title for the first pizzeria in the United States and makes a solid pie that’s beloved by New Yorkers and visitors alike.
And who can forget about dessert? Ferrara – America’s first espresso bar – also calls Little Italy home and has been dishing up sweet treats in the same Grand Street location since 1892. So while there may not be unlimited options for good eats along Mulberry Street, don’t let that dissuade you from giving the ones that are there a more-than-deserving chance.
A New York institution, DiPalo’s holds court on the corner of Mott and Grand Street in the heart of Little Italy. A number of smart New York restaurants source their cheese from this mom-and-pop grocery, but that’s only one of the reasons why you should pay them a visit.
In true Italian fashion, the store moves at a relaxed pace, so don’t expect to get in and out with any type of efficiency. And even if you’re lucky enough to find yourself there without half of the city queuing around the block, it’s easy to spend the better part of an hour perusing the store or tasting at the counter while chatting it up with the staff. Unlike many places, these friendly characters welcome your questions and will happily point you in a delicious direction.
Recommended for Little Italy’s Best Restaurants because: No trip to Little Italy would be complete without a visit to an Italian deli.
Andrea’s expert tip: Don’t be afraid to ask for a taste of something, or for a suggestion.
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Despite the name, The Butcher’s Daughter is a juice bar and espresso stand that caters to the non-dairy, non-carnivorous crowd. The LA-esque menu features items like avocado toast, coconut yogurt or the shop’s popular elixir shots – pressed shots of wheatgrass or ginger, mixed with ingredients like yuzu, jalapeno and Echinacea. While technically located a few blocks east of Little Italy, The Butcher’s Daughter is worthy of a pit stop for a dose of detox and freshness. But that’s not to say that everything they serve is guilt-free: their “booze-y pops” give those tired of getting drunk by sucking on a straw a cool alternative – alcoholic popsicles on a stick.
Recommended for Little Italy’s Best Restaurants because: A breath of fresh air in the land of garlic, tomatoes and red wine.
Andrea’s expert tip: Go for juice, a smoothie or a quick pick-me-up, but look elsewhere for a full meal.
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For over 40 years, this outstanding Mulberry address has featured one of the neighborhood’s most charming dining areas â” a courtyard atrium that streams in light from an expansive glass ceiling. The decor elsewhere is distinctly Roman with lush greenery, painted mosaics, statues and, of course, white columns. The kitchen, meanwhile, takes a classic approach to Italian cuisine, serving up dishes like veal scaloppine with peas, onions, prosciutto, marsala and white wine. The restaurant sources the highest quality ingredients and pasta is cooked fresh to order. Overall, Il Cortile is a solid place for an Italian meal in Little Italy.
Recommended for Little Italy’s Best Restaurants because: It’s one of the only “old-school” Italian restaurants in the neighborhood that’s worth stopping into.
Andrea’s expert tip: While they don’t have a dedicated kids menu, Il Cortile is a casual, family-friendly place with ample seating, so you won’t get any side eye for walking in with youngsters.
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Ferrara Bakery and Café opened its doors in 1892, the same year Ellis Island started welcoming new immigrants. Since then, nearly everything in New York has changed, except Ferrara’s focus. From cannolis to cream puffs, gelato to Pignoli cookies, this mainstay continues to churn out the classics of yesteryear. And while it’s true that Ferrara has hit high-alert tourist status, it’s still a must if you’re looking to experience one of the original remaining storefronts of Little Italy.
Perhaps unfairly, the first espresso bar in America doesn’t take the cake for the best espresso in the area, so skip the coffee and set your sights on sweets instead. If possible, you should also try to visit during a weekday afternoon, as weekend evenings can get impossibly crowded.
Recommended for Little Italy’s Best Restaurants because: Opened in 1892, Ferrara is America’s first espresso bar and still operates in its original storefront on Grand Street.
Andrea’s expert tip: Skip the coffee and go straight for a pastry – just like Nonna used to make. You can’t go wrong with anything, but the cannolis are out of this world.
Read more about Ferrara Bakery and Café →
Helmed by alums of Italian resto, Aurora, Emporio is a Roman-inspired trattoria that serves up Neapolitan-style, thin crust pizzas and homemade pasta, made fresh on-site. Here’s an insider tip: if you know what’s good for you, you won’t skip the burrata, imported daily from Italy and arguably the best this side of the Atlantic.
Emporio’s spacious back room invokes the feeling of dining in a vaulted greenhouse, which does wonders for the ambiance but (be warned!) not a whole lot for the acoustics. Regulars know to get here early or risk waiting at the claustrophobic front bar, which isn’t the worst thing as it’s stocked with an impressive smattering of high-end cocktails and Italian wines.
Recommended for Little Italy’s Best Restaurants because: High-ceilings, reclaimed wood, great wines and an authentic menu with a modern flair all combine to make Emporio a dream.
Andrea’s expert tip: The creamy, expertly made burrata is flown in daily from Italy.
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When Nolita’s Peasant opened its doors, it did so to the applause of area residents, who craved a stylish alternative to the traditional Mulberry Street eateries. Everything is cooked in a wood-fired oven – the result a rustic, modern take on Italian cuisine. Appetizers come to your table on clay earthenware, smelling as good as they taste. Indeed, the kitchen staff does not spare garlic, olive oil, and Italian herbs and spices.
And while the open kitchen design may be enticing to newcomers, don’t miss sitting downstairs. There’s nothing quite like a dark, cool cellar to transport your taste buds directly to the Tuscan hillside.
Recommended for Little Italy’s Best Restaurants because: The downstairs room feels like an Italian wine cellar hidden in the Tuscan hills.
Andrea’s expert tip: Sit downstairs or try for a different time. The ambiance below is unmatched due to the dark mood lighting and underground vibes. It feels like you’re dining in a Tuscan wine cave.
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Helmed by the same dude who owns The Meatball Shop (Michael Chernow), Seamore’s also specializes in one type of fare: seafood. From the $2 oyster happy hour on weekdays to the very un-New York-like beach vibes, Seamore’s brings a shining ray of sunlight to the ‘hood. The name of the game here is all things ocean, so expect fish sandwiches, battered and fried, alongside choose-your-own-adventure style mains where you can pick your protein, your greens and your grains. For prime people watching, try to snag a seat on the open-air sidewalk and hunker down with a few specialty cocktails or one of Seamore’s local lagers.
Recommended for Little Italy’s Best Restaurants because: It’s a beachy, unexpected spot in the neighborhood with healthy bites and beautiful people.
Andrea’s expert tip: Don’t miss out on happy hour weekdays from 3-6PM, especially in the summer when you can sit outside.
Read more about Seamore’s →
Rubirosa is part of the new wave of Italian restaurants to hit the ‘hood, but at first glance, you may think it’s been here since the beginning. After finding the traditional red and white awning, step inside and come face-to-face with old-school photos of Italy and a vibe that can only be described as comfortably intimate.
The artisan pies get high marks with locals and the nod to gluten-free awareness in the form of pizzas, pasta and apps scores points with health-conscious foodies. Unlike many other Manhattan hotspots, Rubirosa can also accommodate large groups with advance notice, making it perfect for birthdays and parties.
Recommended for Little Italy’s Best Restaurants because: Artisan pies, high-quality ingredients and a gluten-free menu for those in need.
Andrea’s expert tip: Spectacular in its simplicity, they’re known for the vodka pizza with fresh mozzarella, so when in Rome…
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Although it’s officially located in Nolita, Lombardi’s is just a few steps from Mulberry Street and definitely worth the detour, especially for first-time visitors. This Spring Street restaurant was licensed by the city in 1905, officially making it the first pizzeria in America. In fact, many of New York’s top pizza makers learned their craft from Gennaro Lombardi and spun off to open some of the city’s most famous pizzerias, including Totonno’s, Patsy’s and John’s.
Over 100 years after it opened, the sublime, slightly charred pies made with San Marzano tomatoes and fresh mozzarella top many a New Yorker’s list of the absolute best. The restaurant also has a full bar.
Recommended for Little Italy’s Best Restaurants because: Opened in 1905, Lombardi’s Pizza is officially America’s first pizzeria.
Andrea’s expert tip: Lombardi’s is cash only, but there’s an ATM outside in case you forget.
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Photo courtesy of Two Hands
Yes, you’re in Little Italy and it’s a bit sacrilegious to spend your time in an Australian cafe. But you know what? The Australians give the Italians a serious run for their money in the coffee department, so you’ll be forgiven if you pop in for a cuppa. Opt for one of the expertly crafted espresso drinks and a bite from the curated breakfast menu, which features (what else?) avocado toast, housemade granola and a smattering of plates and bowls filled with healthy, eggy goodness. With two other outposts in Tribeca and Williamsburg, Two Hands is open every day except for Christmas and Thanksgiving, giving you plenty of chances to give them a try.
Recommended for Little Italy’s Best Restaurants because: The Australians give the Italians a run for their money in the coffee department.
Andrea’s expert tip: Bring your gluten-free friends and watch their eyes light up when they try the banana bread.
Read more about Two Hands (Nolita) →