New York City has been a hub for Italian immigrants for well over 100 years, so it’s no surprise that it has killer Italian food. Just… not in Little Italy. That’s right, Little Italy is a tourist trap.
Little Italy, in lower Manhattan, has a worldwide reputation for some of the tastiest Italian food outside of the boot. And it’s true, there is good food to be had! (See below). But no longer is this the scrappy immigrant neighborhood of yore. The famous Mulberry Street is now entirely dedicated to tourism. As a visitor in search of an authentic Italian meal, you’re likely to overpay for mediocre pasta in a cheesy restaurant. Do not go in without a plan.
What to expect
The first thing you’ll see upon arrival in Little Italy is a horde of white-aproned waiters barreling at you from the doorways of their respective restaurants. Each waiter will wave a menu at you and proclaim that this establishment is the oldest, the most authentic, the most delicious, the most Italian! And each of these menus is more or less identical.
Their hope, of course, is that you are an unsuspecting tourist. They are hoping that you haven’t read reviews and have no idea if their restaurant is good or garbage. This is why you should NEVER visit Little Italy without a specific plan. Think: Where are you going to eat? What is it going to cost? What do the reviews say? Do you have a reservation? If not, how long are you willing to wait, and do you have a backup plan?
We recently had relatives in town who really wanted eat in Little Italy, despite our warnings. (Nearby Chinatown has great dim sum!) Within seconds of arriving on Mulberry Street, we were accosted by not one, not two, but three waiter-salespeople. The relatives were overwhelmed. We were overwhelmed. But we were not to be sidetracked. We had a plan (Google is your friend!) and we followed it.
We ended up at an unassuming but very tasty historic restaurant, Paesano. The restaurant front was less-than-beautiful, and the decor inside was corny at best. But the rigatoni a la vodka was delicious… and so was everything else! Everyone loved their meal; fresh, tasty, hearty Italian food at its best. And at lunch, most dishes were under $15!
What to do if you still want to go to NYC’s Little Italy
- Choose a restaurant in advance. Make a reservation or have a backup plan for what you will do if there is a long wait.
- Be prepared for the overwhelming experience as you walk down the street. Keep on moving until you arrive at your destination!
- Don’t judge a book by its cover. The restaurants that are the most “charming” in appearance tend to have the lower-quality food, while those that look outdated might just hit the spot!
Tourist-trap-free alternatives for great Italian food in NYC
- Arthur Avenue in the Bronx is known to New Yorkers as the “real” Little Italy nowadays. Keep in mind that it’s a bit tricky to access via public transit, although it’s right next to the beautiful Fordham campus, and it’s a quick cab ride to the Bronx Zoo or the Bronx Botanical Garden. Make a day of it!
- Our personal favorite is the neighborhood gem Max Soha in Morningside Heights. It has great, affordable Italian food. Cash only!
- And then, there’s always actual Italy!
Know of any other great off-the-beaten-path Italian food in NYC? Let us know in the comments below!
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