When traveling to New York City, tourist must decide among thousands of monuments, buildings, and parks to visit. I have lived in New York for over 50 years and still have not seen everything. New York City is not just Manhattan. There are four other boroughs that define the concept of culture. However, one of the most sought-after destinations is Manhattan’s Little Italy. If you are spending only a few days in Manhattan, one may ask the question, is Little Italy worth seeing. Well, the answer to that is, of course it is. Here’s why.
Little Italy is just that, little! The entire neighborhood of Little Italy runs only about three blocks long. So it won’t take you a long time to visit Little Italy because it is a small neighborhood. Little Italy begins on the corner of Canal Street and Mulberry Street and runs North to Broome Street where one will encounter the famous Welcome To Little Italy sign. In between Canal Street and Broome Street are Hester and Grand Streets that cross Mulberry Street and Mott Street. The corner of Canal Street and Mulberry Street is a fascinating intersection that divides the neighborhoods of Chinatown and Little Italy. It’s amazing how two completely different cultures are locked together separated only by a traffic light.
Mulberry Street is Little Italy. If you don’t walk up Mulberry Street then you haven’t seen Little Italy. There are restaurants on the adjacent Mott Street and Broome, Hester, and Grand Streets but in the end, Mulberry Street is Little Italy. The majority of stores that line Mulberry Street are restaurants and cafes.
The Best Cannolis In The World!
Just about every restaurant, cafe, and dessert stand claims that their cannolis are the best not only in Little Italy, but the entire world. Are they the best? Well, I now live on Long Island which is home to some of the most incredible bakeries probably in the United States. I have tasted the cannolis at just about every stand in Little Italy and when compared to the Long Island bakery cannolis, there is not much of a difference. The cannolis in Little Italy are good but being the best in the world is debatable. I personally like the cannolis at Long Island Bakeries like Alpine Bakery in Smithtown, Garguilos Bakery in St. James, and Benkerts Bakery in Centereach better. However, it always comes down to personal taste and just the idea of eating a cannoli on the streets of Little Italy somehow makes it taste better.
Sadly, the greatest cannoli I ever tasted was at a bakery in the East Village called De Robertis Pasticceria and Caffé. I write sadly because they closed for good in 2014. The five boroughs of New York City are engulfed with world-class bakeries that sell cannolis along with some of the most amazing baked goods outsides of Paris you will ever find. Don’t just wait until you reach Little Italy to have a cannoli. Visit any neighborhood bakery in New York City and for the most part you will not be disappointed.
Dining In Little Italy
If you’re a tourist and are visiting Little Italy for the first time and possibly the only time, we recommend that you choose a restaurant and have either lunch or dinner in Little Italy. Our recommendations are based on two factors. Factor #1 The food is good. The food in Little Italy is not the best in the city, it’s far from it, but it is very good and there are certain items that you don’t want to miss. (more on that in a bit) The second factor is the most important, and that is simply, the experience of eating in Little Italy.
So how does the food compare to other New York restaurants? It depends on what you like to eat and size of the restaurant you choose. The one most consistent item on any restaurant menu that is a don’t miss in Little Italy is the fried calamari. There is competition among all the restaurants in Little Italy over which places serves the best calamari. They all do an amazing job. My older son swears that the best calamari he has ever eaten was in Little Italy and I tend to agree with him.
My favorite was at a small restaurant on the east side of Mulberry Street just north of Canal called Buoan Notte. It is one of the smaller restaurants in Little Italy but the service is 5 star and the food is really good. The pasta is incredibly fresh, the sauces to die for, and the calamari is easily the best I have ever tasted anywhere. Its not cheap, but none of the restaurants in Little Italy are cheap. Remember you are paying for the experience, not just the food.
One of the ways that I choose a restaurant is based on the size of the restaurant. As a musician who has worked in restaurants my entire life, I have seen firsthand the differences between large restaurants and small restaurants. The biggest difference is found in the kitchen. Small Italian restaurants tend to feature a great chef and a prep cook or assistant chef. In a restaurant with only a few tables, your meal is being cooked usually by a chef whose entire world is centered on every meal he or she prepares. In larger restaurants, the kitchen is usually staffed by line cooks that are overseen by one head chef. So in a large restaurant, you are eating a meal that is designed to be cooked and served very quickly.
The attention to detail is not as great when compared to a small place with an exclusive chef. Now. that’s not to say that the larger restaurants are not as good always, there are restaurants that do an amazing job at serving quality food in mass servings. It’s just my personal decision to pick smaller restaurants based on my experiences performing in these places and eating the free meal they usually serve me at the end of the night. Whenever I am in Little Italy, I tend to eat at smaller restaurants.
Navigating the Sidewalks of Little Italy
We bring up the point of navigating the sidewalks of Little Italy for one specific reason. Do not be intimidated by the men standing outside of each restaurant trying to talk you into to eating in their restaurants. Yes, that’s right, there is an intimation factor that is utilized in Little Italy to compete for customers. It’s annoying if you let it be. The answer is to have a sense of humor about it. Don’t say anything, just smile and keep on walking.
These people want to engage you in conversation. They are very good at convincing people to stop and can come on very strong sometimes. In a way, it’s a tribute to old-school street culture and the way vendors would always try to sell you their goods. It’s not as bad as carnival people who tend to mock you for not trying one of their games, but it is disappointing that tourists have to deal with a bit of intimidation when walking by certain restaurants.
Little Italy is all bout eating, that’s it! The whole point of traveling to Little Italy is for the food and dining experiences. There is an Italian Museum, a few gift shops, and some small Italian food markets, but the majority of Little Italy is composed of restaurants, cafes, and desert stands.
Getting To Little Italy
Many years ago I used to perform every New Year’s Eve at a large restaurant in Little Italy called SPQR with a band called Phase IV. Because I had to carry equipment, I was always forced to drive to those gigs. It was a nightmare having to double park on Mulberry Street and unload my gear. It was even more difficult trying to find parking after I unloaded. Every other time that I have gone to Little Italy when I did not have to perform there, I have taken public transportation. There are subway stops on Canal and Spring Street that can be utilized to reach Little Italy from anywhere in New York City.
The 6 train runs from the upper east side all the way to Little Italy. If you’re in Times Square you can take the Times Square Express to Grand Central Terminal and then transfer to the 6 train. If you intend on driving, the Brooklyn Bridge is the closest of all the East River bridge crossings to Little Italy. We don’t recommend driving all the way uptown to the midtown tunnel or 59th Street Bridge because traffic is just a nightmare in Manhattan now, especially with all the new bike lanes that have been added to the city. Take a train, it’s the easiest way to get there.
If you are visiting New York City, we highly recommend taking the subways and visiting Little Italy It is a fun place to walk through and eat, eat, and eat. You will enjoy everything you eat there and the experience of dining in one of the many restaurants the neighborhood has to offer will be well worth your time. You may decide to buy some deserts to take home with you, but I guarantee they will smell so good they will never make it back.
Little Italy: What You Need To Know article published on ClassicNewYorkHistory.com ©2023
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