Little Italy, despite its shrinkage induced by Chinatown’s expansion, has managed to hold its ground as a historic landmark of New York City. While some parts lean toward the tourist trap sect, from crowded streets to overpriced restaurants, there are still several cultural havens that are worth viewing, and in most cases, grab a bite at.
If you close your eyes in Di Palo’s and smell the air, you might just catch yourself dreaming of Italy. Known for its fresh, hand pulled mozzarella and prosciutto bread, Di Palo’s grocery usually has a line to the door that is completely worth the wait. Every traditional Italian food is sold here, simple or elaborate, and it’s impossible to be disappointed by the amazing quality of both the food, and the service.
Nearby on your lunch break and want a quick sandwich stop? Parm, the keeper of classic Italian heroes, satisfies both your palette and schedule with large, filling sandwiches that anyone can appreciate. The atmosphere is crowded but cozy, like Johny Rocket’s with an Italian bar-style twist.
Another great spot for a delicious and intimate lunch alone or with a friend. Rubirosa is complete with dim lighting, a spacious bar, charming staff and delicious food—known for its light but satisfying pizza. Their pasta makes a name for itself as well, especially the delicious spaghetti carbonara.
Grotta Azzurra fits into a stereotypical mold of a touristy Little Italy restaurant—loud, prominent, a sign filled with lights. However, the food itself—especially the lasagna and seafood— makes for classic, rustic traditional Italian food served in a pleasant and bustling atmosphere.
A perfect place to stop by on a lunch break, this museum is simple, but effective. The Italian American Museum itself is a one floor with one round gallery of photos detailing the history Italian Americans and even Little Italy. The exhibitions change season-to-season and entry is free of charge, making it interesting enough to explore, learn a new fact or two and then grab lunch right nearby.
Umberto’s is known for not only its historic food, but also historic events. In 1972, two months after its opening, New York gangster Joe Gallo was murdered in the restaurant. The current owner, Robert, is the son of the original owner Umberto Ianiello. The eatery is also known for its mussels, calamari and other seafood that are as rich as the restaurant’s history.
Caffé Roma has always been another popular hangout spot for visitors and locals. Quaint but cozy, they are known for their veteran status, having been run by a single family in the same location since 1891. Their traditional Italian pastries are created on the premises such as cannoli, tiramisu and pasticciotto. Also be warned—they close every year from June 23rd to July 7th and only take cash payment!
Rossi E and Company is a great option. If you want to buy a gift that is both useful and nice, from pasta makers to Nativity sets to prayer cards, there’s a great option for every Little Italy experience. The prices are fair compared to other gift shops, and Ernie, the owner, is very helpful and pleasant to the guests at his shop. By Rebecca Boorstin
Currently pursuing a degree in psychology with a minor in Spanish language from Pitzer College, Rebecca is a native New Yorker with a passion for intercultural understanding through food, art, music and literature. She enjoys reading the New York Times, listening to Spanish pop music and exploring new eateries in the city when home from college.