Dear readers, my psychic abilities are telling me that you might not like the following list of the best Italian restaurants at which I have dined in New York City. I’m sorry, really, but despite its potential for controversy, this list must be made. Too often I am asked: what’s the best Italian restaurant? As I have explained before, I don’t particularly like answering this question but I have learned to live with it in the same way as I have learned to live without baseball from November through February. (Perhaps a little earlier this year due to the early defeat of the Yankees!) I figured it’s time to develop a list of Italian restaurants with the following guidelines: 1. I’ve actually dined there, 2. I enjoy each restaurant for one reason or another but don’t claim that it is the very best, 3. it is located in New York City.
Drum roll please: the list!
I will list the restaurants alphabetically and for each I will list: why I like it, the restaurant’s name, address, zagat score for food, decor, service, and my description of the restaurant:
Best Roman cuisine:
Sandro’s: 306 E 81st St. at 2nd Ave. 25 15 21. This is one of my favorite Italian restaurants in the entire city hands down; specifically their food comes from the Roman cuisine. The best selection at Sandro’s is Bucatini Amatriciana: a type of thick spaghetti with a hole in the middle with tomato sauce onion and pancetta. This dish is beyond words and despite their many outstanding daily specials and worthy entrées, I always come back for bucatini.
Click here for all of the succulent details
Bianca’s: 5 Bleecker St. at Bowery. 24 18 21. If you are looking for the best combination of quality and value, look no further than Bianca’s. There are no reservations and waits can be quite long Friday through Sunday, but the food redeems all of this and a trip to Bianca’s is always worth it. Favorite dishes:
• appetizer of Lasagnette Di Verdure (eggplant, zucchini and tomato tart with grated parmigiano cheese)
• Entree of Tagliolini Ai Frutti Di Mare with clams, mussels, calamari and shrimps sautéed in garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and light tomato sauce
• Lasagna, “the traditional one from Emilia-Romagna with béchamel and meat sauce”.
Best fine dining experience:
Il Mulino: 86 W 3rd St. between Sullivan & Thompson St. 27 20 24. Il Mulino simply blew me away with its extremely high level of fine dining: everything from the service to the food to the ambiance defied my already lofty level of expectations. Dishes to order: Scampi Oreganata (breaded shrimp with lemon, garlic and white wine), and Pollo Alla Scarpariello (morsels of chicken sautéed with garlic, white wine and mushrooms). It should be noted that my dining experience occurred in Atlantic City but the one located here has a very similar menu. Here is my review for
Best off the beaten track Italian restaurant:
Arturo’s: 1617 York Ave. at 85th St. not Zagat rated! This is a local favorite of mine and the staff is extremely friendly. I literally have never tasted a bad dish here, but I particularly recommend the following: the appetizer of Melanzane Rollatini (rolled eggplant stuffed with ricotta & mozzarella baked with tomato sauce), or Minestrone vegetable soup, with an entrée of Lasagna (filled with meat & cheese and baked in tomato sauce), or Scallopini Sorrentino (scallops of veal baked with eggplant, prosciutto, mozzarella & a dash of tomato sauce). This is what Cheers would be like in the form of an Italian restaurant.
Best lunch special:
Felidia: 243 E 58th St. between 2nd & 3rd Ave. 26 22 24. I didn’t say most affordable lunch special, but the $29 is a mere fraction of the price that they charge for dinner so it is definitely worth a splurge. I recommend: the appetizer of pear and fresh pecorino-filled ravioli topped with aged pecorino and crushed black pepper, entrée of slow-poached chicken breast with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella served with spinach, (you can ask for a different vegetable) and a dessert of Crostata Di Pecan (pecan tarte with bourbon-maple syrup ice cream). (Full review coming soon!)
Best tomato sauce:
Vincent’s: 119 Mot St. at Hester St. 22 14 19. I can remember going to Vincent’s since I was a kid, although until 2008 I had never dined at the original Little Italy location. They sell their homemade tomato sauce by the pint, quart, and even by the gallon in three flavors: sweet/mild, medium, and hot. It is a very nice restaurant but the highlight is any dish made with their outstanding sauce. (Seriously, just plain pasta with Vincent’s tomato sauce is a nice treat).
Best Italian restaurant on Arthur Avenue (so far):
Mario’s: 2342 Arthur Avenue. 21 16 21. Granted I haven’t explored all of the options available at the original Little Italy in the Bronx, but my trip to Mario’s convinced me that it is one of the best. I tasted a variety of dishes which were all excellent, including clams oreganate (clams baked with bread crumbs and Italian spices), veal scaloppini surrentino (veal baked with mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, and eggplant in a tomato sauce), and a special of the day: a succulent chicken and veal rollatine (chicken and veal rolled with prosciutto and mozzarella cheese in a marinara sauce). I actually wrote a food critic review about Mario’s for my alma mater, Lehman College! Here is my review of
One of the best restaurants for a special occasion:
Sistina: 1555 2nd Ave. between 80th & 81st St. 26 19 23. My family has enjoyed a few birthday celebrations at Sistina, including a feast for my 31st birthday. My advice is to always stick with the specials which can be pricy but are extremely fresh and filled with a variety of delicious flavors. I can remember from last year a special appetizer of mixed mushrooms with Italian cheeses cooked to a crisp in a casserole, along with a pasta dish of mini shells served with zucchini and sausage in a great tomato sauce. In other words, despite the cost, Sistina is worth it.
Best family style:
Tony’s di Napoli: 147 W 43rd St. between 6th & 7th Ave. 21 16 20. Tony’s used to have a restaurant in my neighborhood which I miss but unfortunately it was forced to close due to the construction for the second avenue subway. Tony’s is almost always full and a little on the noisy side, but their dishes such as an outstanding version of chicken parmesan offset the other factors. (By the way, look out for their new location on the upper east side coming soon!)
Best price fix:
Montebello: 120 E. 56th St. between Lexington and park Ave. 23 19 23. I didn’t discover this gem until a few months ago; it is situated on a quiet block of midtown Manhattan which added to its ambiance. The price fix menu both at lunch and dinner has a wide selection of dishes, and is a relatively good value as compared to the regular menu. Recommended dishes: minestrone soup, Pollo Montebello (Parmesan crusted chicken in a lemon and white wine sauce with broccoli), and grilled jumbo shrimp with cognac, garlic and basil.
If you are interested, you can read my full review of Montobello.
Best pumpkin ravioli:
Scarlatto’s: 250 W 47th St. between Broadway & 8th Ave. 21 18 20. One of my best friends used to live in the Pen Station neighborhood and we frequented Scarlatto’s almost exclusively for their Ravioli Di Zucca: pumpkin and ricotta cheese filled ravioli with green asparagus in a brown butter and sage sauce. Need I say more? If you doubt that the flavors of pumpkin, ricotta cheese, and asparagus can coexist in the same dish, you are not alone, but trust me you won’t be sorry.
If you aren’t hungry right now after reading this, then I didn’t do my job properly! Thanks for reading and please come back to the Blind Taste Test.