Continuing on with the Local Spotlight series, I wanted to review Little Italy in downtown Manhattan, a neighborhood that is easily written off as a tourist trap. While this vibe certainly prevails, there are so many great restaurants and shops that are worth the trip into the crowded streets. So where should you go to appreciate the tradition of Little Italy? Read on to find out!
While historically Little Italy was a much larger neighborhood, it now only occupies a few blocks along Mulberry Street. The area gets its name and culture from the influx of Italian immigrants in the 1880s. Many Italians moved out after acquiring more wealth, and the area now remains mostly out of nostalgia. Bill Tonelli of New York Magazine wrote,
“Today, Little Italy is a veneer—50 or so restaurants and cafés catering to tourists, covering a dense neighborhood of tenements shared by recent Chinese immigrants, young Americans who can’t afford Soho, and a few remaining real live Italians.”
The Feast of San Gennaro
Occurring every September for 11 days, the Feast of San Gennaro began in the 1920s after a new wave of immigrants from Naples arrived. The festival celebrates the Patron Saint of Naples and has now become a street fair observing Italian culture.
Italian American Museum
The Italian American Museum is dedicated to sharing the stories, achievements and contributions of Italians to American culture and society. A very small space, the museum hosts exhibitions and screenings and is only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Some of the best aspects of Italian culture is the food! The neighborhood has countless shops that are dedicated to traditional Italian foods and imports. Di Palo’s Fine Foods is a family run specialty store that has been around for nearly a century. Be sure to order some fresh mozzarella or a sandwich for lunch. Another favorite is Piemonte Ravioli, making fresh ravioli, tortellini and other delicious pastas each day. Next door, visit Alleva Dairy for authentic Italian cheeses.
Eats & Drinks
Celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, the Italian bakery Ferrara is a classic institution. Enjoy dessert and an espresso dining in or avoid the lines and grab a cannoli or piece of cake to go.
Claiming to be the first pizzeria in the United States, Lombardi’s has been in operation since 1905. Its coal oven baked pizza is still some of the best in the city. This no reservation, cash only establishment maintains a traditional feel with red and white checkered tables and friendly staff.
A newcomer to the scene, Parm was originally a sandwich shop that expanded to a full-service restaurant. Still serving their signature chicken parmesan sandwich, Parm has expanded to multiple locations around the city.
The speakeasy below street level Mulberry Project is a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood. Featuring a robust street art collection and a DJ on weekends, Mulberrty Project is a vibey spot for bespoke cocktails especially enjoyable during warmer months in their outdoor garden.
Occupying such a small area, Little Italy doesn’t have too many hotels, but the NobleDEN 3-star hotel is in a convenient location featuring a rooftop terrace.
Have you ever been to Little Italy? What was your favorite part? Did I miss anything?
I’d love to hear from you!
xx Jet Set Steph