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"New York" Italian

I'll be coming out to New York in a few weeks, and am planning out a few of my meals. Here on the SF board, I often hear people complaining about how the Italian food isn't anything like what they got back in NY.

So, what's make it "New York" style Italian? I see it also described as "red sauce" Italian. I'm pretty sure I've had versions of this (just saw an old thread that calls Buca di Beppo a "bad nostalgic rendition," haha). Still, thought I'd get in some good Italian food while out here! (Went to Lupa on my last trip out here, but that doesn't really fit *this* definition of Italian.)

Where should I go to experience this? What particular dishes should I try?


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  1. Homemade pasta with bolognese sauce is perfect! Check out Piccolo Angolo in the West Village

    1. Try as hard as you can to get a reservation at Babbo. I'm one of those people guilty of "complaining" in SF and I'm usually referring to the pasta at Babbo and not your typical "red sauce" italian. Focus on the antipasti and the primi at Babbo.

      I like the pasta at Incanto and Oliveto but I like the pasta at Babbo even more. I'm still waiting for Incanto or Oliveto or Quince to serve orecchiette. The markup for wine at Babbo isn't bad either (sometimes as low as 1.6x). It's best if you go with a group of 4 or 5 so you can try as many pasta dishes as possible. If you're only a party of 2, you have your work cut out for you.


      8 Replies
      1. re: Porthos

        Ah, only 2, and the other is vegetarian, so my work will be cut out for me, haha. I'll give them a call tomorrow, see what their availability's like. How does Babbo compare to Lupa?

        1. re: nsheth

          Lupa was Batali's first venture...a classic!

          1. re: LFeinberg

            I really enjoy Lupa as well - though I thought Po was his first place (though he's no longer associated with it).

            1. re: MMRuth

              You're probably right about Po, though I know that Lupa was pre-Babbo.

              1. re: LFeinberg

                Wrong again, Babbo opened in 1998 and Lupa followed in 1999.

                1. re: KTinNYC

                  Wow, my most sincere apologies, KT!

          2. re: nsheth

            Lupa is the more casual (not that Babbo is formal) everyday sort of place where you can grab a nice wine by the glass or carafe and have a great pasta or entree for a very reasonable price.

            Babbo's pastas are much more consistent (although the orecchiette at Lupa is stellar when it's not oversalted from the pecorino) and much greater in variety. There is usually at least 1 vegetarian pasta option although you will miss many of the classics (like wild boar ragu or beef cheek ravioli or orecchiette with sweet sausage) that make Babbo shine. Also, note that different cheeses will be grated over different pastas to reflect the region and style of each pasta.

            1. re: Porthos

              I am over the Babbo/Batali babble. Has nothing to do with NYC Italian other than overpriced real estate and menu. Yawn.

        2. I've had good experiences at English is Italian.

          3 Replies
          1. re: jza1218

            your joking about English is Italian? that place has been roundly panned here and everywhere else, in fact I think it closed. The one meal I had there was frightening.

            Italian American Places
            - Piccolo Angelo (downtown)
            - Patsy's Midtown
            - Roberto's in the Bronx
            - Maybe Il Mulino, not sure that qualifies as red sauce italian american but it is definately NY, due your research, some dont like it, I happen to like it especially when someone else us paying....

            1. re: Cpalms

              Great choices! Love Piccolo Angolo...

              1. re: Cpalms

                That's why I said that I've had good experiences at English is Italian. I didn't make a blanket statement regarding others experiences there.

                And I just noticed that it closed too.

            2. for the kind of italian food you're looking for, ECCO would be perfect. it has great atmosphere (most nights there is a piano player) and the veal parmagiana is delicious.

              1. I Think Il Nido in the 50's off of 2nd qualifies. It's a little old fashioned and caters to an older crowd, but the servers are lovely and they make the carbonara table side. It's delicious.

                1. IL Giglio in Tribeca is great as well

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: tbtiawid

                    i second Il Giglio...i've had a couple great meals there in the last three months...it's old-school upscale but not so crazy pricey if you avoid truffle-laced specials...the shrimp fra divalo rocks...as do the free antipasti (olive-oil saturated zucchini, slabs of parmesean, bruschetta)...

                    i liked Piccolo Angolo when i went a long ago and i'm going there again tonight and will report back...

                    Babbo, while tasty, is not what i think you mean by "New York Italian" -- it *is* a fine example of "21st Century Celebrity-Chef's-Restaurant-Empire New York Italian"...that said, the roasted porcini w/ pancetta starter i had there was one of the most memorable dishes i've had in the last couple years...(but i actually sent back a horrible beet salad on another visit)...

                    1. re: Simon

                      That porcini wrapped in pancetta was my number 1 favorite starter of all time closely followed by the pig foot milanese.

                  2. Babbo is lovely if you want to spend money and go to a place that requires reservations. There are lots of fantastic, spendy Italian joints in NYC--I like Aurora and PT in Willamsburg, lately. But, as a transplant from the great Northwest, I gotta say that there is another style of restaurant that appeals to me as more quintessentially New York.

                    To me, Red Sauce Italian is a genre of its own. Babbo's models are more Italian than American--it depends on very good ingredients and careful production with a devotion to 'authenticity.' That shouldn't be unfamiliar to a West-Coaster because many restaurants in the region have a similar philosophy regarding ingredients. Remember, Mario's illustrious papa, much like his son, went to Italy to learn the art---but he returned to Seattle to practice it. Mario grew up in the PNW, and was influenced by that.

                    Red Sauce Italian is a more of a FUSION cuisine, the inspired descendant of earlier Italian immigrants who re-invented their old-world cuisines under early 20th-century American circumstances, often including limitations on the quality or freshness of available ingredients.

                    For Red Sauce Italian, my humble recommendation would be Gino, just north of 60th on Lexington. No reservations, not always friendly, a menu that values stability over innovation, heat-damaged wine...and one of my favorite places to go, period. Sinatra also loved the place, if you need an endorsement with more authority than mine. Order well, and you will love and be loved. If there's a lamb shank special, get it. Your vegetarian friends'll do fine with pastas and antipaste. You might not like the place, but you'll get red sauce Italian. It's really a New York hybrid, one that probably couldn't be reproduced elsewhere, and an exemplar of the style.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: slippek

                      red sauce italian is what i consider to be 'nyc italian'...at least as it was when i grew up in brooklyn.

                      these days, nyc is more into tuscan and northern italian...more rustic cooking. il buco and now morandi go this route. i think il buco is a good idea...so is gusto but i havent been there with the new chef from sotto voce in park slope.

                      crispo on 14th street is a favorite on this board and recommended. i also think dinner at max on ave b and 3rd street is a great idea. its dirt cheap and delicious. no reservations and it gets crowded.

                      if you can, take the R train to union street in park slope so you can have dinner at al di la...probably the best northern italian in nyc in my opinion. great prices, amazing wine (try the priorat from spain), and delicious food (get the malfatti).

                      1. re: sam1

                        If the original poster decides to go to Al Di La he should know that it doesn't take reservations and unless he shows up promptly at 6:00 he should be prepared to wait for up to an hour.

                        1. re: sam1

                          My friend and I found Max significantly oversalted and not that tasty when we went. Admittedly, it was several years ago. But we just didn't see what the fuss was.

                        2. re: slippek

                          Ginos is great! With the zebra wallpaper, right? And you have to have a manhattan or a martini to complete the scene!

                        3. for real old-school New York style Italian, you would do better to head to the Bronx (Belmont aka Arthur Ave) or Brooklyn, e.g. Graham Av, Williamsburg. You'll find stuff on the outer boroughs board. Those are old nabes where everyone knows stories about everyone else's grandfather. One suggestion, more upscale than most:
                          http://www.conoandsons.com/ in Williamsburg.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Brian S

                            Exactly. I was about to recomment Cono's myself. Try the Outer Boroughs board, as that is where most of the old-school places (and old-school Italian-Americans) are. Another really good one, easy to get to by subway from just about anywhere in Manhattan, is Queen in downtown Brooklyn. It's a bit upscale too.

                            1. re: Woodside Al

                              You could also try Mezzaluna on the upper east side or Antonucci's. Not really "NY" Italian, but both Very good!!!!! My personal faves on the UES

                          2. There are a number of NYC Italian experiences:

                            The Italian Bakery/Cafe: Cold, tacky interior but great cannoli (go to Rocco's)
                            The touristy family style: Big plates of food to share...snobs hate these places (Carmine's)
                            The 1950s Sinatra leftover places: Tacky interior (tacky people), lots of red sauce (Patsy's, Gino's)
                            Cute Little Italian Palce: You have these in SF...white candle, cozy place, good wine (Da Andrea, Valdino West, Bianca)
                            The Pork Store: An Italian deli with great subs (Faicco's)
                            New York Pizza Pie Place: You buy a whole pie; nothing like SF pizza (Arturo's, Patsy's Harlem, Patsy's the chain, Angelo's)

                            The hot subs and pizza at Lazarra's are all excellent and not available in SF. The pizza at Naples 45 is great (more Naples, less NYC) and not available in SF

                            The outerboroughs are not worth the trip, given your limited time. (I've spent time on the subway and the Cross Bronx Expressway and other Robert Moses bridges and tunnels and the Italian food has never been worth the hassle. Hoboken, Howard Beach, Arthur Avenue, etc.)

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: NAtiveNewYorker

                              Has anyone on the board ever got into Rao's? How is that quintessential Italian New York experience?

                            2. You'll find what you're looking for at John's of 12th Street. Old school NY red sauce Italian for sure. They have no website, but the address is 302 E. 12th, near 2nd Ave on the edge of the East Village.

                              The mozzarella in carozza is great, as are the sauteed sweetbreads.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: The Engineer

                                Mozarella in carozza. Does it have anchovies? Yum. I havent had a good one in a long while...

                                1. re: MellieMac

                                  Ditto that! I love mozarella in carozza...

                              2. Ending up going to Piccolo Angolo. Great rec, thanks! Three of us split 3 pastas - rigatoni alla vodka, spinach & cheese ravioli, and, from their specials menu, a sweet potato, pumpkin, and fig ravioli in a nut sauce. We also shared a salad to start, and a tortellini soup.

                                The standouts for me were the soup (simple and satisfying) and the rigatoni (great sauce, perfectly cooked pasta). The special ravioli dish was a little rich for my tastes, but others at the table loved it. Overall, a great meal, I really liked this place. I'll have to try more of the other recommendations on a future trip!

                                After dinner, we walked over to Magnolia bakery for dessert, ordering a variety of cupcakes. The red velvet was good, the others were decent. I don't see what the hype is about - good cupcakes, but I don't think I'd go out of my way or wait in line for them.