If the first things that come to mind when you think “Little Italy” are cannolis, carbonara and Chianti, then you are on the right track for an afternoon in this historic Manhattan neighborhood. Because we can’t think of a better way to get a taste of New York City’s Little Italy than by, you know, actually getting a taste of it!
Located in Lower Manhattan, Little Italy is a tiny slice of a neighborhood, wedged between the Lower East Side and Soho to the east and west, and the trendy “NoLiTa” neighborhood and Chinatown to the north and south (NoLiTa actually stands for “north of Little Italy”). Though the historic home of New York City’s Italian community, today Little Italy is mostly made up of restaurants, cafes and shopping. But you can also stop by one of the district’s historic churches to pay your respects to its Catholic roots, or hit up a street festival for some contemporary Italian-American culture.
- The Italians can do no wrong when it comes to coffee, especially at the fifth-generation family-owned Ferrara, America’s first espresso bar which opened in 1892. Known for its fresh, authentic Italian pastries, including some of the best cannolis this side of the Atlantic, Ferrara is one stop you won’t want to miss on your Little Italy tour. Open from 8 a.m. until midnight. 195 Grand Street, between Mulberry and Mott Streets. If you love coffee, you might just want to consider staying at a New York Hotel near Little Italy to wake up every morning with the taste of an authentic warm pastries and espresso. Sohotel is a great choice within a very short walk to Ferrara Bakery & Cafe, also; the Mondrian SoHo and Holiday Inn Manhattan Downtown SoHo have prime locations for the walk to Little Italy.
- With so many great restaurants located on a single street in Lower Manhattan, you’ll want to plan at least one full meal for your day in Little Italy (so don’t fill up on gelato!). Avoid the tourist traps on Mulberry Street by looking for longevity: established in 1902, Angelo’s of Mulberry Street offers up authentic Southern Italian dishes like Veal with Peas, Prosciutto and Madeira Wine. (And if you like the restaurant’s sauces, you can even buy some to take home with you). Vincent’s Restaurant, meanwhile, was established just a couple years later — in 1904. And in the more than 100 years since the clam bar first opened, the family owned business has perfected its sauces, which really sing when paired with the fresh seafood this mainstay Little Italy restaurant is known for.
- As the birthplace of the modern-day pizza, New York City is home to countless pizzerias that sling pies made the traditional way — in a coal-fired oven. (That’s the only way to get the smoky, crispy crust that New York pizza is known for). And the original American pizzeria is located right in Little Italy: Lombardi’s, at the corner of Spring and Mott Streets, was the first to reinvent the Napoletana staple food way back in 1897. Still considered one of the best pizzerias in NYC, the line-up can be long for a pie at Lombardi’s, so we suggest joining the queue before hunger takes hold!
- Though the neighborhood to the north of Little Italy now has an identity of its own, historically much of NoLiTa was actually part of the Italian community — including the original pizzeria Lombardi’s and a number of spots made infamous by the mafia. And City Food Tours “Eat a Bite of NoLiTa” tour takes you to all the eateries and gourmet grocery shops that true foodies wouldn’t want to miss in this part of Manhattan. The two-hour walking tour also touches on the area’s history as home to the Italian immigrant community in the 19th century, and includes tastings of Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Israeli, Vietnamese, and French food.
- There’s no better time to sample all of the above sweet and savory Italian treats than during the Feast of San Gennaro, an 11-day celebration of faith each September in Little Italy. The annual festival takes place mid-September, culminating on Sept. 19, the official Day of the Patron Saint of Naples, with a celebratory mass at the Most Precious Blood Church and religious procession that winds along the length of Mulberry and Mott Streets, between Canal and Houston Streets. And though the procession is a solemn affair, the rest of the festival is marked by live musical entertainment, food and cooking demonstrations and even cannoli and pizza-eating competitions. And throughout it all, dozens of vendors will be on hand, selling traditional Italian treats.
- Another site worth taking a gander near Little Italy is St. Patrick’s Cathedral (just up Mulberry St.) The Neo-Gothic architecture and grandeur inside the cathedral is overwhelming to behold. Official opened in 1879, construction of St. Patrick’s Cathedral started in 1859, was halted during the Civil War, and completed in 1878. Famous pivotal features include the detailing of the facade, the 330-foot spires, white marble stone, and Saint Louis and Saint Michael altars designed by Tiffany & Co, among other breathtaking aspects. Across from the Lee Lawie Atlas statue and Rockefeller Center, you can easily combine an afternoon in Little Italy with a stroll along Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, and during the holiday season The Rockettes!
What would you add to our of must-dos in Little Italy?