The World in NYC: Italy

By Walter Godinez

The World in NYC: Italy

The World in NYC: Italy

Between 1820 and 1978, 5.3 million Italians immigrated to the United States but the Italian immigration wave hit its peak in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Only the Irish and Germans have immigrated in larger numbers than the Italians.

Believe it or not, in the 1920s Little Italy, the downtown neighborhood that comprises parts of Chinatown, Soho and Greenwich Village, was the home to over 390,000 residents, most of whom were Italian. The narrow streets were filled with Italian flags and shops and certain streets even represented different areas of the "old country:"  Northern Italians tended to live on Bleecker Street while Southern Italians lived on Mott Street.

Now, according to Wikipedia, the New York City metropolitan area is now home to over 3 million Italian Americans. But when it comes to Little Italy itself, times have certainly changed. The 2000 U.S. Census showed that only 6 percent of the residents in Little Italy were Italian American and Little Italy has only seemed to get smaller. What surprises many is that by the 2010 Census, there weren’t any Italian born residents living in the Little Italy neighborhood. Little Italy,once the heart of Italian American life in New York City, now exists as merely a nostalgic memory in the mind of tourists who are looking to experience the culture of one of New York City’s oldest immigrant groups.


Little Italy


These days, much of the Little Italy neighborhood has been absorbed by Chinatown. What was once a large neighborhood is now primarily Mulberry Street between Broome and Canal Streets. When you escape the pandemonium that Chinatown can be and enter Mulberry Street, you’ll find yourself in a world in which food takes center stage. Little Italy is still home to a lot of Italian food in the city, but you have to be careful not to land in a tourist trap. The truth is that the majority of Italians left the neighborhood because as they began achieving financial prosperity they opted for more spacious neighborhoods in places like Queens and Brooklyn. In 2010, Little Italy along with Chinatown was listed in a single historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.

Still, there are some places worth visiting in Little Italy. These include:

Parisi Bakery: Walking into Parisi Bakery, you can immediately tell that the bakery is from Little Italy’s golden days. With its simple mom and pop décor you would think you’ve been transported back to the 1970s and if there is any reason at all that you should visit Little Italy, Parisi is it. We love bargains and Parisi Bakery’s sandwiches are definitely a bargain. Our favorites include the chicken cutlet and fresh mozzarella sandwich as well as the egg and potato sandwich.  These enormous sandwiches are priced between $6-$8 each and can easily be shared by two, maybe even three people. If you find deli sandwiches in New York City that are tastier, please tell us.
Address: 198 Mott Street, New York, NY

Sambuca’s Café: Located on Mulberry Street, Sambuca’s Café is in the heart of modern day Little Italy. While shopping around the area, stop in and have some of their great cappuccino and grilled chicken panini. Sambuca’s has a very intimate and casual atmosphere and makes for a great pit stop.
Address: 105 Mulberry Street, New York, NY

Epistrophy: Leaving the boundary of Little Italy, you can walk right into a “true” Italian place – where the owner is a first generation Italian from Sardegna. This Nolita wine bar is a romantic and inviting space which also serves wonderful Italian appetizers and small dishes. In warmer weather the doors are open to the street and it is very reminiscent of Italy.
Address: 200 Mott Street, New York, NY

Angelo of Mulberry Street: If you’re looking to beat the tourist traps in Little Italy and find authentic Italian pasta, Angelo is recognized as having some of the best pasta in New York City. Or, if you opt for the fried zucchini or Spaghetti Bolognese you won’t be disappointed.
Address: 146 Mulberry Street, New York, NY

There are a variety of ways to get to Little Italy and the Nolita neighborhood. You can take the 6, J, Z, N, Q train to Canal Street or the B or D to Grand Street. Every year in September, the Feast of San Gennaro takes place in Little Italy which is an annual 11 day celebration of Italian culture and the Italian American community. In October, the annual Columbus Day parade celebrates the history of Italian immigration to the US.


More Italian Food in NYC


In terms of Italian food concentration, Little Italy has gotten a serious rival in Eataly, some 20 blocks further north.

Eataly is designed to look like an Italian indoor market and it definitely feels like one. Eataly is over 50,000 square feet of restaurants and market space. With crowds everywhere and tons of food around you, it is very easy to get overwhelmed, but the food is authentic and it’s a great place to eat. Restaurants in the giant marketplace include: Manzo, La Piazza, Il Pesce, Le Verdure, La Pizza & La Pasta, Birreria, Rosticerria, I Panini, Pasticceria, Gelateria, Café Lavazza and Caffe Vergnano.
Address: 200 5th Avenue, New York, NY

One of the partners of Eataly is New York City’s favorite Italian chef, Mario Batali. Mario owns or co-owns the New York City restaurants Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca, Bar Jamon, Casa Mono, Del Posto, Esca, and Lupa and Otto. Mario is also an award winning author and has written eight cookbooks: Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes, Mario Batali Italian Grill, Spain…A Culinary Road Trip, and Molto Gusto. 


Italian Neighborhoods


Due to the large number of Italians living in New York City it is hard to pinpoint particular neighborhoods that Italians have spread out to, but there are a few neighborhoods that Italians have migrated to.

Staten Island: As many Italians started to leave Little Italy because of financial prosperity they looked towards Staten Island because of its spacious homes and relatively inexpensive real estate. There are now over 175,000 Italian Americans living in Staten Island making it the county with the highest percentage of Italian Americans in the United States. Some of the best places to visit to experience Italian culture in Staten Island include:

Trattoria Romana: Generally regarded as the best Italian restaurant in Staten Island, try their penne a la vodka and their brick oven pizza.
Address: 1476 Hylan Boulevard, 718-980-3113

Da Noi: At Da Noi sample their delicious veal chop and grilled chick livers. The pasta dishes are also a treat as the restaurant is well known in Staten Island for having the best sauces.
Address: 138 Fingerboard Road, 718-720-1650

Belmont, Bronx: Generally considered the “second Little Italy” this neighborhood has a variety of Italian food stores, delis, and bakeries. Although the heart of the Italian culture in the neighborhood is Arthur Avenue, this Little Italy stretches across 187th street from Arthur Avenue to Prospect Avenue.  How to get there: B or D trains to Fordham Avenue

Other Italian neighborhoods in the city include: Howard Beach, Queens; Ozone Park, Queens; Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; Mill Basin, Brooklyn.


Italian Cultural Institutions in New York City


Italian Cultural Institute of New York:  Founded in 1961, the ICI is an official part of the Italian government and seeks to encourage an interest in Italian culture in the United States. It organizes lectures on Italian history and maintains a significant library.
Address: 686 Park Avenue, New York, NY

Italian American Museum: The mission of the Italian American Museum is to raise public awareness and appreciation of the accomplishments and contributions of Italian Americans to the American way of life. 
Address: 155 Mulberry Street, New York, NY


Article Updated: December 9, 2014

Article originally published : December 21, 2012