The last time I ate Italian food in New York I was taken to a tourist joint just off Times Square, which felt a little bit like walking onto a replica set of the Godfather. Diners were sat with red-checked waxy napkins tucked into their collars, twirling and forking colossal mounds of tomato drenched spaghetti and fist-sized meatballs into their mouths.
As I sat down and donned my own napkin, a small corner of my stomach wanted to scream, “No! No! This isn’t how it’s done,” but I was too overwhelmingly disappointed. For a city that has one of the largest Italian communities outside of Italy, I expected something so much more…well…authentic.
The movies have done Italian food an injustice. What most people don’t realise until they go to Italy is that the cuisine is so much more regional than pizza and pasta. Head to Florence and you should be gorging on Ribollita – a hearty soup with bread, vegetables and beans. In Lombardy, risotto is the real deal. And pizza – there’s only one real place to try pizza in Italy – Naples. And no, it’s nothing like the deep pan pizza in Chicago.
Having spent a lot of time in Italy (I mean, enough time to set up wine tours in Italy) I know what good Italian food should taste like. In New York, it was surely just a case of tracking it down. Which I did. In the west village. Like most tourists, I assumed that good Italian food in New York started and finished in the neighbourhood Little Italy. The truth is that Greenwich Village was equally a place where Italian immigrants settled. But, more than that, as Little Italy has sadly turned into a parody of itself, a much more authentic Italian experience can be found in Greenwich Village. Here’s my guide to the best Italian restaurants in the West Village. It’s not a huge list because, honestly, you don’t need to look much further than these top spots.
Lupa – Osteria Romana
Lupa was a special place for me because there I tasted something that was better than the equivalent I’ve tried in Italy – pizza bianca. To the common folk (me), I used to mistake this white pizza as foccacia but it is so much deeper in texture and fuller in flavour, despite there not being many flavours at play. I could easily spend a day lying in bed, watching Netflix and devouring pizza bianca. In short: the essence of comfort food that has a high moreish-factor.
I wish I’d been reserved enough not to gorge on the pizza bianca because I had to force the gnocchi down. Fortunately, it was delicious enough I could call on my stomach reserves to help me out. Light and fluffy thanks to the ricotta in it, this gnocchi wasn’t as dense as I’ve tasted before, which was nice (who wants to get full on three pasta dumplings) and the sauce was smooth.
Olio e Piú
Olio e Piú does a couple of things that the other restaurants on this list don’t – first of all, they offer some of the best traditional Italian pizza in New York, not just the West Village; they also offer trattoria-style dining. Rustic and romantic, the menu features classic Italian dishes while the pizzas are thing-crust, homemade and wood fired (as they should be if you’re ordering an Italian-style pizza). There is nothing finer than a simple Italian margherita pizza. If you have time for only one Italian restaurant when you’re in the West Village, go here.
If you do like your Italian food with a dash of American flair, then Carbone is the restaurant for you. Celebrating the Italian restaurants that opened up in the mid-20th century, you can expect all the classic dishes like spaghetti al vongole and veal parmesan, but taken to new heights. That said, like a good Italian restaurant, the menu isn’t overwhelming and features all of the courses you’d expect to see in the motherland, Italy herself. Carbone is a place to treat yourself.
Don Angie is a Michelin Star Italian restaurant and while it’s one of the newer on the list, it’s quickly gained popularity in Greenwich Village. There is a touch more global fusion to some of the dishes with flavours you might not typically see in Italy – mussels flavoured with Peroni and cilantro – but the plates are definitely a sight to behold and the cocktails are worth a visit on their own. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of your Italian favourites to be found. Is it rude to order lasagna for two just for me? Don Angie is an Italian restaurant for the new millennium.
Alice Seafood & Lobster Bar
I’m the kind of person who would hop on a plane just for the seafood so Alice, an Italian seafood and lobster bar, is right up my street. From fritto misto to octopus to the oh-so-indulgent seafood platter, seafood lovers will be beside themselves. There are some non-fish dishes on the menu including one of the best gifts to come out of Italy – burrata – as well as some veggie pasta dishes. There’s a great brunch menu if you’re in the mood for something lighter (or cheaper).
Faiccos Italian Specialites
Whether you’re on a budget or looking to enjoy some Italian street food, get to Faiccos Italian deli.
The thing to order is arancini which I was a bit reluctant about because I’m generally not a fan of breaded and deep-fried stuff, even in Italy. However, like a good food-taster I bit in and I was happily surprised as the thin breaded layer faded into insignificance the second my teeth touched the gooey rice. It was good enough that I could have eaten a second one (and maybe I did). Otherwise, Faiccos has a great offering of Italian staples – cured meats, cheeses, oils and vinegars. If you’re there around lunch, treat yourself to one of the gigantic deli sandwiches.
Sure, this is supposed to be a list of Italian restaurants but gelato can be an entire meal as far as I’m concerned and I’d be remiss to talk about Italian food and not give you a suggestion for the most Italian of all desserts.
Gelateria Gentile does what not not all gelaterias do – it serves actual gelato. If you’re not sure about the difference between ice-cream and gelato, the food scientists will tell you it’s to do with the air, fat and eggs (you can read more here). Your taste buds will probably tell you that gelato has a superior taste.
I’m generally suspicious of gelaterias outside Italy but Gelateria Gentile has its roots in Bari, a city in the Puglia region of Southern Italy, where it first opened its doors in 1800. Today, the delights of this Italian gelateria have been bought to the USA and can be found in the West Village. As well as homemade gelato and granita, there are cakes, pastries and, of course, Italian coffee to try. My choice for gelato: nocciola (hazelnut). Every time.
Florence Prime Meat Market
If you’ve forgiven me for including a gelateria instead of a restaurant, I’m indulging myself with one final off-script recommendation, because Florence Prime Meat Market is worth it. This butcher shop has a long history, opening in 1936. It was at risk of closure as the current owner approached retirement, but the staff have taken over and saved the day. Whether you live in NYC or are visiting as a tourist, if you have cooking facilities, grab yourself some meat and cook up an Italian feast.
Greenwich Village Food Tour
Stuck for time or finding it tricky to choose? Why not sign-up for a Greenwich Village Food Tour. That’s what I did during my first time exploring the West Village and it was a great intro to some of the best food in the area. I took a small group tour which took us on a fascinating walk through the streets of Greenwich Village with eating-opportunities on the way. You can book a Greenwich Village Food Tour here.
That’s my guide to the best places to eat Italian food in the West Village. Got any other suggestions? Leave a comment below.
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