Why Now is the Perfect Time to Visit Little Italy

Posted on: May 19th, 2020 at 5:00 am by

Photo: Sara Graham

In the P.P. (pre-pandemic) era, Little Italy was bustling with a constant stream of tourists, drunk birthday party revelers, and a smattering of hosts belting out Frank Sinatra tunes. Perhaps this is why the last two months have felt particularly dead on the iconic stretch of Mulberry Street. Home to several independently owned, multi-generational restaurants with comforting interiors, live music and outdoor seating, these aren’t spots one associates with takeout. After all, the dine-in experience and hospitality is the real draw.

Little Italy, though shrunken by the passage of time, still has staying power, and this moment is no different. A few sprawling restaurants are getting creative and adapting to smaller operations, offering abbreviated menus, frozen drinks and dry pasta to go. Here’s how to spend a solo day in Little Italy as a tourist in your own town.

Il Piccolo Bufalo, 141 Mulberry Street

A trattoria known for its airy dining room, wood-burning stove and iconic lit-up statue of David, Il Piccolo Bufalo serves Neopolitan fare and brick-oven pizza. This week, they’ve pivoted to provide breakfast options, filling a gap in the neighborhood. Get a tall, perfectly frothed cappuccino and add a glazed donut or bagel while you’re at it. They offer curbside pickup.

Photo: Sara Graham

Da Nico, 164 Mulberry Street

Though you can’t enjoy the charming hidden patio right now at Da Nico, they do offer a genial curbside experience. The windows to the street are open and a makeshift ordering area is in place for social distancing and quick service. Grab an order of broccoli rabe and the highly recommended Fiesta Pizza, featuring a crispy-chewy thin crust with mild mozzarella, sausage, peppers and onions. Every order comes with a generous portion of free zeppoles. How’s that for hospitality?

Photo: Sara Graham

Cafe Napoli, 191 Hester Street

Hot days = frozen, slushy cocktails and Cafe Napoli has you covered. Strawberry Daiquiris, Peach Bellinis and Margaritas are all on the menu. Pastry displays are situated in windows that let out to the street and offer social distancing as well as tempting cannolis and rainbow cookies, but you just got free zeppoles. True, we’re in a new normal, but maybe one dessert is enough (or maybe not). Sip your drink as you take a solo architecture tour through Little Italy’s side streets, then wander into Chinatown. There are some amazing old buildings you may have never noticed.

Photo: Sara Graham

Casa Bella, 127 Mulberry Street

While closed in March and April, this iconic spot got a few upgrades to enhance its old-school charm. Situated across from Cafe Napoli, it’s now serving a robust menu of old and new classics along with a full bar. Will you choose a juicy burger or the manicotti? A grilled salmon salad or Spaghetti Carbonara? If you need some dry pasta and a bottle of wine to cook at home, they’ve got that, too. But more importantly, have you ever eaten spaghetti with meatballs in a park? Me neither. It’s time.

Photo: Sara Graham

Sofia’s, 143 Mulberry Street

Restaurateur Paul Shaked and chef Adam Leonti were positioned to reopen Sofia’s as Sofia’s Panificio e Vino, taking over the 15-year-old Italian-American spot from Shaked’s father. Then the pandemic hit. They quickly adjusted and were one of the first local restaurant-as-grocery-store models, offering house-made sourdoughs, flatbreads and affordable, elevated bottles of wine for curbside pickup since March. They’re also offering an abbreviated menu of simple, elegant dishes. End your night with the Cacio e Pepe—it’s the luxury we all need right now.

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