Way back when, the narrow, cobbled streets and tenement buildings of Little Italy were rife with hole-in-the-wall osterias and trattorias where for a few bucks you’d be fed by an Italian grandmother before having your cheeks pinched and sent on your way to waddle to the subway. Now, however, it’s as touristy as Times Square, with the bussed-in masses ordering off laminated set menus of food that’s as authentic as the purses sold down the block on Canal.
Never fear, fettuccine-phile. There’s an unspoiled Italian enclave in Belmont, just a half-mile from the Bronx Zoo and Botantical Gardens. Welcome to Arthur Avenue.
If you feel like preparing the perfect meal at home, fill your shopping bags at the local meat and seafood markets, and don’t skimp at the pastry shops. But if you’d like to leave the cooking up to nonna, here are a couple of our favorites.
Dial yourself in for contemporary Italian deliciousness at Zero Otto Nove (089), Roberto Paciullo’s second restaurant (this being the casual answer to his first, Roberto’s), which takes its name from Salerno’s telephone code. Salerno-style pizzas have a crisp outer crust that get softer towards the middle, and are topped with incredible sauces, cheeses, meats and vege. By the time your table is ready (prepare for a wait) you’ll be ready to tackle an antipasti, a primi, a secondi AND a pizza for the table.
Zero Otto Nove (089), 15 West 21st Street, No reservations
Salivate for this sambo
The Arthur Avenue Retail Market is a one-stop-shop for freshly made breads, pastas, cheeses and sauces, and their menagerie of cured meats makes for carnivore heaven. But you know it’s a bad idea to grocery shop hungry. So find the hoagie stand known as Mike’s Deli and order yourself a Big Mike’s Combo. It’s like a slice of the best of from each counter around the market, all stuffed into a crusty roll. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Mike’s Deli, 2344 Arthur Ave., near the Hughes Ave. entrance, No reservations
It’s time to pick up some almost-too-fresh-to-schlurp oysters, crab claws, prawns the size of your fist and vongole at Randazzo’s Seafood. Three generations of Sicilians have been shucking, scaling and selling some of the city’s best frutti di mare here for over 80 years. If you know don’t trust yourself to create something fantastico in your own kitchen, opt for the never-gritty clams and eat them right there on the street.
Randazzo’s Seafood, 2327 Arthur Ave.
Can’t decide, or just prefer to have an expert order for you, shuttle you from the best of the best to even better and take care of all the details? Consider a tour.
Arthur Avenue Food Tours offers private excursions (both for shopping and eating, and just plain eating) all summer long, and their website provides good background on the must-visits. You can also visit FreeToursByFoot.com and download a free self-guided walking tour directly to your smartphone. With more than a dozen eating spots you’ll want to show up hungry (and with a spare charger).