Must-See Belmont/Arthur Avenue
by Alyson Penn, 10/04/2015
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On a walk down the Bronx's Arthur Avenue you'll spy pedestrians of every age and background ambling in and out of food shops, gossiping on sidewalks and, weather permitting, tucking into slices of pizza on outdoor patios. This is for good reason: Arthur Avenue, aka New York City's "real Little Italy," is known not only for its authentic and delicious Italian food but for its old-world charm, community pride and welcoming atmosphere. The commercial strip is the heart of the Belmont neighborhood; most of the action takes place there or on the avenue's side streets, prompting travelers from near and far to shop, dine and otherwise immerse themselves in the colorful experience.
How to Get There
The neighborhood's approximate boundaries are Lorillard Place to the west, Southern Boulevard to the east, 183rd Street to the south and Fordham Road to the north; the interior triangle formed by Arthur Avenue, East 187th Street and Crescent Avenue holds the majority of the Italian establishments. To get there via subway, take the B, D or 4 train to Fordham Road; it's another 15–20 minutes or so by foot. Additionally, the Metro North railroad will take you to its own Fordham stop, a 10-minute walk away.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a wave of Italian families moved to Belmont from Lower Manhattan (encouraged in part by the development of an elevated train line that ran between the boroughs). These immigrants set up shops and pushcarts along Arthur Avenue, selling Italian goods and creating a tight-knit, European-style community. By 1940, Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia designated the indoor Arthur Avenue Retail Market as an official spot for the vendors to peddle their wares. Although recent decades have seen immigrants from Albania, Mexico and elsewhere, along with residents from Puerto Rico, settle in the area, the neighborhood's Italian influence still holds strong, as long-established vendors pass store ownership down from generation to generation.
Locals attest that Arthur Avenue's specialty stores—traditional businesses that stock high-quality, low-cost Italian delicacies—are the heart of the neighborhood. Teitel Brothers, at the northeast corner of 186th Street and Arthur Avenue, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and has been run by four generations of the same family. The grocery is a premier destination for hungry shoppers and also serves as a supplier to many local restaurants. For hand-pulled mozzarella, burrata or bocconcini, head to—where else?—Casa Della Mozzarella, a popular spot for all things cheese. Residents will guide those looking to carbo-load toward Madonia Brothers Bakery, known for its cannoli and seeded Italian bread, or to Borgatti's Ravioli & Egg Noodles, a mainstay for pasta. Meat lovers should check out Biancardi's, a butcher shop that has been in business since the 1930s; seafood fans should aim for Cosenza's Fish Market, purveyor of fresh fish and $1.50 oysters on the half shell that you can slurp on the spot.
The nerve center of the neighborhood is the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, open since 1940. The enclosed hall features fresh fruit and veggie vendors lining its aisles, along with shops like Café Al Mercato, Peter's Meat Market and La Casa Grande Cigars. Under one roof, visitors can enjoy coffee and pastries for breakfast, eat a fresh deli sandwich for lunch and buy groceries for dinner that night.
Old-School Italian Dining
With all those places to shop for food, it's little surprise to find that Belmont is packed with great restaurants: if you're headed to Arthur Avenue, don't expect to come back hungry. One of the most famous in all of Belmont is Mike's Deli, in the covered market, which gained national attention on Throwdown! with Bobby Flay a few years back (the challenge, which proprietor David Greco won: eggplant Parmesan). Besides building sandwiches, the 50-plus-year-old venue makes fresh mozzarella daily and sells house-made bread, olive oil and cured meats. Stepping outside the market, sample brick-oven pizza at Giovanni or hearty slices at Full Moon Pizzeria. Roberto’s Restaurant and Emilia's are top choices for sit-down restaurants with traditional Italian menus. Tino's Delicatessen offers sandwiches, pizzas and other delights in a casual, homey environment. Finish your feasting with pastries and a cup of coffee at DeLillo Pastry Shop, which has been serving up delicious treats since 1925.
New Kids on the Block
While old-school Italian dining still may be the area's biggest draw, newer venues are also making a name for themselves. The Bronx Beer Hall, in Arthur Avenue Retail Market, opened in 2013 and has been a smash hit since—a convivial space in which to relax and drink local craft brews. Other restaurants attracting buzz are Enzo's of Arthur Avenue, an Italian restaurant opened in 2006 by a Culinary Institute of America grad, and Zero Otto Nove, a somewhat trendier establishment from the same owner as Roberto's that specializes in wood-fired pizzas. Also a standout: Blue Mediterranean Restaurant, a spacious eatery focusing on Italian seafood.
Two of the biggest attractions in the City are located in nearby Bronx Park: the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo. The New York Botanical Garden encompasses 250 acres of curated and wild foliage; all kinds of seasonal exhibitions complement the permanent collection. Make sure to allot at least a few hours to wander through the Seasonal Walk (designed by Piet Oudolf, who also designed the High Line), the Rose Garden (flowers typically bloom through October), the Native Plant Garden and the Victorian-era glass house of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
The Bronx Zoo, just south of the NYBG, provides another essential family experience. As one of the largest zoos in the world, it's home to more than 6,000 animals including lions, giraffes, baboons and sea lions dwelling in faithfully recreated habitats. The zoo broadens its appeal by hosting kid-oriented activities year-round (the Bug Carousel, a 4-D Theater) and seasonally (camel rides, the Wild Asia monorail).