Little Italy is among New York City’s more storied neighborhoods, having welcomed hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These newcomers imported their customs, traditions and—perhaps best of all—cuisines, lending NYC many of the identifiable characteristics it still has today.
Once an area that encompassed 50 square blocks of Lower Manhattan, the enclave is now almost entirely located on the three-block stretch of Mulberry Street between Broome and Canal Streets. Although smaller, the neighborhood still bears remnants of its Italian-American past—a history that visitors will find immediately recognizable in the five-story tenements painted red, white and green, and glass-front shops where cured salami hangs.
Read on for a few of the places that feature Little Italy’s old-world charms.
History and Culture
The Center for Italian Modern Art
421 Broome St.
Located on the border of Soho and Little Italy, this museum promotes modern Italian art both in the US and internationally. The institution, which frequently focuses on Italian artists whose works are rarely exhibited or surveyed in the States, looks at two major 20th-century figures in its 2016–17 exhibition: modern conceptualist Giulio Paolini and surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico.
Feast of San Gennaro
Annual festival that takes place in September along Mulberry Street
Celebrated every September since 1926, this festival is one of NYC’s most popular. Over 11 days Little Italy’s Mulberry Street turns into an all-out party, featuring Italian-American culture and customs. There are musical performances, parades, processions and food: cannoli, fried dough, torrone, pizza and sausage and peppers. The festival was borne out of the Neapolitan traditions associated with Saint Januarius, or San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples.
Italian American Museum
155 Mulberry St.
Established in 2001, this museum is housed in the former Banca Stabile, which was a financial center for Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. The museum documents the cultural, social and political contributions of Italians to America and, more specifically, New York City through exhibitions on such topics as immigration, local churches and photographic looks at the neighborhood and Italian cities.
Shrine Church of the Most Precious Blood
109 Mulberry St. (main entrance at 113 Baxter St.)
When it’s not being led through a procession of the neighborhood during the Feast of San Gennaro, the statue of the festival’s honoree can be found at this church. (During the feast, a celebratory mass is held here on the last Saturday.) The Roman Catholic church, which dates back to the late 1800s, merged with St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in 2015.
St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral
260-264 Mulberry St.
This historic church holds the title of New York City’s first cathedral—it was built between 1809 and 1815—and was once the seat of New York City’s Catholic Archdiocese. The location was a place of sanctuary during the 1800s when Italian immigrants were under attack by the Irish, as shown in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Scorsese himself served as an altar boy at the church.
Angelo’s of Mulberry Street
146 Mulberry St.
Specializing in Neapolitan dishes, Angelo’s was established in 1902 and features white-jacketed waiters and old-fashioned decor. Enjoy pasta dishes and homemade sauces—available for purchase, naturally. Portions are large and shareable.
195 Grand St.
Neighborhood veteran Ferrara is the place to go for dessert and espresso—which it has been serving up in the same location since 1892. The bakery claims to be the first espresso bar of its kind, opened by Enrico Scoppa and Antonio Ferrara, who longed for a place to drink espresso and play the Neapolitan card game Scopa. The restaurant is still operated by the Ferrara family.
32 Spring St.
Lombardi’s has been tossing pizzas since 1905; the famous eatery claims the title of first pizzeria in the United States. Proprietor and baker Gennaro Lombardi started by selling his version of pizza at a grocery store on Spring Street; the lunchtime popularity of the dish prompted Lombardi to open a coal-oven pizzeria in that spot a few years later. Considered the first pizzaiolo in America, Lombardi made a crispy pie that’s a spin on the Neapolitan version—he substituted a wood oven for coal and mozzarella di bufala for fior di latte, and gave birth to the NYC slice. Lombardi went on to teach the art of pie to the original pizza makers behind Totonno’s, John’s and Patsy’s. The crispy coal-oven-fired margherita is a must-try. (For everything you ever wanted to know about New York City pizza, see our complete guide.)
Original Vincent’s of Little Italy
119 Mott St.
Vincent’s prides itself on its tomato sauce—sweet, medium or hot—which garnishes hearty dishes of eggplant, seafood, ravioli and rigatoni, among others; it’s still made according to an original 1904 recipe. The pasta that dominates the menu, however, is linguini, frequently tossed with scungilli or white clam sauce.
Specialty and Gourmet Shops
188 Grand St.
If you’re serious about Italian cheese—or, really, cheese of any kind—Alleva is worth a visit. The shop has been making and selling the stuff for more than 120 years and is renowned for its ricotta and mozzarella (the latter made daily onsite). The recipes were created by Pina Alleva, who emigrated from Benevento, Italy, in 1892; the Alleva family has continued the cheese-making traditions for four generations (though last year, multitalented celebrity Tony Danza and local businesswoman Karen King became owners of the store).
200 Grand St.
Di Palo’s, which opened in 1910, offers serious fare. Run by the fourth generation of Di Palos (the fifth runs the adjacent wine store, Enoteca Di Palo), the shop carries food from every region of Italy, including the pungent and salty cheeses from Southern Italy: provolone, caciocavallo and Pecorino Romano. Other products include balsamic vinegar from Modena, olive oil from Puglia, Grana Padano from the Po Valley and plenty of imported coffee, meats and pasta.
Mulberry Street Cigars
140 Mulberry St.
If you can’t get to Cuba, Little Italy may be your best bet for hand-rolled cigars. Playing to the history of the neighborhood (smoking cigars with a little espresso is an Italian favorite), this spot bills itself as one of the last Italian-owned tobacconists in the area. Visitors can also purchase cutters, storage boxes and humidors. Rollers offer demos every weekend and during the San Gennaro Festival.
198 Mott St. and 290 Elizabeth St.
This 113-year-old bakery’s claim to fame is its bread—Frank Sinatra was a fan. Loaves are baked in brick ovens, giving the bread its soft center and crispy edge. The family-owned and -operated establishment is also known for its sandwiches, which can be purchased at the original 198 Mott St. location (the baking is now done over at the Elizabeth Street address, which sells just the breads). The Dennis, made with chicken cutlet, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, tomato and pesto, is a customer favorite.
190 Grand St.
Since 1920, Piemonte Ravioli has been packed with all types of handmade pasta; the specialty, unsurprisingly, is ravioli, with varieties including cheese, spinach and porcini mushroom. Other fresh pastas, such as tortellone, fettuccine and cavatelli, are available, as are gnocchi, cheese and dried pasta.