Tag Archives: italian

NYC’s Top 10 “Old School” Style Italian Joints

A friend of mine asked me about Emilio’s Ballato the other day, and I realized I should probably have a list of “old school” style, red sauce -heavy, Italian comfort food spots in the city. Especially given how we lost some great ones due to COVID-19, like Forlini and Crispo.

I should note, I’m largely ignoring the panoply of mediocre tourist trap restaurants in Little Italy. Yes, there are some old classics there, but the one’s listed below are in another league, in my opinion.

So here we go. These are my favorites, in no particular order.

1. EMILIO’S BALLATO

This celebrity magnet of a restaurant is one of the best spots to score some old school, red sauce, New York Italian food. Aside from their awesome pastas, they also put serious work into their parms and antipasti. Pictured below is the spicy vodka sauce, prosciutto and peas -topped bone-in veal parm, which is commonly offered as a special and even called an “off menu” item to those in the know.

2. CARBONE

A list of old school Italian joints wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Carbone. When you walk in this joint, you feel like you might witness a mob hit! Not in a scary way – because you feel like family when you’re here (take THAT Olive Garden!) – but in a cinematic way. Everything just looks the part, from the black and white tiled floors to the decor on the walls. This place is special, and my favorite items here are the trio of baked clams and their famous spicy rigatoni alla vodka.

3. SANDRO’S

We almost lost this joint to COVID-19. It closed, and everyone was pissed off and upset. But they re-opened in a new location, and I’m so psyched to get back in there to try everything. This joint slings some of the best pasta I’ve had, and all of the good the Italian chefs in town know that this is the place to go when you want a delicious, comforting meal outside of your own kitchen.

4. SAN MATTEO

Right up there in the same neighborhood as Sandro’s is San Matteo, a noted two-time NYCWFF Burger Bash winner, of all things. While primarily organized as a Neapolitan style pizza joint, San Matteo actually serves up some of the most crave-worthy Italian food that I can think of. I regularly need my fix of this place. Everything from their apps to their aged steaks are fantastic. Pizza should be your snack when you go here. Save room for the mains, like their pork milanese!

5. BROOKLYN ROOTS

Relative newcomer to the “old school” scene is Brooklyn Roots. This place is the only spot I picked that’s outside of Manhattan. I know I’ll get some shit for that, since there are lots of amazing places out in Queens and Brooklyn that garner a lot of love for this cuisine. But Chef Tommy is really dialed into the food that I grew up eating. Check out his “Matty Guns” pasta dish. It’s basically a baked red sauce and mozz rigatoni dish that has every kind of meat you can imagine. Incredible portion sizes and wildly affordable prices can be found here. You can’t beat it.

6. ARTHUR & SONS

Another new “old school” style joint is Arthur & Sons. This place is red sauce to the core, and it has quickly become one of the hardest places to score a table. Everything with red in it is a hit here. The Parms, the meatballs, the subs, the pasta sauce… They even use cans of tomatoes as planters in the dining room. This is definitely the place to carb-load before a big competitive sporting event.

7. DON ANGIE

This joint is the only Italian restaurant to actually inspire me to go home and cook one of their recipes. Their “Broken Meatball Ragu” is absolute perfection, and it reminds me of Sunday visits to my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. I immediately went home and made it myself the following weekend. They use giant garganelli pasta for the dish, the perfect big floppy noodle for sopping up massive amounts of sauce. Also noteworthy here is the chrysanthemum salad and the lasagna, pictured below.

8. OSTERIA MORINI

This place was famously known as the home of $9 Monday night pasta dishes. I’m sure the price has gone up since I enjoyed that special, but it would be worth every penny even at double the price. This place is part of the Altamarea restaurant group (Marea, Ai Fiore, etc.), but it is markedly obvious that it is meant to be their rustic, home cooking style restaurant. They do great burgers and aged steaks here as well.

9. IL CORSO

My friend turned me on to this place just recently. I was blown away to learn that his wife’s cousin owns the joint. They’re from Capri. Let me just tell you: Their lemon cream pistachio paccheri is probably one of the best pasta dishes in town. It’s an absolutely delicious combination of flavors. I could eat this every day, with a side of their fried zucchini and fried castelvetrano olives.

10. IL TINELLO

The owners behind Tuscany Steakhouse also own Il Tinello, which recently just opened a second location on the east side. The move here is to get the trio of pastas as a sampler dish, of sorts. We ordered it as an appetizer because I needed to try some of the meat-focused items from the mains menu. They do a really nice veal rib chop here, if you feel like eating something more meaty.

That’s all I’ve got for you right now. Maybe I’ll update this if I ever get out to those old and somewhat infamous joints in Queens and Brooklyn. But other notable mentions here for old school style Italian food would be Isle of Capri, Becco, Patsy’s, Scarpetta, Marc Forgione, Ornella Trattoria and Parm.

Oh yeah – and it’s always SAUCE. Gravy is BROWN!

Ainslie Bowery

Ainslie Bowery is a newly opened Italian joint that has a huge selection of beer.

The place is enormous inside. So big, that I really don’t know how they’re going to stay in business if they aren’t packed out every day.

Anyway, I was excited to try this new spot by us, so my wife and I went last weekend. We started with the rosemary wings and salt and pepper ribs. Both were really great. I preferred the ribs but my wife liked he wings better.

For our middle course, we split the “diavola” pizza. Spicy salami and kalamata black olives on top of fresh mozzarella and a nice tomato sauce. This was a bit too salty, but otherwise good. As you can see, one side of the pie took a little more heat than the other.

The pasta dishes were very good here. We tried the orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage, as well as the pork ragu pappardelle. We both preferred the orecchiette.

For dessert, tiramisu. This was nice. It’s rare for one of these to stand out among so many others in town, but it was perfect.

We will definitely be back to try more.

AINSLIE BOWERY
199 Bowery
New York, NY 10002

Joey Roses

Joey Roses dive bar/social club on the Lower East Side that was recently featured on Eater as a spot where you can still get some cheap, good eats. After reading the article and seeing how close it was to home, I had to try it.

The thrust of the article was that, from 5pm-7pm and from 10pm-12am, they offer “buy two get a third free” deal on their sandwiches. Their sandwiches are regularly priced at $8. Can’t beat it!

They’re nicely packed Italian sandwiches, filled with mortadella, beef, salami, you name it. They have a few different selections you can make. My wife and I picked up three different sandwiches. All were good, but the mortadella sandwich was king. It comes with mozz and sweet cherry peppers on it. Killer.

Make sure you also get some of their crispy fried Brussels Sprouts. The touch of agave syrup on them really sets them apart from others. They’re perfect!

This place is so close – we will definitely be back.

JOEY ROSES
174 Rivington St
New York, NY 10002

Misi

Misi is an Italian joint in Williamsburg that serves up some great pasta and an even better porterhouse steak.

Cocktails are really nice, like this negroni sour:

For starters, we did the whipped ricotta with roasted peppers, and the baby artichokes. Both were light and refreshing, but if I had to choose a favorite it would be the artichokes.

Next up was the pasta. We did a lamb ragu citarra as well as a brown butter tortelli stuffed with spinach and ricotta. Normally, I would gravitate toward that lamb ragu, but the tortelli were the winner between the two excellent pastas.

The dry aged porterhouse was awesome.

It was cooked to a nice medium rare and dusted with fennel pollen and rosemary.

The seasoning on it was definitely in the cumin/curry wheelhouse, which was a really nice change of pace.

It came with a side of giganto beans that were really bright and flavorful. Perfectly cooked.

But this steak was an easy 8/10, and I would definitely come back again to try more of the menu.

MISI
329 Kent Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11249

Arthur & Sons

On June 8th, the west village will have a brand new, old school style red sauce Italian joint: Arthur & Sons.

The concept comes from the guy who brought you Black Tap’s burgers and iconic shakes, Joe Isidori.

The small, bright and warm space feels like home. A seat at the window-side bar with a mezcal negroni was the right move to start the evening.

Don’t skip on the antipasto.

This and the bread with house flavored oil are the sirens tempting your appetite to a shipwreck of over-eating, though. Save room for what’s next!

Meatball parm sandwich.

Mozzarella en carozza.

FRIED GALAMAD!!!

Just like home at an Italian’s house, that’s only the beginning. Then comes the pasta: spicy rigatoni alla vodka.

Of course Benny Bowties is smiling.

Look at those tubes – no flop!

And holy shit – the chicken parm is a feast!!!

And to finish off the night, some cannoli.

This place is going to pop, so get ready! I can’t wait to try everything else.

ARTHUR & SONS
38 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10014

Gemma

I finally got to try some of the food at Gemma in the Bowery Hotel. Started with a delicious orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe pesto and sweet Italian sausage.

Next up: beautiful burger with broiled cheddar on top.

My favorite dish was the Cornish hen. So flavorful!

And a really nicely cooked center cut New York strip steak.

We finished off with some pistachio cream cannoli.

Really great meal!

GEMMA
335 Bowery
New York, NY 10003

Defonte’s

I finally got over to Defonte’s to try some sandwiches. My buddy Nick and I rode over on our Zooz bikes. It took us 10 or 15 minutes from downtown Manhattan – a trip that would otherwise take a half hour and cost an arm and a leg in cab or Uber fees.

These things really are the best way to get around the boros, especially for food crawls! If you want one, get one with my coupon code JOHNNYPRIME for $100 off at THIS WEBSITE.

Anyway, we started with the hot roast beef dip sandwich that’s topped with fried eggplant and fresh house made mozz. Awesome!

Next up was the Italian special, which is a cold sandwich that features a variety of Italian meats, along with some spicy bomba sauce, lettuce, tomato and dressing. This was the big winner for me.

I’ll be back here for sure, especially to try the roast pork sandwiches, and something chock full of mortadella.

DEFONTE’S
379 Columbia St.
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Bacaro

I’m officially hooked on this place. A while back, my wife and I stopped in for a drink and an app – the fritto misto. We were already sort of full, but that pplate of mixed fried items like calamari, olives, lemon rinds, shrimp, and artichoke really made us want to go back.

Last night we finally did! We tried two more apps, meatballs and fried zucchini blossoms. Both were incredible. In fact, the meatballs are some of the best I’ve had outside of family.

The fried zucchini blossoms are stuffed with velvery smooth ricotta and served with an anchovy pesto oil. I liked swiping them in the meatball sauce though.

The pasta entrees are pretty large servings! Check out this massive bowl of gnocchi with peas and mushrooms.

The cavatelli with duck meat ragu was a massive serving too.

They had to be half a pound each. We couldn’t finish! I’ll definitely be back here to try more pastas, and perhaps one or two of the fish items from their entree menu.

BACARO
136 Division St
New York, NY 10002

Baker & Co.

My wife and I came here with another couple for a double date. We started with the pizzette that was on special, which involved squash, figs and balsamic:

Excellent. The fried calamari was great too, and, in fact, was mixed with fried shrimp and artichoke as well.

Speaking of artichokes, this fried artichoke salad was probably the low key winner of the starters.

For my main, I had the paccheri with lamb ragu and fava beans. Delicious!

My wife’s duck with black truffle and mushrooms entree was the winner, however. I wish I took a pic.

Dessert: Vanilla panna cotta. Perfection.

I would definitely go back here for another meal. They have a dry aged burger on the menu – maybe I’ll try that!

BAKER & CO.
259 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10014

Kimika

Most fusion restaurants are characterized by a big swing, and a big miss. The intentions are usually good, and the concepts make sense on paper, but at bat on the plate, they just don’t have the right swing. Kimika is the exception. Chef Christine Lau VERY successfully marries Japanese, and other aspects of regional Asian cuisine, with high end Italian cuisine. She knocks it out of the park! My wife and I went with another food-obsessed couple, so we were able to try most of the menu.

First off, excellent cocktails! I loved their take on an old fashioned.

To start, we snacked on a bowl of spiced olives, tuna tartare and wagyu + uni skewers. All fantastic.

This squash and sunflower pesto pizzette was an incredible expression of Asian + Italian – also very light and crisp. A great snack.

The “pasta” dishes are where you really see that marriage, though. This shrimp and prosciutto tortellini with mochi in a Japanese broth was probably our favorite bite of the night.

The crispy rice cake lasagna with Italian sausage was up there though, and I’m finding myself craving this as I write…

Even the vegetable selections are all beautiful mash-ups of Italian and Asian flavors, and all of them were great! Our favorite was the charred green beans with olive tapenade and prosciutto (first pic below).

The mains are pretty incredible here. We started with an amazing porchetta. Look at that crispy skin!

Then we moved on to a surf & turf plate, composed of spot prawns that were basted with uni butter, and a killer dry-aged steak with a pickled greens and wasabi spread.

So good! And easily one of the best steaks I’ve had in a very long time. 10/10 – it really brought the funk!

Dessert was also a homerun with the yakult soft serve (our favorite), tiramisu and warm mochi bomboloncini.

I highly recommend this place, and I can’t wait to go back!

KIMIKA
40 Kenmare St,
New York, NY 10012