Tag Archives: pasta

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!

Il Tinello East

My buddy Benny from Greenwich Steakhouse opened up a second location of the Italian joint Il Tinello. Benny is second from the right in this picture, next to me. Ask for him when you go, and tell him I sent you!

The menu and ambiance here are a little different from the original location. It feels like a more lively restaurant with a younger crowd. It was packed both at the bar and at the tables on a Wednesday night.

The bartender AJ has a nine year pedigree at Benjamin Prime, and he mixes up some excellent cocktails. Ask him about his mezcal negroni and “new fashioned” drinks.

Don’t skip on this meat martini waterfall thing. Great selection of olives, cheeses and peppers to go with the hand cut prosciutto.

Table bread service comes with an eggplant and tomato dip, and nice freshly made bruschetta.

We started with the special oysters Rockefeller, which were awesome. Nice crispy pancetta on top!

We followed these with baked clams oreganata and beef carpaccio.

For a mid course, we tried three pastas. The favorite of the table was probably this orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage. Just like mom makes.

These crab ravioli on special were incredible as well. They had a nice robust, clean crab flavor. Not too heavy with a light creamy pesto sauce.

The tagliolini with seafood is PACKED with chopped scallops, mussels, and shrimp. Great stuff.

For our mains, we tried two veal dishes. The first was a delicious glazed rib chop.

So tender and perfectly cooked to medium rare inside.

We also had the bone-in veal parm that was on special.

This was massive! Definitely something to share with your date.

For dessert, we tried the creme brulee, Italian cheesecake, tira misu and panna cotta. I think my favorite was either the tira misu or the panna cotta.

Great meal with a great old friend. I’m happy for the success of his new venture here at Il Tinello. I’ll definitely be back again soon!

IL TINELLO EAST
244 E 46th St
New York, NY 10017

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

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

Il Corso

My wife and I came here with another couple to try out the amazing food that Il Corso is known for. This place definitely lived up to its reputation!

We started with some stuffed, fried olives, fried zucchini, and beef carpaccio. All of these were excellent, but I think if I had to choose a favorite, I’d go with the zucchini. Crazy! Next time I will try the Fritto Misto, which also has squid and shrimp.

My wife had the paccheri with pistachio cream sauce and crumbled sausage. Amazing! Easily a top five pasta dish for me.

I had the veal cutlet Milanese.

Added some nice fresh shaved parm on top:

It was perfect. Super crisp outside, tender and juicy inside. Ate every last bit of it!

And for dessert, Nutella pie, lemon bomb cake, and flan. All delicious, but I think the flan “took the cake.”

I can’t wait to go back here and the the lamb ragu pappardelle, and so many other dishes.

IL CORSO
54 W 55th S
New York, NY 10019

Nonna Dora

The famous pasta making grandma from I Trulli and Ristoro del Cinghiale is now out on her own with the namesake Nonna Dora’s!

This place is serving up lots of favorites from Ristoro and I Trulli, like the wild boar pappardelle and their famous negronis.

My wife and I started with some meats and cheeses, fried cuttlefish, octopus salad, and meatballs.

All of this was delicious, but our favorite was the octopus.

We dug into two pasta dishes. First, a really fresh spring greens special dish, which featured super thick citarra style spaghetti.

It has leeks, spring onions, fiddlehead ferns, asparagus, ramps, and fava beans.

Then, burnt wheat pasta with confit duck! So good.

Finished off the meal with a tart and some spumoni.

I can’t wait to come back here again for more pasta dishes.

NONNA DORA’S
606 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10016

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

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

Emilio’s Ballato

This old school Italian joint is known for having some great parms, whether it’s chicken, veal, eggplant or whatever. Of the three I tried, the veal with vodka sauce, peas and prosciutto took home the win and beat out both the standard chicken and veal varieties.

The meal began with an awesome platter of antipasto (probably the best I’ve had) meatballs, and baked clams oreganata.

We tried three different pasta dishes: cacio e pepe, carbonara, and linguine with clams. Of these, I will throw down with the carbonara every time.

The star of the mains, however, was not the veal parm, but, rather, a special double cut pork chop that was prepared with vinegar cherry peppers. Awesome, and cooked perfectly. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

This is definitely a place you’ll want to go to repeatedly to take advantage of both the great regular menu items as well as the daily specials.

Emilio’s Ballato
55 E. Houston St
New York, NY 10012