It’s become a cliche at this point to point out that Little Italy is littler than ever, and while it’s certainly true, that doesn’t mean that NYC is lacking for great Italian food. Those willing to take a trip up north to the Bronx neighborhood known as simply Arthur Avenue (after it’s main drag) are in for some of the finest traditional meals with a local flavor all their own.
Declared New York’s best food neighborhood by Esquire Magazine, the area also called Belmont features a long history of Italian-American culture from immigrants who came here in the early 20th century. Like its more famous equivalent in Manhattan, this cozy neighborhood might seem a little closed to outsiders at first, but after taking your first bite in one of these fine eateries, you’ll feel like family.
A short walk off of Arthur Avenue, away from the tourists, should take you to this local favorite where the meats are plentiful and cooked to perfection. They might be best known for their falling-off-the-bone short ribs, which come smothered in rich sauce that could have come from any number of area grandmother’s kitchens.
A favorite of the celebrity crowd, Robert Paciullo opened his two-floor trattoria which features a rotating menu of top-quality, Michelin Guide-approved dishes. Come in one night for tender risotto with cuttlefish, come back tomorrow for the tender braised rabbit. If you’re like most diners, you’ll stick around for one of Roberto’s signature desserts as well, like sbricolata crumb cake with amaretto, or his old country-style tiramisu.
For those days when you’re not feeling as fancy, you can take in a lunch at this marketplace where the eggplant parm is a year-round hit. The owners also run the neighboring Bronx Beer Hall if your group is looking to follow up your sandwiches with some craft suds. Mike’s olives and burrata are a must-try.
Vincent’s Meat Market
For a taste of Belmont that you can take home with you, visit Vincent’s Arthur Avenue storefront for all the smoked meat, sausage, and custom beef cuts your carnivorous heart desires. Open for over 60 years, Vincent’s always-fresh meats, expert customer service, and worth-the-trip prices all make it clear why they’ve been the neighborhood’s top butcher for all these years.
Some real estate professionals say there’s no doubt north is the way to go.
With only Manhattan separating them, is it time for the Bronx to admit that it has more in common with Brooklyn than previously thought?
According to some real estate professionals, the answer is a resounding yes. Even if the idea of the Bronx being a great place to live or invest raises eyebrows from hipsters to former-hippies now comfortable in their Manhattan apartments.
Consider this bit of history. When the Sex and the City character, Miranda, announced she was moving to Brooklyn the idea was so abhorrent to Manhattanites that the New York Post ran an article listing all the (real-life!) hip spots that Carrie and Miranda could frequent.
Now, only a decade later, Brooklyn’s average rent for a one-bedroom apartment runs between $1,600 and $2,900, depending on the neighborhood. It costs about $790,000 on average to buy a home, and well into the millions in trendier neighborhoods.
What’s a dedicated middle-class New Yorker to do?
Manhattan? Probably not with rents running $3,000 and buying about a $2 million endeavor.
It may be time to head north.
First, there’s the basic premise that Brooklyn prices are continuing to go up, so the Bronx is a more affordable option given the average rent of $1,200/month.
But consider the other benefits of the Bronx, like great transportation. The subway and other public transportation options are excellent—and traveling from midtown to the south Bronx is a fairly short commute.
For example, it’s only a 24-minute subway ride from Radio City Music Hall to Yankee Stadium. The residential areas just north of the stadium are considered up-and-coming, and affordable, according to multiple sources.
If driving is a must, it’s actually possible in the Bronx. I-87 along the west side of the borough is far easier to navigate than, say, the lower east side or Time’s Square.
For the more green-minded commuters, the recent opening of the historic High Bridge (New York’s oldest standing bridge, originally used to transport water from the Croton River to New York) offers a quick, convenient pedestrian and bicycle route from Highbridge to Upper Manhattan.
Not only are the rents in the neighborhood still reasonable, but the apartments are often in renovated historic buildings, originally constructed in the 1920s and 1930s.
For even more gorgeous, historic, architecture the buildings along the 5-mile stretch of the Grand Concourse are an excellent option. While this area, originally inspired in the early 1900s by the Champs-Elysees in Paris, fell into considerable disrepair in the 1970s and ‘80s, an $18 million restoration and landscaping initiative in 2008 revitalized the neighborhood.
Further north still is Fordham Heights, which is flanked by both the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden, and much more affordable than the real estate near Central Park.
Continuing north (no worries, not Niagra Falls!) recent re-zoning along Webster Avenue has created spaces now open to residential development that is working and middle-class friendly.
While these areas are not all a short commute to the culture and delights of Manhattan, they are still within close enough proximity (about an hour on public transportation) for trips into the city, business meetings, or even daily commutes.
Plus, culture and great food is already a part of the Bronx! In addition to the Zoo and the Garden, multiple colleges and universities offer music, dance and theatrical events.
The food scene? Solid—and growing.
Many New Yorkers believe that the Bronx is home to “real” Little Italy. Practically disdainful of catering to tourists, Arthur Avenue in the Belmont Neighborhood is still lined with Italian shops, markets and restaurants that have been there since Italian immigrants settled the neighborhood in the 1950s.
For the real “foodies” of New York, it’s good to know that there’s a culture of food that’s diverse enough to bring Anthony Bourdain to the Bronx.
In 2014, CNN aired a Bronx episode of Bourdain’s show “Parts Unknown.” Bourdain sampled Arthur Avenue’s Italian offerings, but dove whole-heartedly into Puerto Rican, African and Caribbean dishes.
“If the Bronx were a neighborhood in Manhattan, sort of shrunk down, you’d have hipsters crawling all over this place.” Bourdain quipped.
Affordable, easily accessible by public transportation, and with vibrant neighborhoods and ethnic diversity–in a New York minute the Bronx may beat Brooklyn as the place to live.