By Cristiana Caruso and Michelle Gillan Larkin
From pasta and prosciutto di Parma to cannoli and cappuccino — plus a handy primer on how to properly, or colloquially, pronounce it all — here’s everything you need to know for an excursion over the Westchester/Bronx border to the heart of Little Italy’s food-foraging, belly-busting heaven.
One of the calling cards of Arthur Avenue that gives it an incandescent charm is the timelessness — the ability to walk the same route our grandparents did to get the morning loaf of bread; to stroll down streets once lined with 1940s Oldsmobiles; and for some of us, to stand in the spot our ancestors decided would make good roots for the pursuit of the American dream. The shopkeepers and restaurant owners have held strong to their place on the avenue, feeding and nurturing generations of residents, as well as visitors who just pop in once a year for the Christmas Eve tray of antipasto.
2348 Arthur Ave; madoniaarthurave.com
Hailing from Monreale, Sicily, Mario Madonia settled in the neighborhood and established his bread business in 1918. It can be said that his family lives and breathes the business: Peter Madonia Sr. was born in the bakery after a crashed automobile went hurtling into the storefront, where the seven-months-pregnant Rose Madonia was. The shock sent her into early labor, and Peter was placed into a shoebox padded with cotton and set aside the bread ovens as a makeshift incubator. To this day, lovers of carbs flock to the bakery for hand-rolled breads and a wide selection of pastries and biscotti. The olive loaf is their crown jewel and should only be purchased in bundles.
2342 Arthur Ave; mariosarthurave.com
For an astounding 103 years, Mario’s has been dishing out flavorful Neapolitan fare. Now helmed by fourth-generation owner Joe Migliucci, the restaurant has an illustrious foodie history that began when Migliucci’s great-grandfather and grandfather left Naples for Cairo, establishing a booming restaurant. In 1919, Migliucci’s grandfather relocated to Arthur Ave, opening Mario’s as a pizza counter before going full-service. The menu is fine-tuned with fresh, seeded bread and spiced carrots greeting diners at the table. But don’t fill up, or you’ll miss crisp calamari, pillow-soft gnocchi, and tender lamb chops. If you need extra street cred, the restaurant is named-dropped in the Italian American cultural touchstone The Godfather. Coppola wanted to film a scene inside, but fearing a stigma placed on the restaurant, the Migliucci family passed.
2352 Arthur Ave; 2372 Hughes Ave addeobakers.com
From the moment the door swings closed behind you, your senses are catapulted into the kitchen of a kindly Italian woman who always wants to know if you’re hungry — because that’s how it all began. Now run by cousins Laurence and Thomas Addeo, the bakery was once their grandmother’s kitchen. Originally established in East Harlem in the 1920s, Addeo made the jump to their present location(s) in 1944. While the coal-fired ovens baked their last loaves in the 1950s, the passing of generations and the inexorable march of technology have not disturbed the bones of the process, which remain intact: Their bread recipe is the same, down to the gram, as it has been since the bakery came to the neighborhood.
For a sit-down taste of authentic Italy and old-world warmth and hospitality, these are the dining destinations you shouldn’t miss.
2407 Arthur Ave; annandtonysonline.com
For nearly 100 years and five generations, the Napolitano family have been dishing out homegrown, precision-driven Italian fare to customers they treat like their own. At the helm are brothers (chef) Anthony and Ralph, who proudly carry on the family business started by their Italian immigrant great-grandfather, Eugenio, in 1927. The establishment gets its name from the second generation, Eugenio’s son Tony and his wife, Ann, whose recipes influence the present-day menu and are wholly responsible for the standout signature entrées of chicken or veal with prosciutto, artichoke hearts, mozzarella, olives, and mushrooms in a white wine sauce, and the shrimp that’s dipped in egg batter and sautéed with prosciutto and mushrooms.
2335 Arthur Ave; 718.733.2807
Arguably the most well-known eatery on the avenue, this low-key (in terms of its non-fussy atmosphere, as opposed to the contagious comradery born over a pile of fried calamari or a Yankees no-hitter) den of vinyl-topped tables and oversized, shareable portions opened as a bar in 1962 but has been a reliable go-to simply to eat for right about 50 years. Operated over the decades by descendants and in-laws of its Southern Italian immigrant founder, Dominick’s long-standing lore is alive and well: The menu and bill are delivered via spoken word; it’s cash-only and affordable; and everyone leaves happily stuffed with fresh, authentic Italian standards and plans for the next visit.
2331 Arthur Ave; emiliasrestaurant.com
Enveloped by eateries and markets named after men (and run by them, too), this longtime staple of simple and pleasing red-sauce classics offers a gracious nod to all the mammas and nonnas in the nabe. Purchased 25 years ago from the founding namesake, Nunzio Sapienza now takes a backseat to his daughter, Joanne Lorre, who runs the show with her two grown girls. A family feel permeates the air, and inventive, elevated specials of grilled branzino or stuffed zucchini flowers enliven a menu of reliable lasagna, eggplant parm, and Sicilian meatballs that are dotted, in the traditional manner, with currants and pignoli nuts.
2339 Arthur Ave; 718.733.4455
The baby on the block (at just two decades young), this family-run, rustically upscale bistro-style hotspot charms with a marble-topped bar and white-clothed tables set against warm, red-brick walls. But the appeal doesn’t end with the decor. It blossoms in Gino’s brick-oven pizza creations, handcrafted, plate-licking pastas (regularly kissed by heady, imported truffle oil), and the limitless lineup of grilled and sautéed seafood dishes, chops, outstanding steak pizzaiola, and the signature grilled meatballs, which sport a touch of spice.
2311 Arthur Ave; pasqualesrigoletto.com
Known simply yet affectionately as Rigoletto’s, this inviting, bustling gem is unforgettable due to the food and hospitality (natch) but also because of the sprawling, pleasingly hued wall mural depicting heart-melting scenes of daily life taking place right outside the front door. At the table, where white cloth adds a measure of panache to the warm, relaxed surrounds, chef’s specials rule the night and day, though the regular menu is far from run of the mill, with classic and creative chicken, fish, and veal selections, handmade pastas, salads, and alluring antipasto platters. Saturday night’s live music — known to spark spontaneous singing and dancing — adds to the overall experience.
603 Crescent Ave; robertosbronx.com
Just around the bend from the main drag but undoubtedly one of the coolest kids on the block (you can’t miss the coral façade and curious wrought-iron faux balcony), this three-decade-strong perennial fave conjures the feel of both a refined farmhouse and a seaside Mediterranean villa where fresh, country-style Italian cuisine — reminiscent of Chef Roberto Paciullo’s beloved Salerno — fits either motif. Menu offerings are paired with wine selections for ease and added elegance, but those in the know seek out the specials board before making a choice. Generous portions yearn to be poked by all forks at the table, especially one of the mind-bendingly flavorful pasta dishes that are cooked in tinfoil instead of a taste-diluting pot of water.