There’s plenty of great Italian restaurants in New York City. I can’t imagine I could even come close to counting them all. There’s plenty of white tablecloth places that I’m sure will wow your tastebuds. But, you might be surprised by my favorite, unless you’ve joined me for a meal in one of our dozens of visits.
I’ve been heading to the corner of Hester and Mulberry in Little Italy as long as I can recall. As early as 5 years old, I can remember our family hopping on the train or driving down to Manhattan. We’d end up at Puglia, a simple Italian restaurant. Back when I was a kid, it took up a bigger part of the block. I can faintly remember a back dining room with white tablecloths. Back then, though, the main dining room was picnic tables. Some had vinyl, checkered tablecloths. Others were bare. On weekends, the line would literally stretch down the block. We’d wait for a table for what seemed like forever (to a 5-year old).
40 years later, it’s still just as simple (though without the long lines). That’s really all I need. The menu is very straightforward, covered with Italian staple items. You’ll find a few specialty dishes, like Lobster Fra Diavolo. What they do best are those simple, hearty Italian dishes I grew up on as a kid.
We generally start out with a pizza, some mussels in red sauce and a loaf of Italian bread. Lasagna, Bolognese, gnocchi and ravioli are amongst our favorite entree choices. The house wine is just okay, bottled wine prices quite reasonable.
If you’re a fan of Adam Sandler, you might recognize Jorge Buccio, the nightly entertainment, from the movie Wedding Singer. He’s another staple of Puglia that’s been there as long as I can remember. You might feel silly waving your napkin in the air for the napkin song. Heck, you might drink too much bad wine and join a conga line through the dining room.
The Final Two Pennies
The last thing you’ll be convinced of is that there’s anything fancy about Puglia. Yet, every meal I’ve had has been remarkably consistent over the years (decades). The food comes out hot and relatively quickly. The service is a step or two above abrupt, but nothing fancy.
Final pro tip? Don’t eat dessert there. Take a leisurely stroll down the block to Ferrara, located on Mulberry Street just before you get to China Town. Another place that was larger when I was younger, Ferrara’s walls used to be covered by all the famous folks who stopped by for a cup of coffee. It even enjoyed a cameo in an episode of the Sopranos. Now, it serves as a great place to pick up a box of cookies or pastry, and a scoop of gelato.
Call me simple. Say I have poor taste in restaurants. Just don’t take away my Puglia.
I’ve dined at Puglia with family and friends, even witnessed the engagement of two of my friends. We all have our favorites. And, in a city as great as New York, it would be easy to point out alternatives that might be better. In the end, Italian food is about comfort to me. I’ve always felt comfortable at Puglia. I bring my kids there now, like my father did with me decades ago. I hope my kids do the same, and share the stories of our family over a plate of pasta.
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