Since 1926, across 11 days in September, the annual Feast of San Gennaro has taken over Little Italy. Once again, the small neighborhood’s streets are bathed in the scents of fresh-baked cannoli and sizzling sausages, while vendors, musicians and professional eaters flock to the area to celebrate the patron saint of Naples.
With such massive festivities, though, come massive crowds. San Gennaro attracts over a million visitors to Mulberry Street every year, and the truth is, they’re mostly tourists.
But there’s hope yet. For those who want to participate in the storied merriment and enjoy some delicious Italian bites without the masses, there are a number of great restaurants, cafes, and bakeries across the city that make fine substitutes. Here are just a few of our favorite alternatives to San Gennaro. You might even walk away with an even more authentic and scrumptious experience.
If the area between Houston and Canal is known as “Little Italy,” Fiaschetteria Pistoia should be dubbed “Little Tuscany.” With locations in East Village and now West Village, the restaurant was created as a New York outpost of Fiaschetteria La Pace in Pistoia, a region roughly between Florence and Lucca.
When it comes to finding the most authentic classic pasta dishes, look no further. Fiaschetteria Pistoia makes its pastas fresh every day and, at the East Village restaurant, you can even watch them do it. From Cacio e Pepe to the truly delectable Duck Ragu Bolognese, the pasta alone is worthy of a visit. It’s also famous for its massive prosciutto cutters, on display at both locations.
The restaurant’s authenticity goes well beyond the menu to include charming touches. Wine is served in the form of a milk bottle rack, where six or so bottles sit with price tags around their necks, and Italian posters dating to the 1960s line the intentionally unfinished walls. A visit to Fiaschetteria Pistoia might just have you thinking you’re in the Italian countryside surrounded by vineyards, or at the very least that someone’s nonna is in the kitchen cooking up a storm.
(647 E. 11th St. and 116 Christopher St.)
Zibetto Espresso Bar
Going into one of Zibetto Espresso Bar’s three midtown locations feels a bit like walking into a tiny cafe on Via della Spiga in the heart of Milan. Sure, the stylish Italians in Ferragamo suits and Prada dresses might be absent, but the atmosphere is undeniably authentic.
Zibetto serves Daneli coffee, suitable competition for the leading options on the other side of the Atlantic. The cafe is simple and modern, with a white-tiled bar, mirrored walls, and plenty of standing room, and whether it’s your first visit or you’re a regular, you’ll always find a spot at the bar. As any good Italian knows, the only real way to drink coffee is to drink espresso, and Zibetto has certainly mastered that, but there are also a number of more American-friendly beverages on the menu, alongside a small selection of paninis and pastries.
(1385 6th Ave., 1221 6th Ave., 1 Park Ave.)
Opened in 2012 as the second location of the nearly 100-year-old, Michelin-starred Roman restaurant of the same name, Antica Pesa is the ideal destination for a truly Italian meal with a little elevated sophistication.
You might assume that a place frequented by the Olsen twins and Madonna would be haughty, perhaps even standoffish, but this Williamsburg spot is anything but. The interior is undeniably beautiful, with sleek design and modern touches throughout, but the experience you’ll get at Antica Pesa is straight out of the Old World. The staff offers recommendations, and if you’re really lucky, you can have your entire order arranged without so much as a glance at the menu.
Indulge in the spaghetti cacio e pepe, a house specialty, and the grilled branzino, or try the beautiful nido — a fried egg and sautéed spinach served on a "nest" of kataifi dough — followed by the fusilli zucchine e provolone. And in honor of San Gennaro, Antica Pesa is even offering guests a special dessert, available through Sept. 22. The variazione di cannolo Siciliano features several towering layers of cannoli topped with dark chocolate mousse and candied orange, and it’s not to be missed. (115 Berry St., Brooklyn)
Dante, the 104-year-old restaurant and bar in Greenwich Village, is perpetually the place to be. Considered among the best bars in the world, it’s perhaps best known for its negronis, but Dante is in fact so much more.
There’s something special in the air here, from the subway tiles and effortlessly cool staff, but unlike other spots with similarly impressive reputations, the MacDougal Street restaurant is warm and welcoming, and it even takes reservations. Dante strikes a fine balance between hip and traditional.
Although an eatery of the name has been around for over a century, the current spot is technically a second iteration. It therefore boasts all the charm of an age-old and time-tested legacy institution with all the cool factor of a newcomer. Expect to find classic Italian dishes like burrata with eggplant and caponata and Caprese sourdough flatbread, alongside vegetarian lasagna and pan-roasted halibut. Come to Dante for the buzzing crowds and renowned cocktails, but stay for the traditional food and charismatic atmosphere.
(79-81 Macdougal St.)
Veniero’s Pasticceria & Caffe
Celebrating 125 years in business, Veniero’s is home to the best cannoli in New York. The East Village pastry and coffee spot is still owned and operated by the Veniero family (who just happen to be related to Bruce Springsteen), and the stained glass name on the window and neon sign are true beacons of a lost era.
The cheesecakes and baked goods have won countless awards, and even Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, was a regular. You can grab something sweet on-the-go or linger at a table in Veniero’s long, mirrored dining hall under the famous stained glass ceiling.
The only drawback to visiting the storied cafe is having to choose from the seemingly endless options tucked behind the counter. From cookies and biscotti to every iteration of cake and cannoli imaginable, settling on just one delicious treat can seem a near impossible challenge. So come hungry, and be prepared to take at least a few things home with you.
(342 E. 11th St.)
10 Corso Como
Italy is as synonymous with fashion and timeless design as it is with scrumptious food, so it only makes sense that a New York spot would think to combine the two. Its first American offshoot of Carla Sozzani’s Milan-based department store, 10 Corso Como opened its doors to the increasingly popular South Street Seaport District just last year. In addition to an art gallery and store that sells some of the coolest up-and-coming looks and housewares, the new-ish destination boasts one of the best (and most stylish) Italian restaurants around.
Decorated in sleek black and white with spacious booths and a gorgeous bar, 10 Corso Como has a menu full of staple Italian dishes, but there are also some modern takes on offer. Play it safe with the pasta al pomodoro or try the unexpected pasta alla Norma, encompassed by an eggplant and as Instagrammable as it is yummy. Also recommended: the branzino and the sumptuous roasted half chicken, as well as a long list of wines and cocktails and desserts.
(200 Front St.)
Pepe Rosso to Go
The Greenwich Village outpost of SoHo restaurant Pepe Rosso Social, this Sullivan Street spot translates to delicious food without all the fuss and pretentiousness of so many of New York’s favorite Italian eateries.
As the name suggests, Pepe Rosso to Go is mainly a take-out joint, but there are five or so tables where you can sit and enjoy a big bowl of Fusilli Puttanesca or a Grilled Chicken, Roast Peppers, and Pesto Panini after ordering and paying at the small counter. The restaurant is, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite tiny, but a giant sliding door opens up onto the sidewalk and makes this neighborhood spot feel even more like a second home.
If you are lucky enough to snag a seat, stay a while, savor the hollers of Italian coming from the kitchen, and douse your bread in the yummy olive oil on each table. Portions at Pepe Rosso are on the other side of the size spectrum — they’re huge and more than enough bang for your buck. In the same way that you can wander into any seemingly innocuous restaurant on Via del Corso in Rome and have the best meal of your life, this Greenwich Village establishment is perfectly unassuming; it boasts astonishingly cheap prices, and creates some of the best pasta around.
(149 Sullivan St.)