NYC's Greatest Old-School Italian Restaurants, From Oldest To Newest

Because you don’t eat enough baked clams.
The penne alla vodka, broccoli, chicken parm, and mozzarella in carrozza from Ortobello's served on white dishes on a white tablecloth

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Sometimes it’s nice to go to a fancy Italian restaurant that opened in 2019, and eat a tiny bowl of three ravioli for $35. Other times, you want to celebrate something with big platters of chicken parmesan and a steady stream of house red wine. For spaghetti twirls and family-style servings, these are the spots to try. At the 16 restaurants on this list—organized from oldest to newest—free bread is a right, baked clams are law, and big group meals are second nature.


photo credit: Noah Devereaux



$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsBirthdaysClassic Establishment
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Ok, so we'll admit the food at Bamonte’s is not particularly memorable. It might prompt your Williamsburg-born friend—or Mr. Scaglione over at the next table—to say something like “the food here used to be better. ” But none of that matters, because Bamonte’s palatial dining room has been one of the city’s most fantastic places to have a big, festive dinner under a glittering chandelier since 1900. Sure, the martinis taste like rubbing alcohol, and the veal parm is just perfectly alright. But the parking lot is full every night of the week—always with at least one Escalade with New Jersey plates—and after one meal here, you’ll think of it for every big night out, whenever the vibes matter a whole lot more than what’s on your plate.

photo credit: Matthew Cutolo



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Gargiulo’s on Coney Island isn’t just a restaurant that’s been around since 1907. It’s a place you come to learn the true meaning of the word “gesticulate.” It’s a place where you can eat calamari racanati and oyster’s Rockefeller while enjoying the din of the palazzo-like dining room with 30-foot ceilings. The tuxedo service could not be classier, and while the food won’t blow you away, the whole experience will. But the most fun thing about Gargiulo’s is the dice game you play when you get your check. Choose a number between 1-90, and if your number gets rolled, Gargiulo’s will eat your check faster than you ate your mozzarella in carrozza.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

The Greenwich Village institution has a whole dining room where you can drink to-the-brim glasses of red wine and eat veal parm amongst people wearing their finest fur coats on a Tuesday. But if there's a bar seat open when you arrive, you're going to need to snag it, because despite being cramped, it's the most charming perch for a dirty martini and six-to-an-order baked clams. Gene's has been open since 1919, and it's become the favorite restaurant of many New Yorkers—including Sarah Jessica Parker, who may in fact be one of its youngest fans.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

After visiting red-sauce Italian restaurants all over the city, eating clams has become one of our most treasured pastimes, but there’s something about doing it across the street from a body of water that feels exactly right. Randazzo’s Clam Bar has been open since 1932, and although this Sheepshead Bay spot shines in the summer, we'd just as likely come here in the dead of winter to slurp raw clams and pretend we're in Florida. They’re famous for their fried calamari, which is served with a homemade marinara sauce that comes in both medium and hot varieties, but all the raw bar options are good too, and you can practically toss your empty shells into the water from the storefront.

You might know L&B as that place where eating one of the city's best square slices on the patio is a rite of summer, but inside they serve a full menu, and you'll see several generations enjoying chicken francese every night of the week. The portions at this Gravesend restaurant, which opened in 1935, are huge—think cartoon-drawing-of-a-mountain-of-spaghetti—and bottles of red litter the tables. They serve pizza inside, and you should absolutely order one, because it remains the best thing here. But feel free to round out your meal with rice ball parmigiana, and pasta with vodka sauce.

This red-sauce joint had been owned and operated by the Scognamillo family since 1944, and the first things you’ll see when you walk in are a signed headshot of Liza Minelli and a statue of Frank Sinatra—who was, yes, a regular here. It's our favorite spot for pre-theater spaghetti and meatballs, and it’ll transport you back to an era when West 56th and Broadway was, shockingly, the coolest spot in town. Stick to the classics, and save room for the dessert cart. On this cart, underneath a cloudy cloche, is one of the best carrot cakes we’ve had in a very long time.

People talk so much about the line at Emilio’s Ballato, a celebrity hotspot in Nolita that hasn’t taken reservations since 1956, that they forget to talk about the food. That’s a shame, because once you make it inside, the red-sauce classics, like a rich bolognese, and fried calamari covered in cherry peppers, are excellent. Come with a group—ideally early, on a weekday—order the off-menu Vitello Antonio (vodka parm, layered in crispy prosciutto) and enjoy it under the watchful eye of Emilio Sr., who sits at the table behind the door, surveying the room and watching YouTube videos. If you're lucky, maybe you'll get an invite to Da Milio, their speakeasy next door. For really great food, this is our top pick.

We first visited Joe's of Avenue U with someone who grew up in the Bronx, and spent a lot of time on Arthur Avenue. He comes all the way to Joe’s in Gravesend (and you should too) for the tripe, served in tomato sauce with peas and soft chunks of potatoes, and more Sicilian specialties that are otherwise hard to find in the city. There’s a takeout counter in the front where neighborhood folks pick up meatball heroes for lunch, and a large room full of red leather booths off to the side, where people tuck their napkins into their collars before sharing eggplant caponata, panelle, and pasta con le sarde.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

$$$$Perfect For:Special Occasions

One of the best stories about this restaurant in Corona is that the previous owner, allegedly a capo in the Genovese crime family, made a hobby of racing pigeons on the roof. “Tough Tony” Federici inherited the restaurant, founded in 1960 as the Corona Supper Club, from his parents, and for decades, it’s where northern Queens residents have come for graduations, 50th birthdays, and anniversaries. Come here when you want to celebrate something with big plates of swordfish and shrimp scampi, served by waiters in crisp white button-downs who’ll call you “famiglia.” And ask them about the pigeon races.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight Dinner

Of all the places on this list, Ortobello's in Mapleton is the one we want to scream about from the rooftops. And then, once we've finished screaming, we want to bring everyone here for a big birthday dinner, or just a regular Sunday night. Ortobello’s, which opened in 1964, quietly serves some of the best red-sauce Italian food in the city. It’s run by Andy, whose father ran it before him, and who ambles around the dining room in a backwards baseball cap, refilling wine and thanking people for being here. You don't hear about this place too often, but that's all the more reason to come, whenever you need to be warmed from the inside out by way of cheese. If they have vodka chicken parm on special, get it.

We frequently find ourselves in the mood for a martini, but at Michael’s in Marine Park, it's more of an insatiable urge that hits you like a brick the second you lay eyes on a group of fur-draped people sitting at the bar, beneath the glow of a large, fully functional fish tank. Someone plays a piano, and beyond that there's a cavernous room where people have been fighting over checks since 1964. For every woman in high heels, there's an 11-year-old in his basketball uniform, celebrating a win with his very own order of baked clams. Do Michael’s right: come with 10 people, have something to celebrate, and ask about the giant pepper grinder. It's approximately three feet tall, and reserved for only the most festive parties.

A meal at this Bay Ridge staple should begin with a slice from their take-out pizza counter in the front. Think of it as a pre-appetizer. Ask for the eggplant or grandma, and a server will bring you slices cut into the correct number of slivers for your party size. Then move on to the hot antipasto platter, chicken parm, and orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe. If your table gets overloaded, they'll just bring over another one—Gino's has been hosting big parties since 1964, and they know what they're doing. Someone next to you has probably celebrated every major milestone here, from sweet sixteen to baby shower, and if you need further evidence of how festive an evening at Gino's can be, just know we felt compelled to get an appletini there.

With walls covered in jockey gear (it's near the Aqueduct Racetrack), Don Peppe opened in 1968 and has a diehard group of regulars. This unfussy, cash-only restaurant in South Ozone Park is the kind of place you can call to say you're coming with 20 people tonight, and they'll just ask you what time. There’s no paper menu, and there doesn’t need to be. Give your server the reins and they’ll thoughtfully bring you just the right number of baked clams, advise you against ordering a salad, brusquely accost you for wearing a hat, and remind you that 12pm is a perfectly fine time for wine. Walk around the large room and pick out your favorite horse name from the photos while waiting for your food.

Villa Mosconi opened in 1976, the year Jimmy Carter was elected, Taxi Driver was released, and the New York Times included “zeppole vans” on their list of 101 things to love about New York City. The zeppole vans are gone (alas), but this lively Greenwich restaurant remains. There’s a narrow bar room in front, an enclosed garden room in back, and a big dining room that would look like a hospital lobby if it weren’t for the white tablecloths and ornately framed oil paintings. The best thing about this place is the way the long-time waiters hug and cheek-kiss the regulars good night, but the hearty, unpretentious northern Italian dishes, carafes of wine, and fresh, housemade pastas will serve you well for a throwback group dinner.

photo credit: Willa Moore

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsKids

If you’ve gotten this far and thought to yourself, “Why haven’t they told me where I can get some really good chicken marsala,” you’re in the right place. Joe’s in Ridgewood has been perfecting their chicken marsala recipe since 1982, and though we haven’t talked much about free bread—because every place on this list has it—it’s worth noting that the free bread at Joe’s comes with not just butter, but house-made marinated peppers swimming in olive oil. It’s a triumphant start to the feast that’s bound to follow at this classic spot, where the $18.95 penne alla vodka is big enough to feed everyone at your table, and the table next to yours, too.

Tra Di Noi opened in 2002—an unimpressive date when you consider the other places on this list—but we’re throwing it on here anyway. This Arthur Avenue restaurant is like something out of a movie, without trying too hard to feel like a Godfather marathon: it’s got checkerboard tablecloths, chalkboard specials, and empty-nester owners who’ve been married for over 50 years. While her Italian husband cooks carbonara in the kitchen, your host, a born-and-bred New Yorker, will speak on the day’s swordfish special like it’s her daughter’s first dance recital. And when a nearby table chimes in to confirm that, yes, the swordfish is to die for—and hey, do you want some of our wine—accept the wine, order the fish, and pay it forward with your own enthusiastic exit interview.

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