One of the questions I get asked a lot as a New York food blogger is:
“Yo. What’s a good ‘red sauce’ joint?”
This is roughly translated to: “excuse me, good woman, where is the best place to dine on classic Italian food, preferably with a flavorful tomato sauce?”
Now that you’re caught up, here are my picks below IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER. I am sure there are plenty of places I’m missing or forgetting too, so leave a comment with your suggestions! But from what little memory I have left, these are solid. Most recently I revisited Tony’s Di Napoli – family style Italian with two locations in Manhattan – and it didn’t disappoint. I took an order of ravioli bolognese home to my mom (below) and she said it was the highlight of her week. Just sayin.
NOTE: My lists are my own opinions (and occasionally the opinions of friends I trust). The phone numbers are links to the Google search for the restaurant because you’re welcome. Go forth, red sauce warriors.
I love this place – it’s been around forever and I think they have some of the best sauce around. It comes in 3 varieties – sweet, mild, and spicy. When I was younger, I remember the spicy being like hell fire, though as I’ve grown, so has my tolerance for heat. But the original sweet sauce is fantastic, as is their vodka sauce if you want to stray from the “red sauce”.
119 Mott Street
- Tony’s Di Napoli
As I mentioned above, family style Italian. This has been around a while too (est. 1959) and I think they make some of the best damn baked clams around. That and chicken parm – the red sauce is sweeter than you might be used to, but trust me it’s perfect on top of the crispy, cheesy chicken cutlet.
1081 3rd Ave New York, NY10065
- L&B Spumoni Gardens
Granted, I have only been here for the pizza, but even THAT is worth the wait. It’s the kind with the beautiful red sauce ON TOP of the cheese. In the summer they have a bunch of outdoor tables, so you can just pick up a pizza from the takeout window and eat it there. Way less wait time.
- Emilio’s Ballato
This is a classic restaurant in NoHo that makes you feel like you stepped onto a scene in Goodfellas. Well, minus the gratuitous violence. Very old-school and very delicious. Highly recommend.
55 East Houston St New York, NY 10012
Ok so let me preface this by saying, if you “got a guy” at Carbone, now is the time to use him. I love it here so much, but it’s VERY hard to get a reservation. It’s my personal belief they are trying to be the next generation of Rao’s. Like, book it months in advance. Or go for lunch. That’s usually how I get lucky here. It’s expensive but damn is it good. The meatballs, the garlic bread, and the spicy rigatoni vodka. That’s your dinner order and you’re welcome.
181 Thompson St New York, NY 10012
- Frank Restaurant
This is my favorite of all the Frank Prisinzano restaurants (Sauce, Supper, and Lil Frankies). A tiny little gem on 2nd ave in the East Village pumping out some of the best “gravy” around. And for those of you who don’t know that term, it’s like that thick, Sunday sauce that’s cooked with various forms of meat to give it a rich, deep flavor. It’s the one that makes your tastebuds do a rendition of “Volare” when it hits your mouth. Don’t sleep on the garlic bread and burrata here either.
88 2nd Ave New York, NY 10003
I’ve never been here which is really sad but I know for a fact it’s supposed to be amazing. Since 1896. Just let that sink in. You need to find someone who “has a table” or find that guy who got you into Carbone. I bet they know the same people. Or maybe there’s some trick to getting in but I sure as shit don’t know it so sorry I can’t be of more help there.
445 East 114th St New York, NY 10029
- il Mulino
I think my favorite part about dining at il Mulino are the little extras given to your table at no cost (though to be fair, it’s an expensive place). Cheese, bruschetta, fried zucchini…all come to you before you even get to your meal. And it’s been around since the 80’s so you know it’s good if it can outlast that decade.
86 West 3rd Street, New York NY 10012
- John’s of 12th Street
Literally over 100 years old, you can’t go wrong with a meal here. The homemade pasta, the sauce, and OH MY CHRIST the meatballs. Like meat pillows. Just give it a shot and thank me later.
302 East 12th St, New York NY 10003
Last but most definitely not least, shout out to my other favorite family style Italian! The original Patrizia’s in Williamsburg, BK has been a favorite of mine (and my Queens crew) for probably a decade. We would organize a dinner here once a year or so, and just FEAST on eggplant parm, calamari, pizza, chicken parm, and the little “purse” pasta in a mushroom cream sauce. DROOL. Did I mention they do a prix-fixe option with unlimited wine too? It’s honestly heaven and they have one in Manhattan now, as well as Massapequa Park for all you Long Islanders. You’re welcome.
5868 35 Broadway, Brooklyn NY