Whether Nolita is a portmanteau for North of Little Italy or Northern Little Italy—it depends on who you ask—one thing is certain: this diminutive neighborhood packs a punch and has some delicious eateries. Here are the best restaurants in Nolita.
Consisting of about 16 blocks, Nolita stretches from East Houston Street in the north to Kenmare Street in the south, the Bowery to the east, and Kenmare Street to the west. It is home to St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, which was the biggest church in the United States when it was built in 1815, the New Museum, and Lombardi’s, arguably the first pizzeria in the United States, Nolita is more known today for its independent fashion boutiques that line the neighborhood’s narrow streets.
But it is also home to a handful of outstanding eateries. So when all that shopping builds up an appetite, as it tends to do, here are a dozen places to consider planting yourself for an hour or two to enjoy some food and drink in Nolita.
Celebrity chef Marc Forgione is the top toque at this elegant, rustic-chic Italian restaurant. If you’re looking for well-executed, upscale Italian fare in a vibe-y environment that’s not too stuffy, this is the place. There’s a wood-burning oven and they use it wisely at Peasant. Wood-roasted oysters with bone marrow and baby octopus with chilis and bread crumbs are two oven standouts. For pasta dishes, if the bucatini carbonara, a classic creamy Roman dish, is on the menu, order it. Same with the suckling pig which also gets roasted in the wood-burning oven.
Is Estela the perfect New York City restaurant? Maybe. Super chef Ignacio Mattos is the top toque here. Creating hard-to-define dishes that exemplify Mattos’ signature move. Simple-looking dishes that are hiding deep flavor strata. The menu changes regularly but you can always expect edible elegance on the plate in a semi-casual atmosphere with friendly, accommodating service.
The Musket Room
Michelin-starred Musket Room represented the cuisine of New Zealand for years. But a chef change in 2020 inspired a change of course. Now, chefmMary Attea is in charge and she’s doing wonders in the kitchen. The menu spins around the globe with ingredients referencing everywhere from Spain to Lebanon to Italy and Eastern Europe. All done with mild French technique: unctuous jamon Iberico is paired with smoked mussels and saffron aioli and roasted duck has a flourish of creamy labneh. These creative flavor combinations is why we had to include the Musket Room on our list of best restaurants in Nolita.
This Mexican restaurant is a choose-your-own-adventure eating experience. Do you want to sit at the casual ground-floor taqueria grazing on above-average over-stuffed tacos while nursing a Corona? Or did you nab a reservation for the quasi-secretive basement-level more refined Mexican eatery, which you enter by passing through a door in the taqueria that says, “Employees Only”? Whatever the case, La Esquina is a good bet for those in need of a south-of-the-border fix.
Chef Ryan Hardy is the man behind Pasquale Jones. Hardy also operates lauded Charlie Bird, Legacy Records, and, just around the corner, Bar Pasquale. This restaurant might be his most under-the-radar spot but not for a lack of talent and skill in the kitchen.
The Neapolitan-style pizzas here are some of the best in the city. But first, start with the super-creamy chicken liver and maybe share an order of the Roman pasta dish Amatriciana before moving on to a Margherita pizza with tangy San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala.
If Japan and Italy got married, dinner at their house would taste a lot like the food at Kimika. The restaurant focuses on itameshi cuisine, a little-known cuisine in Japan that blends the culinary traditions of these two nations. Imagine, if you will, the picture: crispy rice cake lasagna, yellowfin tuna tartare, eggplant katsu with caponata, and spaghetti with tobiko, mentaiko, ikura, bottarga, and shiso. Just like mamma used to make!
In 1897, Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi opened up a small grocery store on the corner of Spring and Mott Streets. Back when this part of the neighborhood was still firmly Little Italy. He would bake tomato pies for construction workers in the area. And eight years later, he got an official license to bake pizzas for homesick Italian immigrants. And the first pizzeria in the United States was born. A whole pizza back then cost five cents.
They’re a bit more expensive today, but Lombardi’s is still firing up pizzas in the same location with its beast of a coal oven. The crispy pies with tangy tomato sauce here are great. Any pizza lover should make a pilgrimage to Lombardi’s.
Prince Street Pizza
There’s usually a line outside Prince Street Pizza. During the day it’s shorter than at night. That’s when New Yorkers walking from one bar to the next are pulled like a magnet here for the square pizza slices with thick upturned pepperoni slices pressed into them.
There are three Sicilian square slices here but the best is the Spicy Spring. It’s a thick, crispy but airy slice that has a little kick to the tomato sauce with cups of oil wading in the upturned pepperoni slices.
Located on Mulberry Street. Rubirosa was part of a mini-trend that saw the emergence of high-quality Italian-American cuisine in the neighborhood. Opening in 2010, Rubirosa is still going strong. You know that if you pop in for a bite at, say, Tuesday at 3 pm and the place is mildly packed. The thin-crust pizzas here are excellent, inspired by the legendary Staten Island pizzeria Joe & Pat’s. There are other nice Italian-American staples on the menu here too, such as baked clams and eggplant parm.
Thai Diner has been a huge Nolita hit since the day it opened in early 2020. Brought to you by the people who gave us Uncle Boon’s, another hit Thai spot in Nolita (that sadly no longer exists). Thai Diner serves up staples from this Southeast Asian cuisine that dazzle the palate.
The menu travels around Thailand, offering excellent laab (a kind of spicy ground meat salad) from the region of Isaan in the northeast, as well as, classic khao soi from Chiang Mai in the northwest. And the “diner” in the name isn’t a wink-wink joke. Thai Diner also offers eggy breakfasts, simple burgers, and Thai-inspired soups. You know, just like a diner would.
Cedric Vongerichten is the chef at this sleek Indonesian restaurant. You might recognize the last name, as Cedric’s chef father, Jean-George, knows his way around the kitchen pretty well. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. At Wayan, chef Vongerichten infuses a bit of French technique into classic Indonesian dishes. This might not be the Indonesian food you’ll get on the streets of Jakarta, but when it’s this good, you won’t care.
This large taqueria is in a converted garage and it’s big enough to house a VW van that’s been turned into a small kitchen. The chef pokes his upper half out of the top of the van where the roof has been removed. Tacombi originally began in Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera before setting up shop here. The tacos are very good, particularly the crispy fish Baja California-style taco and the black bean and sweet potato taco.
David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes here and here.