The area "north of little Italy," or NoLiTa in New York realtor-speak, is not so well defined. (Parts of it, in fact, bleed over into Little Italy itself, insofar as that neighborhood can be said to exist.) But for whatever reason, it has a disproportionate number of great restaurants.
A perpetually crowded, popular and fashionable SoHo standard, Cafe Habana boasts some good grilled corn and a standout cuban sandwich.
In a city where wood-burning ovens and rustic Italian food are common, Peasant has an unusually large number of devoted admirers. Maybe because it was the first, or because the atmosphere and food, under the direction of Frank DeCarlo. Getting in can be a hassle, thanks to all the regulars, but you can usually get a seat at the bar.
This NoLiTa lunch bar is small and stylish, and serves some of the best food for the money to be found in that ritzy neighborhood.
Public is one place that definitely deserves the "better than it has to be" award. The room is the very essence of the retro style pioneered by the influential design firm AvRoKo -- no surprise, since its founder, Adam Farmerie, is the brother of Public's chef-owner, Brad Farmerie. The latter does adventurous modernist food made with far greater care and imagination that one would expect from a restaurant this pretty on such a chic block of Nolita. The cocktails are also very high-concept. Some nights you'd rather have a steak and a Rob Roy -- and if that's the case, go someplace else. Public doesn't take the easy way.
The quintessential fashionable pizzeria, this airy NoLiTa landmark attracts both gluttons and models alike.
Upscale, original, and inventive, Jo's has never quite gotten the credit it deserves, and I've often wondered why. It's on a lovely block and has a great bar. Go figure.
What started out a loving tribute to Italian-American food from two talented young line cooks has morphed under their genius into a true culinary destination, a French Laundry for the Sunday Gravy set. No reservations.
Where restaurants like Mile End and Kutshers have reimagined Jewish food from the eastern European side, Balaboosta attempts to do the same thing with Israeli food, and with similar success. Don't go expecting hummus and lamb; this is real New York cooking, with its aim a lot higher than the middle-eastern grub we tend to take for granted.
This tribute to Italian-American sandwiches outdoes its original, and takes its tradition to a new and better place.
From the outside, La Esquina looks like a simple taqueria with a small dining room in back. But the real action is downstairs, where boulevardiers and beauties hobnob over custom cocktails, and chef Akthar Nawab directs one of the best Mexican kitchens in Manhattan.
Known for its surpremely thin and crispy pizza, this upstart took over Little Italy from the day it opened.
Soccarat is the best part of paella: the crusty bits stuck to the pan. No restaurant named for such a think can ever be all bad.