Cucina Classics

Place your orders at these eateries for the city’s best meals from the boot

From steakhouses proffering the finest cuts to late-night dollar slices, New York’s affinity for Italian food comes plated in every way. Covering the preferential bases from rustic hominess to innovative indulgence, these four each take their own approach to the cuisine but share a caliber of quality.

On a wide, quiet Noho street that feels disarmingly European paved with bumpy cobblestones, Il Buco is repeatedly cited by critics, chefs, and celebrities alike as one of their go-tos. The secret here is time—hand-making the pasta, marinating meats, selecting ingredients from New York farmers and Italian importers and carefully crafting them into dishes with hints of Spanish fusion: razor clams a la plancha, bistecca with wild arugula and polenta, grilled whole Spanish dorade. Similarly, reservations are respected despite the never-ending waitlist, and meals here are served in true Italian style—not rushed.  Sip your vintage slowly, and enjoy long candlelit conversations in the rustic restaurant, where the antique-bedecked brick walls will have you feeling like you’re dining in the villa of an old friend. (Bond St. nr. Bowery)

Down in Little Italy, restaurants come a dime a dozen, and it’s easy to stumble into the wrong one if you don’t know what you’re doing. Head to Grotta Azzurra, one of the neighborhood’s oldest and most carefully conducted establishments. Founded in 1908, the joint was once the hangout spot of choice for Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack. Now, after extensive renovations in 2003, it comprises an airy street-level dining room, bar, and downstairs room for private parties. But the menu itself has remained the same, with not a single classic left out: fried zucchini, lobster fra diavolo, eggplant parmigiana…all best washed down with a freshly stuffed cannoli. (Mulberry St. nr. Broome St.)

A member Bastianich-Batali family of restaurants, Del Posto is an opulent scene to walk into, with towering columns, luxuriantly draped double-height windows, and a dramatic staircase leading up to more tables on a second level. But this is all a stage created for the star—the food. At the helm is executive chef Mark Ladner, whose partnered ownership of two of the city’s most prominent restaurants Babbo and Lupa further testifies to his lifelong dedication to cuisine. But it’s here that his mastery shines. There’s lobster with burrata to start followed by such delicacies of broiled veal chop with corned tongue, monkfish piccata, and the infamously inimitable 100-layer lasagna. And, in a modern consideration, a vegan tasting menu is as sumptuous as the normal one of eight courses. (Tenth Ave. at 16th St.)

Beloved by diners who like to please their palate with a variety of smaller dishes, L’Artusi’s tapas-style approach to Italian cuisine has made it a West Village favorite since it opened in 2008. The menu is organized by ingredient rather than course, and though it’s easy to navigate, it’s hard to choose from. Among the crudos, there’s Hamachi tartare; pasta, garganelli in rich mushroom ragu; carne, crispy sweetbreads with corn puree and blackberries. Chefs Gabe Thompson and Joe Campanale cut no corners, making room in the darkly walled dining room for both a cheese and raw bar with views of the open kitchen. And for the vinophiles, the impressive selection of Italian varietals and biodynamic wines is worth exploring through a private dining session in the 2,500-bottle walk-in cellar. (10th St. nr. Bleecker St.)

(Photo Credit: Il Buco)