1/28/2013 11:36:00 AM

Little Italy Survival Guide: 5 Mulberry Street Restaurants Worth Visiting

Caffe Palermo
Early Saturday morning, when only a few tourists wander Mulberry Street’s soon-to-be congested sidewalks, regulars idle over coffee and pastry at Caffe Roma. In a neighborhood known for its throngs of out-of-towners, gift shops that prove you can put “mafia” on anything and sell it and restaurant hosts willing to tackle potential customers to get their attention, Caffe Roma is one of just a few restaurants that prove you can spend a day on Mulberry Street without feeling like you just dined at Epcot Italy.

Between sips of cappuccino, Nancy Arnold says she’s been a regular at the pastry shop on the corner of Mulberry and Broome for 47 years. “I come here 200 times a year,” she says. “And she’s spent $25,000 here,” her husband, Henry, chimes in as Nancy nods, affirming his math. “One day we decided to figure it out,” says Nancy. “And it really comes to about $25,000. Henry says I should own the place.”

Cannoli at Palermo
While the Arnolds spend plenty at Caffe Roma, they don’t budget much time or money for many other Little Italy mainstays. Apparently, the pickings are angel hair-thin. It takes a clearly defined strategy to separate Mulberry Street’s true gems from the joints that seem like Italian-themed Hard Rock Caf├ęs. Denise Orfanos, whose family has owned Caffe Roma for over half a century, says there are two key rules to surviving Little Italy:

1) Ignore “hook restaurants” (any restaurant where there’s a guy standing outside trying to hook you in).

2) Avoid going south of Grand Street, where the quality of food can seem inversely proportional to crowd size. “Tourists tend to gravitate toward the street vendors selling all the kitschy souvenirs in that area,” Orfanos says.

To really make it through a full day on Mulberry Street, you’ll need to violate these rules a bit, but they’re a good guide to navigating a street that’s become famous for underwhelming grub. Here’s a guide to full day of dining and caffeinating options that are worth your time.

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