Fractionally smaller and calmer than Chinatown, Little Italy has narrow streets and turn-of-the-century buildings with restaurants and shops below. In the early twentieth century, many of the city's half-million Italian immigrants lived in this area. In the past fifty years, however, neighborhoods in the other boroughs, such as Bensonhurst (in Brooklyn), Belmont (in the Bronx), and the suburbs of New Jersey now house the lion's share of Italian Americans.
The neighborhood is still home to a bevy of old-fashioned Italian restaurants and bakeries, along with some trendy newer shops mixed in. To get there, take the subway to the Broadway-Lafayette Street station (B, D, F, or V train), the Spring Street station (6 train), or the Prince Street station (N, R, or W train).
E. Rossi & Company is still at Grand and Mulberry, selling everything from embroidered postcards to pasta makers. Also in the area you'll find Old St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street and San Gennaro Church on Baxter Street, which hosts one of the city's best festivals.
A visit to Little Italy should include a stop at Ferrara's (108 Mulberry Street, between Canal and Hester) to buy pastries, especially cannoli. Have a pick-me-up or dessert at Rice to Riches (37 Spring Street, between Mulberry and Mott,
If you happen to be in town during the second week of September, take the family to the Feast of San Gennaro that lines Mulberry Street from Canal to Grand. The smells from the street venders are delicious, but you can also sit outside and have a meal at one of the fine Italian restaurants as the throngs pass you by. The street teems with outdoor games, music, and fun.
If your kids liked the street-vendor zeppoli at the San Gennaro Festival, you can make them at home. Heat about an inch of oil in a large skillet. Take frozen crescent-roll dough and make it into balls. Drop the balls into the oil and fry them for about a minute or two. When they're brown, remove them from oil and blot dry on a paper towel. Roll the zeppoli in confectioner's sugar.
If you have the time, visit the new Little Italy in the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx, centered on Arthur Avenue near the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden. Take the subway to the Fordham Road station (D or 4 train, then the #12 bus heading east) or Pelham Parkway station (2 or 5 train, then the #12 bus heading west), or the Metro-North Harlem River line to Fordham Road, then take the shuttle bus to Belmont and Bronx Zoo.