Believe it or not, about 100 years ago, you could never really find an Italian restaurant in New York City.  Eating "Italian" meant eating spaghetti and meatballs off of red checkered tablecloths: or, in other words, what the Americans thought the Italians were eating.  Eating at an Italian restaurant was quite an unusual experience – it was like going to another country.

That is, until the Italians actually came here.  For about 100 years between the late 19th Century and the early 20th, many Italians came to America, bringing their traditional foodways with them: one-pot meals, lots of "exotic" fruits and vegetables, meats, and a heavy hand for spices...all things that scared or offended the Americans.

soup, dough
Alexandra Tringali

Naturally, the Americans added their own (bland) touch to Italian foodways, creating what is known as "Italian American Food": your chicken or veal parmigiano, fettuccine alfredo, vodka sauce, etc. Essentially, Italian basics smothered in fat-heavy creamy sauces that aren't even close to the original.

Fast-forward to today. No "traditional" Italian restaurant serves any of the dishes mentioned above, or really anything else that you'll find on an Olive Garden menu. This is not real Italian. Let me say it again for those in the back: this is not real Italian.

cheese, chicken, sauce
Alexandra Tringali


But unfortunately, "real" Italian doesn't sell well, or is deemed too expensive.  The masses want that creamy alfredo, made with unsalted, overcooked pasta, "no leaves in the sauce" (basil, oregano, any sort of flavorful seasonings,) or the spaghetti donut (a take off of a real Italian dish turned into congealed mac n' cheese) because they think it looks better for their Instagram feed. 

I am a proud Italian, and I am fed up. So, I scoped out three incredible eateries here in NYC that are whippin' up traditional recipes found in The Boot.  Mangiate!

1. Tramezzini

Alexandra Tringali

If you live in NYC and have been to Smorgasburg, you've probably seen these guys with their huge black Tramezzini flag, whippin' up sandwich-pockets or cones for long lines of customers.  What sets these wonderful guys apart from all of the others?  Their commitment to fresh ingredients, quality olive oil, and the great practice of importing food directly from the Venetian countryside.

Alexandra Tringali

These traditional Venetian sandwiches are made with imported bread (made from Italian flour and olive oil and organic, locally sourced produce). Filippo &  Massimiliano Paccagnella, the two founding brothers, along with Davide Pedon, the co-founder, are making some of the best and freshest sandwiches this side of the Atlantic.

2. Trapizzino

spinach, chicken
Alexandra Tringali

Still want more Italian sandwiches?  How about these pockets full of goodness, imported from Rome?  A "trapizzino" is a traditional Roman bread, called pizza bianca.  These delicious bread pockets (which have a similar taste, texture, and consistency to focaccia bread) are filled with delicious options like pollo alla cacciatora (chicken), polpette (meatballs), and parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmigiana).

peanut, cookie, chocolate, peanut butter
Alexandra Tringali

The recipe for the pizza bianca was passed down through 11 generations to the "Master of Dough" Stefano Callegari, who introduced the trapizzino sandwich to Rome, opening the first ever Trapizzino.  Former TV producer Luca Vincenzini of Rome knew that this was a restaurant that New York desperately needed — he said that, "Americans abuse what is 'Italian," and Trapizzino was opened to redefine Italian cuisine to the American palate.

3. Da Marcella

parsley, meat, huevos rancheros, egg, basil, sauce, tomato, vegetable
Alexandra Tringali

If you're looking for a more traditional meal, Da Marcella, a small, unassuming restaurant on West Houston Street, has it.  From thick french toast and Eggs Pomodoro during weekend brunch to handmade cannoli, the food — all from family recipes — is all prepared fresh by hand every day.

macaroni, sauce, pasta, spaghetti
Alexandra Tringali

Diners can expect to find familiar pasta dishes like Cacio e Pepe or Bolognese alongside dishes that are less common in American restaurants, but abundant in the Italian kitchen, like slow-cooked tripe, or calf liver.  Da Marcella has that "in my grandmother's dining room" feel. I should know, because I felt like I was in my grandmother's dining room, eating her pasta and cannoli.