How do restaurants make it in New York City? Don't tell anyone you exist. Seriously...it works. I've found a few hardly known and hard-to-uncover NYC restaurants; try them yourself and tell me what you think!
Last month I literally stumbled upon 180 Neapolitan Eatery, a "pizza speakeasy," of sorts in Little Italy, and I firmly believe that this is the neighborhood's saving grace. For those of you not in the know, Little Italy is pretty much the farthest from decent Italian dining in New York. The quality of food is mediocre, the price for two will set you back $200 easily and everyone in the restaurant is hoping to catch a glimpse of this season's latest Tony Soprano.
But 180 is a far cry from the accordion-playing, waistcoat-wearing "Italian" spokesmen that stand on the sidewalks and try to lure you to a table. The entrance is located at 180 Hester (hence the name) on the side of the building housing the restaurant Giovanna's. The elevator is something out of an Art Deco hotel – all black with a gold prism painted lengthwise along it. This is the only way for you to access the second-floor restaurant.
The elevator will open up onto a small dining room with no more than 30 seats. A bar rims a roaring wood-burning oven where Salvatore Olivella turns out pie after cheesy-hot-and-bubbly pie.
You can go traditional, with red sauce pies topped with prosciutto, or you can go bold (fried pizza, anyone?). Be sure to try their own creation, the Vesuviania, which is half calzone, half pizza. Larger parties can order an oblong pizza which can be topped with a wide variety of pizza favorites. (You would be remiss not to order the house-made mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto and drizzled with pesto.)
Also, unlike most Italian restaurants in the ‘hood, the focus is not on wine. Craft beer is the drink of choice at this particular pizza joint. There are the obvious wine selections, but that is not why you'll come to 180.
Other Eats Below the Radar: Looking for more secret eats in NYC? Here are a few more that I scouted out:
Cabin Down Below 110 Avenue A
Let's throw a bar in for good measure. Cabin Down Below is a tiny watering hole under pizza joint, The Pizza Shop. Wednesday nights through Saturday nights from 10pm on, the men behind the counter will let you through a dingy door. Head down some stairs and emerge in an ultra-swanky underground lounge. Keep in mind that drinks are kind of pricey, but it's definitely a cool experience.
Sakagura 211 E. 43rd St.
If you're in Midtown and in dire need of some Japanese food, I wouldn't point you in any direction other than Sakagura, located on the basement level of an office building at 211 E. 43rd Street. Head down the service stairs and open the door. It opens up into a Japanese garden of sorts, decked out in wood and bamboo. This is some of the most authentic Japanese food I have ever had (and their sake list goes on forever).
Taam Tov 41 W. 47th St.
Another elevated escape, this kosher restaurant is on the third floor of a building in the Diamond District. You access it through an elevator that is tucked amid the jewelry counters on the first floor. Inside the restaurant, diners munch on lamb kebabs and hummus, as well as Uzbek dumplings.
What are some of your favorite hidden NYC restaurants?