6 at Spring St.
American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
Canal St. to Houston St., Broadway to Bowery
Caruso ate here. Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack convened here. Grotta Azzurra, est. 1908, was once a Little Italy institution that attracted a loyal following for its solid Italian-American cuisine. In 1997, however, the restaurant closed and remained shuttered for six years. When it reopened in 2003, it was redesigned with an airy street-level dining room, a bar, and a downstairs private party room. But like Little Italy itself, Grotta Azzurra's best days are behind it. In its current incarnation, the restaurant succumbs to the tourist trappings that plague most of Little Italy's restaurants: glass of wine giveaways, waiters who push the most expensive items on the menu, tired entertainment in the form of a roving opera singer, an inexplicable service charge added to your bill no matter how small your party, and worst of all, indistinguishable food. The appetizers are traditional Italian-American favorites like eggplant parmigiana, sausage and peppers, and a Grotta Azzurra specialty from the old days, spiedini alla romana, with a watered down anchovy sauce that will make you yearn even more for the past. The familiar pastas—like rigatoni alla vodka and spaghetti Bolognese—are far from special, but they're respectable enough for you to skip entirely the uninspired secondi, featuring the usual suspects: veal parmigiana, lobster fra diavlo, and a bland chicken franchaise.Recommended Dishes
Eggplant parmigiana, $15; bucatini puttanesca, $12