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For years, the humble meatball lived quietly in the shadow of its limelight-hogging partner, content to play Teller to spaghetti's Penn. But today's meatballs are strutting their own stuff and embarking on solo careers.


1. Ápizz

Unabashedly big and baked in a clay pot with tomato "gravy" and ricotta; they're lusciously soft and -- dare we say -- spicy. (217 Eldridge Street; 212-253-9199.)

2. Il Gattopardo

Mayor Bloomberg should rename 54th Street from Fifth to Sixth Avenue Meatball Row: On the corner of Fifth, there are rib-sticking German frikadellen from the Hallo Berlin street cart; midblock, it's Swedish-meatball heaven at Aquavit, and a few doors down, our favorite, Il Gattopardo's thyme-scented veal-and-beef version, wrapped like a minimalist stuffed cabbage in a single Savoy-cabbage leaf. (33 West 54th Street; 212-246-0412.)

3. Centolire

Chicken and ricotta make these light and airy puck-shaped polpette, served in an irresistible creamy tomato sauce, the welterweight champions of the meatball world. (1167 Madison Avenue, at 85th Street; 212-734-7711.)

4. Molyvos

It's been said that meatballs aren't even Italian. Maybe a Greek started that rumor. Try Molyvos's terrific meze meatballs made with lamb and bulgur and served with tzatziki, and decide whose are better. (871 Seventh Avenue, near 55th Street; 212-582-7500.)

5. Merge

Meatball heros are notoriously messy. Merge's bar-menu version smooshed in a press is as neat as a cucumber sandwich and much tastier. (142 West 10th Street; 212-691-7757.)


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