For intrepid chowhounds who've already probed the far reaches of Brooklyn and Queens, the Bronx is the next frontier. The northernmost of New York City's five boroughs, it contains a network of fascinating neighborhoods, including a fabled Little Italy and a breezy maritime enclave that looks more like Maine, that can address any kind of hunger pang you're having. Below is a rundown of some of the borough's tastiest attractions; make sure to bring an empty stomach when you visit—or just work up an appetite while you're exploring.
The Bronx's most famous attraction is Yankee Stadium, so it comes as no surprise that its immediate neighborhood features a wide variety of restaurants. Around the corner from the Bronx Bombers' home is the Feeding Tree, a West Indian luncheonette with hot jerk shrimp and cool ginger beer. It got the Anthony Bourdain seal of approval, as did Sam's Soul Food, a 15-minute walk from the stadium. At the latter, order fall-off-the-bone oxtail, mac 'n' cheese and collard greens; cheap weekday lunch specials and happy hour deals are especially appealing if you're watching your budget. But if you just want to dip a toe into the Bronx, make your way to the casually elegant, easily reachable Charlie's Bar & Kitchen, on the borough's southern edge. Take the 6 train north for the restaurant's New American menu with a Southern bent. Highlights are fried chicken and jambalaya, and the restaurant is particularly popular at brunch for its great shrimp and grits.
Other than seeing Yankees games and the Bronx Zoo, visiting the New York Botanical Garden is the chief reason travelers are lured to the Bronx. Hiking around its fragrant 250 acres can incite an appetite and, so long as you can manage another mile, Arthur Avenue is the place to refuel. The borough's Little Italy flies the tricolor flag from street corners and boasts as many trattorias, mozzarella stores and pasticcerias as any neighborhood in the Old Country.
First stop: Tino's Delicatessen for a pick-me-up espresso and a stupendous hero. The crammed shop is a mini Eataly of raw materials, plus Rosa's homemade marinara, pesto and vodka sauce to go. For a sugar rush, Morrone Pastry Shop & Cafe has double chocolate biscotti, mini tiramisu and cannoli, dozens of cookies and pleasant, swift service. DeLillo Pasticceria is another destination with a rich, century-long history of whipping up cappuccino, cannoli and Italian ices. If cheap and cheerful is your aim, step inside the Arthur Avenue Retail Market to sample flavored olive oil, down a local beer at the Bronx Beer Hall and grab a slice of Sicilian pizza at Cafe al Mercato, found at the back of the lively bazaar. The squares have a crisp, buttery texture, and toppings are vibrantly fresh.
Find more pizza at Trattoria Zero Otto Nove, named for the telephone code in Salerno, Italy; it sells whole, wood-fired Neapolitan-style pies as well as earthy linguine alla puttanesca and ragu' Salernitano, which mixes braciola, sausage and meatballs in slowly bubbling tomato sauce. Zero Otto Nove's mothership is Roberto's Restaurant, a handsome setting for classic renditions of bucatini with creamy, cheesy zucchini sauce and penne with peas and cured bacon. In the same vein is Mario's Restaurant, an old-fashioned restaurant famous for robust lasagna and fettuccine Alfredo.
At the charming Enzo's of Arthur Avenue, meanwhile, the must-have specialties are olive bread, chicken and veal parmigiana. Tra Di Noi is another one within a meatball's throw, a welcoming, red-checkered-tablecloth joint with scrumptious fried calamari and linguine con vongole. Then there's the boisterous, pinewood-clad Dominick's, a family-style restaurant best experienced with someone who knows the score. The menu is verbal (and so is the check), which can be disconcerting for some. If you're a first-timer, fear not. Just put yourself in your conversant server's hands, and trust that the antipasti, pasta, seafood and meat dishes are in plentiful portions, well seasoned and fairly priced. Seating is communal, and it never fails to be a fun, memorable experience.
City Island is a land unto itself, more like maritime New England than part of New York City. Nonetheless, it is in the Bronx, as well as at the end of Long Island Sound. That means a lot of seafood restaurants, such as the waterfront City Island Lobster House just off City Island Bridge. (It's unmissable: the facade features a giant lobster perched atop a bright red awning.) Garlic bread, blueberry bread, marinated olives, mushrooms, salad and cheese are complimentary, and broiled lobster and king crab legs are necessary. If the weather's nice, try for a patio table.
Sammy's Fish Box and Johnny's Reef are other island institutions for feasting on seafood, fried or steamed. That said, City Island locals are more commonly found at Artie's Steak & Seafood Restaurant. The restaurant doesn't have a view of the water, but it does have strong drinks and a hearty, Bronx-style spin on pastas, plus Maryland crab cakes and chargrilled filet mignon. Bistro SK, a gracious French restaurant, also caters to locals although it's worthy of a trip for outsiders. Coq au vin, salade Niçoise, steak au poivre and lamb shank with flageolet beans are all superb and complemented by a wine list featuring several bottles starting at $33. The Black Whale, an easygoing tavern, is another pleasant, non-touristy spot to pop into, especially if a table is free on the leafy courtyard. The New American menu is eclectic, from crispy buffalo chicken fritters to a Cobb salad to meatloaf. A hot fudge sundae served over a brownie is the way to cap off the night.
African food is also a strong selling point for visiting the Bronx. Papaye put Ghanaian cuisine on the map; the cafeteria on the Grand Concourse dishes up delicious peanut soup and smoky spinach stew. Nearby is Ebe Ye Yie, a Ghanaian storefront whose name roughly translates as "it will be all right." More than all right is fufu (pounded, doughy yams and plantains), stewed okra and fried whole tilapia. Eating with your hands is encouraged (a bowl of warm water and liquid soap is provided).
The borough contains a substantial South Asian population as well. The Vietnamese and Cambodian community in the Kingsbridge Heights area, for instance, accounts for the remarkable Com Tam Ninh Kieu. The restaurant's pho, barbecue beef vermicelli, shrimp cakes and steamed broken rice with a lemongrass-laced pork chop are a fraction of what's offered on the huge menu. Elsewhere, visitors can enjoy amazing Mexican at La Morada, which is introducing exciting, complex Oaxacan mole sauces to the South Bronx.