Rustic-leaning Italian with old-school charm and just the right modern tweaks

By Erik Mathes

Busy and buzzing on a Sunday afternoon in Harlem, this cozy “new-age” Italian restaurant is brought to you by executive chef and co-owner, Andrew LoPresto, and crew. LoPresto and his wife, Christy, run the Lenox Avenue establishment in old-school style, getting to know their regulars by name and remembering the dishes they typically order, to achieve a rare quality of hospitality that’s hard to find in NYC. But it’s the rare quality of the food that makes Babbalucci a place you’ll want to make your own.

Let’s start with the pizzas. Sauce conjured from the sweet, deep flavor of San Marzano tomatoes, the best mozzarella (and other Italian cheeses) that money can buy, and a thin (but not too thin) crust charred from the kiss of the high-heat, wood-burning oven all combine to form the basis of most of Babbalucci’s pies, such as the DOP, topped with speck, balsamic reduction, and grana. There are also white, or bianche, pies, like the #iamFabrizio (yes, hashtagged), piled with Sicilian tuna, cherry tomatoes, scamorza (a cheese similar to mozzarella), Italian hot peppers, olives, and oregano, and the Nutty Tom, topped with mozz, ricotta, roasted tomatoes, spinach, artichokes, and nutmeg. Most of the names come from inside jokes, so don’t get too hung up on their meanings.
Beyond otherworldly pizzas, you’ll also find delicious spins on traditional Italian dishes. The polpettine, or mini beef meatballs, incorporate spinach, are stewed in tomato gravy, and are served with whipped ricotta and crostini so you can build your own bites. There’s also the funghi e polenta, a savory combination of soft cornmeal that’s similar to creamy grits, served with wild cremini and king trumpet mushrooms and melted fontina cheese—the perfect vegetarian dish for those craving some serious umami.

If you’re more of a pasta person, try the fregola, a bead-shaped Sardinian pasta similar to Israeli couscous that comes served with Manila clams, chorizo, cannellini beans, cherry tomatoes, and a white wine broth that’s best eaten using a half-shell of clam as a spoon. And, if you’re craving fish, you owe it to yourself to sample the wild coho salmon, a dish that’s all about the quality of the protein. LoPresto goes to great lengths to source this particular wild salmon, and for good reason: it’s the only type he’s ever been ecstatic about cooking and eating. Served simply with roasted butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, and squash puree, the dish lets the salmon be the star of the show, but the accoutrements shine, as well.

As if that weren’t enough reason to check out Babbalucci, it’s also killing it with a creative cocktail menu and awesome desserts like house-made pumpkin cheesecake dessert. Sounds like it’s time to discover your new Harlem hotspot.


Dinner: Sun–Wed 4 PM–11 PM; Thu–Sat 4 PM–midnight
Lunch: Mon–Fri 11 AM–4 PM
Brunch: Sat–Sun 11 AM–4 PM

price range

$14 (eggplant Parmesan) to $36 (special entrees)