Fordham is a strange place, which is one of the only things I think many graduates can agree on. It feels and acts like a college town, just one that happens to be smack dab in the middle of the inner city. Oh, and there's a zoo next door.
Students quickly learn that access to the subway is more a selling point than anything else; when temperatures fall below the freezing point, that hike up to the D (or, gasp, the 4) can seem indomitable. Many end up burrowing under Rose Hill, choosing the comfort of Mugz's and Howl over the bright lights of Manhattan. Yet, most Fordhamites don't bother to venture past Arthur Avenue during their tenure: seeing the borough around them a barren sea surrounding a cramped island of collegiate delights.
And, sure, there are some good bites to be had on that once-great, storied strip of real estate advertised as the "Real Little Italy of The Bronx." Killer sopresatta and boccini, old-school Italian red sauce and deli sandwiches, some of the borough's finest Mexican cooking, $1 oysters, and burek to name a few. But as our main man Ed Levine has pointed out to me, the shopping there is just plain better than the eating.
So, where does that leave us? To set the record straight: the Bronx is anything but a culinary wasteland. Let me borrow from the advice of Berkley alum James Boo and plead, won't you please—it's New York City, friend—don't be afraid to step out from your immediate surroundings for a good meal.
Sandwiches: If you like things between sliced bread as much as we do, you're in good—well, decent—luck! The bad: almost all the bread up here sucks, with the exception of Terranova and usually Madonia Brothers. (More on them later.) But there are some sweet sandwiches around these parts, especially if you've got a thing for the old school deli style. Joshua Bousel prefers Tino's; the Super Hero from Joe's Deli is a favorite; and Mike's eggplant parm and the Combo from Casa della Mozzarella are worth your attention. Then there are Estrelitta's cemitas, a sandwich of meat (preferably cecina, or salted steak), avocado, chipotle beans, papalo (a mintier cousin to cilantro, without the soapy taste), mayo, and pickled jalapenos.
Pizza by the Slice: Full Moon is Arthur Avenue's most well known slice joint, but I share Adam Kuban's mixed feelings. Some prefer Ivana Pizzeria, I'm partial to Catania's. Fewer options, but no cornmeal dusting on that crust.
Coffee: Students like The Blend as an off campus alternative to club lib (more popularly known as Walsh Library), but their coffee never won me over. It's better then the cardboard-flavored bodega brews, but I preferred the coffee at local chain Palumbo's. De Lillo's, for their part, offers cappuccinos starting at $3.50 in a rather brazen effort to bank in on their Little Italy caché.
Diners: Pete's Café and Webster Café have followings among resident students, and in my later years M&G started to gain traction. We don't recommend these restaurants, which trade in Folger's coffee and zestless food reminiscent of a bygone area we're all trying to forget. A safer bet for straightforward diner food would be Lydig Coffee Shop. However, once my roommate introduced me to Webster Avenue's Three Way I never looked back. It's Puerto Rican comfort food; I always stuck to an order of roast chicken with rice and beans. My brother, who cooks at a very fancy Manhattan restaurant, fell in love with this place when I brought him for a visit.
Italian Sit Down: If the point of this guide is to lead you towards discovering another side of your adopted borough, then Arthur Avenue's well known Italian-American restaurants will have to take a side. (Roberto after all was just named the top restaurant in the Bronx by Zagat.) That said, these are the spots I think are a cut above the rest: Roberto, Zero Otto Nove, Tra Di Noi, and often Mario's.
Mexican: If you haven't already, you'll be quickly introduced to Estrellita Poblana III. One of the borough's top Pueblan restaurants, and by accounts among the city's best, they do a bang-up job with mole poblana, cemitas, tacos specifically and antijos in general, and the list goes on. Don't bother with seafood and heed the specials menu, so long as the dishes are from the owner's home province. Come winter, both cafe de olla, coffee brewed with canella and pilonchillo, and champurrado, a chocolate-based atole, are necessary.
Snacks: Those looking for treats are well advised to get boccocini (small mozzarella balls) from Casa, others may opt for some streetside oysters from either of the neighborhood's two fish markets.
West African: Fordham-Belmont has two of the city's best Ghanaian restaurants in Ebe Ye Yie and Papaye. A profound influence on Southern food, West Afican cuisine is starch-heavy and prominently features soup and stews. Like chilies? You're in luck.
Pastries: The pastries aren't one of Arthur Avenue's strong points, but I always liked De Lillo's even if they're inconsistent and a little pricey. Artuso does some alright holiday specials, and both Madonia and Egidio's offer freshly filled cannolis upon request.
Late Night Bites: Some students swear by University Pizza's buffalo chicken slice, which features blue cheese in lieu of tomato sauce, but my one and only pizza recommendation after a long night of imbibing is Puglsey's plain slice ordered extra crispy, with a drizzling of the homemade chili-garlic oil for spunk. From Sal banging the gong to his bizarre menu items posted on printer paper above the counter to his proclamations that "love is it," it's hard not to fall in love with this place's kitschy charm. Pugsley's is such a rite of passage that Fordham students sometimes feel the need to distance themselves from it. But as my friend and noted pizza freak Jeff Orlick has pointed out, Pugsley's is the platonic ideal of college pizzerias.
But what if you're coming from downtown, ambling out of the subway long after dark? You're head's gonna hurt in the morning if you don't something quick, so why not soak it in pork and starch at 188 Cuchifritos. Lengua might be too dicey of a textural gambit at this hour, but an order of chicarrons and queso frito will suck up that excess alcohol and leave you satisfied, too.
Hangover Helper: The discovery of burek will be your biggest revelation at Fordham, not liberation theology. Why? Because Sodexho is awful, you drink too much, and—like I said—there's not much good diner food. What's a college kid to do? The funny thing is, its been hidden in plain sight the whole time: it's the neon sign facing Mugz's on Tony and Tina's, the thinly-layered pie above the pizza at the front corner. Burek is one of my favorite foods, and I still remember the first time I had it after a long night of too many beverages. The crisp crust, the buttery interior, the spinach. I really love spinach. A single slice, maybe two, will do you good. Late risers may not be so lucky as to bask in this Balkan glory, which can run out; Estrelitta is a solid second option.
Date Night: Zero Otto Nove, which has alternately been described as a cave and cozy, takes the cake. Its a more casual environment than sister restaurant Roberto, but nice and pricey enough to count as a splurge. The pizza is the star, and I remember that butternut squash pie fondly, but don't ignore the pastas.
Shopping is the best part of living around Arthur Avenue. Students have access to a plethora of imported Italian pastas, olive oils, and other specialty items (a good, but pricey selection can be found at Tino's). Just be careful as you shop, as some of these prices add up fast.
Produce: Most students end up buying their groceries at C-Town or Modern, which doesn't have the best quality control. The Retail Market offers much better produce without the Whole Foods markup; even better is a farmers' market in the nearby Botanical Gardens. Bonus points: they have Red Jacket Orchards juices and apple cider!
Butchers & Fish Mongers: The density of butchers is one of Arthur Avenue's greatest assets. A lot of people swear by Biancardis and others in the retail market, but me? I always found myself at Vincent's: great service, good prices, and decent fresh sausages. They've got everything from ground beef to suckling pig, rabbit to guanicale. When I was looking to cook fish, I would head to Randazzo's.
Cheese, Pasta, Etc.: Eating Calabria's sopresatta on a weekly basis should be obligatory for Fordhamites. It's a porky treasure, and one to be relished. Additionally, you can get homemade sausages from any one of the butchers. Casa della Mozarella makes a famous mozarrella, and Joe's is pretty good too. Some prefer Calandra's, and come weekends and holidays its a more pleasant place to shop then the perpetually packed Casa. They have a wide selection of both imported and domestic cheeses, including a funky bufallo mozzarella. Another staple of the neighborhood is Borgatti's, where you can find homemade ravioli and fresh egg noodles. Take your time to rummage around Tino's shelves for imported products from Italy, you're bound to find something interesting; those looking for wine should amble over to Mount St. Carmel.
Around The Bronx
There are a lot good bites to be had all over the Bronx, so if you're willing to trek or take a break from the college lifestyle, here are a few of the borough's greatest hits. First, a tip: one of the best unknown resources Fordham students have is the BX22, which can take them to both nearby Lydig Avenue in eight minutes and Starling Avenue in 25.
Bar: Looking to escape Fordham's Tri-Bar scene? Try the Bronx Ale House in Kingsbridge for a wide selection of beers including Sixpoint, Ommegang, and Krombacher Weizen.
Mexican: A promising trio, La Morada, Mexicocina, and El Atoradero (for weekend carnitas) are all relative newcomers to the city's Mexican dining scene. Standbys Real Azteca, where the tortillas are made fresh to order, Tlaxacalli are solid options.
Central & South American: The Bronx has the country largest Honduran population, many of them ethnic Garifunans (look out for their ethnic celebration in the coming spring), and growing Salvadorian and Ecuadorian populations. A number of Honduran restaurants can be found around East 149th, I like newcomer Seis Vecinos. Further up the 6 train, Pupuseria Salvadorena and Ricuras Panderia serve great Salvadorian and decent Ecuadorian food, respectively.
Kosher Delis: The Bronx is blessed to retain two classic Jewish delis, including the city's oldest continuously operated institution by way of Kingsbridge Heights' seriously old school Loeser's. The other is Liebman's, a favorite of Ed Levine's, farther north in Riverdale.
Middle Eastern: Van Nest's Arth Aljanatain serves up good renditions of Yemeni standards like fasha salta and curry chicken alongside more generic Middle Eastern fare.
South Asian: From Norwood to Parkchester, the Bronx is being swept over by a Bangladeshi tide. Head to Neerob for one of the city's best South Asian restaurants, next door to Al-Aqsa for shopping, or nearby Starling Coffee Shop for snacks.
Southeast Asian: Most students would probably scratch their heads when told that the Bronx boasts New York's largest Vietnamese and Cambodian populations. Unfortunately, since the beloved World of Taste closed, there hasn't been a great restaurant to show for it. If you're hankering for this type of food and don't want to head downtown, Jerome Avenue's Com Tam Ninh Kieu can satisfy. (But don't expect all that much, as I've always found something to be missing.) The Vietnamese temple Chieu Kien serves vegetarian Buddhist fare every Sunday, and just-off-campus Wat Jotanaram hosts celebrations for major holidays. At Siam Square, you can get alright Thai. But you're better served heading to Woodside or Elmhurst in Queens.
African: There's a bounty of African restaurants across the Bronx. My favorite has to be Melrose's Bate, where they serve Guinean food. Find something unexpected in their leaf stews. Nearby Maryway churns out a mean mafe, and at Fouta you can find juice made from the baobab fruit.
Puerto Rican and Dominican: El Nuevo Bohio gets major props for their lechon, while El Economico is praised for some of the city's finer roast chicken. Streetside Lechonera La Pirana is my go-to for pastelillos (Puerto Rican style empanadas) and Nano Billiards Cafe serves the borough's best country-style Dominican fare.
More Burek: While Tony and Tina's has the convenience factor, Lydig Avenue's legendary Dukagjini is another must for all Fordham students. Take a break to go get a spinach burek and an espresso the week before finals, and feel alright about life.