Tell almost any New Yorker, I’m talking new or old, native or not, whoever, whenever, wherever, that you’re from the Bronx and he or she will look at you like a third-world citizen. Trust me, I’ve seen it. I’ve heard it. I’ve lived it. “No gun on me, I swear!” That usually breaks the ice just enough, right to the point where we awkwardly laugh out loud together, he or she not really knowing if I am kidding or not.
The Bronx. It doesn’t roll off the tongue very easily. It doesn’t even sound all that inviting (and let’s be honest here, and this is coming from a native who is still enamored with the borough’s grit, grind, and realness… most parts aren’t).
But even though the “Boogie-Down” isn’t exactly a stroll through any New York City lover’s Utopian paradise, there are still many valid, authentic, and beautiful reasons to visit what I like to think of as the most underrated borough of them all (which is also proudly known as the birthplace of hip-hop, countless celebrities… and, yes, you guessed it, yours truly).
So here they are… the top 9 reasons (in no particular order) this city’s most-often-forgotten-about-neighborhoods deserve just a little bit more TLC from its almost nine-million inhabitants.
HERE ARE 9 REASONS WHY THE BRONX IS NYC’S MOST UNDERRATED BOROUGH:
1. City Island
There’s one lane in and out of this historic island, via the City Island Bridge. What does that mean for visitors? Well, thanks to some of the best casual (Sammy’s, Seashore, Crab Shanty, Lobster House, Lobster Box) and fine-dining (Artie’s, Don Coqui, Bistro SK) seafood restaurants outside of Manhattan, be sure to avoid this wonderful 1.5 mile-long-island on major dine-out holidays, unless you want to sit in some serious traffic.
Day-trips are highly recommended, though, as you can visit several of the antique stores that line the main Avenue, as well as The Nautical Museum. Also make sure to stop by The Black Whale, as they make the some of the best desserts– not only on the Island, but perhaps the entire borough. And don’t forget the alcoholic beverages, as most of these seafood restaurants make their drinks so strong, they could turn even your biggest anti-seafood friends into creature-of-the-sea lovers by just their second drink.
2. The Bronx Zoo
If you’ve only ever been to the Bronx once before, odds are it’s been for the Zoo (or the Stadium). Where do I start? This place is utterly massive, first and foremost. How big? How about the biggest metro-area zoo in North America, and almost the world? Nearly 6,000 animals, 650 species, and 265 acres. The exhibit list is absolutely amazing, and simply too long to list here.
They are open year-round and offer special exhibits during the fall and holiday seasons, which are definitely worth checking out. One insider tip: stay away on Wednesdays, as it’s practically free to visitors (suggested donation only), which is cause for absolute chaos with crowds and lines. And make sure to wear the best sneakers you have in your closet, because you will have plenty of ground to cover during this all-day excursion.
3. Yankee Stadium
Visit the immediate-surrounding neighborhood during any Yankee home game, concert, or most any other sporting event and you’ll feel something special in the air. There’s an indescribable buzz, aura, excitement that surrounds The House That Steinbrenner Built.
Don’t forget to check out the best bars in the area– Billy’s and Stan’s, first and foremost. And if you have time, be sure to visit Monument Park and the Museum (only open during baseball season and for tours) inside this massive, historic ballpark.
4. Arthur Avenue
Most refer to this section of the Bronx as the “Real Little Italy of NYC,” and one walk through their infamous Retail Market (side-note, be sure to drop by a relatively-new addition inside, The Bronx Beer Hall, for some of the top local brews right on-tap) will tell you why. Although most Italians have moved out of this still-amazingly-authentic neighborhood, the Avenue’s– as well as the intersecting 187th Street’s– storefronts include dozens of throwbacks to yesteryear.
Accustomed to shopping at Fairway or other supermarkets of the sort? Look elsewhere. Here, if you need meat, you go Biancardi’s or Pete’s Meat Market. Looking for homemade pasta? There’s a shop for that: Borgatti’s. Go by Randazzo’s or Cosenza’s for fish, and Calandra’s for any imported cheese your mounting appetite desires. Want some freshly-baked bread? Visit Terranova, Addeo or Madonia.
And if you are still hungry after all that shopping, there are enough five-star restaurants, from Roberto’s to Dominick’s to Zero Otto Nove to Antonio’s, to keep you coming back time and time again. Finally, the annual Ferragosto Street Festival in September is a definite must-go for any and all out-of-borough dwellers (and Bronxites as well, for that matter).
5. Old-School Delicatessens
If you still find yourself exploring the Arthur Avenue section of the Bronx, there are two must-try spots which define what every other quintessential Italian delicatessen should be like: Mike’s Deli in the Market and Casa Della Mozzarella. Looking for specific recommendations? Literally, anything and everything off the menu: imported meats, hot-food sandwiches, side-dishes– you name it, they have it, and it’s all amazing. P.S., the fresh mozzarella from Casa is an absolute must-try.
Craving a hot pastrami sandwich with a matzo ball soup on the side? If you’re ever up in Riverdale, Liebman’s is the last, real, family-owned Jewish deli in the entire borough– it’s up there on most best-of-city lists, right next to the Manhattan staples of Katz’s and Eisenberg’s.
And finally, over in the Morris Park section of the Bronx, one of the most authentic, old-school Italian delis around is still going strong after almost forty years in business: G&R. Practically everything is homemade and fresh, from the sausage to the pasta to the mozzarella to the ravioli. To boot, this hidden gem’s sandwiches are insanely stacked and absolutely affordable.
6. Pelham Bay Park
Ask any New Yorker what the largest NYC park is, and most (if not all) will answer Central Park. The ironic part is, they would be wrong. Hop on the 6 train (to the very last stop) and head up to the most northeast section of the borough to experience Pelham Bay Park, which is almost three times the size of that Manhattan staple, and also encompasses what is known to many natives as the Bronx Riviera, or Orchard Beach (a one mile long, man-made beach with beautiful views of the aforementioned City Island). It also holds over two-dozen courts for basketball, volleyball, and handball.
Getting back to the actual Park, prep yourself for a day filled with a ton of outdoor activities. There are softball/baseball fields, tennis courts, children’s playgrounds, biking trails, and even a running track that was recently renovated in effort to bring the 2012 Summer Olympics to NYC. The Park is also home to the Equestrian Center, where visitors can ride horses or ponies. One insider tip: avoid the beach and park during major weekend holidays, unless you are prepared to deal with large crowds and lots of subway/vehicular traffic.
7. The New York Botanical Garden
Just when you think the Bronx couldn’t get any bigger, there’s this: a 250-acre garden, a national landmark, that’s right across the street from The Bronx Zoo. Don’t bet on being able to visit both destinations in the same day though, because there simply aren’t enough hours to do so. In the NYBG, there are over 50 plant, flower, and tree exhibitions, complete with a wonderful waterfall nestled right in the middle of what literally seems like a New York forest.
What else, you might ask? A massive greenhouse, or conservatory, a beautiful rose and rock garden, the only fresh-water river in NYC (The Bronx River), an enormous library, and numerous research facilities. Be sure to check the NYBG website before planning a trip, however, because there are plenty of weekend and seasonal-specific exhibits, especially during the fall and holiday season, which are definitely worth checking out.
8. The Pizza
Believe it or not, you can find several high-quality pizza shops in the Bronx. This borough may not be as stacked as Brooklyn when it comes to the number of top pizzerias, but it actually isn’t all that far off in terms of quality. Perhaps the most-renowned slice can be found in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx at Louie & Ernie’s. Their sausage slice is simply phenomenal– quite honestly, it’s among the best in the city because of the fresh meat sourced from local butchers, so you may just want to spring for the entire pie while you’re there.
Back over on Arthur Avenue, Zero Otto Nove consistently serves up wood-fired, Neapolitan pizza pies in a charmingly-authentic, Italian piazza setting, while Antonio’s, Mario’s (their pizza is usually off-the-menu, but just ask for it) and Pugsley (for a more classic NYC slice catered to the Fordham University crowds) are honorable mentions to this list (as is Patricia’s in Morris Park, which also serve up delicious, wood-fired pies).
Finally, visit Yolanda’s right off of the Grand Concourse and 149th Street for all things pizza; for the past fifty-plus years, they have had that entire neighborhood on lock-down when it comes to basically every and any Italian dish imaginable– pizza, obviously, being first and foremost on that list.
9. Jake’s Steakhouse
I know what you’re asking yourself on this one: there’s a great steakhouse in the Bronx– even better, Riverdale? Trust me, yes. All beef, no nonsense. With scenic views of Van Cortlandt Park (another Bronx park bigger than Manhattan’s Central), this multi-level, 125+ seat steakhouse boasts massive, wood-trimmed interiors without the scene, hassle (valet parking is always a plus), and prices of numerous Manhattan counterparts.
Their signature steak dish is Jake’s Filet Mignon, which is topped with melted gorgonzola cheese and scrumptious, frizzled onions, but when you have a joint churning out dishes as tender and juicy as they do (thanks to the owners, who age hand-selected beef in their own facilities), you can’t go wrong with any of their basic meat selections either.
By: Danny Giardullo
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