All photos courtesy of Pisticci

Letter of RecommendationNew York

Why (and How) New York’s Pisticci Became a Part of the Family


Finding a restaurant to celebrate life’s most important moments can be a terrifying, anxiety-inducing task. What makes a place perfect for a special occasion — or even random Wednesday night drinks for that matter?

The answers to those questions vary for everyone, but for me, that dream sequence involves devouring a plate of pappardelle while hearing the 1 train rumble by at Pisticci, the restaurant that’s become my go-to for enjoying life’s milestones — and recovering from its missteps.

When I heard Pisticci was where I’d be meeting my partner’s best friends for the first time, I was eager to discover a restaurant where I could revel in conversation. Beginning a romantic relationship during a global pandemic, one month before a mandatory statewide stay-at-home order went into effect, wasn’t exactly how I envisioned kicking off my honeymoon phase. Yet, I knew this relationship was going places even if the world wasn’t.

We needed a restaurant that could uplift our spirits during a time when dining out felt dangerous. And I wasn’t just seeking out a good meal — I also needed an experience that would ease the transition of moving uptown permanently.

Tucked away in the basement of a Morningside Heights apartment building on La Salle Place, Pisticci’s perch between the chaos of Broadway and the calm of Claremont Avenue strikes the perfect balance. It’s just far enough removed from the path of commuters exiting the 125th Street station, but also located on a busy enough block where it’s perfectly acceptable to let loose on an outdoor patio. In other words, Pisticci has the curb appeal of a warm hug awaiting weary travelers in search of pleasant memories.

Inside, you may feel as though you’re in an off-the-grid Italian village designed by artists who failed to consult one another ahead of time. On any given night, you might choose to have a drink in a room called The Den, a speakeasy-style bar and parlor with wallpapered bookshelves. You could also settle down in what the restaurant calls The Wine Cellar, if old stone walls are more your thing. And since the restaurant partners with local artists to showcase their work, there’s no shortage of conversation starters adorning its walls. Thematically, not everything gels together, but Pisticci’s quirky identity packs in the crowds nightly because New Yorkers love to patronize businesses with original personalities.

The Den at Pisticci.
The Den at Pisticci.

What really stopped me in my tracks during my first visit was the sight of crystal chandeliers hanging outside from electric cables. It felt like the restaurant had been granted permission by the Department of Transportation to make their slice of the sidewalk stylish, and the community was absolutely here for it. Pandering to pandemic decor trends or not, that chandelier helped me realize I was exactly where I needed to be if I planned on having a good time. What I experienced that first night — and the reason I keep coming back  —  is that Pisticci has mastered the art of making my day better without doing anything out of the ordinary.

Finding a trattoria in New York that dishes up acceptable Italian fare isn’t hard, but the dishes at Pisticci carry with them the culinary equivalent of that new car smell. Perhaps it’s because many of their vegetables and ingredients come directly from Pisticci Full Circle Farm, grown from the organic waste generated by the restaurant’s daily operations. The restaurant is committed to sustainability and holds the distinction of being the city’s first carbon-neutral restaurant. Whether or not Pisticci’s commitment to zero waste is the deciding factor in their food’s flavor profile is pure speculation, but the conscious effort to respect the environment is a reminder this business is actively thinking about the greater health of its community.

The menu revolves around a selection of pastas that never changes, yet I still comb through it each time with the joy of a child opening a birthday gift. I’ve ordered the meatballs with polenta almost a half dozen times, and that’s including on steamy summer nights. Even their takeout game checks out; the soothing sight of their penne alla vodka was a godsend on the days we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave the house during our in vitro fertilization journey. And when it comes to group dining, though options like roasted garlic bread, steamed artichoke, insalatas, and burrata aren’t breaking culinary boundaries, they are incredibly easy to share and will allow your friends to focus on having a good time instead of worrying about the amount of Instagram likes their dinner post or story receives that evening.

Pisticci has mastered the art of making my day better without doing anything out of the ordinary.

I continue to return to Pisticci because of how it makes me feel. The staff appears to be having as much fun as you possibly can while serving guests. It was opened in 2002 by Michael and Vivian Forte, originally as a takeout-only operation by two first-time restaurateurs, and it has since become a neighborhood fixture two decades later. Even their opening day chef, Edmundo Garzon, is still here.

For me, Pisticci’s impact has been immeasurable. It’s the first place I felt at ease dining during a global pandemic. It’s the place where I’ve met new lifelong friends. It’s the place where I introduced my fiancée to my parents. It’s the place that satiated us when we felt exhausted in our journey to expand our family. And it’s the only place I can’t say out loud without smiling when suggesting a restaurant to celebrate the highs and lows life may throw your way.

Recently, when I confided to an acquaintance that I’d be writing an article about a place that was incredibly special to me, she asked what place it was. I told her, and her reply had all the feels:

“Oh, Pisticci? I had my first date there.”


Pisticci is open daily for lunch and dinner.

Billy Lyons is a New York- based writer and video producer. He has contributed to Cool Hunting, Food & Wine, Fortune, Zagat, YouTube, and more. Follow him on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.