Photo: Serving meatball subs in Philadelphia's Little Italy

Hoagies are filled with meatballs at Philadelphia's Italian Market.

Photograph by Ruth Savitz

By Andrea Strong

From the April 2010 issue of National Geographic Traveler

The classic Little Italy might be New York City's Mulberry Street and its famous feast of San Gennaro—an edible amusement park with booths overflowing with blistered sausages and sugar-powdered zeppole. But Little Italys—culinary enclaves sprung from Italian immigrant communities—exist nationwide. Here are our picks:

Providence

Look for a copper pine-nut (called "pigna") dangling from an archway above Atwells Avenue (and the colors of the Italian flag painted down the middle of the street). You've found Federal Hill, Rhode Island's Little Italy. This Italian symbol of abundance and hospitality is an accurate harbinger of the culinary riches this idyllic neighborhood has to offer. A local favorite is the red-sauce joint, Angelo's Civita Farnese, serving since 1924. Camille's is the place for a special occasion and hearty pasta fagioli; for wood-grilled pizza and memorable Tuscan fare, try Siena.

St. Louis

You'll find mom-and-pop bakeries and upscale Italian restaurants nestled between the Hill neighborhood's characteristic brick bungalows, and red-white-and-green-striped fire hydrants. The community dates to the early 1900s, when many Italian immigrant families moved here to work in the local factories and railroads, and is home to Italian-American baseball personalities such as Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola. The Hill is also the birthplace of "toasted ravioli"—deep-fried ravioli served with marinara sauce that's become the city's signature dish. You can try this at Kemoll's. Afterward, have cannoli at the family-run Vitale's Bakery and stop in for friendly conversation and an espresso at Shaw's Coffee. If you're craving some cold comfort, have a scoop of Amaretto-flavored gelato at Gelato di Riso.

Boston

The North End is among Boston's oldest neighborhoods (dating to the 1630s) and is peppered with such historical buildings as the Old North Church (1723) and the Paul Revere House (1680). Relatively small (about one-quarter square mile), the North End as settled by Southern Italian immigrants and is home to several must-visits. At Regina Pizzeria order a side of the hot garlic oil with your pizza; Marco, chef Marc Orfaly's Roman restaurant, offers homemade pasta dishes. Pick up specialty Italian products such as Beretta rice for risotto and naturally cured olives at Salumeria Italiana. Summer brings several Italian festivals, including August's Fisherman's Feast and St. Anthony's Feast.

Philadelphia

Made famous by the Rocky movie franchise, the working-class waterfront neighborhood of South Philadelphia is centered around the Italian Market on 9th Street, originally built by Italian immigrants to evoke images of the great outdoor markets of their homeland. While people flock here for the swoon-worthy cheesesteaks at Pat's or Geno's, South Philly has more to offer than hot beef smothered in cheese. Try the tomato pie, a Philly specialty, served at Iannelli's Bakery; the pork-and-veggie sandwiches at Chickie's; and homemade pasta, spicy sausages, and fresh mozzarella at Talluto's Italian market. The 9th Street Italian Market Festival in May features live music, local Italian specialties, and more.

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