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Inside The Bronx’s new wave restaurant scene in Little Italy

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Tourists slurp up spaghetti in Manhattan’s historic Little Italy, but for authentic Italian atmosfera, New Yorkers have long headed up to storied Arthur Avenue in The Bronx.

Today, however, Italians rule The Bronx’s Little Italy no more. Just as Manhattan’s Little Italy gave way to Chinatown and gentrification, The Bronx’s answer to red-sauce rapture is now much more diverse.

“When you walked down the streets, all you heard was Italian, and immigrants were still moving here from Italy,” Frank Franz, 67, told The Post of his childhood in the community.

A historian and co-founder of the Belmont Business Improvement District — which promotes Little Italy businesses spanning Arthur and Crescent Avenues, along with 187th Street – Franz said that the monoculture began to change back in the 1970s with the arrival of Albanian immigrants. But, he added that the biggest shift in the neighborhood happened in just the last decade. Increasingly, peoples of Asian, Latin and African-American descent call the borough’s Little Italy home.

“Of course, old timers like me reminisce about how it used to be, but we recognize that things can’t be the same forever,” Franz said of the thousands of Italians still living in the community.

And while Italian bakeries, butchers and cheese shops are still open and thriving here, the area’s newest restaurants now boast a variety of cuisines.

Here are five restaurants that are part of the new wave of old Little Italy — all of which have comfortable setups for outdoor dining.

Flavor saver

A chicken gyro plate at Avenue Gyro in the Bronx.
A chicken gyro plate at Avenue Gyro in the Bronx.
Stefano Giovannini

An airy space with a Mediterranean blue design, Avenue Gyro opened this summer and already has a loyal following for its namesake sandwich — particularly the chicken, which is stuffed inside a pita and topped with a zippy house-made sauce that’s a combination of mayonnaise, mustard and spices.

Tender and flavorful kebabs like pork are also an option, while dips such as spicy feta are ideal partners for pita or crudites. The salmon — an organic fillet that’s grilled and served with lemon potatoes, fries or rice — is another hit.

Given the low prices, generous portions and tasty food, this spot is a winner all-around.

2356 Arthur Ave.; 718-220-2526

Ramen shaman

Founder and chef Wayne Carrington and Koriszan Reese chef/owner at Roc N Ramen.
Founder and chef Wayne Carrington and Koriszan Reese chef/owner at Roc N Ramen.
Stefano Giovannini

Little Italy will get its first ramen joint when Roc-N-Ramen opens at the end of this month. Owned by Bronx native Koriszan Reese, the casual restaurant serves traditional Japanese dishes as well as some with a Caribbean twist.

Purists can go for options such as the simple vegetable ramen or Tonkatsu (pork) ramen, while experimental eaters will have fun with ramen varieties such as barbecue chicken, curried oxtail and spicy bone yard rib tip.

The menu also includes rice bowls and buns stuffed with either oxtail, shrimp or chicken, and options for kids such as macaroni and cheese ramen.

“This is flavorful food that appeals to everyone,” said Reese.

606 E. 187th St.; 347-271-6720

Forever young

A delicious cookie at Last Call Bar & Grill in the Bronx.
A delicious cookie at Last Call Bar & Grill in the Bronx.
Stefano Giovannini

Open since October and owned by Albanian-American Nicolette Lekocaj, Last Call Bar & Grill is meant to be a counterpart to the neighborhood’s old-fashioned restaurants.

“I’m from here and always thought all the places to eat were too traditional and not fun for younger people,” said Lekocaj, who is 23. “I wanted a spot that’s casual and where you could go for a meal, a pre- or post-dinner drink or even just dessert.”

Her menu includes more than a dozen wines by the glass and close to 20 craft beers that she plans to change seasonally.

Food options are expansive and include crowd-pleasing favorites like jalapeño poppers, onion rings and a make-your-own-burger bar. The tacos are a highlight, especially the grilled swordfish topped with a house-made mango-avocado salsa and the barbecue-glazed brisket.

Save room for dessert: with tempting choices like a vanilla Nutella milkshake and a warm s’mores cookie with vanilla ice cream, it’s worth it.

2421 Arthur Ave.; 347-270-3052

Beer bastion

Clinton Hall owner Derrick Madlen with a selection of beers offered at the Bronx location.
Clinton Hall owner Derrick Madlen with a selection of beers offered at the Bronx location.
Stefano Giovannini

The second location of the popular craft beer bar and restaurant brand, Clinton Hall doubled its size in April because of growing demand from locals. (The kitchen will reopen in January.)

“We were turning people away because we couldn’t accommodate them,” said partner Derrick Madlen. “We opened here in the first place because this was an exciting neighborhood with character, and we wanted to add to the fabric.”

In addition to the laid-back vibe and classic rock music playlist, the establishment serves more than 20 craft beers on tap, including several from New York state breweries.

The food is on par with the drinks: the buffalo cauliflower florets with crumbled blue cheese are a diet-be-damned splurge, and the spicy miso Brussels sprouts are as addictive as they sound. If you’re trending healthy, you can choose from several salads including the Greek with grilled chicken that bursts with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.

601 E. 189th St.; 718-220-6400

The new old school

Outdoor dining is plentiful at Luna Cafe in the Bronx.
Outdoor dining is plentiful at Luna Cafe in the Bronx.
Stefano Giovannini

Occupying the space that belonged once the legendary Palombo Bakery, Luna Cafe opened five years ago, specializing in Albanian desserts and delicacies.

“We wanted to have a vibe that we have at cafes back home in Albania where the atmosphere is lively, and the food and drinks are delicious,” Luna Cafe co-owner Amy Demaj said. 

She added that everything is made in-house from the qevapa (a dish of grilled beef sausages) to the pasul (a hearty kidney bean stew).

But Luna is perhaps best know for it’s sugary sweet desserts like the tollumba, a fried dough soaked in syrup, and an Albanian version of baklava with walnuts. They also serve up Italian and French specialties like brick oven pizza, airy ricotta cheesecake and Napoleons bursting with assorted berries.

Round out your visit in Luna’s sprawling European cafe-style outdoor space with a traditional peach fruit drink (served thick) or an extra-strong Turkish coffee.

 601 E, 187 St.; 917-473-7399

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