Regardless of whether you grew up with a nonna in the kitchen, most people have strong feelings about meatballs, from what meat should be used to how big (or small) they should be to what kind of sauce should be served atop or alongside. At the risk of entering the fray, we’re excited to present the restaurants that make our five favorite meatballs around New York City. Agree? Disagree? Feel free, as always, to leave a comment. By Jessica Allen.
We could eat Alfredo’s meatballs in tomato sauce by the bucketfull. The meatballs at this Italian restaurant in DUMBO might be small, but what they lack in stature they more than make up for in deliciousness. This appetizer comes bathed in red sauce and basil leaves. AlMar also does terrific seafood preparations, including a seasonal seafood salad with calamari, octopus, seppiolina, mussel, and shrimp. So order some seafood, some meatballs, a little wine, and have yourself a very nice surf-and-turf.
Come for the celebrities, stay for the food. This lovely restaurant in Tribeca has earned legions of fans for living up to its tremendous hype (one of the owners is Robert DeNiro). Chef and co-owner Andrew Carmellini prepares excellent seasonal Italian specialties, including lamb meatball sliders (an appetizer). These three-bite treats are moist, meaty, and flavorful, — everything you want from a meatball. They come slathered in tomato sauce, topped with Caprino (an Italian cheese made from goat’s milk), and nestled between Parmesan-onion buns made in-house.
The Meatball Shop might be too cheeky by half, if its eponymous product wasn’t so good. “We make balls,” the website declares, and the restaurants themselves are full of puns. This burgeoning chainlet features meatballs: veggie, pork, beef, chicken, and a daily special. You can get “naked balls” (just balls in your choice of sauce), smashed balls, sliders, salad topped with balls, or a hero stuffed with balls. You mark what you want on a plastic menu, then hand your completed card to the server. Easy peezy, and oh-so-good. Try the chicken with pesto!
Shortly after winning season one of Top Chef, Harold Dieterle opened Perilla with his business partner. Several restaurants later, the original still packs in the crowds—partly because this seasonal American restaurant is tiny, but mostly because the food is amazingly good. Speaking of food, the spicy duck meatballs begin when the meat gets mixed with Thai basil and Sriracha. They’re served beneath a raw quail egg and Parmesan cheese, and atop spinach and mint cavatelli. One bite, and you’ll taste why this is Perilla’s signature dish.
The meatballs at Red Rooster are named for the chef/owner’s grandmother Helga. “I owe my culinary career to her,” Marcus Samuelsson has said. “Since she’s the one who first taught me how to cook [in Sweden]. Her meatballs were actually the first dish I learned how to make, as well.” That’s a lot of backstory to live up to, but Helga’s meatballs succeed. These Swedish meatballs are made from veal, pork, and ground beef, among other ingredients, and are served with buttermilk mashed potatoes, braised green cabbage, and lingonberries.