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Babbo

photo by Reimy Gonzalez

Iconic duo Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich have built a New York empire so prolific it resounds internationally, and it all began at Babbo, the Village restaurant they opened in 1998. Batali was one of the first to make us love cured meats and offal, and his menu here is still rife with sausages and salted slices of pork, with calf brains and pig’s feet. But 16 years and several additional restaurants later, Babbo deals best in impeccable but unfussy dishes, like fennel-dusted sweetbreads and beef cheek ravioli (two of the plates that will never leave the menu), black spaghetti with spicy Calabrese salami, and grilled octopus with limoncello vinaigrette. (And it’s friendly to vegan and gluten-free diners.) You’ll find more upscale service at the partners’ swanky Del Posto, and less circumstance (and more cured meat) at Lupa. But at Babbo — with its whimsical tasting menus, its deceptively casual service, its tight Italian wine pairings, and its sound system blasting bands like the Pixies — you get something more: a restaurant so quintessentially NYC, it’s hard to imagine it existing anyplace else.