This Little Italy institution in The Bronx, now run by 4th- and 5th-generation family members, celebrates its centennial anniversary this year.
Mario’s Restaurant has its 100-year-old roots planted firmly in pizza. After Scolastica Migliucci and her son, Giuseppe, moved from Italy to New York City, they opened up a pizzeria in lower Manhattan. But when the pair walked past a vacant storefront on Arthur Avenue, in the heart of The Bronx’s Little Italy, they decided to relocate there, opening G. Migliucci Vera Pizzeria in 1919. “They started with six tables and sawdust on the floor,” recounts Joseph Migliucci, grandson of Giuseppe and current co-owner of Mario’s with son Michael and daughter Regina. “My great-grandmother was outside, selling pizza for 5 cents a slice on the sidewalk; my grandpa was in the kitchen, making pizza; and my grandmother made homemade dishes for the six tables inside. It was really a pizzeria at that point.”
Through the ensuing decades of success, expansions were inevitable: In the 1940s, Giuseppe’s son (Joseph’s father) took over, buying the store next door to expand then-named Vera Mario’s Restaurant and Pizzeria. In 1980 (despite initial warnings from his parents about the hard life ahead), Joseph purchased the business from his father and added a second floor for private parties, then bought the building, which added two stores next door to its real estate—later becoming more dining room space (today, seating 120) and another private-party room for 50.
Despite its evolution, the restaurant’s focus on family has remained unchanged over five generations. Celebs like Elizabeth Taylor have dined here, but Joseph asserts that he considers all of his customers celebrities. They can always spot members of the Migliucci family in-house, among familiar staff members who have logged in years and decades at the restaurant. “We’re very accommodating to all customers, and when you treat people like family, they keep coming back,” Joseph says.
Today, this sprawling operation is more a restaurant than pizzeria, boasting a menu crammed with Old World recipes beloved by longtimers and tourists alike, while weekly specials and twice-a-month live music shows inject excitement for regulars. In fact, the thin-crust pizza, which Regina calls the restaurant’s “best-kept secret,” now graces the lunch menu and is available only as an appetizer for dinner. Yet it still routinely makes nationwide “best of” lists with a secret recipe Joseph learned from his grandfather (and shares with only Michael and Regina). “We use San Marzano tomatoes, the best olive oil—all the best ingredients go in all of our foods, and that’s what makes the difference,” Joseph explains. “Our pizza, and our success, is not about one thing; it’s a combination of many things.”