In 1906, the year Italian immigrant Marcello Raffetto opened a pasta shop at the corner of Houston and Macdougal streets, an artists’ colony occupied the site of the future Vanderbilt Hall and the trial of the nascent century was taking place inside what is today the Jefferson Market library.
Although Village real estate has pushed out both the artists and the courthouse, Raffetto’s is still there. And it is still selling an encyclopedic variety of fresh and dried pasta, piled high in glass bins that are removed from their wooden casings whenever a customer places an order.
But, while much of Raffetto’s allure may be its lack of trendiness, that does not mean it offers little for the modern gourmand, or for the penny-pinching law student. Rafffetto’s also carries a healthy stock of cheeses, Italian specialty goods, and well-priced prepared foods.
In one refrigerated case, row upon row of neatly-arranged plastic trays welcome those hard-pressed to put a pot up to boil (although it will be noted that fresh pasta, which Raffetto’s keeps in reams behind the storefront, cooks to al dente in just three minutes). Selections are rooted in old-style ‘red sauce’ classics, such as cheese lasagna ($7.50 for a two-serving tray) and baked ziti amatriciana ($6.95), but also reflect an appreciation for the chic in dishes like cavatelli with broccoli rabe ($6.95) and chicken and rosemary pappardelle ($6.95).
Many customers, the author included, prefer to stock up Raffetto’s frozen ravioli. Forty-eight cheese-filled squares, simple and delicious when boiled and tossed in olive oil, come in at $5.95, while specialty varieties range from arugula and ricotta ($6.50) to white and black truffle ($12.95).
For the many of us accustomed to evenings spent prowling the storefronts between NYU and Houston Street in search of an affordable meal, dishes like these ought to be obvious choices. It is hard, then, to say what keeps Raffetto’s off students’ radar. It cannot be a diminished love for a nice plate of pasta. Yet, in a place with such a palpable sense of history owned for over a century by the same family, you wonder if the hint of obscurity is not by design.
Still, the food at Raffetto’s is reliably good, and its offerings versatile enough to cater both to the home chef and the takeout aficionado. There is no premium for tradition.
Editor’s Note: In Legal Eats, Commentator columnist @KevinSiegel takes you inside the most interesting and tastiest restaurants and watering holes around NYU Law.