While there is nothing light-hearted about real crime families, TV shows like The Sopranos and countless movies have made loveable characters out mobsters. In reality, "Fat Tony" Rabito probably wouldn't be the best dinner companion -- especially if you owe him money -- but eating at the hallowed Mafia haunt in Brooklyn where he's been banned from offers a side of excitement for thrill-seeking diners.
Recently Mark Iacono, owner of Lucali, another Brooklyn eatery with speculated ties to the mob, made headlines recently when he got into a knife fight with a known wiseguy on the street near the pizzeria. Now charged with attempted murder, his new notoriety puts the reality of the Mafia into stark relief. But just like viewers can live vicariously through the reality program Mob Wives without being married to the mob, visitors to these 13 restaurants can sop up the same spaghetti sauce without dodging bullets. We hope.
To catch some present-day gangster action, ultra-exclusive Rao's and scene-of-the-crime Sparks Steak House are the usual suspects, while Chicago's Green Mill takes you back to Al Capone's heyday. Instead of a fedora and pin-stripe suit, these days goodfellas are more likely to be juiceheads that look something like Café Martorano's owner, nephew of former South Philly mobster "Long John" Martorano, although he chose the culinary life over La Cosa Nostra.
Many of the mobster restaurants are a real slice of Americana. History buffs gravitate towards places like Campisi's in Dallas, where mob-affiliated Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald's hit man, was known to hang out, and hipsters can check out a real speakeasy in Providence, R.I. -- Camille's which has seen many a famous face, whether a made man or a Hollywood leading man.
Rao's, New York City
With all the photos of mobsters lining the walls, there's no hiding the mafia connection behind this East Harlem institution. Even Martin Scorsese used Rao's as inspiration for "Goodfellas." Alongside wiseguys, you can enjoy classic Italian food with celebrity regulars such as Woody Allen. Most likely you're going to have to know someone to get a seat. If you don't, at least you can try their line of jarred pasta sauces.
Valbella, Greenwich, Conn.
The Greenwich, Conn., restaurant was mentioned in the book Making Jack Falcone: An Undercover FBI Agent Takes Down a Mafia Family According to agent Joaquin Garcia, the Gambino crime family had a regular table at the ritzy establishment.
Il Mulino, New York City
Opened by the Masci brothers, hailing from Abruzzo, in 1981, the Greenwich Village spot was blacklisted by the NYPD at one point for being an upscale favorite of mobsters. However, if Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have dined there, we question how notorious Il Mulino can still be.
Green Mill, Chicago
Way back in the day, Al Capone was a regular at this Chicago cocktail lounge. A secret passageway behind the bar that allowed for an easy escape is still around today, which might come in handy if you're at the Green Mill on a blind date.
Bamonte's, New York City
The more than a century-old Williamsburg, Brooklyn, haunt was a favorite of mob consigliere "Fat Tony" Rabito of the Bonanno family. The Feds the portly Rabito from returning to this eatery, among others, after his release from prison in 2009.
Campisi's Egyptian Lounge, Dallas
This Dallas, Texas, restaurant was opened by a Joe Campisi, a member of the Civello mob family. Close personal friend and regular patron, Jack Ruby, who assassinated Lee Harvey Oswald, was said to have eaten at Campisi's the night before the Kennedy assassination.
Sparks Steak House, New York City
Mob boss "Big Paul" Castellano and his bodyguard were gunned down at the entrance to the Midtown Manhattan steakhouse, allowing John Gotti to take his spot as head of the Gambino crime family. Rapper Cam'ron name-dropped Castellano and Sparks in "Welcome to New York City."
Bomb Bomb Bar-B-Q Grill, Philadelphia
This South Philly eatery was at one time a regular hangout for mobsters. Frank Barbato Sr. bought the restaurant in 1951, and named it after an infamous pair of mob-related explosions that had occurred on the site 15 years before. Today, Frank Jr.'s attempts to downplay the mafia past has had mixed results. While his barbecue has won local praise, veal Parmesan remains the most popular item on the menu.
Tommaso, New York City
Most restaurateurs would not consider the opening of a mob hangout next door to be good for business. Tom Verdillo thought differently. Shortly after the restaurant opened in 1974, Gambino boss Joe Castellano opened up his "social club" next door. He soon became a regular at Tommaso, even supplying provisions like steaks along with a steady stream of customers. Verdillo came to think of Castellano as a brother, venturing out to Staten Island to cater at his home. However, you'll have to make the trip to the South Brooklyn neighborhood of Dyker Heights to enjoy the classic southern Italian staples such as spaghetti carbonara and grilled veal chop.
Cafe Martorano, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
This popular Fort Lauderdale restaurant is owned by Philly transplants and relatives of murdered mobster Raymond "Long John" Martorano. While apparently frequented by local mobsters, you're probably more likely to see buff bods and owner Steve (left) showing off his DJ skills.
Mosca's, New Orleans
Opened in 1946, it had been a favorite hangout for the powerful New Orleans Marcello crime family, especially former mob boss Carlos Marcello. The James Beard award winner is still owned and operated by the Mosca family, who renovated the space post-Katrina but kept the Creole-Italian menu intact.
The Flamingo, Las Vegas
Legendary mobster Bugsy Siegel was an early investor in the classic Las Vegas casino, and eventually muscled his way into taking over the project. After a number of delays, the opulent casino finally opened in late 1946, but a lack of business failed to impress his mob backers, who had Bugsy gunned down in his Beverly Hills home six months later. However, today you're not likely to run into any mobsters dining at the Jimmy Buffett-inspired restaurant Margaritaville. Still, the décor brings to mind the Rat Pack glory days.
Camille's, Providence, R.I.
Founded in 1914, the first iteration of Camille's became famous for making illegal booze and serving it to customers during Prohibition. In addition to Presidents and celebrities, it has been visited by members of the New England mafia, including the late Providence mob boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca. Its future is now uncertain, however, after the current owner recently sold the building.
- Valaer Murray, The Daily Meal