In September of 2010, I noticed that a business was finally filling an empty space on my block on the Upper East Side, 90th Street and Second Avenue, to be exact. After a few days of walking past the tiny corner space--can't be more than 450 square feet--I peered in and saw a brick wood-burning oven and a fancy-looking espresso machine. I knew this had to be good.
Days later, the sign went up. What replaced the former "Tortilla" sign was "San Matteo Pizza & Espresso Bar." I'm not a huge pizza person, but I knew I had to try it, mainly because I love trying new restaurants, pizza or not, and I was lured in by the cute old Italian look of the place. Plus, I live no more than 300 feet away.
I finally went with a trusty dining companion. There was a little bit of a wait, but hey, maybe that's a good sign, right? There were only about five small tables at the time, and some seating at bar. We brought our own bottle of wine and waited outside to be seated, since we didn't quite fit in the cozy restaurant.
What we were about to discover was life-changing… life-changing, at least, for an Upper East Side foodie and/or food snob... depending on who you talk to. I declared it then and I will declare it again, and again, it's the best pizza on the Upper East Side. Their pies are served literally bubbling hot, straight out of the oven (you can watch them take your pizza out of the brick wall and place it right on your table). And, ladies and gentleman, the two things that absolutely sold me: the perfect combo of crispy and soft dough and the savoriness of the tomato sauce. Good gaaaah, what is in that?!
I've tried the Margherita--it's simply tomato sauce, fresh basil, and homemade mozzarella--and also, the Marinara (which is topped with Sicilian anchovies, if you dare). But the clear winner for me is the Prosciutto E Bufala--it's a mouthwatering pie with prosciutto di parma, parmigiano reggiano, buffalo mozzarella, tomato sauce and fresh basil. My go-to pick every time. The pies are meant for one, but you'll want to share when you're there, and I don't think you'll have any problem finding another one to order.
For dessert? Pizza con Nutella. Yep, fresh-outta-the-oven pizza dough smeared with Nutella. Just do it. And note, they now serve wine--not an extensive collection, but all affordable. No frills here.
Since that fateful day, a year and some months ago, I have returned countless times, and I am now a pizza convert. And good news for you, since then, they have increased the seating slightly, added al fresco dining (for those unseasonably warm days we're having in the middle of this winter), but it's still comfortably cozy. And what's stayed the same? The menu. It's as it should be.
Now, if you're up for feeling like a neighborhood regular, venture to this authentic Italian hole in the wall and be transported to Italy, right on the Upper East Side. So, "buon appetito," as the all-Italian waitstaff would say. Tell 'em we sent ya.
Tune in to the "hole in the wall" episode of "1st Look" Saturday after "Saturday Night Live" on NBC!
San Matteo Pizza & Espresso Bar
1739 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10128