A Taste of Italy in the Heart of The South Bronx

MELROSE―Porto Salvo, a new Italian restaurant in the South Bronx, has beaten my expectations after being spoiled by Arthur Avenue, The Bronx’s real Little Italy.

Armed with a full bar offering traditional and specialty drinks and a generous happy hour from 4pm to 8pm Mondays through Fridays, this new restaurant isn’t just on par with The Bronx’s Little Italy, it actually manages to surpass many of them and that’s a pretty difficult feat if you’ve regularly dined on Arthur Avenue but more importantly, Porto Salvo simply enhances what The Bronx has to offer in terms of fine, authentic Italian cuisine.

Now when most people think Italian food, they immediately tend to think Olive Garden, fettuccine alfredo, and other very generic, mainstream Italian dishes but that’s not what you’ll get here.

Executive chef, Luigi Ghidetti, created a menu of Old Italian style cooking with a diverse range of dishes like homemade crab cakes over mushrooms and Canellinni beans (no imitation crab here or frozen patty reheated, actually the REAL deal) or several different bruschetta (I’ve tried them all but my favorite is the funghi e fontina with fontina cheese, mushrooms and truffle oil…it’s as delicious as it sounds).

Grilled octopus (below) and bruschetta funghi e fontina are some of the perfect appetizers to get you started.

And those are just the appetizers all affordably priced at $9 bucks.

Moving on to the main dishes, (all priced at $14, salads at $12) you’ll have an equally difficult time in choosing just one because they all sound pretty darn good (and they taste even better).

I’ve been here now EIGHT TIMES in the past 3 weeks (ok maybe 2 weeks) so I’ve had the time to sample quite a number of dishes and let’s just say that I have yet to be disappointed. I mean, how could you with fresh pasta they either make right here or have imported directly from Italy?

Everything is just so exquisitely prepared and tastes so good but best of all it is so affordable that you can eat here quite often but let’s not get too side tracked and back to the food.

The Costolette di Agnello alla Griglia, grilled lamb chops with roasted potatoes and cannellini beans are just the right balance of a meat dish and sides that work beautifully together. The flavors don’t overwhelm or compete but rather enhance each other.

And that has been the case with pretty much every dish I’ve tried where you’re actually able to taste the different herbs, spices, and seasonings letting the food speak for itself, so to speak.

There’s a trofie al pesto di pistacchi which is a homemade pasta with pistachio pesto that blew me away.

For the pescatarian in you, fret not, for there are plenty of seafood options including the salmone al salmoriglio, a Sicilian style grilled salmon with roasted potatoes and cannellini beans in a salmoriglio sauce, a traditional southern Italian condiment that usually consists of olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, oregano, parsley, and pepper.

Three different types of sangria made by 3 different bartenders are part of the happy hour and just $6 bucks. The owners encourage the bartenders to unleash their creativity, and it shows in their signature cocktails.

That’s what my father ordered this past Friday and nothing was left on his plate so I guess it was good, no?

The only selection I have yet to try is the crudo (Italian style raw seafood and meat dishes) but will do so the next time I stop by (maybe tonight or tomorrow?).

After you’ve had all that food, is there room for dessert? Well, considering the portions are very good and yes you might very well be full, there’s ALWAYS room for dessert.

Last night we tried to get out of dessert because we were stuffed but then we were told that they just made chocolate mousse and who are we to deny our taste buds the delights of homemade mousse?

It would be blasphemy to do so.

Do we need to even describe how rich and creamy it was? Probably not.

All desserts are made right at Porto Salvo so you’re not getting a second hand dessert from elsewhere even if it is freshly made.

Here, you’re getting something straight from their kitchen made to the same standards you’d expect after eating all these delicious meals.

The tiramisu is just like nonna makes (well not my nonna but my friend’s nonna but again, you get the picture) but my favorite was the basil infused crème brule.

For those who like to imbibe a bit, may we suggest the sangria (we love the white with a hint of limoncello) or the Ombra, the house wine? Or literally just ask for your favorite cocktail because the bartenders do a great job of mixing up your go to drink and somehow make it taste even better.

Besides the food and the drinks as well as the ambiance which makes you feel like you are in an old Italian port tavern, it’s the entire experience that makes Porto Salvo a special place and somehow they manage to take it even a step further.

This isn’t just a restaurant or bar but a true part of the community and Porto Salvo is leading by example of how a business should come into The Bronx and operate.

Mark Lu, Porto Salvo’s owner and general manager as well as Luigi’s husband says that, “Besides a place for encountering good and perhaps great food, we want this to be a place where Bronxites can network.”

The couple have been living in the neighborhood for just over 5 years and since arriving, their goal was to somehow contribute in a concrete way to our borough.

One such way is through a scholarship program that will also provide internship opportunities for students graduating in the culinary arts to get real, hands on experience not just at Porto Salvo but with other diverse Bronx restaurants so these Bronx students can get the necessary experience to elevate their careers to the next level and be able to be competitive in the food industry here in NYC which, as Mark Lu points out is not always just about talent and skills but who you know.

“We don’t want to be another business in the community but we want to be a part of the community.” said Lu.

How can you not love a restaurant or business for that matter, who’s sincerely looking to contribute to our community?

That being said, I think you have plenty of reasons to support this business and I’m happy to say this is a new and welcomed gem to our borough and neighborhood.

We wish them nothing but success.

Oh and don’t forget, even if you’re not in the mood to eat, they’re a great spot for drinks and happy hour, something which the staff and attorneys at The Bronx Defenders have figured out so it’s the perfect lunch or dinner spot for not just locals but those who work in the Bronx court system too.

Porto Salvo is open Mon-Thurs from 12PM to 11PM, Friday from 12PM to 12AM, Saturday from 11AM to 12PM and Sundays from 11AM to 11PM and is located at 424 E 161st Street between Melrose and Elton Avenues.

Brunch is served Saturdays from 10AM to 4PM.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.