Mario’s Restaurant on Arthur Avenue Celebrates Centennial


Owner Joe Migliucci at Mario’s Restaurant with his daughter Regina Migliucci-Delfino (Eliot Schiaparelli for The Fordham Ram)

By Eliot Schiaparelli

From a booth back near the kitchen, Joe Migliucci presides over the restaurant his family has owned and operated for over 100 years. A family crest hangs over the door where his daughter Regina Miggliucci-Delfino greets customers. To her left is a series of paintings and pictures showing her grandparents and great-grandparents.

Mario’s Restaurant was named for Migliucci’s grandfather who moved from Harlem to Arthur Avenue 100 years ago in 1919, but its history does not start there. Mario’s started as a restaurant in Egypt in the 1800s and then moved to Harlem in 1915. Over the years the Arthur Avenue location has gone from just six tables to having an upstairs dining room, a side dining room and enlarged main dining room. It can now seat 300 to 400 people a day.

Despite being open through the Great Depression, a world war, and 9/11, Mario’s has not changed much. It still had many of the old favorites from their 1940 menu albeit with higher prices.

Mario’s also originally served mostly pizza but now they serve all sorts of Italian favorites from their Insalata Di Pulpo (octopus salad) which was written up in a 1976 New York Times article, to the old favorite chicken parm. Today the pizza has become a sort of secret menu item, but it was still featured on Vice’s “The Pizza Show.”

While Mario’s is a little out of the everyday Fordham student’s price range, Delfino said when parents are in town they always come to the restaurant, and they are already almost fully booked for graduation.

Migliucci was so set on talking about the history of his restaurant and each of his family members, who stop to give him a kiss on their way through the place, that he forgot to mention his James Beard Award, which hangs beside yet another family photograph in the entryway to the restaurant.

Migliucci, the fourth generation of Migliucci to run Mario’s, learned to cook from his uncle Clemente who ran the restaurant kitchen for many years, and it was his father for whom the restaurant is named (it originally opened under the name G. Migliucci).

Over the years notables like Elizabeth Taylor and Joe DiMaggio have visited the restaurant. Migliucci’s father even turned down a request from Francis Ford Coppola to shoot the famous restaurant bathroom scene from “The Godfather” there.

Mario’s Restaurant on Arthur Avenue (Anna Peterson for The Fordham Ram)

“All our customers are like celebrities,” said Migliucci “When they come here, they feel like they’re coming into my home.”
Migliucci has done every job in the restaurant, from busboy to bartender.

“I used to work on the weekends when I was a kid, and then I decided I didn’t want to go to college anymore,” Migliucci said. “So I said dad I want to be in the business, I like being here and being with people and talking to them.”

Migliucci embodies old school Arthur Avenue and he was critical of the way the restaurant industry has changed over the years.

“You go to restaurants and you’re not acknowledged,” Migliucci said. “You sit down, they serve you and that’s it. Here we have a conversation with people. We’re friendly and we make them feel welcome. I guess that’s what made us go a hundred years.”

Miggliucci also shared his thoughts on Italian cuisine in Manhattan “There they give you a little cup or a forkful of pasta,” he said. “Here we give you half a pound.”

Mario’s is a family business through and through. Delfino and Migliucci are able to list countless family members who have held jobs all over the restaurant. They have also employed a few family friends over the years.

“I love working with my family,” said Delfino. “I remember being here with my grandmother and grandfather, and being able to have dinner with them and always seeing them smile and be happy, and customers loved them. People even come in here now asking for my father.”