After much prodding by a Bronx-born friend, this past weekend I finally checked out the borough’s Belmont section—a.k.a. Arthur Avenue, named for its main drag—and finally understood the hype. Teeming with pizzerias, pastry shops, and seafood merchants, this former immigrant neighborhood is a slice of old Italy. Whether you’re a New Yorker or a tourist, Arthur Ave. an authentic, distinctive, and tasty NYC outing. Plus, I’d wager a few thousand lire that it’s one heck of a Valentine’s Day destination (hint, hint).

As we grazed on fresh olives and cheese at the charmingly old-school Arthur Avenue Retail Market, my friend and I stocked up on imported Italian ingredients, everything from dried bresaola to hand-rolled fettuccini. I dream nightly about the creamy, caramel-y fromaggio Prima Donna that the affable Mike’s Deli guys urged me to sample.

After the market, we followed our noses down the Ave. to Madonia Brothers Bakery, an aromatic pasticceria with enticingly crusty rounds of bread in the window. Their spicy jalapeño loaf—topped with some seriously smoked mozzarella from Mike’s (it tastes like a bonfire in your mouth!)—is my new favorite late-night snack. For a sugar fix, stop by Artuso’s Pastry Shop, turning out delectable edibles on 187th Street for more than half a century. The gals behind the counter can recommend just the right éclair, cake, or biscotti to sweeten up your sweetheart (I was wooed by the classic cannoli, oozing ricotta dolce).

Arthur Ave. remains essentially unchanged from 50 years ago but for one new shop: Arthur Avenue Cigars. Emilio, the owner, is Cuban-Dominican, but his hand-rolled cigars and window-side chess table are right at home in the ‘hood. The place is a total man-cave: black leather sofas, flat-screen TV, X-Box, smoking allowed. The staff helped me select a smooth Torpedo Nitro ($4)—packed with mild Nicaraguan leaf—for a celebrating gent in my life.

The day ended with sharp white wine and copious pasta at Roberto, a small, upmarket ristorante serving exquisitely rendered Salerno-inspired dishes. My handmade linguini was thick and chewy and delightful, and my companion’s ravioli—stuffed with puréed pumpkin, gooey cheese, and truffle oil—was the absolute best thing I’ve tasted in months.

The Bronx’s Little Italy covers 183rd to 187th Streets along Arthur and surrounding avenues. You can get there on the B/D trains (to 182nd Street) or, more easily, by car or taxi.

Catesby Holmes is an assistant research editor at Travel + Leisure.