‘Twas a very sad day when Niko’s Mediterranean Grill & Bistro closed earlier this year. The Greek restaurant, which had held down its corner at Broadway and 76th Street for more than a decade, was forced to relinquish its lease in February. But now we can turn our collective grief into… excitement. Because the spot won’t be taken over by a Starbucks, a chain drug store, or a bank.

A traditional Neapolitan pizza restaurant, part of a chain run out of Italy by three Italian brothers, is planning to open in the space. Fratelli la Bufala, which roughly means “brotherhood of buffalo mozzarella,” is opening its first New York restaurant, and third U.S. restaurant, in the old Niko’s spot. The restaurant specializes in authentic Neapolitan pizza — which tends to be chewier and doughier than New York style — and it will have a brick oven (see pizza photo below). The three brothers come from a family that made buffalo mozzarella, and they feature the ingredient prominently in their pizzas. They also serve other mozzarella concoctions — fried mozzarella, breaded mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, even mozzarella smothered in couscous and deep-fried. And they use lots of buffalo meat.

The brothers now own 97 Fratelli la Bufala restaurants, most of them in Italy, but have expanded to Miami and Washington, D.C. They are very concerned about authenticity — the head pizza maker must be from the Naples area of Italy, said Lorenzo Mele, a manager at the Miami restaurant who I talked to. And most of the staff will probably be from Italy too, he said. “We bring everything — even the furniture — from Italy.”

Mele said that the owners were curious about who would come to their restaurants in the states. They found that about 70% of their customers were actually visiting from Italy (it’s good news when the real locals go there).

Mele isn’t sure when the Upper West Side restaurant will open, though he estimates in the next three to six months. They have a liquor license hearing before a community board committee next month. In the meantime, you can go to the restaurant’s website. Even the background music will get you excited.

To find out what else is coming to the neighborhood, check out our Open & Closed section.

Images by Avi and su-lin via flickr (below).

    1. Marianna says:

      Looking forward to eating some decent pizza in the USA!!!

    2. Christie says:

      Where can I find out when this will be open!! I will be the first one in line!! Can’t wait… now I don’t have to wait for miami trips to have their amazing food!!

    3. Richard Citron says:

      So when is this going to open already? Will it be before we return to Italy, home of the best mozzarella bufala on planet earth … or not?

    4. Lorenzo Aragona says:

      We are planning to complete the construction work around mid/end of Febraury 2012. We are looking forward to have all of you at the new NYC Fratelli La Bufala.
      If you may need updates, feel free to contact me at: