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USA Today, December 2010

San Diego's Little Italy, known for its restaurants and farmers market, offers a menu of traditions and opportunities to soak up Italian culture.

10 Great Places that Offer a Taste of Italy

Forget mistletoe. Why not celebrate the holidays with pasta and a parade? Italian neighborhoods welcome Christmas with a host of traditions, says Sheryll Bellman, author of America's Little Italys (Seller, $21.95). "They're filled with lights, decorations and carols." She shares with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY some favorite places to absorb Italian culture during the holidays and throughout the year.

French Quarter
New Orleans

You wouldn't know it from its name, but the Quarter has Italian heritage, too. During the mid-1850s, it became one of the largest Italian neighborhoods in the USA. The city's famous Antoine's Restaurant was founded by an Italian immigrant from France. But perhaps the most celebrated Italian contribution is the muffaletta sandwich, said to be invented at Central Grocery in the Quarter. 504-524-4784;

Little Italy
New York City

New York's Little Italy is a bona-fide tourist attraction, but many businesses have been in the same families for three or four generations, Bellman says. The neighborhood celebrates Christmas in a big way with parades, a manger petting zoo, street vendors and entertainment. "The weeks before Christmas are quite beautiful. It's always lit up with green and red and white lights. It's glorious," Bellman says. 212-484-1222; and

Arthur Avenue
The Bronx, N.Y.

Bellman calls this small neighborhood a quintessential Little Italy, where locals come for cured meats, cheeses and specialty items. Especially popular is the indoor Arthur Avenue Retail Market, which even has a cigar roller. The four-block stretch is decorated for the holidays, and is a foodie's delight with bakeries and restaurants. 212-484-1222;; and

9th Street Italian Market

For more than a century, this market has attracted shoppers and chefs to South Philly for what is called the oldest and largest working outdoor market in the country. With more than 100 vendors over nearly 10 blocks, you'll find several shops just selling cheeses and others specializing in pasta. "It's very colorful, and very inexpensive for produce, meats and fish," Bellman says. 800-537-7676; and

The Hill
St. Louis

Brick- and tile-making first brought immigrants from Northern Italy to clay mines here in the 1880s. Visitors still come for a chance to sample Italian specialties, like the unique toasted ravioli served at Charlie Gitto's restaurant. 800-916-8938; and

North End

Boston's North End is an area of winding roads and alleys. "It's very picturesque wandering up and down the street — almost like being in a small Italian town," Bellman says. She's a fan of restaurants like Caffe Vittoria, known for its coffee and pastries; and Cantina Italiana, famous for homemade bombolotti, a wagon-wheel-shaped pasta. 888-733-2678; and

Federal Hill

This small neighborhood centers on Atwells Avenue, which is marked by a piazza and an arch adorned with a pine cone, an Italian symbol for abundance and hospitality. "It's like being in Florence. They have music during the summer and you can sit outside and have coffee," Bellman says. Many people come for Venda Ravioli, a huge store with 200 types of pasta, a bustling bakery and aisles of specialty products. 401-751-1177; and

North Beach
San Francisco

Like many immigrants, Italians were drawn to Northern California by the Gold Rush. A former Italian neighborhood, North Beach is now a popular tourist attraction. It's home to Fior d'Italia, which calls itself the oldest continuously running Italian restaurant in the country. Many also visit the famous Caffe Trieste for espresso, and to listen to opera on Saturday afternoon. 415-391-2000;

Little Italy
San Diego

It was tuna fishing that first attracted Italians to this Southern California neighborhood. Although that industry has largely disappeared, the area has bounced back in the past 20 years, and is now known for its restaurants and farmers market. "Every week, they've got something going on," Bellman says. "Tons of people come out for every festival." 619-232-3101; or 619-233-3898;

Wooster Street
New Haven, Conn.

Yale students and pizza lovers know this is where to come for legendary pies. Bellman loves Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana's famous white clam pizza. It's baked in an increasingly rare coal oven that produces a slightly charred crust. "Their pizza, I have to tell you, there's nothing better. People line up before they open, all week all the time." Others are just as passionate about rival restaurant Sally's Apizza. 203-777-8550;