Boston’s North End is known as its Little Italy and is reputed to have not only some of the city’s best Italian restaurants, but also some of its best places to eat regardless of ethnic heritage.
The North End’s narrow winding streets ring with the sounds and smells of old Italy. You’ll even hear people yelling “Ciao.” and there is the ongoing debate on who has the best cannoli, Mike’s or the Modern. Try some from both and join that lively discussion.
The North End was among Boston’s earliest neighborhoods and was first settled by English immigrants before the later influx of Italian ones. The Freedom Trail, Boston’s historic walk marked by a painted red line, passes through the North End and Paul Revere’s house is a must see.
After all that walking—and walk you should because the North End’s tiny streets are frustrating to navigate by car—you’ll be ready to enjoy some of the best Mother Cuisine the New World has to offer.
Photo courtesy of Bricco Ristorante
Located at the top of the North End’s main drag, Hanover Street, Bricco Ristorante was among the first restaurants to turn Little Italy away from its tasteless canned red sauce and packet pasta ways, helping the area become a top food destination. Since opening in 2001, Bricco expanded to include a panetteria (bakery) and salumeria (preserved meats such as salami, prosciutto, etc.), but the main restaurant and lively bar are still the focuses. Bricco’s menu is traditional with contemporary and local twists: like roasted local (that is, north Atlantic) halibut with a root vegetable fricassee; layered eggplant and mozzarella, baked until it’s melt-in-the mouth tender; and a seafood risotto, which is usually cooked up only on weekends, packed with shrimp, scallop, and squid.
Sfizi Italian Kitchen
Photo courtesy Sfizi Italian Kitchen
Overlooking Richmond Street, which is a relatively quieter road linking Hanover with Atlantic Avenue, Sfizi Italian Kitchen opened in 2015 and became a neighborhood hit for cocktails and, well, sfizi, which are the Italian equivalent of tapas. The ambiance is energetic and hip, but the menu is based in solid Italian home cooking, with plenty of small plate options to share and pair with drinks. These aren’t the small plates where you spend a fortune and end up hungry, though. Zucchini blossoms stuffed with smoked mozzarella and coated in the light batter and deep-fried, or the arancini with salt cod and fried polenta are among the many robust and satisfying options. Go for sfizi, or stay the course for primi and secondi as well, and maybe even all the way to a fluffy tiramisu.
Opened in 2000, Prezza is another bedrock name in the North End. This tiny, elegant dining room—more like a living room, actually—and bar is located on Fleet Street—there is that English heritage thing we mentioned—and named for the land-locked mountain town in the Abruzzi region from where chef and owner Anthony Caturano’s family hails. Yet, for all the emphasis on his roots, Caturano brings a strong New England slant to the menu. While it is seasonally curated, you’re likely to see cod oreganata (the mighty Atlantic cod served with creamed leeks, diced potatoes, and clams), a salumi platter with lomo, bresaola, speck, cheese and prosciutto di parma, and a potato gnocchi with a meat ragout, tomato, porcini crema, and pecorino.
Aragosta Bar and Bistro
Tucked inside the posh Battery Wharf Hotel, Aragosta Bar and Bistro (pictured above) sits at the foot of the North End, right by the harbor. Its name is simply the Italian word for lobster, emphasizing Aragosta’s seafood slanted menu. Aragosta is elegant, but relaxed, and because the Battery Wharf is tucked off-street, its sizable terrace overlooking the harbor and the neighboring Boston fire ship is free from traffic noise. The patio has a fire pit for late night drinks and s’mores roasting. Besides an all-day brunch menu (which is actually more of a bar-snack menu of sandwiches and flatbreads) and lobster in many guises, meat and cheese lovers can indulge and build their own salumi and formaggi platter with everything from Virginian wild boar salami to Old Chatham, New York sheep and cow’s milk camembert-type cheese.
Trattoria Il Panino
Photo courtesy of Trattoria Il Panino
Since opening in 1987, this North End staple has been updated with a sleek interior, and a snazzier presentation of Italian comfort food staples. There’s a lovely shaded patio adjacent, which is a-buzz in the warm weather. Also, the Gelateria next door is an Il Panino offshoot and just the spot for that after-siesta pick-me-up. Whether it’s for an espresso and aqua, a namesake sandwich, or dinner—Il Panino’s spaghetti Bolognese and chicken “parm” over penne are a must for traditionalists—this neighborhood joint remains a popular stop-in. Let’s just say, we have it on good authority that notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger was partial to Il Panino’s sandwiches when he was in the neighborhood.
Linda Clarke is a freelance travel writer whose work has been published in the Boston Globe, New York Daily News, and several other print and online publications.