I spent every Saturday night one summer working as a hostess at a North End restaurant. One evening, the owner—a tough talking, born-and-bred Bostonian with a rare smile—told me to turn away an approaching customer because we had a dress code. The man in question was a 6-foot tower, strolling in like he owned the place. When I told him the verdict, he looked at me like I insulted his mother.
“Bobby! She givn’ you a hahd time?” The owner popped out and gave the man a clap on the back, laughing at his own hysterical prank. I realized this was his standard, tough-love way of telling me, “Welcome to the family!”
The North End is one big, boisterous Italian family, loud and dramatic and insisting you eat more. It’s the oldest neighborhood in the city, steeped in a rich ancestry, and recipes really are how Mom used to make them, because half of the time, Mom is head chef. Come on in, sit down and get comfortable with this list of the best Italian restaurants in the area. Buon appetito!
Looking for more on restaurants in Boston? Read T+L’s Restaurant Guide: Boston.
It’s tough to choose just one entree from Carmelina’s flavorful menu, with items like the pesce pistachio, spaghetti with clams, and the namesake Carmelina pasta among the options. There’s no dessert menu, so after dinner, enjoy gelato at the nearby Gigi Gelateria or coffee and treats at Modern Pastry Shop.
La Famiglia Giorgios
This restaurant could serve as a case study in generously portioned, family-style dining. Fearless eaters, I dare you to meet “Lil Al’s Challenge”—three pounds of homemade gnocchi, four chicken cutlets, and broccoli in a pink vodka sauce. If you finish the meal on your own, you walk out sporting a tee reading, “I ate the plate!”
This no-frills, cash-only ristorante serves some of the best authentic Italian food you’ll find in Boston, and, trust us; it’s well worth the wait. They no longer take reservations, so the line starts winding around the block even before it opens. Come prepared after a glass of Chianti from a nearby enoteca.
Trattoria di Monica
Trattoria owners and life-long North Enders, Patrick and Frank Mendoza, learned everything they know in the kitchen from their mother, Monica. Twenty-five tables are packed into this red-brick hole-in-the-wall, so speak up when ordering from the menu of antipasti (bruschetta, arancini, calamari), homemade pastas (the cappellini comes highly recommended), and traditional entrees (chicken piccata, veal cacciatore).
Named for the ancient mountain village in Italy where the owner’s grandmother was born, the menu reflects the fresh robust flavor and simple preparation of old-world cuisine. Order the zucchini flowers, with pancetta, polenta and roasted tomato. Follow it with the lamb chops served alongside broccoli rabe, pickled chanterelles, and roasted potatoes. Finish your meal with an Amaro, a bitter-sweet herbal liqueur and a happy ending.