Is there any more delicious neighborhood than the North End? With its restaurants, cafes and coffee bars, its bakeries, gelateria and pizzerias, its specialty food shops, green grocers, fishmongers and butchers, Boston’s Little Italy is a delectable place to dine, popular with tourists and locals alike.
While Italians have claimed the North End neighborhood as their own since the late 19th century, the area has been settled since the 1640s, first by the African-American community and then the Irish and the Jews. Notice the red-brick pathway of The Freedom Trail snaking its way across the sidewalks and streets: The North End is home to historic Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, the Paul Revere House and Old North Church. It’s the site of both the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 and the Great Brinks Robbery of 1950.
This is a neighborhood where, today, you still hear Italian spoken, where street festivals and parades honoring a pantheon of Roman Catholic saints occur every summer weekend, and where Boston foodies go to buy imported olive oil, cold cuts and fresh-made pasta. With restaurant choices aplenty, deciding where to eat in the Little Italy area of the North End can be daunting.
When you’re feeling nostalgic for Italian-American fare, visit Lucia Ristorante, named for owner Donato Frattaroli’s mother. Frattaroli has a deft touch with classics like lasagna alla Lucia, lightly layered with ground meats and cheese, and pollo Parmigiano topped with melted mozzarella. Maccheroni chitarra noodles are hand-cut on guitar strings and tossed in simple marinara. Don’t forget to check out the hand-painted Sistine Chapel ceiling frescos on the second floor. 415 Hanover St., Boston, Mass., 617.367.2353
It has been 40 years since Paul and Maria Fredurra opened The Daily Catch. There are only 20 seats; there’s no bathroom; and the register only accepts cash. A chalkboard serves as the menu, and dishes are eaten out of the frying pans they were cooked in. But, if you want the best calamari you’ve ever tasted, this tiny temple of squid is the only place to go. Enjoy calamari battered and fried, or minced and rolled into meatballs, or marinated and chilled in calamari salad, or ground and sautéed with olive oil and garlic and tossed with black squid ink pasta. The Daily Catch also serves lobster, swordfish, monkfish and tuna, but (heads up, carnivores) if it’s not pulled out of the sea, it’s not available here. 323 Hanover St., Boston, Mass., 617.523.8567
Since 1926, customers have been lining up to feast on Pizzeria Regina’s brick oven-baked pizza, served steaming hot with grains of burnt semolina clinging to the crust. Waiting in line, which sometimes winds down the block, is worth it. Over the years, the Polcari family has opened other locations in and around the city and expanded the menu to include fancy “gourmet” pizzas, but fans swear by the original location, where cognoscenti order a “traditional” pie (pepperoni, mushroom, onions, salami, sausage or anchovies) along with a pitcher of Moretti beer or a glass of chilled Chianti. 11½ Thacher St., Boston, Mass., 617.227.0765
Fiore Colella is an American success story. Arriving in Boston from Italy in 1970 at the age of 12 and speaking no English, Colella rose through the ranks of the restaurant business from dishwasher to pizza maker to chef, finally opening his own eponymous restaurant, Ristorante Fiore. Today, Colella brings the farm-to-table sensibilities of his native Avellino to his North End kitchen with its emphasis on seasonal ingredients and fresh-made pastas. Regulars order the zupetta di cozzi mussels poached in tomato sauce, the orange-scented butternut squash and ricotta-stuffed ravioli di zucca e ricotta in sage brown butter, and the grilled costata di vitello T-bone with caramelized onions and mashed potatoes. Your host is the legendary Alfonso De Lucia, formerly maitre d’ at The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton. 250 Hanover St., Boston, Mass., 617.371.1176
Bricco is the North End’s most unabashedly luxe restaurant, boasting a late-night, bar-and-bites scene that attracts a young, well-heeled crowd. Owned by Frank De Pasquale, the neighborhood’s most prolific restaurateur, Bricco offers a menu of modern Italian dishes that don’t skimp on quality. Dig into Wagyu beef carpaccio, truffled risotto, a savory brodetto fish stew swimming with lobster, calamari, swordfish, monkfish, clams and mussels, and a classic veal osso bucco, accompanied by traditional saffron risotto. This is one of the few places in the country that serves timpano, the stuffed pasta dome immortalized in Stanley Tucci’s movie “Big Night.” 241 Hanover St., Boston, Mass., 617.248.6800
Since 2006, Neptune Oyster has wowed diners with its impeccably fresh seafood and creative cookery: Pristine shellfish shucked before your eyes, clam chowder made to order, whipped baccala and Yukon gold potato puree spread on crostini. Owners Jeff and Kelli Nace have endeared themselves to the neighborhood with signature dishes like savory cioppino, vitello tonnato of roasted veal and tuna tartare, and the lobster spaghettini Monday Night Special sprinkled with garlicky crumbs. The seafood-friendly wine list is both affordable and accessible. Get there early: the place only seats 40. 63 Salem St., Boston, Mass., 617.742.3474
With its menu of contemporary Italian fare prepared by a second-generation Italian-American chef, Prezza is the face of the new North End. Named for the village in Abruzzo where chef Anthony Caturano’s grandmother Elena Ferrelli Caturano was born, Prezza uses classic ingredients in creative ways: Lambrusco-braised chicken thigh with grilled bacon and crispy potatoes, ravioli di ouvo, stuffed with ricotta and a burst-in-your-mouth egg yolk, and roasted, boneless, free-range chicken. Homemade meatballs, sausage, spareribs and tomato sauce ladled over polenta is a shout-out to Caturano’s beloved Nonna. Shuttered by fire last summer and reopened earlier this year, Prezza is a handsome-looking place with a happening bar scene. The 8,000-bottle wine cellar has vinos to fit all palates and pocketbooks. 24 Fleet St., Boston, Mass., 617.227.1577
Until recently, most North End restaurants didn’t serve dessert, but not to worry; the neighborhood boasts numerous cafes and bakeries offering after-dinner sweets. At Caffe Vittoria, they’ve been brewing coffee since 1929. Sit in the shadow of gleaming espresso machines and sip on cappuccino or a digestivo while you decide whether you want your stuffed-to-order cannoli in a plain or chocolate-coated shell and dipped into chocolate chips or pistachios. 290 Hanover St., Boston, Mass., 617.227.7606
At Modern Pastry Shop, shelves are filled with colorful cookies, cakes, candies and Italian specialties, like cream-filled sfogliatelle “lobster tails,” amaretto-soaked rum cakes and nougat torrone. It also makes a delectable Boston cream pie. The line often snakes out the door, but somehow this adds to the festive atmosphere. Strangers talk to strangers and, before long, they’re no longer strangers. In the North End, every night is convivial. 257 Hanover St., Boston, Mass., 617.523.3783
SLIDESHOW: On the Streets of Little Italy with Photographer Kristin Teig