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 Boston, 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!
It's tough to choose just one entrée from Carmelina's flavorful menu, with items like pesce pistachio, spaghetti with clams, and risotto with peas and prosciutto among the options. There's no dessert menu, so after dinner, enjoy gelato at the nearby Dolce or coffee and treats at Modern Pastry Shop.
La Famiglia Giorgio's
This restaurant could serve as a case study in generously portioned, family-style dining. Be sure to come with an appetite: The menu is big, but the servings are bigger. If you've got a favorite pasta shape, chances are you can order it — from classic linguini to wheat fusilli. The same goes for pasta sauces: alfredo, marsala, puttanesca, carbonara … the list goes on. Plus, chicken can be prepared in 16 ways, and there are more than two dozen different pizza toppings, too.
This no-frills, cash-only restaurant 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 owners and lifelong 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 entrées (chicken piccata, veal cacciatore).
Named for the ancient mountain village in Italy where the owner's grandmother was born, Prezza's menu reflects the fresh robust flavor and simple preparation of old-world cuisine. For a hearty meal, consider traditional minestrone soup to start, followed by a pasta course of a single ravioli stuffed with ricotta and egg yolk tossed in butter and sage. For your main: the crispy pork chop with vinegar peppers, roasted onions, and potatoes. If you have room for dessert, try the pistachio sundae.
The Daily Catch
First dubbed the Calamari Cafe when it was founded in 1973, The Daily Catch continues to turn out some of the freshest Sicilian-style seafood dishes in Boston. It's cozy dining at this small location on Hanover Street, so be prepared for a wait since the restaurant doesn't take reservations. But if you're patient, you'll be rewarded with delectable dishes such as fried calamari, pan-seared swordfish, and mussels marinara. The squid-ink pasta served in a trademark pan is a must-try.
While you'll find quick-serve Regina Pizzerias in multiple locations in greater Boston, the original table-service restaurant dating back to 1926 — complete with classic booths and walls decorated with celebrity photos — is where you want to go in the North End. Thin-crust, brick-oven pizza is made with a century-old crust recipe, and toppings range from anchovy fillets and capers to spinach, ricotta, and prosciutto to broccoli and garlic with white sauce. Meat lovers appreciate the pies topped with sliced sausage links or homemade meatballs.
You know you've reached L'Osteria when you come upon its green and white striped awnings on the corner of Salem Street and Bartlett Place. Eat at this lively spot — which takes reservations — when you're with a group: Surely everyone will find something to suit their palate with the varied menu featuring all the classics like caprese salad, chicken parmigiana, shrimp scampi, and lobster ravioli.